2020 NHL Draft Q&A With Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino

There will be a 2020 NHL Draft at some point. I promise. Beyond that, nobody knows what’s going on.

Here we are at a time when the playoffs are normally at full swing all across the hockey world. Spring is normally the most exciting time of the hockey calendar. But with everything at a pause, things are not only different now but also in the future.

The NHL Draft, whenever it happens, will be different. There is no reasonable way to hold the event with 18,000+ fans plus teams in one venue. As to what could happen, we are just like you. We are waiting for any news to break. But with so many unanswered questions, we might not hear anything for a long time.

But no matter how long we wait, we will have a draft in some form. To help you get ready for this, Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino was kind enough to join me to do a wide-ranging Q&A on all things 2020 NHL Draft. We’ll talk everything from his own scouting process to the impact of not having the playoffs will have on this draft. We’ll end with questions about the top of the draft.

We will reference Cosentino’s April rankings at different points in this piece. You can view those rankings here.

Sam Cosentino Q&A

Scouting Process

The first thing we asked him about is the process he uses for scouting and creating his rankings. To say it is a very detailed process doesn’t give it enough justice. He took the time to explain the components of this and what goes into each.

“First and foremost, I’m lucky enough to be doing our CHL games on a weekly basis,” Cosentino said. “Part of that includes our Top Prospect’s Game where you get the creme of the crop of the CHL. And our Canada/Russia series where you will get a few players that will inevitably end up in the draft. For those Russian players, you get six viewings during prime scouting time where it’s not too early or too late. So that’s the first part of it, being able to see as many games live.”

Cosentino has the advantage of geography as well. He resides in Oakville, ON. That means he has nine rinks within 90 minutes of his house. He also has half of the league within two hours. Sportsnet also allows him to arrive at a city a day early. He uses that time to his advantage by attending practice or attending another game close by. That’s where he will spend lots of time talking with coaches and players.

This is good for games in the OHL. But Cosentino also has to account for the games out west and out east. This is another advantage of doing the games on Sportsnet. If there is a need to go early or stay late in a city, he is able to work that out. Then he gets whatever kind of information is needed. He takes full advantage of the TV schedule.

But what does he do about the players he doesn’t get to see much at all such as European players? Again he tries to take advantage of the schedule if possible.

Related: 10 Burning Questions for the 2020 NHL Draft

Seeing European Players

“The next part of that is a lot of players you don’t get to see,” Cosentino said. “With european players, you do what you can to see them. If the Hlinka/Gretzky is in Edmonton like it was a couple of years ago, then I make sure I get there not for the whole tournament, but as much as they’ll allow me to go.”

The big one for him though is the World Juniors.

“Whenever the World Juniors are in Canada, then I am afforded the opportunity to go as part of covering it but also mostly for the draft stuff. But if they’re not being held in Canada, I have to be like everyone else. I subscribe to Prospect Shifts because I really like watching tape that’s already broken down and it’s time efficient that way. I also have subscriptions to all three of the CHL leagues. If there’s another game I need to see such as the BioSteel game, I’ll ask to go to that game. They’ve always been good about that. You try to maximize your live viewings is the best way to summarize all of that.”

When Cosentino is not doing a live viewing, he is watching tape, lots and lots of tape.

“Whatever it is you can view on tape, you do that. It’s highlight reels. It’s game tape. It’s tape that’s broken down. Whatever it is that’s going to allow you to see that player. Sometimes it’s a simple Google search or YouTube. Sometimes it’s actually subscribing or buying games.”

Related: THW 2020 NHL Draft Guide

Trust, Trust, Trust

So Cosentino has talked about live viewings and watching as much tape as possible. He says the last part of this is perhaps the most important part of this process.

“The network of scouts that I’ve been able to gain the trust of over the years,” Cosentino said. “I try to offer up some information that I might have when you’re trying to dig in on a player. Or someone may want to collaborate something with me that they’re pretty confident that I would have knowledge of. At other points, the return of information is ‘Hey, here’s this kid in Finland where I’ve watched some tape. I’ve tried to do my due diligence. Is there anything else you can tell me about him? What do you like about him? What don’t you like about him? What do you think?’ That network is generally really responsive to my requests.”

That trust factor is huge. Scouts see Cosentino is around the rinks but they realize he doesn’t have the budget to make it to Europe. Because of that relationship, he is able to get information where most others wouldn’t because of how he handles his business.

“It’s not just one thing,” Cosentino says of the process. “It’s utilizing whatever you have with the limited budget that’s afforded me to do the job. A big thing to is really getting to know the player. You take the on ice. You take the off ice. You take the network. You take your video viewings. You put it all into a pot and then arrive where you arrive.”

A great example of this in action was back in 2016 when the whole world expected Jesse Puljujarvi to go third overall. Cosentino suspected something was up. He wasn’t convinced Jarmo Kekalainen was interested in him. Cosentino felt Pierre-Luc Dubois was going to be the pick. How did he come to this conclusion? He talked to Kekalainen at the Combine and left thinking there wasn’t interest. He knew Dubois from watching him during the season and talking to him at the Combine. In his mind, he felt Dubois was the next best player. It turned out to be right. It wasn’t information told to him by anyone. It was following the process outlined above. He looked very smart after the pick.

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The Impact of No Playoffs/Postseason

We then turned our attention to something I think is going to have a major influence on this draft. With seasons canceled, that mean no playoffs or postseason tournaments. Many teams like to get looks of players in high pressure situations. Without the benefit of that, teams will have to depend on what they did during the season. Does Cosentino think this will have a impact?

“I think it will have an impact for sure. How dramatically? That part I’m unsure of. All of the teams have done their due diligence to this point. But any additional viewings you can get in high leverage situations are really important. You want to see how guys react under pressure. The better book you have of players in high-leverage situations is a much better indicator of what that player is going to be like when the chips are down. While saying teams have done their due diligence, you always want more.”

Cosentino went on to say that not having the U-18’s in Plymouth will have an impact as that is generally a tournament where teams make plans to go to if they can’t get to other events throughout the year. You will see a lot of GM’s and AGM’s there making final preparations for their draft.

Ultimately, I think we’ll see more so than usual which teams did their due diligence early enough. Perhaps some more hidden gems are out there later in drafts. It might take years to figure that out, but it will be interesting to revisit this draft in 3-5 years.

Plymouth, MI is an important place for many scouts to get a final look at prospects. That didn’t happen this season. (Photo by Leah Dyck)

More Analytics in Juniors?

Next we asked Cosentino about the emergence of analytics. Is this something we are seeing more in juniors now or is there still an old-school mindset of the eye test? Or is there a blend of both?

“I think there is a blend,” Cosentino said. “A lot of the scouts are still very much old school. I talked to a guy the other day. I want to be at the rink. I want to see how he reacts in the warmup. I want to see if he has a bad shift how he reacts on the bench. It’s the body language and how he treats his teammates. That’s all the stuff you can see when you are live at the rink but you won’t necessarily get that through the lens of video viewing. That part still exists.

But there is some change taking place.

“But there are some organizations who have been making that move towards younger and more open-minded guys. (This includes) guys that are well versed in video and analytics. The movement in the scouting world maybe not as quick as everyone else that has adapted to that world. But it’s a part of it. There’s no question about it. And it’s going to continue to become a bigger part of it as we’re able to gather that kind of information. I think analytics especially in the level that I work at is really tough to rely on because most times it’s volunteers, it’s interns. You might not be getting the most accurate information. You may also have one team in the CHL that defines analytics in a certain way. And you might have one company that defines it in a certain way. And then you might have an NHL team that defines it in a different way. So you’re looking at three entities trying to gather analytic information on an amateur league. So that’s extremely difficult but it will get better.”

There are some concerns with analytics in juniors, but it will get better. (The.Rohit/Flickr)

All Kinds of Quick Hits

  • Cosentino admits he is one of the worst evaluators of goalies. He says the projection line is too far for him. “99% of them they’re so far away from projection. That’s not an area of strength for me. I can say that quite honestly.”
  • When it comes to overage players, Cosentino says there’s a tendency for teams to take shots on guys they are more familiar with. “It’s exponentially difficult to have those players (late-round guys) become NHL players. Teams will say I’m going to take a shot on guys where I have an extra two years of book on them. There is a shift going on where older players are being given more of a chance in the later rounds and rightfully so.”
  • Cosentino does believe we are heading for a virtual draft at some point. “I would have to say so. You hear about all the stuff with no gatherings. I can’t see how you do it any differently now. I’ve heard it might go down like the Sidney Crosby draft where teams hunker down in hotels. But before anything happens, we need an end to the season. We need to determine placements and then from there we need to be able to determine conditional picks. We’re not anywhere close (to an end at this point.)”
  • Cosentino believes Tim Stutzle could be the second best player in this draft. “The gap is short (between him and Byfield.)” He went onto say the gap between one and two is bigger than the gap from two to three.
Tim Stutzle of Adler Mannheim
Tim Stutzle could be the second best prospect in this draft. (Adler Mannheim)
  • Cosentino says that the general consensus is that the three Germans (Stutzle, J.J. Peterka and Lukas Reichel) are all going in the first round if not two for sure. “Those guys get to play in a pro league with a college schedule. They get to play against men in big barns and high-leverage situations. Their schedule also doesn’t overwhelm them in number of games that allows them to continue their development off ice.”
  • On the difference between Marco Rossi fifth and Jamie Drysdale sixth, “You’re just splitting hairs at this point.” Cosentino references what he thinks the basement is on these players calling Rossi a number-two center and Drysdale a number-three defenseman. Now it comes down to more positional need for that particular team. One way or the other I don’t think you go wrong with either guy. But it wouldn’t shock me if Drysdale goes ahead of Rossi or if Rossi drops down a bit due to the size of the center-ice position.”
  • On Yaroslav Askarov, Cosentino says teams have to be really confident in their goalie evaluation. They also have to be patient as he wouldn’t step in right away and he could stay over in Russia for a couple of years. “He’s a big wildcard for me. Watch for teams with multiple picks as that would make him much more attractive.”
  • On Dylan Holloway, Cosentino says you have to account for the fact that he was the second youngest player in the NCAA’s this past season. “The last month of his season at Wisconsin was more telling about him than the beginning. It might be a little aggressive having him inside the top-10 but I don’t see him getting past 15.”
  • Cosentino says Anton Lundell’s basement is that of a third-line center who’s going to play on your team for a very long time. “His ceiling for me isn’t as high as the others I have ranked ahead of him. The draw back on this player is can he be your first or second-line center? There’s some questions about that.”
  • Cosentino calls Noel Gunler a wildcard. “I think it’s his consistency in play. I think there are concerns about the character of this player. But at the end of the day when he’s at his best, he’s a highly effective player whose skill is top-10, top-15. But those two other things are red flags.”
  • On Jan Mysak, Cosentino admits he’s not in the current top-31, but come May that will change when he starts to dig in and do more due diligence. So these rankings will change as we move along as he gets more information.
Jan Mysak HC VERVA Litinov
Jan Mysak will crack Cosentino’s top-31 in May. (HC VERVA Litinov)

Make sure you follow Cosentino and his rankings as we get closer to the draft. He is not on Twitter still but you can find him on sportsnet.ca. He also is on Instagram but doesn’t use it too much at this point.

We thank him for spending time with us getting ready for the 2020 NHL draft.