It is never too early to start talking about the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. While teams are just getting into the swing of the 2019-20 season, scouts are all over the world traveling insane miles in hopes that they can land the next big thing.
One of those prominent scouts that travels around the world is the Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. He coordinates a staff of 29 scouts who watch and rate each season’s top eligible draft prospects around the world. Before joining the NHL, Marr held roles with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers.
Marr’s travels took him to Erie Saturday night to take in the London Knights and Erie Otters. With the likes of Antonio Stranges, Luke Evangelista, Hayden Fowler, Jamie Drysdale and Aidan Campbell in this game, it’s no wonder he wanted to get a firsthand look at these higher-end draft eligibles.
Marr was kind enough to spend a few minutes with the Hockey Writers Saturday night to share his early thoughts on the 2020 NHL Draft and how it is shaping up. Here is our exclusive Q&A with the Director of NHL Central Scouting.
Q&A With Dan Marr
The Hockey Writers: It’s obviously early, but what is your impression thus far on the 2020 NHL Draft?
Dan Marr: “I think going into this year’s draft a lot of these players aren’t household names. But there’s some high-end NHL prospects that are going to come out of this draft. And right here in Erie, Drysdale. Bowen Byram went number four last year. Drysdale is in that same category, that same area. The way he can react and read the game and the quickness to which he executes everything, it just puts him in that special category.
THW: It’s that speed factor with Drysdale too, the fact that he can take over a game when he wants to.
Marr: “It’s in everything, even in the little puck touches he does to advance the puck and get the puck out of the zone. You can see that size is not a factor because he doesn’t need that to defend. He’s got his skating and his smarts that put put him into position. Then he has a quick stick. He can take pucks off guys. And he is ultra quick in transition. In the NHL game, if you have a good transition game, then good things are going to happen for your team.”
THW: Many fans are interested in the Alexis Lafreniere vs. Quinton Byfield debate. How do you try to differentiate between them when you have two franchise altering players like that?
Marr: “The simple way for us is to let the two players do it. But it doesn’t often go that way because there’s 31 players (teams) in this year’s draft and they all have a different philosophy. And everyone has certain things that they like in players more than others. Some players may like just the overall package with Quinton Byfield while some may like the more creative skill set with Lafreniere. It’s just going to depend on what you’re looking for but there’s not going to be any loser here. If one team takes one guy and the other takes the next guy, both teams are going to be happy. Both teams could likely get the player they wanted anyways.”
THW: There’s a couple of guys from Sweden that are very interesting in Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond. Can they challenge at all for one of the top-two spots?
Marr: “Because we’re still early in the year, yes they can. They’re both highly skilled. But they are different type players. One has more of a high-energy compete type game. One has more of that elusive, scoring threat, deceptive game about them. In today’s game, speed and offense they count a lot. Teams will factor that in. There’s so many players where hockey fans haven’t seen enough of them yet to really appreciate how good this draft class is going to be.
THW: How strong is Europe overall in your mind? A player like Anton Lundell is something who is very interesting who is near the top.
Marr: “Europe is always strong. They always have their good candidates and some years it cycles from one country to another. This year I think Sweden is at the top. But Finland and Russia are going to have their share. But the one player that you really need to pay attention to who’s going to be part of every conversation is the Russian goaltender (Yaroslav Askarov). It’s not often you see a goalie that is in that special category. We’re talking the likes of where the Fleury’s and Carey Price’s went. This is where this guy this going to be in these conversations. I’ve seen him for three years now and in every game and every event, he’s made an impact. He’s made an actual difference. Russia won the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka tournament more so because of him than any other reason.”
THW: So we should expect Askarov to go higher than Spencer Knight did last year?
Marr: “Yes. And this is not a knock on Spencer. But it’s not often we get what I would consider to be a high-end, first-round goaltender for the draft.”
THW: In tonight’s game (in Erie), there’s a guy on the other side who is highly skilled in Antonio Stranges. Seems like he can fit in the first round. What are you seeing out of him?
Marr: “He’s definitely an A prospect and he’s an A talent. You watch, he’s got that Mitch Marner like quickness and deceptiveness and speed. He can execute plays. He’s got the precision. I related him a little bit when people were talking, he’s got some parts of his game he needs to figure out and sort out, but they all do when they’re 17 or 18. If you go back and look at (Andreas) Athanasiou’s career, and he spent some time in London, you can see it took him some time to figure out what it takes to play in the NHL. They got the skill. They got the speed. You look at Athanasiou now, there’s no stopping him. Antonio has the same type of game. He has time on his side. But what I think scouts are going to be looking for is just to see how he utilizes and maximizes the opportunities he’s getting in London.”
THW: In the OHL, there’s a couple other names that fans are watching, the likes of Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti and so on. We know the strength in leagues is cyclical but just how strong is the OHL this season in your mind?
Marr: “This is a good year for the OHL. But it’s actually a good year for all three junior leagues. I’ve been through Quebec on one run already. And a number of those players we’ve elevated them. We’re doing the same thing going through here. Like Hayden Fowler here, we may have been a little hard on him at the start when we started him at a C level. That’s just on the viewings we had of him from last season. He’s already a B prospect and climbing. And that’s where he deserves to be. In Ontario, there’s going to be a lot of happy OHL people in Montreal this year. If I had my way, I’d recommend that the draft be held in Montreal every other year. It just fits there. Montreal knows how to put on an event. Everyone enjoys going there.”
THW: And finally for now, when you have so many prospects who are so close in rankings, what attributes do you like to pinpoint when you try to evaluate the success of a prospect?
Marr: “We look at what they bring, whether they deliver and how consistent they are on it. You can’t focus on what a player doesn’t do. At 18, that doesn’t work. As long as he’s got one or two distinguishing skill sets that help him establish his game and his identity and he consistently shows that, so if you can’t skate you’re really not going to be in the mix. You need to be able to be considered an NHL skater. But if you got that elite quickness, if you got that elite hockey IQ and if you got both of them or if you combine one of those with a compete level and a work ethic, you’re building a package. We just look for the players to distinguish themselves with the game that they are identified with.”
This draft class is shaping up to be something special especially at the top. There’s still a long way to go but it will be interesting to see who continues to distinguish themselves throughout the season We thank Dan for his time in speaking with us about this interesting draft class.