Beady-eyed observers will notice that at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup are a host of scouts from NHL teams looking to get a first look at some of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL Drafts. One of these scouts is Keith Gretzky, brother of Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, who spoke with hlinkamemorial.com on the third day of competition.
The scouting world is awash with mystery. All across Europe and North America, many intrepid scouts head to rinks in major cities or small towns in order to get a better look at some of the players they hope to draft when these players come of age. The Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup is often seen as the starting point for the following year’s Draft, and there are many top prospects present in Břeclav and Piešťany.
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Gretzky enjoyed a ten year playing career, which featured spells in the AHL with the Rochester Americans and brief stints in Finland and Great Britain. Following five seasons as a coach in the WCHL and UHL, Gretzky moved to the Phoenix Coyotes organisation, where he became an amateur scout. Between 2008 and 2011, Gretzky was the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Coyotes, while he currently works for the Boston Bruins in the NHL.
In a thirteen year career as a scout, Gretzky has been to the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup each year, so has seen many a top NHL prospect in his time.
How important do you see the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in leading up to the NHL Draft?
For us as scouts it’s the first time seeing most of the kids, so it’s a starting point to see where they fit in and then we have to come back to see the European players.
Do you see this tournament as your first chance to see many European players before they move to the CHL?
We can see where they are and gauge where they are compared to other guys. You get eight countries with all the players and you get to see where they come from and see where they are at in the progression of their development.
As a scout, what are you looking for from players at this age?
We’re just watching how they work, their skating, their hockey sense and their skill level. Everybody’s different and it’s the middle of August. We’re just seeing where they are and when you see them again in November you can really start putting the pieces together.
Do you see the Ivan Hlinka as a starting point for the coming year?
It’s a great starting point where you get everybody in one spot. You get a tournament like this which is a great chance to see the players. Then we watch them in November, February, during the year. You get to see them at different times so it’s a good opportunity.
Are many of the players here on your radar already, or are you coming in with a whole list of new names to scout?
We’ve seen some of the kids last year as underagers, either in tournaments or in their own leagues, so some of the kids we’re familiar with.
Do you follow players solely in North America, or do you personally have to come to Europe?
We cross over. Everybody who comes over here does North American and Europe. It’s the start of the year and this is where we start it off every year so it works out well for everybody.
Do many of the top performers at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup go on to be top draft prospects?
There’s guys that are high end draft picks and there are guys that develop during the year. You get the high end guys and the low end guys.