With news of another potentially season-ending injury to one of this draft’s top prospects (Morgan Rielly) I find myself discussing the impact of these injuries more and more. This is not a new or unique situation as the nature of the sport unfortunately leads to some rather serious injuries. But an injury to a player in his draft year can be devastating to their career. The ideology here is that kids in the 17-year-old range are in their prime developmental years. This is not just a sport concern, but a personal and physiological concern.
The ultimate and unfortunate truth to the matter is that if you are a prospect, and there is any sort of concern surrounding you, it will effect your draft stock. Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly and Alex Galchenyuk had already made a name for themselves before they were hurt so they will definitely have their names called in Pittsburgh at the end of June, but there is no question teams will have to explore their own trepidations and find comfort in drafting a player coming off an injury.
However, an injury isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, especially for a top prospect. Obviously we don’t want to see kids getting hurt, but sometimes the adversity associated with the painful recovery, be it physically, mentally or both builds a better and stronger individual.
Character is not something coaches can build easily in practice – it is something that is earned through taking control of whatever situation is thrust in your direction. Hockey does breed a certain type of individual, one that understands sacrifice and hard work perhaps better than any other sport. That is not a shot at other athletes or sports, but what other sport requires players to learn so many unnatural skills? Adversity comes in different forms and certain forms can escape some players their whole career, but when you are trying to determine whether a player is fit for the NHL, you want to know he can handle as many different forms of adversity as possible. Knowing that can be a huge boost to the status of a prospect.
Another interesting situation that comes up concerning injuries is the fact an injury to a top prospect can actually help them stay in the positive regard of scouts. An elite prospect is exciting, but as the season goes on and the viewings pile up more attention is paid to their flaws. A player who isn’t playing is tough to pick apart and while that might seem like a soft positive, think of how many star prospects over the past few years have seen their stock fall regardless of their performance. Sean Couturier comes to mind from last year.
The situation is always different depending on the individual player and even their location. European prospects playing in Europe who aren’t as visible throughout the year can really benefit from the mystery of being regarded a top player in their area, but not having to fall under the microscope as intensely as if they were healthy all year or during the major international showcases.
There is no question a healthy player is more appealing than a damaged player, but for those damaged players there is plenty to be positive about and new opportunities for them to prove their value. Hopefully these players are being surrounded by a strong support network who are communicating these and similar points to them.
I will leave you with this, scouts watch players and judge them. They are judged on as many different qualities as possible, but are best measured by the quality of reaction. The biggest thing the Galchenyuks, Reillys, Murrays and so many other injured prospects can do is react to their situation. It is simply another opportunity.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS’ network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.