The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau released its final rankings today and I couldn't help but notice the distress suffered by some folks on the Internet when it came to the list. Good people of the online world, I am here to tell you to calm down.
Central Scouting provides a service for the NHL's 32 franchises, but its influence on who your favorite team picks is nil. What Central Scouting does provide is a broad overview of what the draft could look like and I frequently refer to the bureau's updated lists throughout the season to make sure I'm not missing any names on my own rankings. Sometimes, those players are of no interest to the NHL team scouts I consult when creating my list - but it's always important to do all the research you can when trying to forecast something as volatile as a draft board.
Because it's important to remember just how different each NHL team's internal rankings are from both other teams and Central's ranking. Last year, for example, at least one team had Fyodor Svechkov as a top-tier pick, but he ended up going to Nashville at No. 19 (so congratulations to that team for getting someone even higher on their board). Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke also tells the story of how, during his GM tenure in Toronto, the Maple Leafs had defenseman Morgan Rielly as the No. 1 player on their internal board back in 2012, above Nail Yakupov (who went first overall to Edmonton) and another blueliner in Ryan Murray (who went second to Columbus). The Leafs got Rielly with the fifth pick overall.
As for the accuracy of Central's final rankings, you have to consider all those team preferences when looking at the final product. Last year, the top North American skaters were, in order, Owen Power, Mason McTavish and Kent Johnson. The actual order ended up being Power at No. 1, Matty Beniers at No. 2 and McTavish at No. 3, with Johnson not far behind at No. 5. Central had Beniers as its sixth-best North American prospect.
On the European side of the ledger, the top three were William Eklund, Simon Edvinsson and Aatu Raty. On draft day, Edvinsson was first off the board at No. 6, Eklund went next at No. 7 and Raty dropped all the way to the second round, when the Islanders scooped him up at No. 52. Now, Raty had a very tough season that included being snubbed for a world junior spot, even though he had played in the tournament for Finland the year before as an underager. Did Central simply still believe in his overall potential? For what it's worth, he bounced back in a major way this season, putting up a point per game and finishing second in team scoring for Jukurit in the Liiga while playing against men. Now he's in the AHL playoffs with Bridgeport where he already has two points in two games.
It's also worth noting that Central does not have the benefit of observing the top 100 or so players at the draft combine in Buffalo, which begins May 29 and runs until June 4. The combine gives teams a chance to interview players individually while also watching them run through a battery of physical tests and many franchises will use questionnaires or interrogation-style queries to get a deeper sense of who the player is.
Which is all a long way of saying that you shouldn't get too worked up about Central's rankings. We know Shane Wright is the top prospect in the draft and it would be a shocker if he was not selected first overall by whichever team wins the draft lottery next week. Will Olympic hero Juraj Slafkovsky be the first European off the board, as Central ranks him? That's a tougher question to answer right now. The Slovakian power forward is a fantastic prospect, but the best defensemen in the draft are Simon Nemec and David Jiricek - so if a team needs a potential star blueliner, they might take one of those kids before Slafkovsky goes off the board.
It's also worth noting that multiple teams have told me that NTDP rearguard Ryan Chesley is one of their favorite blueliners, behind Nemec and Jiricek. Central has Chesley as the fifth-highest North American defenseman on its rankings. So who's right? We won't know until the picks are made in Montreal. And even then, a variety of factors will determine the final result.
So you don't have to take Central's rankings as gospel, but it's also important to recognize them as a resource for an event that has so many hidden permutations. As for why they still split up the rankings between North America and Europe...well, that one has never made sense to me.