Saturday, January 06, 2007

A bird dog’s hunting grounds

It’s probably one of the best showcases of young and up coming hockey talent that there is in the world today. While not quite the proving grounds of a grueling quest for a Memorial Cup, or even an NCAA championship, events which can tell a scout a lot about a prospects overall make up, the World Junior Championships still traditionally propel young hockey players to the top of the must watch list.

This year is however is a little different, while scouts watch the young Canadian and American players show off their skills and team work abilities, for the most part they are known commodities and normally already drafted by NHL teams.

To a lesser degree the Swedes, Finns, Czechs and Slovaks as well have already been watched extensively and notes have been taken, though a good performance in the tournament can certainly send a scout off to some far flung location European locale for a further look see if required.

But for the Russians, this tournament is case of providing some tempting candy, but one that may be unattainable in the short term. With no deal between the Russian hockey federation and the NHL in place, the prospect of drafting some of those high flying Russian youngsters is well a daunting prospect.

It’s a situation which if it continues as it has thus far this season, will have some serious ramifications on the NHL amateur draft in June this year. Selecting a Russian player could mean waiting for a fair amount of time before he can make the journey to North American ice, meaning that risking a top round pick on an unknown situation could be a rather costly strategy in the long run.

It also means that those players that can seamlessly join the NHL after junior may find that their stock rises dramatically while the Russians drop down on the depth chart of possibilities.

The change in the climate between the NHL and the Russians will provide a boost for the American college system and Canada’s junior leagues, still the highest contributors to the talent pool of the NHL. With many questions about Russian availability, those two conduits to the NHL will see more than the normal amount of attention in the short term.

In the end, common sense dictates that the NHL will come to an agreement with the Russian federation, players like Ovechkin and Malkin want to play in the NHL; those that are following them will also want to test their skills against the best professionals. The NHL will want to provide the best entertainment and that includes the Russian stars of tomorrow, so some accommodation will eventually be made.

So while they may not be able to see their work in the near future, the scouts still watched with interest at this year’s tournament, as they know that it’s only a matter of time before they will have to make a recommendation or two.

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