HALIFAX — Scrutinizing 40 of the top NHL draft prospects all at once is like an exercise in avoiding confirmation bias.
The CHL/NHL Top Prospects Games, make no mistake, is one-stop shopping made easy for scouts from the 30 NHL teams and the league's Central Scouting Service. As Chris Edwards, the senior North American scout for the latter, notes, it could take three weeks to get a proper viewing of every player representing the Western Hockey League teams who is part of Wednesday's game in Halifax (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, Sportsnet, BTN livechat). But what comes out of the annual showcase should be used very judiciously, rather than to cement a scout's opinion of a player.
"It's a tool that you use along the way — I don't think you're every going to make up your mind off this game, one way or the other," Edwards says. "If a guy comes in here and plays well, you're going take that a little more than if a guy comes in here and doesn't play well. There's all the old arguments — different linemates, it's one game, you have someone such as [the Portland Winterhawks'] Seth Jones coming across the continent. There's all those factors. Having said that, you get 40 of the top players in North America. You can see them all there. It's a good event and it's a good thing for all the scouts — as long as you use it for what it is.
"Sometimes it is dangerous," Edwards adds. "You hear some of the team guys talking about their GM coming, 'oh, I really liked this guy in the Prospects Game.' Well, let's not get too excited because it's the best game they've played all year."
The event gives scouts a chance to see prospects from different leagues who have similar skillsets — such as the London Knights Max Domi and Baie-Comeau Drakkar's Valentin Zykov, to name two undersized playmakers — in the same setting. That often lends itself, at least for Central Scouting, to doing what is called 'cross-checking,' paying more
"In a game like this, it's hard not to pay attention to the guys you see all the time," the Ontario-based Edwards says. "You have to make an effort to say, 'No, I'm not going to watch Max Domi because I see him three times a month [with London in the OHL]. I want to concentrate on Seth Jones [from Portland in the WHL] because I may not see him again."
"What we'll do is divvy it up sometimes, you take these guys, I'll take those guys," Edwards adds. "If you think you're going to come in and do reports on 40 guys, you're nuts."
Central Scouting's Al Jensen notes the Top Prospects event might have more practical application to ranking goalies than defenceman or forwards. Each netminder — the Edmonton Oil Kings' Tristan Jarry and Halifax Mooseheads' Zachary Fucale on Team Cherry and the Mississauga Steelheads' Spencer Martin and Rimouski Océanic's Philippe Desrosiers — will play about half of the game. The practice sessions during two days leading up to the game are also good window into what makes a netminder tick.
"Even these practice sessions, you can pick up a lot about their technical ability, all kinds of stuff," says Jensen. "It's a big event. You can see about whether the kid can play under pressure, their work ethic, there's all kinds of things you can pick up.
"It's not the whole process, it's part of the process," he cautions. "To see everybody in the same setting, that's great. Maybe it's not the same as player-wise, but for goalies, it's great. I like it, personally. I've been here since Monday and I've watched the practices and picked up things I can apply back to watching them."
It goes without saying the 30 NHL scouting departments will all have their points of emphasis. It would be human nature if some teams' opinions were influenced heavily by tentpole events such as the world junior championship or the IIHF U18 world championship in April or the MasterCard Memorial Cup in May. The CHL Top Prospects Game can help a player curry favour, but it's not a make-or-break event.
"From the start of the year to the end of the year, you want to see improvement," Edwards says. "You want to figure out what a guy is. What type of pro he's going to be. You're not going to do that in one game. You need to see them all year long. Some [NHL] organizations are going to put more on the world junior, some want to focus more on the regular season. From our standpoint it's a year-long process."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.