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Will, Burke, Wilson Jr. on Possibly Trading No. 11 Pick, Drafting Russians



AP Photo/Alan Diaz

It was a busy day for San Jose Sharks interim GM Joe Will yesterday!

The morning started with the announcement that Bob Boughner had been let go as Sharks head coach, along with assistant coaches John Madden and John MacLean, and video coach Dan Darrow.

Will spoke with the local media at about 11 AM.

A few hours later, Will spoke again, this time with San Jose Sharks assistant general manager Tim Burke and director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr., about next week’s NHL Draft.

They covered a variety of Draft topics, from the “Russian factor” to possibly trading the No. 11 pick to letting Thomas Bordeleau play in World Juniors.

On the depth in this Draft?

Doug Wilson Jr.: Just overarching, it’s a pretty deep draft in the sense that there’s more aspects to this draft. There were players that didn’t play last season. So there are older players. And you know, they weren’t able to be seen last year. You know, we took a few OHL players last year that played very minimal games, I think you’d expect to see a couple of older players that were eligible last season [like that]. Move into this year now that they’ve had a full season. So it’s probably added to the entire depth of the draft. Just different ages of players for this one, ‘02s, ‘03s, and ‘04s.

Is there one position in this draft that’s a little bit stronger than the others?

Wilson Jr.: Even if there was, Curtis, I don’t think I’d tell you.

What are some of the intangibles and other core qualities that are being looked at when considering a player?

Wilson Jr.: Burkie and Joe can answer that question because they’ve been around for almost all of our drafts. Joe’s been there for all of our drafts and Burkie, I think, only missed one.

[For example,] Thomas Bordeleau’s path to hockey was different than William Eklund’s path than was different from Ozzy Weisblatt’s path. So I think everybody has their own path, whether they were born into a hockey family, or whether they picked up hockey at 12 years old. I think just getting to know humans, and their path and their strengths and their weaknesses. If they fit with us.

Tim Burke: I think most teams will tell you, they’re looking at hockey sense, speed, adaptability, playmaking, ability to play in all situations like that. [There’s] best player available, and then you always gotta balance out your depth chart, but I think it’s different for everybody. But obviously, skating, and hockey sense are critical things. If a guy can really think the game and he’s got speed, that’s a good start.

Since some of these prospects are a little bit older, could they make the jump to the NHL sooner than a normal draft class?

Wilson Jr.: No, I don’t think so. I mean, we’ve talked about this quite a bit, that an NFL draft is different from an NBA draft which is different from an NHL draft. NFL draft is 22/23-year-olds going right onto the team and starting. NBA draft, they just got the G League, so most NBA players go onto the team, but they might not contribute as much as NFL players. NHL, the only draft pick last season that played legitimate minutes was Cole Sillinger in Columbus out of what was it, 217 or 224 picks? So even if they are a year or two older, it’s more data for us, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that means that they’re closer to playing next season.

What number is the “do draft” list at?

Wilson Jr.: Yeah, it’s always around the same number [110]. I mean, every team’s got their different number. We just finalized it with the European scouts a couple of weeks ago. So it’s a similar number to the last few drafts we’ve had. Right around there.

Is there more urgency to get into the second round this year because the Sharks don’t have a pick in the second round?

Burke: I think it’s always urgent to get in there. Why wouldn’t it be?

Have the GM finalists talked with Burke or Wilson Jr. about their Draft thoughts?

Burke: Nope.

Thoughts on drafting Russians with the current conflict in Ukraine?

Joe Will: As you know, most players that we’re drafting this year are 18 or 19 years old. The likelihood of them being ready to play is usually when they’re 21, 22, 23 years old, that’s an eternity, in terms of resolved conflicts and things that change around the world. Lots can happen in that time. So while we’re aware of what’s happening in the world and very cognizant of that, these type of players right now, [the conflicts] may not even be relevant by the time we get to there. So yes, we are aware, we discussed, we look at the benefits and the risks, and everything involved with it. But at the end of the day, if it’s a great opportunity, it’s a great opportunity, and we’ll look at it as such.

Is there less willingness to take a riskier player at No. 11 as opposed to late in the first round?

Wilson Jr.: I mean, I’m not even sure who’s going first overall right now. So I think there’s risk involved in every single thing. I don’t think we see it as a risk versus reward, every player has some risk and reward. We take the best player available and that works with trying to acquire the most talent possible, right?

NHL-drafted players, like Joe just said, they usually don’t join the team for a couple of years. So I mean, you just draft them, and then Burkie works with them and then develops them and you go from there. So it’s a long-term process in the NHL draft.

Does it seem like this draft class looks different due to the impact of the pandemic and not all of the guys playing much a season ago?

Wilson Jr.: Yeah, I think there were different restrictions around different countries, even different states, and even different provinces. I think that we tried to do the best we could to get the information on the players and what their plans were, I mean, internally, Burkie is based in the East, I’m based in the West, we have different restrictions to go see games at different times, too. So we’re happy that the Draft is in person, we’re happy that we were able to have a combine. We haven’t had a combine for three years.

Hopefully, we can get to some normalcy going forward here. So yeah, it’s been tough, but our area scouts have been with us for a while, and they do a heck of a job on background checks. So I give a lot of credit to our local guys to get as much intel on what these players were doing during their shutdown portions of their season.

Will there maybe be more trade activity expected at this year’s draft due to it being in-person once again?

Will: Yeah, it always seems that when we’re in person, everybody’s talking to each other a little bit more, it’s a little bit easier. Having said that, it’s more methodical around the league, compared to what it used to be. People have their value charts, and they know what they value picks at and they talk to other teams all the time about moving up and down and around much more than the past. So in the past couple of years, the analysts and everything will come forward with potential trades, teams decide to do [it or not]. We talked to each other, we still make them but we’re making them over the phone.

Is the plan still to keep the 11th overall pick?

Will: Well, when you have the No. 11 pick, it’s an asset, and it’s an asset that you can use to make your team better in many different ways. We’re focused on the goal that we do need to replenish with younger players but it doesn’t mean it’s a younger player through this draft. That could be any younger player that perhaps is part of something that fits within our winning cycle. Using that pick in a huge deal, that changes our trajectory is more unlikely, but it’s something that, moving up, moving down, staying within the range of young players, I would say anything’s possible, and why wouldn’t we look at everything that’s on the table?

As it stands right now, we’ll go to the draft and select the player, but again, we’re open-minded to any young player that we can grow with if that’s even available in a deal.

How important is it to hit on this pick in terms of getting back in the playoffs?

Will: History says every pick is. You’re talking about players, this year born in 2004, some are 17, some are 18 years old. You do the best you can on your due diligence, between watching them play, watching the video, talking to them, their parents or coaches, everybody else there looking at the Combine, and you get the best information you can to make the judgment, nothing is certain. But at No. 11, that’s again a really good asset, something that we intend on and plan on that being a big part of our future, however, we use that pick.

How weird will it be to not have ex-San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson at this Draft?

Burke: It’s tough because we were together for a long time and Dougie did a lot of great things. He had a very good rapport. He and Joe really worked the phones and they had a good chemistry and a lot of things happened. It’s always tough when you lose somebody that you’ve been with that long.

The Sharks have three seventh-round picks in the draft, what makes those late-round guys stand out?

Burke: Like a Joe Pavelski, like a Raska, those type of guys, there’s one or two guys that are really pounding and pushing to take these guys because not everybody saw a lot of them. Somebody really stood up at some point, said, “We got to find a way to take this guy.”

It’s not one person seeing them, but it’s one person that will not leave the draft without this guy. And maybe they get a lot more cocky or whatever because it’s later in the draft, but it doesn’t matter.

Dougie really liked Raska a lot and he kept pushing for him and pushing for him. We found a way to get him and you go back to some of the other guys like a Pavelski. We should have taken him earlier.

I think a lot of it is that certain guys, that certain areas don’t see all the other players and there’s certain players, they see that they won’t let go of. Sometimes, you got to get lucky too.

Wilson Jr.: Just to jump in on that a bit. I want to mention that we’ve got two scouts, Gilles Cote and Brian Gross, who’ve been with us for a long time. And they might be retiring at the end of this Draft, and they have been with us forever. And they are perfect examples of this.

Adam Raska played in the Quebec League, and Gilles Cote, he drove around, he went to games. Sometimes I think, you know, you think it’s Burkie and I making the picks. Our picks are a [group] effort of our local scouts, in the amount of hours that they drive around individually. A five-hour drive in the snowstorm for a scout is normal. And these guys work their bag off and they do an unbelievable job in background checks, talking to coaches and teammates.

So when Burkie says that they’re pounding the table, they’re pounding the table because they’ve [put in] in the work, and I have to give a lot of credit to those guys. Gilles Cote and Brian Gross, have been phenomenal for us, and they’ve found those guys.

Gilles Cote like I said, found Raska, was there for Timo Meier, whenever local guys pound the table and they start getting rattled, you know that we have to pick them otherwise, or they won’t talk to us the rest of the year. So it’s a lot of the local scouts that get the credit for that.

Will Eklund and Bordeleau be allowed to play at the World Juniors in August?

Will: Yes, from us, they will be allowed to play. We view this, No. 1 is Thomas’s situation with some of the COVID problems they had with Team USA the last couple of years here, and he was not able to play so he has yet to play in a World Juniors tournament. So, you know, we thought it’d be a great opportunity there, if that all works out.

The other part is, with a new GM coming in, it’s an opportunity for him to see these players.

And that’s one of the things I stressed with both of them and their representatives is that’s the way we’re strongly leaning towards is having you play in these tournaments. It’s a set-up for not only the GM to watch them, but we’ve missed a lot of hockey during COVID. And it’s always good to play against your peer group. It’s kind of that little measuring stick of how you’re doing against players your age.

A lot of times they come in here and they’re the youngest guy here and trying to catch up, but there, they can be a premier guy in one of the best tournaments in hockey, one of the best tournaments in the world.

That’s a lot of hockey coming up for Eklund and Bordeleau in the next couple of months, how is it being balanced with their development and training?

Will: Hockey is hockey. At that age, getting as many games in as you can, just playing in those games is huge for development. Everybody now has extensive strength and physio staffs and including the national teams there. So, I’ve talked to both players just about making sure that they not only are working with these teams, but they continue their summer training, looking ahead to the NHL camp and coming in and being ready for that, which they will.

It’s rumored that Cote is a pretty flashy dresser, with the draft close to home for him in Montreal, what’s to be expected from him?

Wilson Jr.: Cannot wait. Cannot wait to see. There’s got to be, Burkie, what, pinstripes maybe?

Burke: He’s got to have a big-time suit.

Wilson Jr.: There was one draft, I can’t remember which draft it was, Joe maybe you remember it, but there was a draft recently in the last four or five years where Gilles’s bag got lost. And I think we were trying to figure out how are we gonna get Gilles a suit? He needed a suit and his bag came maybe a couple of hours before the draft because the draft’s at night. But it was like three days where Gilles was freaking out. We’re trying to talk to him about his picks and he couldn’t even function [because] he had no clothes. Gilles is the best.

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