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One of the busiest weeks for the hockey business in years is underway! The 2020 NHL Draft has come and gone! The opening of free agency is almost upon us!

Let’s check in with our friends in the mailbag!

There was a lot of depth in the first round, and getting Connor Zary at 24th overall was a very tidy bit of work for the Flames. Kudos, gentlemen.

But some of their strongest work was outside of the opening 31 picks. Third rounder Jeremie Poirier is, flat-out, a good hockey player. His defensive game is inconsistent, but very few defensemen in any league score 20 goals in a season. Let alone as a 17-year-old. If he can work on his play away from the puck, he’s a player.

And the Flames continue their nice work late in drafts. QMJHLer Ryan Francis and OHLer Rory Kerins are smart, young, offensive players who may be a tad undersized but can score. The Flames’ philosophy in late rounds seems to have been “let’s find guys who can get points and then figure out how to get them to the NHL.” So far, so good, and Francis and Kerins seem like worthwhile projects to take on.

Having been to two NHL Drafts as media, here’s my guess: logistics were the challenge more than GMs not being able to figure out technology.

In a “regular” year, a typical Day 2 pick involves a quick huddle around the team’s draft table, a decision, transmitting that decision to the NHL’s Central Registry via the computer at their table, and then announcing the pick via the microphone at the team table. Central Registry confirms the pick, and then we move onto the next pick. But with the “quick huddle” taking place virtually, and the transmission and confirmation of the picks taking a bit longer, the six rounds took significantly longer than they traditionally would.

To paraphrase Hamilton: if I had to choose I’d lean towards Jacob Markstrom over Taylor Hall, all things being equal.

Signing Hall, absent other moves, would add more expansion draft complications and would lead to questions of where the heck he would play (and who would he displace)? The Flames have oodles of wingers already – Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube and others – and fitting Hall in without moving someone out could be challenging. And that’s ignoring the team’s salary structure and any  complications there.

But Markstrom? There’s no expansion challenges, no questions of role or fit or internal salary structure, and all that would really need to be done is figure out how to divide up starts between him and David Rittich.

With no inside information whatsoever: yeah, probably. Stecher is only 26 and while he’s not an offensive powerhouse, he’s a really reliable two-way defender who’s not a liability. The big question would be how big of a salary he’d be hoping to get.

Honestly, it’s usually more about seeing a high school player at a scouting showcase event in a prior year (or early in the season) and then following up to see how they progress and going from there. From there, it’s about building a “book” on the player and then determining what attributes they have that compare to others in the draft class. It’s much more qualitative than anything else and depends on the scouting staff having clear marching orders and definitions from their GM or head scout about what they value and what it looks like in practice.

Depending on league, sample size, role and quality of competition, often NHL teams pay little attention to high school stats and much more to how these high schools play in windows of competition against their draft eligible peer group.

Honestly, the explanation is probably more “Why were they more comfortable with players from other places?” and the answer is primarily just familiarity. The Flames, for example, own a WHL team and scout the heck out of the Dub, and have a feel for how to translate different types of WHL players into their system. The same goes for OHL and Swedish players. Lately they’ve become more and more confident in grabbing American players and QMJHL players.

The Flames have built up their European scouting since Brad Treliving arrived, though, and as they’ve built relationships with players, teams and agents they’ve managed to build up their Russian player base in the organization. Three years ago, the Flames basically had nobody from Russia on their reserve list. Now? Artyom Zagidulin, Daniil Chechelev, Yan Kuznetsov, Alexander Yelesin, Dmitry Zavgorodniy, Ilya Solovyov, Ilya Nikolayev and pending UFA Rinat Valiev. It’s a scouting area they think they can extract value out of, so they’ve put resources in place to try to do that.