In a normal season, most top prospects get to play anywhere from 25-30 games (NCAA) to 60+ (CHL) to display their skills and potential for NHL scouts. Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, many junior leagues, and even the NCAA, had struggles putting on a season safely for the players, fans, and the scouting community.
Many high school leagues were forced to cancel their seasons, the Ontario Hockey League didn’t have a season, and other leagues were forced to shorten their seasons considerably. Players were loaned to European leagues or took drastic steps to get playing time anywhere they could find it.
Because of this, the scouts did not have the same access to game film or tournaments to watch these players perform. There was the U18 World Championship Tournament, where some of the prospects got to perform against other top competitors, but that’s a small sample size of players thrown together with limited time to get comfortable playing against each other.
One of the biggest factors in the scouting process is the development of a player going into their draft year. Players are maturing, getting stronger, and improving, which gives scouts a baseline from which to project their floor and ceiling as a potential professional hockey player.
Seeing these players compete against grown men in European professional leagues, or against inferior competition in other environments makes it harder to establish that baseline. The scout’s work is much harder to find the best players, in an environment where it is already difficult to project how an 18-year-old will perform in 2-4 years in the NHL,
But it also creates some excitement and intrigue…..