“What is 25 times 25?”
When you’re given time and a pen and paper, that’s not the hardest question to answer. But when asked by Flyers scouts and front desk staff, the question suddenly becomes much more daunting.
“When you’re under pressure and nine people are watching you, the kids freeze up a bit,” Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said.
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The Flyers go into each of their interviews, which dominate the first four days of the NHL Draft in Buffalo, NY, with the same basic set of questions as they try to learn more about the prospects ahead of the 2022 Draft in July . During the 20-minute conversations, the person exploring the region the player is from takes the lead, and then others step in as they see fit.
The conversation grows organically from there based on the player’s personality, background, and responses. They each turn into a unique experience, and the questions run the gamut.
Sometimes the Flyers have to try hard to get more than one word answers. This could be due to the player being shy or nervous, which is much more common when it comes to one of the player’s first interviews.
“Usually they’re a bit uptight, but by the end of the week they’ll be bored to death,” Flahr said. In one instance, a player was shaking a bit because he was so nervous, but Flahr said they already rated that player well and didn’t give too much credit to his nervous interview.
Short answers can also be the result of a language barrier. Some international players speak good English but not enough to get their points across, and others have to go through a translator. In these cases, it’s difficult because interviewers and interviewees can’t know for sure if questions and answers are being conveyed the way they intended.
There are other times when conversations flow easily. In those cases, the conversations can get amusing or even deep, like the one that veered off about spirituality, leaving Flyers special assistant to general manager Danny Briere impressed with the player’s maturity.
“It was like we were talking to a 60-year-old man,” Brière said with a laugh. “He looked like he was 12. He was awesome.”
Because scouts do their homework before interviews, they sometimes know prospects are “good kids, and there’s really not much to ask of them,” Flahr said. But sometimes they worry about a prospect’s play or off-ice behavior. In these cases, they challenge him, giving him a chance to defend himself while giving themselves the opportunity to see how he reacts to the resistance test.
“And that pressure isn’t going to go away if you play in Toronto or Philadelphia or wherever,” Flahr said.
With that in mind, the Flyers try to challenge every candidate, whether they’re a good interviewee or not, at any given time. This has gotten harder over the years as agents have gotten better at nurturing their prospects up front.
“We come from different angles, ask them different things that require them to answer your question without a scripted answer,” Flahr said.
In addition to the math queries and all the silly questions that others come up with, Flahr has some must-have questions that he won’t give. Briere, who is learning how the combine works, said he likes to ask players what their favorite NHL teams are.
“And if the answer is Pittsburgh, then they’re in big trouble,” Briere said.
They also like to ask players how long they think it will take them to get to the NHL and which NHL players they compare themselves to. They want to see if the player understands where they are in their progress, and sometimes the answers are “laughable,” Flahr said.
“We already know the answer, but it’s interesting to hear them describe themselves,” Flahr said. “Some kids are precise. Some kids have no idea. Which is mind-boggling at times.
Talking to prospects about their teammates is another useful exercise. This tells the Flyers how much the prospect respects and gets along with his teammates while giving them “inside information.” Flahr said that during this combination, the Flyers began to rethink their ratings of a prospect due to how often other players were talking about him.
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As the week progresses, the interviews begin to fade for teams and players alike. While good things may come out — like the talk of spirituality — it’s often the bad interviews that Flahr remembers best. A player’s interview a few years ago was so bad regarding his lack of self-awareness and tendency to blame other teammates, Flahr said they cut the conversation short. Now that player is an All-Star, Flahr said with a laugh.
With that in mind, Flahr said they had to be careful not to put too much weight on the interviews. They realize that all players have different backgrounds, different formations and different levels of maturity at 18. Teams have had years of scouting to form an opinion on these players, and they have years after the draft to develop them before they reach the NHL. Interviews only add another dimension to the process.
“At the end of the day, you basically have a hunch, like any normal interview for any company,” Flahr said.