[Ed. note: I did this interview back in September at the same time as I did this Kuznetsov and Orlov interview. So when you read this keep in mind that the comments regarding the different players don’t include any of their performances this past season.]
Team Russia was visiting Nyköping, Sweden for the Four Nations Tournament. As were two members of the Caps' amateur scouting staff. They graciously granted Japers' Rink an interview.
Japers' Rink (JR): Have you seen anything interesting so far? Any surprises?
Mats Weiderstål (MW): There aren’t that many "unknown" players at a U-20 tournament. Those tournaments are more about looking at players that you have already drafted than about finding new players. The biggest tournaments for scouts are the U-18 tournaments but you can still find interesting players among the underage players.
JR: I had never seen Kuznetsov play in person before and I was really surprised to see how defensively responsible he was. I thought he was more of a dangler.
Ross Mahoney (RM): He is a pretty all-around player; it’s just that he is so gifted offensively that you forget sometimes that he can also play good defensively.
MW: And he is such a great kid.
JR: Do you consider Kuznetsov to be a center or a winger?
RM: That’s a good question (laughs). He could be a center and he is a winger in this but we will see how he develops.
MW: He played right wing in this tournament and he still took more faceoffs than the center on his line. Let’s just see how he develops.
JR: You moved up in the draft to take Philipp Grubauer.
RM: We saw something we liked and we were concerned that someone else would take him before us. He has proven that he is a winner.
MW: We got him cheap anyway. Fourth round, he was the best European goaltender in North America, easy. Wasn’t he?
RM: Yeah we were surprised that he was still available, he’s a really good prospect.
JR: Some teams just don’t pick Russian players: the so called "Russian Factor" but you clearly are not afraid of that.
RM: I’m never concerned with what country a player is from. If it’s Russia or someplace else. We always pick the best player. Whether they are Russian, Swedish, American or whatever. Everyone wants the best players they just go about it differently to get it.
MW: Just the fact that some teams have been afraid of picking Russians. Sometimes over the years even when we have picked late there has been a Russian player available and we always take the best player available.
RM: Just look at Kuznetsov. We are probably really fortunate to get him at 26. He is a very talented young man, he is a very good player. He has very good attributes so when he was still there we were more than happy to take him.
JR: You have been doing this job for a long time and worked under very different circumstances; what are the biggest changes that happened over the years?
RM: We try to approach it the same way every year. In my first four years we didn’t have a first round pick twice.
You have to scout every year like you have a first round pick. You have to be prepared for everything whether you have a first round pick or not.
MS: You just have to have your list in order and be ready for everything.
RM: We have been full circle: the first four years we had two first round picks and then we built a team from there with our General Manager; 3 picks one year, 3 picks another year. We approach it the same way if we pick at 1 or 28 or if our first pick isn’t until 68 you never know what is going to happen so it’s like Mats said get your list in order and be ready when it’s your turn.
JR: Since I’m talking to both of you, can you tell me a little bit about how you work together as a group?
RM: We meet three times a year. We all have lists and the ones that are covering certain players and tournaments talks about "their" players and then we make one list to see which should go first, second and 150th.
MW: We have organized weekends maybe 3-4 times a year. But we talk all the time. The boss is responsible for everything but I have a pretty good deal: when players turn out good like Bäckström for example it’s my pick but if it turns out to be bad it’s his pick.
RM: But we have different philosophies. You are only as good as the people you work with, and we are fortunate to have very hard working and knowledgeable guys, who work well together as a team. You have to like and respect each other and get along with each other. You have to be open to what other people think and say in this job.
JR: Do you have a player that you really believed in but still passed on for what ever reason that you can remember?
RM: No not one player. The hard part with out job is that time will always tell, you know, they are 17 years old. You may have to wait until they are 24-25 to really know how they will turn out. We can have a meeting and two scouts might like this guy and two scouts might like that guy. We put them in order and we still have to wait a long time to see who was right and who was wrong.
MW: I’m still relatively new to this and I’m really surprised with the high roof when we have our discussions. I never heard anyone say I told you so I told you so...
RM: When you say things like that and blame someone two yours later you make an mistake yourself and the same people will point a finger at you instead. You can’t work like that - you have to work as a team. You work together and discuss and you are always going to have disagreements when you have 8 or 9 scouts. You have all seen a player at one time you help each other not to make a mistake.
I don’t have that one guy that I missed.
JR: Do you put any weight on if a players going to college compared to major junior with the differences in rights and so on?
RM: No we just pick the best players. If it is a player that is going to college and he is getting a couple of extra years of development that’s fine. We are not going to pass on a player because we have two years to sign him or if we have four years.
MW: A few years ago you had the rights for European players forever do you know if that dropped the numbers of players...
RM: Yes. If it were even, teams would say let’s pick this guy, we don’t have to sign him until he is 23, 24, 25. Versus a junior player where we have to make a decision when he is 19.
MW: So you picked Europeans more?
RM: Yes if they were equal I can see that yeah. But it doesn't matter now when you have two years to sign European players too. College might have a little bit of an advantage but we don’t care we just stick to taking the best player available. We get our chance to develop them. If we get four that's nice, if it’s two we work with that.