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When NHL coaches won’t confirm their starting goaltender for a regular-season game in November, it goes without saying that it’s a league of secrecy.

The NHL Draft is even more top secret. Only management and an inner circle of scouts know which young prospects the team likes, and perhaps only two people — the president of hockey operations and the director of amateur scouting — know whom it will take with each pick.

The weeks leading up to the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville in June followed that same protocol. However, this year, typically tight-to-the-vest Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made an exception. He allowed team vice presidents Mike Caruso and Trevor Nickerson to work in conjunction with Blue Note Productions, the organization’s in-house video company, and take fans behind the scenes with a draft documentary.

“The root of this was coming off the season we had, we knew we were going to have three first-round picks,” Caruso says. “It gave us the hook of, ‘This could be the future.’ You remember the year we drafted (Jaden) Schwartz and (Vladimir) Tarasenko out in L.A.? If we could’ve gone back and shown our scouts discussing the draft ahead of time, how they zeroed in on Schwartz and Tarasenko, it would be a good opportunity to show what they do and the thought process that goes into every selection.

“So we just met with Army and said, ‘We’d like to show all the work that goes into it. If you say, ‘I’m going to trade, I’ll make up a name here, Johnny Jones, for the No. 10 overall pick, and you don’t do it, we’re not going to tell anybody. But if you do it, then we have it.’ It’s the anatomy of the draft.”

In fact, that’s the title the Blues settled on: “The Anatomy of the Draft.”

The documentary, which was released Monday night, starts with the Blues’ meetings June 4-10 at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo and ends after taking the last of their three first-round picks June 28 in Nashville. They compiled more than 50 hours of video, which was eventually trimmed down to 20 minutes.

The Athletic received an advanced copy and spoke with both Caruso and Blues director of amateur scouting, Tony Feltrin, about the content, which includes a few new nuggets that weren’t immediately known after the draft. There’s one scene in which a scout projects the club could get Slovakian center Dalibor Dvorsky at No. 10, as well as some real-time discussion about trading up and down.

In the end, the Blues did get Dvorsky at No. 10, along with Swedes Otto Stenberg and Theo Lindstein at Nos. 25, and 29, respectively, and didn’t have to move in the draft.

And what did the video crew get? Well, they captured it all.

It’s 17 days before the draft, and the Blues are at Queen’s Landing hotel at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada. It’s about an hour away from the combine in Buffalo.

The team is meeting in the Imperial Room, where Armstrong is huddled up with Peter Chiarelli (VP of hockey operations), Ryan Miller (assistant GM), Al MacInnis (adviser), Scott Mellanby (adviser), Tim Taylor (player personnel), Dave Taylor (consultant) and Michael Perelman (analytics), as well as Feltrin and his staff of full-time and part-time scouts.

Doug Armstrong prepares for the NHL Draft. (Courtesy of the St. Louis Blues)

Armstrong has a deep appreciation for the scouting department, which he notes in the documentary.

“It’s probably the most unheralded position in hockey,” he says. “They start in September and the cross-over scouts will travel all over North America and Europe. It’s a lonely life. When they get to the rink, it’s always interesting because they spread out so they don’t sit beside each other.

“It’s an interesting fraternity, and I’ve known that fraternity a lot of my younger life. My father (Neil, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame as an NHL linesman) was a scout for a number of years, and I could see the hours they put in and the excitement they have in their jobs as they got ready for a day like today.”

Feltrin will soon have the floor, and the scouts will be breaking down players, but before that happens, Armstrong asks Caruso to explain why there was a camera in the room and people would be mic’d up.

“I wasn’t aware of it prior to arriving at Niagara,” Feltrin admits. “But our perspective has always been to have the group discuss players in a respectful manner. So I don’t think it took away any of the passion or descriptions for the players. So for myself, it became a non-entity.”

The Blues began with Canada’s Western Hockey League and worked their way through North America and Europe. They’re in the process of putting together their draft list when scout Stefan Elvenes brings up Dvorsky.

“Really good character,” Elvenes says. “Works really hard, plays to make a difference. Plays in hard areas and has huge offensive upside.”

Elvenes isn’t the only one who sees the upside in Dvorsky.

“I like this kid,” says former Blues forward Keith Tkachuk, who is now the director of recruitment for the club. “He plays a heavy game. Just his strength level on pucks, you can’t teach that. It’s a will.”

The parade of names continues, and not all of the reports are positive.

“Sometimes it gets a little heated because they’re all fighting for their guys,” Caruso recalls. “I remember they were discussing a guy that we didn’t end up drafting and (Blues scout) Danny Ginnell liked him and another scout didn’t. I was saying to Danny later, ‘You’ve got to have thick skin, eh?’ He goes, ‘Oh yeah, but you’ve got to remember, it’s always about the player. If you feel good about that player, stick up for him.’ So it’s not cussing, it’s more like, ‘I don’t see it with this kid.’”

There’s also a great deal of in-depth information exchanged on each player.

“We call it ‘bio work,’” Feltrin says. “Past coaches, past billets, past schoolteachers — the full gamut of someone who may have had an interaction with the player. The face-to-face interview at the combine is pretty limited at 20 minutes, so those references are all of great benefit, no question.”

At the meeting in Niagara, the Blues bring in former Blues forward Alexander Steen, who was recently named the club’s European player development consultant, via Zoom. He’s in living in Sweden, where he’s done some homework on Dvorsky, along with Stenberg and Lindstein.

“That Stenberg, when I talked to the national team, they like Stenberg has compete in him, you know, and some leadership qualities that he drags people into it a little bit,” Steen tells the group in Niagara.

Of having minds like Tkachuk and Steen, Feltrin says, “They bring a great amount of experience. Those opinions are accounted (for) in our final overall list. They’re certainly listened to and appreciated.”

The Blues leave Niagara with that list, but a few players shuffle around before the club arrives in Nashville a few days before the draft.

“It gave everyone time to digest it for a couple of weeks, pick it apart, and push and prod on why the list was a certain way,” Armstrong says. “We very rarely massaged the list this year, (but) we did massage it just a little bit.”

They reconvene at The Joseph hotel in Nashville, where Feltin inquires about yet another mock draft being published.

“Mikey, a new mock today,” Feltrin says to Perelman, the analytics director. “Do you give it any weight, or no weight?”

“They just keep pumping them out,” Perelman replies. “We’re up to 15 (mock drafts) now. There is one real outlier. He had Dvorsky at No. 19, but he’s got (Samuel) Honzek at No. 10.”

The Blues say they don’t put a lot of stock in the mocks.

“It’s not used in the formulation of our list by any means,” Feltrin says. “It’s interesting where the (hockey) community might see a player falling, but in the formulation of our list, it has no effect.”

St. Louis Blues director of amateur scouting Tony Feltrin ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft. (Courtesy of the Blues)

Armstrong asks everyone in the room about where they’d draft Dvorsky.

“Dvorsky is one of the seven (players) that I would not move off of,” Feltrin says.

Armstrong then turns to Jan Vopat, the head of European amateur scouting, for his opinion.

“I would move up to get Dvorsky,” Vopat says.

“You would?” Armstrong says.

“Yes, but I still believe there is a chance we can get Dvorsky at No. 10,” Vopat says.

“Really?” Armstrong says, sounding surprised.

The day of the draft Armstrong says the Blues’ list is not going to change. But as they sit down at the team’s table at Bridgestone Arena, there are other clubs continuing to sniff around. That leads to a question for Feltrin.

“Would you rather have four picks in the top 38 or three in the first round and two in the third?” Armstrong says, indicating the Blues were weighing the option of moving back from No. 10 and acquiring a second-round pick in the process.

Feltrin hesitates for a second.

“I mean, you’re right there at ground zero and decisions have to be made,” he says later. “You hope your experience helps you make the right decision.”

The draft gets underway and, as expected, Connor Bedard goes No. 1 to Chicago. He’s followed by No. 2 Leo Carlsson (Anaheim), No. 3 Adam Fantilli (Columbus), No. 4 William Smith (San Jose) and No. 5 David Reinbacher (Montreal).

Then at No. 6, there’s a bit of a curveball with Dmitriy Simashev (Arizona).

At that time, Armstrong gets on the phone with another GM, apparently about moving up in the draft.

“We just saw first ‘jumper,’” he says. “Are you guys thinking about moving back?”

The answer seems to be “no,” and the next pick is No. 7 Matvei Michkov (Philadelphia).

There are now two teams — No. 8 Washington and No. 9 Detroit — to go before the Blues.

“Let’s say they go (Ryan) Leonard, Dvorsky … ” Armstrong says to Feltrin. “Move back to 13?”

If that’s the scenario that plays out, Feltrin agrees about moving back, saying “take the risk.”

Armstrong picks up the phone again.

“Hey bud, how are you doing?” Armstrong says. “I just want to let you know, I’ll stay on the line after these next two picks. But we are considering strongly moving back if you want to move up.”

It’s not certain who Armstrong is chatting with, but it seems logical that it was Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams, whose Sabres had the No. 13 pick and No. 39.

After hanging up, he confirms with Feltrin that the Blues are taking Dvorsky if he’s available. And when Washington takes Ryan Leonard at No. 8, they were that much closer.

Armstrong jumps back on the phone and asks, “Can you tell me who you’re taking?” Again, nothing certain, but it would make sense that he’s talking to Detroit GM Steve Yzerman, whose Red Wings were on the clock.

When Armstrong receives his answer (the Wings are taking Nate Danielson), he informs Feltrin and the rest of the Blues’ table that they are going to be making their pick.

“The benefit of Doug’s personal skills and the relationships he’s created over the course of his career with other GMs, there’s mutual respect and it helps,” Feltrin says.

Armstrong then calls the first GM back to inform him that there’s no deal.

The brass makes its way to the stage and Feltrin announces, “the St. Louis Blues are pleased to select, Dalibor Dvorsky, AIK, Sweden.”

Caruso listens to the audio in real time and can’t believe how it all came together.

“I have a new appreciation and understanding for Army because it’s like he’s playing chess when others are playing checkers,” Caruso says. “He’s always two questions ahead. He’s getting calls and making calls. He’s talking about trading down. It’s fascinating to watch him run point on this whole thing. It’s also impressive how sharp Tony and Ryan (Miller) and all these guys are. They’re dialed in.”

They’re not done, though, with two more picks left in the first round.

“Guys, we have a chance to have a great draft now,” Armstrong tells the table. “We got the guy we wanted. Now we just take our time, relax, see what’s there at No. 25 and 29, and walk out with three guys we really like.”

Host Nashville has pick No. 24, and as outgoing Predators GM David Poile walks to the stage to announce their pick, Armstrong approaches him. Armstrong volunteers that the Blues plan to take Stenberg, and Poile responds by saying the Preds are taking Tanner Molendyk. So again, those relationships give the club a few extra seconds to feel comfortable about its plans.

They wrap up the night by calling Lindstein’s name with the No. 29 pick.

“For the staff, the elation, it certainly is a great satisfaction the way things played out,” Feltrin says.

It was a great satisfaction for Blue Note Productions, too.

The department went back and found corresponding video of the staff discussing each of the three players taken by the Blues in advance of the draft.

“We’re thinking we’re not going to hit any of these guys,” Caruso said. “We’re going to get a guy that we didn’t even talk about when we had the mics on. The fact that we were able to get all three guys that our staff was dissecting, we were like, ‘This is perfect!’

“The one part I thought was key was when they were talking about the list, and Jan Vopat said, ‘I still think we’re going to get Dvorsky at No. 10,’ and everybody was like, ‘Really?’ Then we get him! He nailed it! Then you’re sitting in the editing room and ‘Steener’ is talking about Stenberg and Lindstein — it couldn’t have worked out any better.”

Feltrin hasn’t yet watched the documentary but plans to.

“I think we conducted the meetings as usual,” Feltrin said. “There was great debate and guys were themselves. I don’t think there was anything forced or any change in particular of the way things were conducted or what the end result was. So by the description you’re giving, that’s pretty much the way it played out — edited, of course.”

Caruso hopes that it gives viewers a perspective they’ve never seen before and a new respect for the scouts and the rest of the staff.

“It was nice to capture how they go about their business,” he said. “The fans just see the Robby Thomases and Jordan Kyrous and nobody has any idea of the work that goes into finding these guys. But the scouts put their tails on the line, saying ‘This kid is going to be an NHL player!’ That’s the side that we wanted to tell.”

(Top photo of Doug Armstrong talking to David Poile: Dave Sandford / NHLI via Getty Images)



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