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Las Vegas NHL team general manager scouting for players at European hockey tournament

For the first time since he took the general manager’s job for the Las Vegas NHL expansion team last month, George McPhee actually gets to do something hockey-related.

McPhee, who was hired July 13, has arrived in Europe, where he and assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon will spend the next six days scouting and evaluating the world’s best 17-year-old hockey players who are participating in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup tournament.

Beginning Monday, McPhee and McCrimmon will be going back and forth between the Czech Republic and Slovakia watching young players from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia and Switzerland. It is the first opportunity for Las Vegas to start building its database for its scouting department.

“The unique thing is they’re all in one place for a week,” McPhee said of the tournament, which Canada has won the last eight consecutive years. “The best 17-year-old players in the world are there.”

The likelihood is one of Las Vegas’ early draft picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will be playing this week in the Hlinka Cup. so McPhee said it’s never too early to start scouting.

“It’s a baseline for the year, seeing how they develop,” McPhee said. “It starts now and runs right up through June.”

For McCrimmon, who was hired last week as McPhee’s assistant, being along to assist in the scouting this week is critical. His expertise is in junior hockey and evaluating young talent. The former GM and head coach of the Western Hockey League champion Brandon Wheat Kings will be an invaluable resource to McPhee as he is already familiar with a lot of the participating players, particularly from Team Canada.

“It’s opening day for what will be the 2017 (entry) draft,” McCrimmon said of the Hlinka Cup. “I look at evaluation of young players as part science and part art. Anything you can quantify on a player, we’ll quantify. But it’s the intangibles about a kid, how you project his growth, his skill upside, that’s where the best evaluators separate themselves.

“I‘ve been going through the same process in Brandon for years, only with 14-year-olds. That’s how young we’re evaluating and drafting kids for the juniors. So with 17-year-olds you have a little more background to work with and theoretically, it should be easier. But there’s still a lot of guesswork involved when it comes to evaluating young players.

One player McCrimmon is familiar with is Canada center Stelio Mattheos, who played for him with the Wheat Kings. Mattheos scored 13 goals and had 30 points for Brandon last season.

“We’re looking at the entire world, not just North America,” McCrimmon said. “If you look at the starting lineups from the teams that have played in that tournament the last 10 years, you’re going to see a lot of names of guys who are currently playing in the NHL. So it’s important for George and I to be there for Las Vegas.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow on Twitter: @stevecarprj

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