Jeff Blay has a good piece over at theGoodPoint.com on the hockey drafting and scouting process.
Full disclosure- he gives this blog a nice shoutout at the end.
However, this is a good read and will help give you some insight into how teams prepare for the draft and some of the things that go into the decisions.
He does a good job of debunking the idea that many hockey fans have about teams picking players based on need at the time of that specific draft:
"A lot of times — especially in the first-round — you might need that skilled center, but then there's a stud on defense that's right in front of you and sometimes you end up just going with the best player available."
Burkholder agreed with Brooks' strategy.
"The draft is about getting the best possible players available at that time, then you let the chips fall."
(Jason Brooks, current GM/head coach of the OHL's Guelph Storm, while Ed Burkholder is a former Detroit Red Wings scout and current director of player personnel for the ECHL's Toledo Walleye)
Here is what New Jersey Devils head scout David Conte had to say in a recent interview we did with him:
"Your need today is not necessarily your need two years from now. Just as it may not have been your need two years before. You have to, as an organization, look at the players you've drafted previously and look at how they project in terms of their ability to make the big team and have an impact. If you think those players can come in and play for you, then it makes sense to draft the player you have highest on the board as opposed to trying to fill holes. You can't predict which players are going to have it in them to succeed, but you can look at their progression and determine that the answer at a certain position might already be in your organization without spending an extra draft pick if you have someone else rated higher."
When fans get together on the various internet chat rooms and start talking about their teams "needing" a defenseman over a forward, unless they've actually walked the dog on what defensemen the team has in its system, it's simply not the way NHL teams operate. Draft watchers need to ask themselves whether the player they are advocating for has it in him to make the team right away, or at least in the next 1-2 years maximum, and there are cases when the best player available (BPA) could coincide with a current need. In other words, you can desire a certain player because you fit a certain need all you want, but in the end, if the team takes a guy you didn't see coming because it didn't address the need in your own mind, you can at least understand why.
The needs picks generally come later in the draft, when players are much closer to one another in terms of where the teams value them, and therefore they can afford to place a bigger priority on the positions they've addressed as needing shoring up.
Most teams do not draft for a need in the first and even second rounds (in some cases) because the general feeling is that if they land the top player and create a surplus of talent at a position, they're not only covered if unanticipated misfortune hits (see: Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron), but can move assets from the position of strength to shore up weak areas later on.