Midway through the month of July, I had the privilege of chatting with Dave Poulin, Vice President of Hockey Operations with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for an article appearing in Maple Leafs Annual.
Having a professional background in publishing, I was not the least surprised that limitations on available space, plus design and layout constraints, resulted in the necessity to crop certain parts of the interview.
With the Annual due to hit stores next week, I thought I’d share a few of the “lost excerpts” from the cutting room floor in which Poulin offers his thoughts on the progress of the Toronto Marlies, as well as the emergence of the NCAA as a growing prospect pipeline.
Think of it as the equivalent of a “DVD extra” to your copy of MLA.
One of the primary criticisms of the Marlies organization in the past has been the way it has (or, has not) been used by the Maple Leafs as a developmental system.Â In discussing the team’s current philosophy with regard to its AHL squad, Poulin noted that:
The Marlies are going to be a major focal point of our development model going forward. What we will be doing there is applying metrics to help our young players grow. These players going to be playing for a competitive team in a competitive league, but the primary focus will be on aiding and reinforcing their development.
Poulin went on to describe a number of players whom he believes fans have reason to be excited about, and whom the organization is eager to gauge in larger roles:
We have a number of young defencemen under 22 years old who will have a chance to play in the NHL in Keith Aulie, Simon Gysbers, Juraj Mikus and Korbinian Holzer. We also have a number of young goaltenders in the system, with James Reimer, Jussi Rynnas, and Ben Scrivens. All of these players have tremendous upside, and we want to give them an opportunity to grow within a professional system where they have an opportunity to compete for jobs.
But, Poulin was quick to note, purely stocking the farm team with youngsters would not be entirely useful to those players’ respective rates of development. Equally important as ice time is guidance, and with that in mind the Marlies completed what Poulin referred to as “three key signings”, acquiring veteran players with experience at both the AHL and NHL level who can show the younger players exactly what being a professional – and making the jump – requires.
Weâ€™ve made a number of additions to the Toronto Marlies over the course of the offseason â€¦ and we arenâ€™t done. We added Danny Richmond, who has played some games in the NHL and will have a chance to see some action with the big club. Joey Crabb has been one of the top players in the AHL. Mike Zigomanis had a short stint with the Marlies last year and has proven himself at both the NHL and AHL level, so we are very excited to have him back.
During an earlier segment of the interview (which appears in Maple Leafs Annual), we had discussed the importance of depth, which creates competition which in turn inspires motivation and a higher compete level.Â Here Poulin re-visited that topic, noting the impact the return of several key players from injury-marred seasons is expected to create.
With a healthy Tim Brent, Darryl Boyce, Alex Foster, and Ryan Hamilton, the Marlies will have a lot of depth, which we hope will create competition, and that competition – the continual need to battle for a job – is going to be a major part of our development model as we go forward. And we believe the players will be better for it.
At this point the conversation shifted gears to the NCAA, and the increased attention NHL scouts have paid to its players in recent years. On the topic of rising NHL interest in college prospects, Poulin said:
For us, weâ€™re seeing a player at a different point in his development cycle, because heâ€™s 22 or 23 years old as opposed to 18 or 19.Â So youâ€™re making a decision on a player a little bit later in his career, who may be further along that cycle.
Asked about the reasons that so many of these players get passed over in their draft years, Poulin responded that it has more to do with the players than the league itself, and just because one player develops quickly than another doesn’t necessarily mean his overall ceiling is any higher.
You could describe [many of the NCAA players signed by NHL teams] as late-bloomers than anything.Â Tyler Bozak is a good example. Because of size, and because of a few different factors, he was just a bit of a late-bloomer. But, obviously, he is highly skilled and highly capable; he was able to step in and play a tremendous role for us last season.
The question is, in that case, whether the potential for more teams to discover a Tyler Bozak type, a player who develops late into his college career, is greater now than it was ten years ago? Poulin’s take:
I think NCAA hockey has become a lot stronger in recent years, both in development training and the quality of the players. I coached (at Notre Dame) from 1995 to 2005 and I think that right now, the quality of players going in and out of that league is as high as itâ€™s ever been.Â Itâ€™s extremely competitive.
Back to that theme again: competition (it, along with ‘versatility’, was a recurring theme throughout the entirety of the interview).Â And, as had come up prior in our conversation, Poulin re-iterated that addition by way of minimal subtraction is ultimately the name of the game.
We look at it as being able to add quality assets without cost. If you can add two of those players a year, for example, youâ€™re basically supplementing a draft from four or five years ago.
And the real advantage of this, Poulin noted, is by doing so teams also enable themselves to have the depth to make deals with other organizations, without rendering their prospect cupboards barren in the process. Hence the much-debated trade for Phil Kessel, and the far less-scrutinized deal for Kris Versteeg.
We gave up some good prospects in the Versteeg trade, but were able to do so because of the prospect depth weâ€™ve accumulated. Our pipeline right now is as deep as itâ€™s ever been. Look no further than young players like Jerry Dâ€™Amigo, Kenny Ryan, Matt Frattin who we feel have a real future, and will be given every opportunity to compete for jobs in the upcoming years.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the accumulation of young talent regardless of the source, is it not?
No player develops exactly the same, every player develops at different times and different stages. Â And that is where the necessity of depth comes to the fore.Â Between the draft, late-blooming graduates from the NCAA, and undrafted players out of the European leagues, there are many avenues by which to accumulate quality depth within the organization.Â And the greater an organizationâ€™s depth, the greater its opportunities will be for success.
The rest of the interview with Dave Poulin — detailing the manner in which the teams rank and evaluate NHL players throughout the season leading up to the trade deadline and free agency, along with a conversation about some of the Maple Leafs’ off-season acquisitions — can be found in this year’s Maple Leafs Annual (available for pre-order, due to hit shelves Aug 31).
Looking forward to your thoughts as always,
garrettbauman [at] mapleleafshotstove.com