Earlier this week, the Leafs director of amateur scouting, Dave Morrison, took some time out of his schedule to talk to me.
We ended up speaking for nearly an hour and we went over so much that I decided to break it down by section and quote him where appropriate. So with that, please do not misconstrue anything said below and contact me for clarification if you are unsure about anything.
With all that out of the way, here are the highlights from our chat:
On the Leafs scouting system:
I asked Morrison about the Leafs 13 listed amateur scouts on their website, and he said it’s more along the lines of 13-16.
The Leafs scouts are regionalized. There are five regions and they are what you’d expect them to be: OHL, WHL, QMJHL, USA, Europe. Each region has at least one full-time scout, and one part-time scout. There are also crossover region scouts. For some of the scouts, you can reasonably guess who’s region is who’s. For example, I was told that Mike Palmateer scouts in Ontario.
In Europe, the five listed scouts are broken down to be two full-time, two part-time, and a crossover scout.
The Leafs also have two scouts mainly responsible for following elite and/or priority players. I was told those two gentlemen are Garth Malarchuk and John McMorrow.
As for Morrison’s role, he told me, “I live in London, so I start out in western Ontario and work my way from there.”
He said when they scout a player, the introduction will usually be done by one of the full-time or part-time scouts, then they are listed into their system, then they are combed over.
On when the GM gets involved:
“When you’ve identified your first round pick, that’s when your GM comes to take a look.”
Morrison said the GM does get to see games throughout the year, but it’s sporadic and based on the schedule. Events like the World Juniors and prospect tournaments were mentioned hypothetically as games a GM is likely to attend.
For example, when the Leafs drafted Biggs and Percy in 2011, Burke was present at the U18 when Biggs scored this goal, and he was also at the Memorial Cup to take in Percy. This is my observation by the way, Morrison didn’t tell me this.
However, I was told, “This year is different due to the lockout. Dave [Nonis] has seen a bunch of games.”
For the record, I asked if changing from Burke to Nonis as GM made any difference for him and what they look for, and was flatly told “no.”
If you weren’t aware, Morrison was hired by the Vancouver Canucks as an amateur scout in 1999. As he said to me, he has a history with Nonis, as well as Burke too obviously, and they are on the same page.
On interviewing draft-eligible players:
Brian Burke has been quoted a few times saying he likes his scouts to interview draft eligible players early in the season because, by the time the draft rolls around, players have been trained to give good interviews.
I asked Morrison about this and he said, “Our scouts are responsible for talking to players as soon as they can. A rule we go by is to have them interviewed by our January meetings. Now, it’s not always possible because of bad luck things such as injuries, sickness, bad timing, etc. but we try.”
In light of this, I asked if that meant interviews closer to the draft were meaningless and could potentially be considered “smoke and mirrors.” Morrison said this was not the case because, as stated above, he said it’s “very difficult” to meet everybody throughout the year and that they will sometimes “meet guys at the draft.” To be clear, a scout will have usually met the prospect during the season, it could just be that Morrison has trouble meeting every single player throughout the year.
One example? Dominic Toninato. Morrison said he met him at the draft last year for the first time and he matched the description provided to him by his scout.
Morrison also said they like to interview players early because it allows them to build a rapport and the player is more comfortable with them during events like the combine and interviews later in the process.
On how much time Leaf scouts spend tracking their own prospects versus draft-eligible players:
Morrison made it clear that the monitoring of prospects falls squarely on the director of player development, Jimmy Hughes. He also mentioned Steve Staios as a guy who is involved in that side of the work.
“Obviously our scouts are at games that intersect with players we’ve already drafted.” He stated that their scouts will go down and talk to their own players after games such as that, but that it’s very important for there to be communication with Jimmy Hughes beforehand to make sure that a consistent message is being sent to particular players. In essence, they don’t want to overload these kids.
So, the takeaway is that when you read Leafs scouts are, for example, at an Oshawa Generals game, they are there to scout draft eligible players, not Tyler Biggs.
On the discrepancy between the OHL, WHL and QMJHL, if any:
The Leafs generally don’t account for a discrepancy in leagues that are of the same grouping. Meaning, there is an obvious difference between a Jr. A league and the OHL, but not so much between the OHL and WHL, for example.
“It’s about how good a player is relative to the competition in his league.” So, and I’m paraphrasing here, he said if a player is in the top 10 in one league, he should be in and around the top 10 in another league.
I brought up that they haven’t drafted anyone from the QMJHL since Mikhail Stefanovich in 2008, and he said it was just because of the “luck of the draw; it depends on how the ball bounces really.” He also added that he thought the QMJHL was strong this year.
On drafting goalies:
I mentioned drafting goalies to Morrison for a few reasons. The first is that there is a possibility the Leafs won’t own any goalies playing junior hockey next season if Garret Sparks goes pro. The second is that teams in the NHL, like the Sharks, pick goalies the way NFL teams pick QBs – They get one each year to add to the system. Goalies can be a bit of a crap shoot – my wording, not his — so it’s nice to increase your odds and hope to get lucky by picking at least one each draft.
“Very few goalies make it after a certain point in the draft. You draft the goalie if you like the goalie and you ideally draft a goalie every draft.” Morrison also said, “We treat the goalie position with high regard.”
The Leafs, he told me, go into each draft with a list of goalies they like and they’ll only select from that list. As he stated, “There’s only so many we like every year,” so it just depends how the draft is going and if they get the opportunity to pick a guy on their list at a time that makes sense.
He said they’d be willing to go out of their way for a goalie.
My words, not his: It’s nice when you have two young goalies currently on your NHL team playing well.
On drafting for positional need (in the Leaf case, forwards over defence – where they’re well stocked), and a bit about the upcoming draft:
“I guess that would be the ideal.”
“We still stick to our list though. If we’re drafting next and there’s a good forward available, but we have a defenseman ranked higher, we’ll more than likely take the defenseman.”
Morrison spoke at length about not deviating from their board, especially at the top of the draft. He said, as the draft progresses, maybe they can slide players around and such to pick for positional need.
He did mention that he thought there were better forwards for the upcoming draft, but that there were also some very good defensemen.
Basically, the Leafs will stick with the best player available approach.
A year after giving big money to Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek, some people were confused as to why the Pens went out and drafted two defencemen with their top two picks the next draft. Those two defencemen are WJC player Scott Harrington and Joseph Morrow, who just got swapped for Brenden Morrow.
“At the end of the day, you want to build your asset base,” said Morrison.
On drafting players that are high potential but less likely to make it at all, versus safe players:
“Whatever other people think you got, we get the guy we want.”
I brought up Biggs as a possible example. Specific to this player, he said, “he is what he is, he’s not flashy. He’s a big guy who does the dirty work. I think his physicality at his age is what leaps out as a kid who is only in junior. There are many NHLers that aren’t even that physical and he’s still a kid.”
We both briefly discussed how a Biggs-type rarely hits UFA, and when one does he hits it big. Clarkson and possibly Clowe are guys to watch this summer in terms of how much they make if they even end up hitting the free market.
Biggs played a shutdown role for USA this year, and he was matched up against Ryan Strome in the one playoff game I saw him play so far this season. Obviously, the Leafs have been trying all year to build a shutdown line and it’s been an experiment for most of the season to say the least.
On trading up in the draft to get a higher pick:
“There are a lot of variables you have to account for. You have to truly believe that he’s at least as good as the other guy in another position, and then you have to start accounting for the cost.”
The upcoming draft is chalk full of talent, but there are some very high-end players not only the top 3, but also the 3-7 tier, so this is why I asked.
Morrison stressed how hard it is to actually trade up in the draft with all the variables present.
He did say it’s something that he likes to do and does/has pushed for, but for many reasons it doesn’t always happen. It could be as simple as teams not wanting to move down the draft.
I brought up that they traded up to get Schenn.
Really, it sounds like the Leafs are always open to deals and willing to kick tires on anything, but it’s all about what the price is.
This kind of falls in line with Nonis’s quote earlier this week, “nobody is untouchable.” Every player has a price. It’s just a matter of whether or not a team is willing to pay that price.
On players already drafted that leapt out to him this year:
Morrison said ‘Dominic Toninato’ before I finished asking the question.
“I would say he’s on a very good development track coming out of high school. He’s one of the top scorers in the USHL and hopefully that continues when he goes to Minnesota Duluth next year.”
He also mentioned a current Minnesota Duluth player, Tony Cameranesi. Cameranesi is one of the top scoring freshmen in the league with 34 points in 38 games.
Another player he mentioned was Josh Leivo. We spoke about whether or not he thinks Leivo could play in the AHL next year, and he said he should be able to if he has a good summer of training.
Regarding Morgan Rielly, he said “Morgan is Morgan, sometimes I don’t even include him in our talks.” To be clear, he didn’t say that because he doesn’t consider him a prospect, he said that because his success doesn’t leap out to him. This kid did go fifth overall for a reason.
Conversely, he mentioned Matt Finn having a rough, hard-luck year. Finn has had mono this year and he’s currently out hurt, missing the playoff games. I asked if he thought that this was a setback in his development, and Morrison downplayed it. “Matt’s a high character kid, so I know he’s going to work as hard as he possibly can to give himself the best chance to succeed.”
For the record, he noted that whenever Finn has played, he’s played well. He’s just missed a lot of time, which is obviously disappointing.
I asked him about Marlies players and he said that isn’t his department. Morrison said he does watch as many Leafs and Marlies games as he possibly can, though.
We did briefly discuss Jesse Blacker and Brad Ross as guys who have been looking good lately, if you’re interested. For the record, he brought up Blacker and I brought up Ross.
And that more or less concludes my chat with Dave Morrison. If you have questions or are unsure about anything, please ask instead of assuming something. My email is below, or you can tweet me or leave a comment below.
I also wanted to take a second and point out that Dave’s a really nice guy. He called me by name during the entire conversation and didn’t dismiss me as just some blogger, something I really appreciate. At no point did he talk down to me as if he knew way more about hockey than I do. So with that, I just wanted to thank Dave for giving me the time.