An interview with Leafs amateur scout Garth Malarchuk

An interview with Leafs amateur scout Garth Malarchuk

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MLHS‘ Anthony Petrielli chatted with Garth Malarchuk, amateur scout for the Maple Leafs, earlier this week. Topics covered include the ins and outs of his job, Frederik Gauthier, Morgan Rielly, and a little on Tyler Bozak.

Anthony Petrielli: What are your specific job duties as an amateur scout of the Maple Leafs?

Garth Malarchuk: My priorities include the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Western Canadian Jr. A teams along with “cross over” viewings of the identified prospects from the QMJHL, the OHL, US Colleges & High Schools, and the top end players on the European teams. It’s a heavy workload in that respect, but our scouting staff is very well organized and we work well together as a unit. That being said, the scheduling is really important in terms of managing our team viewings on the priority players who have been scouted by our regional scouting staff members.

AP: Would you come in later in the process to look at a guy like Gauthier?

GM:  No, Gauthier would have been identified early in the regular season by our Quebec scouts. Pierre Rioux and Al Power saw the Rimouski  team play a few times early in the season and identified him right away  as a top end prospect. I probably saw him five or six times over the course of the regular season, a couple times in the playoffs, and then at the World U18s Championships in Sochi, Russia.  So, in total I saw Gauthier nine or ten times over the course of the entire year.

AP: What was the feeling on him? He’s been mentioned as a potential 3C, or maybe a 2C? What did you guys like about him?

GM: First of all, his size and overall potential and upside. He’s a big centreman. He’s very good on faceoffs; in that respect, I’d say 90% of the time we saw him he was good. The thing that stuck out for our staff more than anything else was his responsible two-way game.  One of Frederik’s real strengths as a player was his play without the puck, especially considering it was his first year at the major junior level. Let’s remember: this kid played Midget AAA the year before, so in that respect, what he showed us both in his 1st year at the Major Junior level and the World Under 18 Tourney was very impressive. He took pride in his defensive play. But, throughout the course of the year we saw some things in his game that made us believe he was capable of  bringing more to the table in respect to his offense.  This kid had 60 pts in 62 games and he was a +22 player – pretty impressive for a  1st year guy.  The next 2-3 years are going to tell us how Frederik develops his offensive side of his game. This kid is going to get stronger, his skating is going to improve, and he’s going to take his game to another level.  Our Scouting staff is really excited for what’s ahead for this young fellow and personally I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him at the NHL level.

AP: Did you grade him to have a steeper learning curve because of playing in Midget AAA?

GM: Yes, I think you have look at that and take it into consideration. The other thing about it is that he had a little bit of a lull in the middle of the season due to a broken jaw. He probably came back a bit too early from the injury and his stamina was lacking.  The other thing about playing at the major junior level is that it is a long haul for a player who has never gone through a full season at that level before.  I’m sure Frederik probably went through that portion of the season where he felt he had hit a little bit of a wall, the important thing is that he bounced back and got his game back on track. The other thing we liked about him was his play at the World Under 18’s.  He got better every game. The games got tougher as the tournament progressed and so did he.  We thought he adapted very well to the situation and the pressure and importance of the games. After the completion of the tournament, we spoke to Don Hay (Team Canada Under 18 Coach); Don was also very impressed with Frederik and felt he was a kid that had a chance to have a solid career at the NHL level.

AP: I could be wrong, but it seems like you guys really like/use the U18 tournament as a scouting tool. Biggs and D’Amigo had great showings before being drafted.

GM: We go to that tournament knowing that in most cases the top prospects in the world from every country are going to be there. Canada and the USA are a little bit different because there are going to be players who are still with their Major Junior teams in the playoffs. We go to the World Under 18 Championships with an open mind  – obviously we have identified the players of interest and the focus is very much on them.  We watch all of the teams at the tournament. We’re also looking at any players who may bring their game up to another level; for sure there are some players who are still not physically developed, so you’re looking at their skill level and you’re projecting what they’ll be a couple years down the road. It’s a very important tournament for us, but we go to this tournament to watch all of the teams and players with an open mind.

AP: Is it a time in the year where the GM usually comes to watch?

GM: No, I wouldn’t say that. Every NHL GM is different in respect to how they get involved with player evaluation and the overall draft process.   Most of them want to have an idea of what they may be getting with their potential draft picks.  In the end, I think all NHL managers have a pretty good snap shot of the top end prospects either through regular season, playoff or tournament viewings but more importantly in what they are being told by their scouting staff.

AP: Has anything changed between GMs?

GM: No. I think things have been pretty much status quo in that respect. We have a job to do and our job is to identify and to pick the best player that’s available to us during the draft process. Once we’ve done that, our job is pretty much done and we move onto the next season.

AP: When the team traded picks for Bolland, is there any sort of process where the GM comes to you guys and asks about the value of the picks and whether it’s worth it?

GM: That would be more up to Dave Morrison, Dave Nonis, other  upper management and our pro scouts.  Dave Morrison, for sure, has an idea of how deep the draft is and the potential type of players that would be available to us in different areas of the draft.  Dave Morrison is always getting our thoughts and updating our library on already drafted players. Management obviously asks us questions about players and we have to be honest  and convicted in regards to our opinions.  In going into the draft, we have always had a solid game plan with regards to trading picks, potential NHL team trades and overall management of our draft.

AP: In terms of acquiring a player who played in your region years ago (Lupul, MacArthur, etc), would they ask you for your opinion on said player?

GM: There’s always questions asked throughout the course of the year about players from your priority areas, whether it be trades or just general information on a player. Plus, we really put a lot into our player/game information reports; they can always look at those things. But, again, there’s very good communication between upper management and the scouting staff.

AP: Bozak would have been a guy you scouted, correct?

GM: Yes. I actually saw him quite a bit in his last year of Junior A in Victoria of the BCHL where he played as an overage. At that point of his junior career, he was a dominant player.  But he we didn’t feel he was ready to play at the pro level-mostly because of his strength.  So his going to college was the right route and decision for him.  It allowed Tyler time to physically develop and get stronger. In his initial years of playing in the BCHL he was a skilled player but he lacked strength and consistency. He really took his game to another level during his overage year, doubling his point output from the year before to over 120 pts.   He was always a skilled guy and I’m just glad that things worked out for Toronto in that we were able to sign him as a Free Agent out of College. He needed to get stronger, become more consistent and just show more offensively. He is one of those late bloomers that you probably look back and wish you would have drafted.

AP: Do you think he still has room to grow?

GM: Our Management and pro scouts could probably answer that question better. They see the big team play more than I do. But from what I’ve seen, just watching him on TV and the games I have attended over past 2-3 years…  To answer your question:  yes, I do.   He’s gotten stronger and matured as a player.    I think he is starting to understand and realize his potential, so I look for good things from Tyler Bozak.

AP: Do you and your fellow scouts use anything other than your standard stats to scout players?

GM: Yes, for sure. I would consider our personal game viewings as our most important component in regards to the scouting process of potential draft prospects.  Our scouting staff puts forth a lot of extra work and effort into follow-ups and interviews in getting to know the players who we have interest in.   Dave Morrison also utilizes our Team Doctor, our Team Trainer and our Sports Pshchologist in the final evaluation/follow-up process.

AP: What values do you look for?

GM: I think players need to have good hockey sense and they have  to be able to skate. Those are two components that you want every player you draft to have. If not, there has to be another  1 or 2 dominating areas in his game, whether it be toughness or a character role-type player. I believe a player has to have two or more real strong points to his game in order to give him a good chance to play at the NHL level. Obviously size and strength are factors, too.  We also feel it is important that the prospective draft pick is of good character and good fit for the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club.

AP: Since your region is the WHL, did you watch Rielly a lot this year?

GM: I didn’t see Morgan play very much this past season because there weren’t as many prospects on the Moose Jaw team as there has been in the past in what was a rebuilding year for them. I did see Morgan at last year’s World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. He played pretty well but I don’t think it was his “A game.”  Knowing him, I think he would tell you the same thing.   No question in my mind that Morgan is capable of taking his game to another level, and I believe he will. He’s a smart and skilled hockey player.  He is a world class skater, who has good vision of the ice, good puck handling and passing skills, and he’s a character kid.   I look for good things from him at the NHL level.

AP: How much did you watch him in the season before his draft year? He only played 18 regular season games due to injury.

GM: We had a pretty good idea of what Morgan Rielly was about prior to his draft year from our staffs’ viewings on him during his underage year. In his draft year, just prior to his injury, I had seen Morgan a couple of times so I was lucky in that respect.  Our regional scouts were on top of Morgan’s recovery and rehab process in speaking with the Moose coaches and management.  We flew directly from the U18s in Europe to catch Morgan’s first game back from his ACL injury.  He had not played for almost 5 months, had missed 50 plus games and was playing in Game #3 of playoff series vs. Edmonton.   His play was actually surprising to us.  He had a very strong outing. We sort of had a feeling he might struggle the next night in game #4 of the series because of the “adrenaline boost” of his first game.  That wasn’t the case. He was even better in his second game.  It told us a lot about the kid.

AP: People say Rielly’s too good for the WHL, but maybe not good enough for the NHL. Do you think there’s something to be gained in the WHL?

GM: For sure, either way, it will be up to management and our coaching staff to make the decision as to whether or not Morgan is ready to play at the NHL or if he needs another year of Junior.   Morgan’s the type of individual that if things don’t work out for him at this year’s training camp and he is  sent back to Moose Jaw, he will  go back with the right attitude and he will be the leader on his Moose Jaw team.  If this becomes the case, I’m sure Morgan will also be a major component of the 2014 Cdn. World Junior team. If Moose Jaw team isn’t in a very good position at the WHL trade deadline, I would think that there would be the strong possibility for his being traded to a contending team in the WHL. I can tell you this – Morgan Rielly is going to put his best foot forward in attempting to make the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club this year. As I said, that is going to be a management decision and we’ll see where the cards fall, but either way, wherever Morgan plays,  he will make the best of it.

AP: If he goes back and Moose Jaw struggles again, would Leafs management push the Warriors to trade him?

GM: I would say “No.” I think that will be in the hands of the Moose Jaw Hockey team.  Ever since I’ve worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs, our management has never interfered in that respect.  Our development coaches (Jim Hughes, Bob Carpentar and Steve Staios) work well with all of our prospects and correspond with our drafted players and their coaches on a weekly basis over the course of the season. We are very much on top of things in regards to our drafted player’s development and progress.