In conversation with Dave Morrison – Part 3

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Photo: Leafs TV

The final installment of Anthony Petrielli’s interview with Toronto Maple Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison touches a little more on the ins and outs of the scouting process, catches up on the progress of a few members of the 2013 draft class (including Frederik Gauthier), and looks ahead to the 2015 Draft. Here’s Part One and here’s Part Two.


Anthony Petrielli: I’ve noticed a theme in your draft history where you give a late pick or two to Thommie Bergman to use. Has there been any thought in bringing him overseas to pick apart the OHL or the USHL, or something along those lines?

Dave Morrison: He comes over every year. On that note, and I’ve had to explain it a few times, some of these Swedish players we’ve drafted some of our North American guys have liked better than Thommie has. I don’t want to take anything away from Thommie, but it’s not just Thommie drafting these players. I really want to make a note that Peter Ihnacak, our number two guy in Europe, is really involved as well and does a lot of scouting in Scandinavia. I think to say it’s Thommie Bergman alone would be a little bit misleading. The picks Thommie has made, outside of maybe one in the last 9 or 10 years, have been seen by a lot of our scouts. Also, to say that we don’t lean on Thommie would be untrue because we do lean on him for some of the players in the area, like we would lean on any other scout when we draft a player from their area. When we drafted Morgan Rielly, I leaned a lot on Garth Malarchuk and Roy Stasiuk from the West. Those guys knew this player, they had a longer background. I just wanted to make sure that what I thought was right they believed also. When we draft a guy from Sweden, even though we like him as a staff and Thommie likes him, I am going to go to Thommie and say, “is this right? what we’re seeing, is that correct?” That’s where Thommie has done a fantastic job. He’s done a really good job. He has also identified them initially. That’s all a part of the process and that’s where Thommie has done a really good job, but it’s not just Thommie and nobody else sees them. That’s not correct. When we draft a player we draft them as a team, and everybody else is involved as well.

AP: With video in play, does that cut down on travel time?

DM: No, not really. We still see as many games as we always see, there’s just more now on video. We have a guy in our office now who breaks down video for us. We have a website we use and we basically post video to this website of the potential draft picks we are watching. Certain games, we’ll ask for the shifts to be broken down so we can check to see if what we saw was right.

AP: They’ll cut every shift that a player has played and you can watch it quickly?

DM: Yes, exactly. There’s only so many hours in a day, and sometimes it’s perfect if you’re sitting in an airport or whatever, you can just flip on the internet and boom there it is. You can watch 10 or 15 minutes and kind of confirm or maybe not confirm what you think.

AP: Looking at the last draft, you guys went three USHL picks in a row. Do you think maybe that league is underscouted or underrated? They all sound like players with a good shot.

DM: Vesey came out of New England junior, which is not really USHL. I think it’s a real good league, it’s very fast and very competitive. It’s become a lot more offensive the last few years and I think the quality of the play continues to get better every year. I think there’s a lot of good things coming out of that league. I don’t know why, but I think we’ve had guys from there ranked pretty high and it just hasn’t hit us in the right spots. I think this year it was a funny draft in a way and it just happened those kids were in those spots. We had no hesitation about taking them out of this League, we’re confident in taking those players out of the USHL. I think there’s enough good players that come out of there that we can say it’s a quality league.

AP: Would that have played a part in not trading up into the second round?

DM: I think ideally we would’ve liked to get into the second round. It has to make sense and the cost has to be right. We would’ve liked to have had a second round pick, I think there was a lot of quality there still, but it just didn’t happen.

AP: That’s a tough thing on you as a staff, not having those picks (no second round pick this year, or last).

DM: Honestly, the more picks you have, the greater chance you have of producing players and ultimately that’s how you’re measured, right? But we’re all team guys, and whatever is best in terms of trying to make the big team better, that’s got to be the bottom line.

AP: Let’s take a look at a few of the guys who you previously drafted — Frederik Gauthier, his numbers weren’t worse than last year, but he hasn’t necessarily progressed as hoped. I thought he might take a step offensively and not have around the same numbers. What happened with him, do you think?

DM: One of the things I think happens following your draft year — I just don’t think he had the proper time to train. I think he went from his season, to the U18s, to the combine, to the draft, to the development camp, to the world junior camp, to his own junior camp, to the regular season, to the world juniors, and I don’t think he had enough time to really train and work on certain aspects of his game. We’re hopeful this year that he is going to push the envelope a little more offensively and hopefully his numbers will reflect that. You just look at the year after a kid gets drafted and quite often it’s not quite what you wanted it to be. Some of them get hurt because they don’t get the proper time to train. In some ways, he’s obviously gotten a little bigger and a little stronger, and you can see his skating has improved — I was really happy with what I saw from him last week. Hopefully he’s going to start really pushing the envelope, and this is the year he starts to make those strides in the offensive direction that we’d like him to make. I know he’s committed, so we’re anxious to see.

AP: Do you think there are any other guys in the junior leagues who are ready to make the Leafs think twice in terms of keeping them with the big club or getting a little stint to start the year?

DM: Obviously, there might be some Marlies kids with that potential, certainly because of the experience and the year they had last year. I think there’s a few kids who might open some eyes. They’re confident, they’re talented, so you just never know. You never know who is going to surprise. Sometimes it’s a lot more seamless with some players than with other players. I can’t pinpoint what it is — maybe it’s hockey sense, sometimes it’s just a certain amount of confidence they have between the years, the ability to make that adjustment. I’m curious to see if a bunch of these kids are going to make those decisions really tough come September.

AP: I’ve coached minor hockey and, after a full summer of working out or whatever, they come back and it’s like night and day. That’s so hard to account for how much they change over the summer.

DM: It really is. I’m not sure what age group you have, but some years those kids change so much and it’s so dramatic. By the time they’re at this age, it can still make a huge difference physically. Some of them just become men from one year to the next. When I was down at the MCC last week, I saw a couple of the Marlies kids and I just couldn’t believe how much they had changed and become men. You could just tell — facially, physically, talking to them, maturity wise — there was a big difference in them. For some of them it happens quickly, for some of them it happens gradually; that’s Mother Nature. Some of them are luckier than others and some of them need to work a little harder, but that’s where the character comes in.

AP: On that note, apparently Carter Verhaeghe is 6’2 now?

DM: He’s another kid who is not small. He’s another guy who has lots and lots of talent. Just physically, how long until he’s strong enough to play at the pro level for 82 games? The mind, the hands, the talent is there.

AP: He’s already grown quite a bit… he wasn’t that big when you drafted him, right?

DM: No, he definitely has grown. Connor Brown is another kid who, while still not a huge kid, he’s not small anymore. He’s grown a couple of inches since we drafted him and he’s probably 20 pounds heavier. That’s another thing — you look back historically at drafts and some of these players now in the NHL, when they were drafted, were really quite small. They put on 20 or 30 pounds and next thing you know — as small skilled players they learned to survive — and now, no longer small, it’s like, “look out.”

AP: Do you like Connor’s odds of making it?

DM: There’s no question in my mind that he’s going to knock on the door. This kid is a determined kid with so much talent that he’s going to will himself into a position to give himself that chance. I would never say a kid will get there for sure and play 10-15 years — I’d never make those type of predictions — but I would predict this kid is going to give himself a chance. He just seems to be one of those guys who bucks the odds, you know?

AP: He’s one of those guys who sleeps and breathes it, kind of thing.

DM: Just when you think, “oh this is going to be tough for him,” he turns it around and becomes a difference maker. I would never bet against him, let’s put it that way.

AP: A bunch of people have been comparing the 2015 draft to the 2003 draft, which is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The 2003 draft was jaw dropping, how good it was. Do you think the 2015 one has the potential to be that good?

DM: At this point, the indications are that it’s going to be a real good one. Whether it’s going to be that good is a bit premature, but could it come close? Potentially. I would say it’s going to be better than a lot of the drafts in the last number of years. To be as good as that one would be tough, but you never know. It’s a bit premature; if you ask me half way through the year, I’ll have a better idea of what I think. Just right now, it looks like it has the potential to be a real good one.

AP: Teams must be guarding first round picks with their lives.

DM: Yes. Especially at the high end. You’d hate to lose out on one of those top guys if something ever went wrong. There’s just depth to it at the top, too. You’re starting out with two exceptional kids in McDavid and Eichel, and then you’ve got a group of kids that are really, really talented as well in their own right who are probably going to make their mark, too. It’s kind of an exciting year to be looking forward to.

AP: With Shanahan in the fold, do you anticipate any changes with the staff or how you conduct business? Or is it going to be status quo?

DM: I don’t think it’s going to be status quo, but I think anything we do will be done methodically. That was the same with Dave Nonis; Dave is obviously still the GM. I think things are going to be done methodically and there’s going to be a process. In the last couple of years we’ve done that, especially in terms of development with the young players. I think that’s going to continue on. How we do things — there’s going to be a plan to it, a process to it. There’s always been that, and I just think it’s going to be even more the case. There will be accountability as there always has been, from the players to the scouts to everyone in the organization. That has to be part of this process for everybody.

AP: So, maybe more of a focus on the development side versus the drafting, in terms of process?

DM: No, I just mean that in the last few years, there’s been a lot more — if you look at the Marlies with nine playoff series in three years — I think there’s been more [development focus]. We have three development coaches, we’ve got a good size scouting staff — and I know my guys are working really hard — so the integration of the players, the type of players we want, to actually getting them in our system, and getting them from their amateur teams to the Marlies… We’ve just put a lot more effort into that in the last two or three years. I think it’s really going to pay off here, as soon as next year. It’s just been the whole process — from the draft, to the development process from the Marlies to the Leafs — I just think there’s been more emphasis. That’s a good thing; in today’s NHL you have to have that.

AP: Some people take it a little overboard, like I’ll hear people say the Leafs should hire 100 amateur scouts to scout the edges of the Earth.

DM: There’s some people in the scouting business who think smaller staffs are a lot more ideal. There’s less opinions, so if you hire the right people you don’t need that many. I think you can have a larger staff, and have the right people as well, and have a certain level of communication. I’ve tried to make it so that our scouting staff is a team. We work in unison and we have our own little team that has to be on the same page. That’s what I’ve tried to do with our staff. I really like the group that we have.

AP: It’s really subjective; there are so many different angles you can look at.

DM: It is. Not everyone is going to agree with what you want to do. But we all have to stand behind what we want to do, in both our successes and failures. And if it’s a failure — what can we do to correct it the next time? If it’s a success, it’s the same thing — let’s try to do that again when we’re looking at other guys. Your group has to be really communicative. You’ve got to have guys who are always talking to each other; from the part time to the regional guys, there has to be those levels of communication. That’s how you get better and that’s what leads to better decisions.

AP: I was watching the St. Louis Blues behind the draft special, and it was when they drafted David Perron. One scout said, “he handles the puck like he’s Kovalev.” Another scout is saying, “every time I watched him he just floated around the ice doing nothing.” That’s such a hard thing to account for: Who watches what when the player is playing, how do you balance that?

DM: That’s all part of the consistency. That’s part of the development in learning how to be pros. When they have a down game, what are they doing for their team? On those days when it’s not their best day, what are they doing to help the team? That’s kind of what becoming a pro is all about, the consistency of helping your team win, whether you’re having your A game or your B game. That’s a part of development.

AP: Anything you’d like to add, something that hasn’t been mentioned and you’d like to get out there?

DM: I think we touched on a lot of good things. I think it’s important that our kids — because of a lot of this negative stuff — that they believe there is some positive things out there about them. I think it’s a real strong group in my opinion. I’m excited to see where this group of kids can go. There is a lot of potential and there is a lot of potential NHL players. I just hope that they believe in themselves. I think they do. That’s a good thing. Our development coach — Jimmy Hughes — is doing a real good job there. I’m really happy with how things have gone. The way the organization is treating this team right now is really good. The little moves we made are smart, they make sense, they’re the core, kind of character type of kids you need in your lineup. I think the younger kids are going to be a little older. Sometimes they have to be the guys who make the difference. I’m optimistic with how things are going. There’s going to be more tweaking for sure, but I think I like the way they’re really analyzing and making thoughtful moves.

Click here to read Part 1 of this interview with Dave Morrison

Click here to read Part 2 of this interview with Dave Morrison

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Heh!!  Nothing better than sitting here reading part 3 with a cinnamon bun in my hand.  Great stuff, Anthony!!

  • leafsince93

    Great Job Anthony !! thoroughly enjoyed all three parts and its fascinating to learn about the process of drafting. i am excited about the future of the leafs. just wanted to ask you about Kenny Ryan, i believe he is a UFA. any chance of him returning with Marlies ?

  • Great Dane

    Anthony – excellent piece.

    What I noticed here is that statement about moving from the draft to the Marlies to the Leafs.
    Obviously, the the success of the Marlies will have a positive impact on the Leafs when the developing of talent in-house ends up at the NHL level.
    In one or two years time Leafs will have enough home grown talent to fill the bottom lines and pairings. Cap can then be spend on high profile signings like S….. and S…..

    The future looks a lot brighter these days for the Leafs. Removing RC during this season when he was secured a top pick would make it a sunny day in Leafs Nation.

  • Komas Taberle

    Fantastic piece Anthony, all 3 parts were outstanding, great work!

  • Optimustic

    Thanks for the series Anthony.  It’s obvious that the organization has developed a better group of players ( judging by what we see on the Marlies), and it’s good to hear that they’re continuing to focus on drafting and developing the kids.

  • Zep2

    Thanks AP
    On Freddy Goats: his offence picked up late in the season and into the playoffs. Nearly a PPG . He wasn’t drafted to be big point producer. Huge centre with defensive awareness and the ability to control and protect the puck . If he can keep pace in the NHL , he will hopefully make life miserable for guys like Crosby, Toews, kOPITAR

  • Lonsmos2

    Thanks AP great series

  • Zep2

    Freddy Gauthier , bigger, less talented version of Sean Coutourier. 3rd line shut down centre. In a perfect world , pushes for 2nd line minutes

    6’2″ Verdaghe could be a comer

  • ShiftyD

    Thanks Anthony. Really enjoyed the series with Morrison. Reading some of his responses it seems as if he’s aware of some of the conversations here. i.e. the Thommie Bergman response

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Great work.  Thanks AP !!

    Very solid 3 parter and nice to come home from work to read this piece.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    CanuckUKinToronto I cannot stand too many 1 yr deals on a team. Whatever tho, its July.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    There is a copy n paste of a conversation from last year, in which the all-knowing Steve Kouleas rips on advanced stats as something nobody pays attention to.  Dubas and Keefe get on him fast.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    CanuckUKinToronto I am very excited to see Nylander at Camp, I cannot tell a lie.

  • MaxwellHowe

    You did a great job Anthony.  And Morrison does sound a little butt hurt about traded picks, just a little.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    MaxwellHowe I think there are changes coming to the scouting department so he should be thankful if he has a job by the start of the year.

  • king leary

    Not one for doiing so, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post a note to applaud MLHS — the depth of content provided continues to grow and it’s of serious, serious quality. Imagine what it was like for all of us 10 years ago not having such easy access to such great content (even in the summer, no less). Petrielli is consistently the best in the business. Just giving you my bitcoin and a Wiserhood slow clap to all MLHS.

  • Yaknowwhat

    Swedish elite league is a joke compared to the NHL…remember Ricard Wallin?

  • Yaknowwhat

    Geat work Mr.Petrelli!
    Solid Q and A session.
    You don’t get this type of stuff anywhere else.

  • Yaknowwhat

    Understood but my point being…success in the SEL means very little..

  • wendelsway1

    Good Morning Gents…..Outstanding three part series, Anthony….again, just love waking up to one of your articles and reading with my morning coffee….nothing better!…..Thanks again  :)

  • twitting_sg

    awesome write up Anthony!!

  • Doorman

    Damn Fine Interview AP !!!  You the Man  Love Reading it!!!

  • Shafty

    Thanks, Anthony. Filled a huge void in my life right now! (Sad, I know…..)

  • jimmyg65

    Great stuff, Anthony, better than anything else in the media these days.

  • LeafsGuru

    jimmyg65  what you like all the talk about Stamkos coming here in 2 years lol.  How desperate has the media become that we just make up stuff

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Just wanted to pop in and say thanks for all the nice comments. Morrison is a really good guy to chat hockey with.

  • jimmyg65

    LeafsGuru jimmyg65 the rest of the media are either trolls who trash talk the Leafs (while sucking up to the “dynasty” Habs) or put out Stamkos-style rumours for click bait. I can barely listen to the FAN or TSN anymore, and I only read articles that have recommended here on MLHS. 

    I do have a weird feeling that Stamkos will come to TO one day, though.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    wendelsway1 It’s not bad reading all the nice comments while drinking a coffee of my own!

  • LeafsGuru

    jimmyg65 LeafsGuru  He might come but to say it 2 years away from his UFA an making it a big deal might put off the player from coming here, come on if there on him and he doesn’t even play here what happens if he get the max contract and doesn’t bring the cup home. Fans will freak out just like the Clarkson contract

  • Leafbites

    Great interview, AP. MLHS have a real team of pros!

  • Doorman

    Coffee and Baileys Done!  Going Fishing:  Have a great Day Leaf Fans!!!

  • mcloki

    AP. As always, you’re a reason to come to this site. I’m surprised that you aren’t getting these articles syndicated and placed on sites like Sportsnet, TSN or even the Toronto Maple Leafs site. Great job.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Horrible Article !!!   (must keep AP grounded)

  • Bruffins

    TheCanucksnaphook
    agreed, just terrible. I think he needs to do 100-200 more until he can get it right 😉

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Bruffins Yes sir.   Its time for him to start figuring shit out !!

    I suggest a fluff piece about a new 3rd jersey or something similar to what the MSM is putting out.

  • jimmyg65

    LeafsGuru jimmyg65 I’m not saying it’s a good thing or not, but I do think it’s going to happen. The Toews and Kane contracts have shown elite players how much money they can make if they sign with a big-market team, so it’s probably only a matter of time before the Leafs lure a player like Stamkos with a crazy contract.

  • mcloki

    TheCanucksnaphook Bruffins THERE”S A NEW THRID JERSEY, “SQUEEE!!!!!”

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    CanuckUKinToronto Sir this is an opinion piece.  Therefore no random thoughts.
    The mashup is the mashup.

  • Burtonboy

    Thanks Anthony, great series of articles. Really interested in what Morrison was saying about player development . I thinks that’s an area where the Leafs have made great strides compared to what was the norm a few short yrs ago. With all the improvement in training and technology this is an area where the Leafs can and should be better then the rest of the league . They have the resources there is no doubt of that. Shanny likes to surround himself with innovative thinkers who push the boundaries as much a s possible. The Leafs should be leaders in all this stuff ,not a stuck in the mud old fashioned organization afraid of change.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Burtonboy Moving the Marlies to Toronto was a big step in my mind. Easy to recruit players and have them in the same city as the big club.

  • MaxwellHowe

    They need to be back in St. John’s.  Ice Caps leaving next year.

  • Burtonboy

    Anthony Petrielli Burtonboy Certainly does, as was building the Mastercard center. IMO its going to be interesting to watch what Shanahan does in this area . The guy is a forward thinker, no doubt of that

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    MaxwellHowe Wrong.  You all deserve nothing but snow.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    CanuckUKinToronto I do not know.

  • LeafsGuru

    Great read Anthony, give yourself pat on the back and your team.  You’ve really created the best Maple leaf fan site IMO.  you even attracted great posters on this site except for Bruffins lol. (kidding) No really your in a league of your own, keep up the great work!

  • MaxwellHowe

    Keep finding oil offshore and there’ll be an NHL team here soon….
    Then I’ll be torn.

  • LeafsGuru

    Burtonboy Anthony Petrielli  I know people might not like this but I really like the fact Shanny keeps things quiet,  He needs to kill the leaks so that he gets the player he wants without compromise.  Let the NHL chase the leafs not the other way around

  • Burtonboy

    LeafsGuru Burtonboy Anthony Petrielli Need to be leaders not followers in all aspects of the business . When Shanahan took over player safety he completely re-vamped how it was run and what they were doing . Very progressive thinker . Now that player safety dept and the operations center of the NHL are the envy of pro sports and other leagues are looking very closely  at how they do things. He now brings that kind of thinking to the Leafs .

  • Faalcon

    A VERY GOOD JOB AP

  • LeafsGuru

    Ricky_Vaives_slapshot  your a minute to late then, 12 is better