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.
Some of these 1 year contracts will be used to get draft picks at the trade deadline, that could have been part of the reason for all those signings. We'll get our 2nd round pick back for sure, it's a crazy draft next year.
Excellent read! Great job Anthony! Hearing an interview with the Director of Amateur Scouting gave a lot of insight. I loved the questions that were asked and Dave came across as honest and forthright.
i can't help but wonder if kessel will one day crank it up another notch or if he is what he is by now.
don't get me wrong, he's an elite player and one of the best in the league. and it may just be perception but it doesn't seem like he puts in a ton of time re. fitness and strength, etc. in the offseason. he always looks a little pudgy and sometimes out of shape. i wonder if at his age if he will decide to one day go nuts re. fitness and decide to crank it up so that he ends up as a perennial 40 - 50 goal guy instead of a perennial 30 - 40 goal guy.
Anthony: didn't mean to break up the topic, but for future reference here's an interesting look back at the ridicule Roger Neilson endured when he was the NHL's new guy with wacky ideas like using video tape as a tool. Might put the Dubas stuff in perspective for some. A lot of the reaction has the same ring to it. Feel free to delete,
Great article!! Love these interviews. But I thought there was going to be more focus on Nylander in this one?
I get the impression that Dave doesn't miss the bluster of Burkie; I can imagine he could easily overwhelm the room and that is not a good thing most times; there are no geniuses in this game; methodical - I like methodical - "methodical is good". Like its cousin "attention to detail". Quality read. Having worked in management jobs where it's so easy to be second guessed; I can very much appreciate what these scouts and guys like Morrison have to live with; 90% of the people will look at the results and not how they were arrived at - was he really any good or just lucky?
Thank you for these articles. I have learnt alot about the scouting process.
I was at the MasterCard Centre during the prospect camp and saw a number of these kids. I have a question about Gauthier's potential.
When watching Gauthier, the comparison that came to my mind was Bobby Holik. Holik had a long career and was a integral player in the Devil's Stanley Cup teams. He topped out as a 60 point player, but goal scoring was not why he played in the NHL for 15+ years. I think I recall Sundin saying that Holik was the toughest guy to play against in the NHL. Just because a kid doesn't score 100+ in junior
Anthony, Does this comparison make sense to you? Does Gauthier have "Bobby Holik-type" potential?
Just wanted to say Thank You to Anthony for this awesome process with Dave Morrison and Thank You to Dave Morrison as well. This is so awesome and very very informative. It was amazing to read and very much appreciated.
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!
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.
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.
Just wanted to pop in and say thanks for all the nice comments. Morrison is a really good guy to chat hockey with.
@skiingallday Off topic Converesation is in the mashup. http://mapleleafshotstove.com/2014/07/24/thursday-mashup-booth-adds-another-option/
This is something we still have to get used to around here apparently. If a thread seems quiet, check the mashup.
@Bring the Cup Home I honestly believe Kessel has a 40 goal season or two in him with an outside shot of cracking the magical 50. I think last season he was definitely on pace but honestly the Olympics not only killed his momentum but also his energy.
He may never have the sculpted athlete's frame many think he should have no matter how much he works out because of the particular type of cancer and treatment he had.
@Xxxxxnew Sweet article!
@leafdreamer I think they were debating the value of trading down and whether it was worth it. They love Nylander.
@leafdreamer Nylander looks exactly how Rielly looked to me - a sure thing with the wow factor to boot!
@leafdreamer from all reports its sounds like they've all had their eyes on Nylander for a while and were surprised that he was available to them at their pick
@leafdreamer He plays the same way Kessel does.. how has that worked out on the small ice...
@StanleyB4idieplease It was the other way around. Holik actually said Sundin was the toughest guy in the league to play against.
Holik had a really good career and was a top 10 pick so I wouldn't make that comparison. I don't like player comparisons in general, so I think the hope is that Gauthier's just a solid shutdown guy at C and PKer with very minimal offense, at the moment. 3-4C type, but with a presence.
@Gilbey93 What 10 prospects within the organization would you rank ahead of Connor Brown?
@Ricky_Vaives_slapshot your a minute to late then, 12 is better
@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.
agreed, just terrible. I think he needs to do 100-200 more until he can get it right ;)
@jimmyg65 what you don't like all the talk about Stamkos coming here in 2 years lol. How desperate has the media become that they just make up stuff
His improvement will also get a boost from an overall team improvement. It's been too easy for other teams to gear their coverage against our top line.
i guess the question then is not his pyhsique but his offseason work ethic. he still doesn't strike me as the guy who is working as hard as some do out there to be in peak physical condition.....
@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.
and if there is yet another gear hiding in phil somewhere i just want it unleashed cuz he'd be one of the best of the best.
@jimmyg65 @LeafsGuru He might come but to say it 2 years away from his UFA and 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
@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 .
@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.