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Dave Morrison

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Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison is a great interview (video) when it comes to the Leafs prospects and the scouting process. In case you missed it, or if you prefer the written word, here’s the transcript of his thoughts on each Leaf draftee from Sunday’s draft.

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Dave Nonis

I really wanted to write a wrap up notebook, but I wasn’t going to subject myself to watching that game again, nor do I particularly want to write about it. I mean, the only time I watched that Bergeron game winner was live and that’s how it is going to remain, so I wouldn’t be much of a source for insight or analysis.

It really was a great year for the Leafs, though. At the beginning of the season I didn’t think they would make the playoffs, and at the beginning of the first round I wasn’t sure they would make it much of a series. They proved me wrong both times. They proved a lot of people wrong.

In order for the Leafs to get better, though, they’ll need to have a strong offseason and smooth out some of their rough edges.

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Brian Burke / Tyler Biggs / Dave Morrison

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:

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Kadri, Lupul

That Kadri kid is pretty good isn’t he? Back when Brian Burke stepped up to the podium at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal, I imagine this was the player he was envisioning that night: slick, slippery and drenched in skill. That was an absolute clinic Kadri put on out there against the Lightning, displaying all sorts of offensive creativity, patience and ingenuity with the puck. This is a player who is gaining confidence and progressing by leaps and bounds – a player on the verge of making a lasting imprint in this star-starved market. But before we get too far of ourselves thinking ahead, why don’t we take a step back and briefly peruse the timeline  that has led him to the “now” (and enjoy a few memorable quotes along the way).

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“There’s a chance we make a positional pick here but I don’t think so.”

Sounds like Burke will be sticking with the best-athlete available-philosophy and, as reported earlier, the Leafs GM says there’s a “good chance” it’s a defenceman based on his reading of the first four picks. Of course, the reading could be different than what plays out or a trade could impact the order.

Both Burke and Dave Nonis were quite clear about just how little is going on with trade activity at the moment.

After the jump is Dave Nonis’ interview from yesterday and today’s Leafs Nation Google+ live chat with Dallas Eakins. Be sure to look out for MLHS’ own Mislav Jantoljak, who asks Dallas a few questions.

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Brian Burke / Tyler Biggs / Dave Morrison

As mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of chatting with Maple Leafs’ Director of Amateur Scouting, Dave Morrison this morning to glean some his insight for an upcoming piece in this year’s edition of the Maple Leafs Annual. For that content, you’ll just have to wait until September. However, I was given the go-ahead to pass along for your enjoyment some of the content that will not be used in the Annual. Bear in mind, the flow of the interview may appear a little off as these are excerpts pulled from various sections.

James Reimer really burst onto the NHL scene with a fantastic stretch of games as a rookie, but seemed to struggle a little bit toward the end there. Is conditioning one of those things James needs to work on in order to solidify himself as a true number one goaltender?

Morrison – You’re right Alex, this was his first real extended stretch of games at the NHL level and that was a big challenge. He certainly proved himself at the AHL level, but the workload he shouldered there at the end… any goalie would start to feel the effects of that. That part of James’ game and the process of him learning how to be THE guy are going to come with experience and maturity. He understands what he needs to do. The management staff as well… they’re going to work with James as well to know when he’s okay to play and when he may need a night off here and there.

After James Reimer was promoted to the big club, it was Ben Scrivens’ turn to steal the show as a rookie goaltender with the Marlies, putting up some very impressive numbers. Should Jonas and James be looking over their shoulders a little bit at the NHL level?

Morrison – Haha, well any goalie should be always looking over their shoulders. The skaters should be too. There should always be an element of competition there at all times because it forces everyone to stay honest and continue to want to improve. We know Scrivens is a very good young goaltender and that he’s chomping at the bit to see some NHL action. At some point, he will push for an NHL job and that could be as early as sometime next year, but I certainly expect James and Jonas to be prepared for that possibility and to work their butts off to keep their jobs. We’re in a great situation with a bevy of good young goalies moving forward.

Jesse Blacker seemed to have quite the breakout offensive season in the OHL this year thanks to increased ice-time and responsibility. How does he compare to Stuart Percy and Jake Gardiner in terms of puckmoving ability and offensive upside?

Morrison – Oh boy, that’s a tough question. Well Jesse’s definitely a good one. All three of those guys are excellent puckmoving defensemen but each of them approaches the game with a bit of a different feel. Stuart’s not as flashy as Jesse or Jake but his intelligence more than makes up for it as he possesses an excellent understanding of the game. That’s not to take anything away from the other two, but Stuart just seems to incorporate it more into his game. Jesse and Jake on the other hand, are a little stronger on their feet in terms of agility and rushing ability. I suppose in the end, one of them will end up being the best of the group, but it’s doesn’t matter who. We’re in a great situation to have three high upside defensemen who should all be able to contribute at the next level.

You traded up for your top selection of this year’s draft, snagging power forward Tyler Biggs, a ferocious checker, with the 22nd pick of the first round. What were some of the skills you saw that really drew you to him? Word is you guys actually had Percy rated a little higher than Biggs, but you called a draft floor audible to make sure you got both. Tell us about that.

Morrison – Like you said, Tyler is a big, strong guy with a great physical element to his game. He’s got the upside of a power forward because he can play with a hard hitting, nasty edge but he’s also got the offensive skills to complement a scoring line. We love that he goes out there and gets his nose dirty in the corners. These types of players are very hard to find because teams just don’t let them go.

We were sitting there at the draft table with picks 25 and 29 coming up and we knew there was no way we were going to get both where we were. So after trading up for the 22nd pick, I just had a feeling that Biggs was going to go before Percy within the next few picks. This is just one of those instincts you develop after years of experience and being on the floor for several drafts. It was something I discussed with my colleagues, who also shared the feeling. So we went ahead with our selection and just crossed our fingers, hoping that Percy would make it to 25. We really had no idea if it was all going to work out but we’re very thankful that it did.

Let’s switch gears a little bit and finish off with some draft related questions. There was talk this year of teams putting a lot more time and effort into the interview process, even meeting with players that were significantly out of their projected range. Was this simply a matter of the 2011 draft class being one where there was little difference between say picks 20 through 50, thus prompting the need to be prepared for any scenario?

Morrison – Absolutely Alex. That’s one part of it. You always want to be prepared for anything, whether that’s a player being unexpectedly available or trade options presenting themselves. The other aspect of it may simply just be the evolution of scouting as teams realize the importance of drafting well in the cap era. More time and money is being invested into the process and the teams that do so will reap the benefits later on down the road.

With the recent regime change in the management team of the city’s baseball team (Blue Jays), current General Manager Alex Anthopoulos talked about a new approach to drafting where the organization sought out players with a 10% chance at developing into a star preferentially over players with a 50% chance of developing into an average player. What are your thoughts on such a drafting philosophy? Is it realistic to draft that way in hockey?

Morrison – That’s an interesting question. My team and I are always trying to find that diamond in the rough… a true difference maker as it were. But like with baseball, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different ways for a player to positively impact a team. Some organizations have gotten especially good at identifying those riskier, high upside guys. Over the years, our team has been targeting increasingly higher risk-reward type players, much more so than four or five years ago. It becomes a lot easier to do so when you manage to acquire depth through free agent signings like Tyler Bozak, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas. That frees you up to get a little more adventurous on the draft floor.

Let’s say you’ve selected a couple of higher risk players in the early rounds. Do you seek to contrast those selections with some safer guarantees with defined roles in the later rounds? I would imagine it’s quite important to ensure you leave the draft floor with at least a few NHL contributors?

Morrison –Maybe in the past we would do a little more of that. Now, we feel pretty confident taking high risk players because of all the homework we do to learn about a player, from a personal, medical and physical standpoint. A certain player may be further away from becoming an impact player but if we see that they have the right mentality and character to put in the work to get there, that makes us feel a lot better about a particular selection. Extensive homework is what gives us a better chance with these high upside risks.

When scouting a player, on average, how many games do you feel are required in order to make a proper assessment of that player’s abilities?

Morrison – You see Alex, it honestly depends on the game. Sometimes it’s one game… sometimes it’s two games… sometimes it’s six games. I read and receive a ton of reports everyday from all of our scouts and those are extremely important. If I were to go see a player, there could be any number of factors in play that could skew what I’m seeing. It could be a Sunday afternoon game for example where that player is tired after three games in two and half days, so perhaps I would consider coming back and watching him play on a Friday night.

One last question.There seems to be considerable hype building for the upcoming 2012 draft class. What’s your early impression of that next crop of young players? Could it be realistically likened to the 2003 class where you see several all-star calibre players like Getzlaf, Perry, and Parise being selected in the late first round, or is that a little on the optimistic side?

Morrison – That’s probably a little optimistic. I will say that the next group of players certainly looks very good and that throughout the course of this past year, the reviews on some of these underage players have been jumping off the page. However with any young player, a lot can change over the course of a year, so I like to stick with a wait and see approach before passing any final judgment.

Well, that’s it from me. A big thank you from both MLHS and the Maple Leafs Annual for letting us interrupt you during your much deserved time off.

Morrison – My pleasure Alex. Anytime.

$12.99, 128 pages, no ads, all Leafs.

The Maple Street Press Maple Leafs Annual is back for it’s second edition, jam packed with even more Leafs coverage, analysis and inside access than the year before. Preorders will ship on August 17 and include a $5.00 shipping charge. Yes, Kaberle remained a Leaf by the final deadline, because apparently it was just SO out of the way for Burke to deal him at our convenience. It matters not, just read some of these highlights:

  • Detailed player by player scouting information, advanced statistics and innovative statistical graphics for the 2010-11 roster

  • An interview with GM Brian Burke on change and the outlook for 2010-11

  • A look at the controversial legacy of 1960s Leafs head coach Punch Imlach, with reflections from Leaf greats Johnny Bower, Red Kelly, Dick Duff, Larry Hillman & more

  • A position by position look at the 2010-11 Leafs roster

  • The inside scoop on the Leafs’ 2010 off-season additions, organizational philosophy and evaluation with Leafs Vice President of Hockey Operations Dave Poulin

  • A review of the 2010 draft with the perspective of Leafs head scout Dave Morrison

  • Statistical analysis of the importance of first round picks: can the Leafs go their own way?

  • Analysis of the Leafs’ cap situation with looks at the constitution of past Cup winners

  • A Nazem Kadri feature (including thoughts from Morrison and director of player development Jim Hughes) & list of the Leafs’ Top Prospects in Fall 2010 & Darkhorses

  • An interview with potential sixth round steal Jerry D’Amigo

  • An in-depth look at the Marlies’ season that was and will be with thoughts from head coach Dallas Eakins, Poulin, Jay Rosehill and Tim Brent
  • Projections for the Leafs offense and defense
  • An in-depth, goalie-by-goalie scouting evaluation of Leaf netminders (Gustavsson, Giguere, Scrivens, Reimer, Rynnas) with The Goalie Guild’s Justin Goldman
  • Takes on how new media is changing coverage of the team with thoughts from MLSE social media strategist Jonathan Sinden

Ensure yourself a copy of the Maple Leafs Annual here. Take the jump for a full list of authors – the best of the best from across the Barilkosphere and beyond.

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Just had a brief word with Leafs head of amateur scouting Dave Morrison, who spoke about the approach to this weekend’s draft without a first or second round pick in hand (as of now):

We have done our list the same as we would in any other year fully prepared for anything that may happen. However we have certainly spent more time looking at a group of players that we think could be there when we pick at 62. Every year we try to unearth a gem and it will be no different at this draft.

Given that the scouting staff has focused more efforts than usual in looking at players within the 62nd pick range, you would think this gives them a slight edge in finding that “gem” should he be out there.

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    Jonas Gustavsson’s unofficial debut performance is bound to generate some buzz after the Monster stopped 35 of 36 shots in backing the Maple Leafs’ prospects to a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins’ youngsters in the opening game of the rookie tournament inside the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium this evening.

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      UPDATE:
      Some changes in information:

      • Hits newsstands September 8th, available at all Indigo Chapters stores in Canada as well as wherever magazines are sold in the greater Toronto area, including Walmart, grocery stores, drug stores, newsstands, etc. Apparently the the only magazine outlet in the GTA it isn’t available at is the Toronto airport.
      • Should you wish to PREORDER, the SHIPPING FEE has been dropped from $11 to $5.00. Everyone who has already preordered will be credited the $6 difference.
      • Pre-ordering not only guarantees you a copy but will get you one a week in advance as preorders are shipped August 25th with a 2-5 day waiting period for arrival.
      • My apologies for the mistakes in my original information.

      Debunking growing speculation that I’ve been kicking my feet up on the beaches of Cancun and ignoring all of you for the last month, myself alongside publishing company Maple Street Press are very pleased to introduce the inaugural Maple Leafs Annual. Before we get into the thick of it, I’d like to first of all thank MSP for offering me the opportunity to edit, and contribute to, this project. Although at times taxing, to see this Annual come together has been an extremely satisfying and mostly fun endeavour. I was put in the unique position of being able to unite the prominent and growing voices of the Leafs’ blog-o-sphere into a consolidated project, and for that I’m very thankful. The final product is one that I think all of Leafs Nation can be proud of.

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        The Toronto Maple Leafs’ first draft under the watchul eye of Brian Burke displayed a stark change in the team’s draft philosophy. The scouting staff searched for the type of players and attributes that would be able to fit into the mold of a tough, physical checking style of game that the Leafs hope to play several years down the road. As a result, we saw a lot more emphasis placed on size and toughness than skill and speed. Not surprisingly, all of Toronto’s seven selections were from the North American ranks, four of them from the Ontario Hockey League and three from American hockey programs.

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          Submit your questions for the Leafs’ Director of Amateur Scouting in the comments thread and I’ll ask a few of my choosing in an interview with Morrison tomorrow. And yes, I will kick things off with “who are we going to draft?” but I don’t anticipate any sort of disclosure.

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            Sorry for the delay guys.  We greatly appreciate the flood of great questions and comments, and are sorry to say we couldn’t get to them all. We’ve all been pretty busy lately for a variety of reasons, so without any further ado, let’s get started on the 1st ever Maple Leafs HotStove Hockey Panel Discussion.

            Forming our panel for this session is Alec Brownscombe of Hockeybuzz and MLHS godfather, Gus Katsaros of Mckeen’s and MLHS fantasy expert, and myself, Alex Tran, an MLHS blogger.