Photo: Toronto Star

Recently I had an opportunity to interview Dave Poulin, vice president of hockey operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs, for Lindy—s Sports Maple Leafs Annual magazine.  Poulin, whose job focuses heavily on player acquisition and development at both the pro and amateur ranks, shared rare insight into almost all facets of the game.  From principles of drafting, the mechanics of pro scouting, and internal team growth, Poulin shed light on the important, behind-the-scenes work that dictates the future success of the franchise.

As is often the case in any written work, more is discussed than can be shown.  Inspired by MLHS readers— questions, here are a couple pearls that Poulin shared with me relating to draft draft methodology, player value and prospect depth within the organization that –  due to space constraints – couldn—t be included in the feature.

Be sure to check out Alex Tran—s mag preview with Dave Morrison, if you haven—t already.  More info on the magazine release and availability will follow soon.  Looking forward to your thoughts; enjoy.

Under Burke—s tenure, there haven—t been any Russian-born players selected by the club.  Does that tie into retention of players— rights, team philosophy, or the competitive nature of the KHL?

I think you have to look at pure numbers of Russian players being drafted in the past few years.  The number of Russian players drafted or playing in the NHL has dwindled dramatically, due to the KHL.  It—s not us (the Leafs) specifically.  We had some key (Russian) players at some key points, and if their names hadn—t been called, we would have drafted them.  We draft best player available always.

I wondered, since there—s a lot of talk about the ˜enigmatic Russian— stereotype —

Yeah, and two of the best kids on our team are Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.  Both trained in Russia; they—re great kids.

Can you contrast that to the effectiveness of Swedish scout Thommie Bergman, who has unearthed some intriguing prospects on the back end, like Petter Granberg and Tom Nilsson?

Well, this Viktor Loov (drafted 209th overall in 2012) kid is really, really interesting as well.

What can you tell me about him?

He—s a late —92 birthday, so he—s been through the draft before.  But he grew immensely in a very short time, as did (2012 sixth round pick) Connor Brown.  When Loov was first being scouted, he was listed as 5-foot-6, 135 pounds.  So when he showed up as a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder this year, there were a lot of surprised people.

He plays in the Allsvenskan, so he was a little under the radar.  But what Thommie is so good at is talking to his guys, finding these players in smaller towns in Sweden.  Carl Gunnarsson was a similar profile when he was drafted.  Viktor Stalberg was a similar profile.  And we—ve been lucky when finding these lower profile guys for our club.

Seems that every draft, there—s a Swedish player taken by the Leafs. Is there something that is prompting this?

Yes, and it—s almost the antithesis of the Russian situation.  There—s a lot more high-profile Swedes now in the draft.  The Swedes are doing a tremendous job on the development side for their kids.  For a while, I think most people admit that Swedish hockey had a downswing.  But the Swedes made a conscious effort on training coaches in a pyramid-manner where coaches would coach up on a scale, but be taught how to coach properly every step of the way.  Training coaches in the proper manner to teach the game better to players. And it—s been producing great results

Finnish hockey, begrudgingly, is doing the same thing¦though they—d never admit that the Swedes had a better idea than they did.

The current make-up of the club appears to be very forward heavy.  Is that how you would view the team?

Maybe at the NHL level, but I think our young group coming is D-centric — and a lot deeper than its getting any acknowledgement for.  In college you—ve got Dennis Robertson, Eric Knodel, Max Everson and Andrew MacWilliam.  And you—ve got Loov, Nilsson and Granberg in Sweden.  And you—ve got Stuart Percy, Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn in the CHL.  So that—s ten players that could have a real chance to play for the Leafs.