Lou Lamoriello joined Hockey Prospects radio last week to discuss a trio of Leafs prospects in J.D. Greenway, Travis Dermott and Jeremy Bracco. Transcript below.
You have an interesting and intriguing group of prospects. We’re really interested in talking about a couple of guys in your mix. Number one is James Greenway. When you get a defenceman who is 6’4 and well over 200 pounds, and has athletic ability and hockey sense, is that fun for you as a General Manager — to watch a player with those type of skill sets and help mould him into a potential NHL player?
Lou Lamoriello: Well, those skills — in particular, the size factor — are never going to leave him. He’s always going to be big. As for as the other ingredients, as far as getting whatever individual talents he has, the key for a young player like him is to try and find what I call “the box.” You get all the tools and you put them in a box so they all work the same way. He’s going to a great program in Wisconsin, playing for two people that I know extremely well — the Granatos — and there is no better place for development right now than where he’s at.
I like the patient pass he makes from behind the net, the fast angles. He’s fast, he takes good angles. He made a play at the U18s; he and Clayton Keller were streaking down the ice, and Keller sort of made this no-look pass. There was Greenway, and he finished it off. At the end of the game, I asked [Keller], “were you surprised that someone was there for that pass?” He was. He said he had never seen Greenway do that. I was curious if you had seen that play. If not, you know that he can make those plays occasionally.
Lamoriello: No, I was there. I saw the play. I can’t say I’ve seen him as much as our scouts have seen him as far as seeing that play before, but he did make it. He did have the sense to do it. But we’re more concerned not about that area. We’re more concerned about how he learns to play in his own end, how he learns how to keep his gaps, and how he learns how to protect the front of the net — the things that you can learn in a good program. That’s what we will be watching.
From your perspective of watching Greenway the times you’ve seen him — and obviously developing defencemen similar to his attributes — is it the play in the neutral zone as he’s coming back [that’s the key]? I think in today’s NHL the game and pace is so fast that you have to be able to control that gap, take the right angles, get your stick in the way and be able to stay, as a defenceman, with the streaking forwards. Is that something that you’re hoping Greenway is going to get better at game in, game out and year after year in Wisconsin? There is no pressure on him to come out early. He could be there for three or four years and turn into a good player for you.
Lamoriello: First of all, let’s say this. He’s a prospect. We know what his age is. We know what his potential skills are. Now he just has to go and grow, and learn with experience, and not rush anything. Every player needs everything that we’re talking about — all defencemen do, particularly size-and-strength defencemen because their skating isn’t always where a smaller guy’s is. With reference to positioning that you are talking about — center ice, the gaps, his angling — that’s all going to come with teaching and doing the right things all the time, over and over again.
Let’s get your thoughts on Travis Dermott, who is a second round pick, 34th overall in 2015. He played three seasons with the Erie Otters and got a taste of one game with the Toronto Marlies. What are your thoughts on how this mobile, smaller, puck-moving defenceman has developed? This is a kid who, in the second round, that’s where you can really make some hay sometimes. He has developed probably a little bit faster than some people’s expectations.
Lamoriello: I’ve been extremely impressed with him here in camp. He played an exhibition game for us against Buffalo. I thought he handled himself extremely well. I thought his confidence and the skills that he has were outstanding. He wants to be a player. He’s got an edge about him. He competes. I think there is no height to where this man can’t go if he continues to train off the ice, continues to get stronger, leaner, and get his body to where it needs to be to play in the National Hockey League. He is a top prospect right now.
I’ve been impressed with Dermott’s two-way play. I got to see him play work out and see what he looked like at the combine, and I was really impressed. The one thing the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t do is worry about what a guy’s size and stature is. Basically, height-wise, you guys will draft anybody. But he is a very strong kid — really, really strong for his age. I was really impressed with that, besides everything else that he brings to the table.
Lamoriello: I couldn’t agree more. He is solid.
You guys had a defenceman in New Jersey named Brian Rafalski, who wasn’t the tallest guy, but he was solid, and strong, and had an ability to compete. I’m not comparing the two, but I think sometimes people get mesmerized by looking at the measuring tape. From Travis’ standpoint, I don’t think you do that. I’m really intrigued to see how he continues to develop.
Lamoriello: I’ll take a medium-sized player who has top hockey strength over a taller or bigger player that does not have hockey strength. There is a difference. Hockey strength is something different than just pure strength. The young man you talked about, Brian Rafalski, had hockey strength. I believe this young man we’re talking about has hockey strength. What I mean by that is, when they got into a corner — no matter what their size is — and when they lean on their stick, they can compete with anyone. I’ve seen bigger players who don’t have that. You see players sometimes fall for different reasons, and it’s not by accident. It’s just the power in their legs, or their strength. That, to me, is what’s important.
The last player we want to talk to you about is Jeremy Bracco — another guy who is not the tallest guy, but has a very strong stature and shows some intriguing explosiveness in his game and a lot of passion in his game. I enjoyed watching him play with the Kitchener Rangers last year. From your perspective, what is intriguing about this young player as he continues to develop?
Lamoriello: Ironically, I had the opportunity to see Bracco even before he was drafted. Before his draft year, he played in New Jersey in our arena, in our practice facility. I had the opportunity to see him, and now I see how much he’s grown with strength and how committed he is to the game. I know he loves the game, but he has something that you cannot teach — hockey sense. He sees the ice. When he looks up, he sees five players, and he can hit the open man. His hockey sense and his skills are above the charts. What he has to do is what he’s doing — work, because of his size, on his strength, and do the things that are going to help him be a better player. He’s a player that you won’t see get hit much no matter what because of how wily he is and how he sees the ice — not only when he has the puck, but when he doesn’t have the puck, so he can see other people. I’ve been impressed with him also.
I’ve watched him for a while now, and I love the way he’ll fight for the puck in the corners. He’s really hard to knock off the puck. He knows how to go to the net. He can score on impossible angle shots at times; got a pro wrist shot. Great skater. The stick and puck control is definitely there. Also, when he was with the USNDTP, his play with Auston Matthews was terrific. I’m sure you had to appreciate the fact that, when you got Matthews, there might be some interaction there in the future.
Lamoriello: I don’t think we were thinking about the “who, when, where, what” when we drafted Auston Matthews, but comfortability with individual people is already an asset should it come about — that they would have an opportunity to play together. Jeremy is working towards having a successful career. He just has to take it one thing at a time.