Draft Schmaft: A Look Into the Leafs Amateur Scouting Department

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A couple months ago, former NHL GM and scout Craig Button defended the Leafs’ amateur scouting department while on the Macko & Cauz TSN 1050 radio show. Instead of criticizing a poor drafting record, Button cited prospect and draft pick management as the real crux in the Leafs development system. This is a fairly strong argument as the Leafs have traded away three 1st round picks and a whopping eight 2nd round picks since 2007. However, the current TSN Director of Scouting may be overlooking a serious problem within the Leafs’ amateur scouting department itself. For purposes of this article, I will discuss the Leafs’ poor drafting record by examining the ultimate failures of its U.S. college system prospects. I believe these findings sufficiently prove that amateur scouting should also be blamed for the barren Leafs’ prospect pool, not prospect mismanagement alone.

Button briefly defended his claim by stating that Tuukka Rask and Alex Steen were great draft picks who were dealt too early. Thus, management is to blame and the scouting department should be free of criticism. Though he is correct, Rask (2005) and Steen (2002) were drafted a long time ago. Furthermore, I do not think this is the same scouting group that Button remembers. Since 2006, the Leafs have hired many scouts that have transformed the outlook of the amateur scouting department. Notably, before the 2006-2007 season, Dave Morrison was promoted and named as the Leafs’ Director of Amateur Scouting. Perhaps, this promotion would spark the decline in the Leafs’ drafting record. Now, let’s take a look at some shocking statistics that further illustrate this point.

Since 2005, the Leafs have drafted 18 U.S. college prospects. Of these 18 draft picks, Jerry D’amigo is the only player to play an NHL game for the club. He has played a total of 22 NHL games for the Leafs and has since been dealt to Columbus. Remarkable! The Leafs’ amateur scouting department used 18 draft picks to secure the Leafs a total of 22 NHL games. It should be noted that some of these draft picks have played NHL games for other clubs, but the numbers are not pretty.

In 2005, the Leafs drafted two Americans from U.S. junior hockey leagues. One did not make it to the NHL (Alex Berry) and the other (Chad Rau) played 9 NHL games for the Minnesota Wild. In 2006, the Leafs drafted only one American player (Tyler Ruegsegger). Interestingly, 6 out of 7 of these 2006 draft picks made it to the NHL. Can you guess which draft pick failed? The lone American pick.

In 2008, the Leafs drafted two more Americans. Both were dealt early and have played games in the NHL. One pick, Greg Pateryn, has only played 9 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, while the other, Jimmy Hayes, has played 168 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Panthers. Hayes appears to be the anomaly throughout these drafting mishaps. His 153 NHL games are about 100 games more than all of these 18 draft picks combined. Of course, he was traded away in 2010 so the Leafs amateur scouting department could make another blunder in the form of Brad Ross. This is an interesting case in itself as Ross was selected over Toronto-native Tyler Toffoli. Despite Toffoli’s superior numbers in junior, the Leafs opted to draft the Albertan who was playing for the Portland Winterhawks (an American WHL team). Since then, Toffoli has gone on to tally up 83 points in 148 NHL games while Ross has produced 29 points in 125 AHL games.

The problems within the Leafs amateur scouting department truly pick up within the last 5 to 6 years. Since 2009, the Leafs have drafted 13 American/U.S. system players. Again, Jerry D’amigo is the only one to play an NHL game. In addition to drafting D’amigo in 2009, the Leafs selected Kenny Ryan, Eric Knodel, and Barron Smith. Ryan appears to be a career AHLer, Knodel is currently playing for the Leafs’ ECHL affiliate and Smith most recently played for the University of Alberta in 2014.

In 2011, the Leafs selected the American Tyler Biggs with their first draft pick. He has yet to play an NHL game and currently has an astonishing 15 points in 108 AHL games. In addition to Biggs, the Leafs drafted four other American/U.S. college players in this draft. None of these players have played in the NHL and their professional careers appear to be dwindling. However, Tony Cameranesi may be an exception to this as he currently leads his university team in scoring, but only time will tell if he can make the jump to the NHL. Since 2012, the Leafs have drafted four American players and these players will need some time to develop before one can critique their careers. However, why did the Leafs draft three American players in 2014, if they had strong evidence that their U.S. prospects were not panning out? There appears to be a real problem in the Leafs amateur scouting department. Especially, when it comes to drafting American/U.S. system players.

Some important questions come to mind. Who scouted these guys and why were these scouts given so many opportunities despite the apparent failures? The Leafs started the 2014-2015 campaign having five American amateur scouts. Brian Sommariva is the 5th and most recently hired (2014) American scout, so I will spare him from any criticism. The four other American amateur scouts were hired between 2006-2011 and thus, their work should be scrutinized. John Lilley was the first of these American scouts hired by the Leafs back in 2006. In 2008, Gary Harker joined the Leafs’ amateur scouts. A year later, John McMorrow was added to the amateur scouting department as he followed Brian Burke from Anaheim. The final American amateur scout is Pat Dapuzzo who was hired by the Leafs 2011. Dapuzzo was previously an NHL referee and had no prior scouting experience.

These four scouts have undoubtedly played a role in the Leafs’ recent draft history. In particular, Lilley has been with the club for 16 American-based draft picks. Harker has been involved with 13 American draft picks. McMorrow — 9 American draft picks and Dapuzzo — 4 American draft picks. Perhaps, Dapuzzo can be excused as these draft picks have yet to develop, but why was he hired without having any scouting experience? Given their poor record, why haven’t Lilley, Harker and McMorrow been replaced? Has Dave Morrison not reviewed their American drafting record? Whatever the case, there appears to be a great deal of dysfunction within the Leafs amateur scouting department.

To that end, these American scouts should not be blamed entirely for the failings of recent Leafs’ prospects. Scouts make blunders all the time, whether they are Canadian, Swedish or American. Moreover, draft selections are often made upon group consensus. It would be wrong to blame just a few scouts. Instead, I think the blame should fall upon the Director of Amateur Scouting and any members of upper-management who have a say in which scouts are hired/fired. Management entails finding weaknesses, anticipating problems and taking necessary action to right the course. In regards to amateur scouting, I believe that the Leafs have failed to do this as action should have been taken a couple of years ago.

In 2013, upper-management would have been able to see that 13 American-based draft picks since 2006 were failing to progress to the NHL level. They would have been able to see that 13 out of 50 draft picks were wasted on American/U.S. college players. In other words, 26% of draft picks between 2006 and 2013 were used on American players and have since proven to be ineffective. The worst part about this statistic is that these draft picks share a pattern. These players share a commonality in that they are American and/or U.S. college players. This is not to suggest that American players are inferior; rather, it is to suggest that the Leafs’ American amateur scouts are failing to identify NHL talent.  All of this evidence would have been present to the upper-echelons of Leafs management and yet, nothing was done.

As the Leafs embark upon another rebuild, major changes may be made throughout the entire organization. Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan already began this process last offseason, but it is clear that more changes are warranted. When it comes to the Leafs’ amateur scouting department…Shanny, the future is in your hands!

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Fast-forward to April 13, 2015. President Shanahan has kept his promise to Leafs Nation as it appears his “Scorched Earth” approach is in full effect. On Sunday, it was announced that the Leafs had parted ways with General Manager Dave Nonis and Interim Head Coach Peter Horacheck. In addition to this, coaches Steve Spott, Chris Dennis and Rick St. Croix were relieved of their duties. But the slaughter did not stop there as Shanahan dismissed Steve Kasper (Director of Pro Scouting) and Jim Hughes (Director of Player Development). Throughout all of this bloodshed, Dave Morrison appears to be safe in his role as the Director of Amateur Scouting. However, eleven amateur scouts were dismissed from the club’s scouting department. It is unofficial, but it seems as if John Lilley is the lone American amateur scout to survive the purge. For this, I applaud the great triumvirate composed of Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan. Even though I feel that these wholesale changes should have been made long ago, I am just happy to see the appropriate moves being put in action.


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