Welcome to Recrutes – a Scout’s Story
March 28, 2018
By Grant McCagg
One might wonder how anybody would be crazy enough to start up a website dedicated solely to the NHL draft. Well, it all started as a very young fellow, who from as far back as I can recall, was crazy about the annual event.
As a seven-year-old Habs fan that had just witnessed a stunning Cup win by my team in upsetting the Big Bad Bruins and eventually Chicago in Jean Beliveau’s swan song in 1971, I fondly remember a few weeks later seeing all of the news clips showing Beliveau’s heir apparent in plaid pants with bushy blonde sideburns shaking hands with Sam Pollock. I can still picture the look of elation on Sam’s face, as he, the Stanley Cup-winning general manager, had just stolen the game’s next superstar from the California Golden Seals after months earlier dealing them a fellow by the name of Bill Hicke and a swap of first-round picks.
I may have only been seven but I realized that this draft thing was an integral part of building a hockey team if this wild-haired blond 20-year-old was one day going to be as essential and popular as my recently-retired hero…all because Montreal’s GM had the foresight to maneuver himself into the position to get this star in the making through this wonderful entity called the NHL draft.
This was my introduction to becoming a lifelong draft fanatic, an affliction that only intensified two years later when, as an Ottawa-Valley boy who was a big Ottawa 67’s fan I witnessed another hero, the “next Bobby Orr” in Denis Potvin, also get chosen first overall in the NHL draft by the horrid New York Islanders, who had just set an NHL record for futility.
Islander Powerhouse through the Draft
Well…that horrible team would get good in a hurry with that cornerstone defenceman, and it wasn’t long before that very squad was the bane of my beloved Habs and stopping their Stanley Cup run at the end of the 1970s, in no small part because in 1977 the same genius who had stolen Lafleur made an error in judgment in listening to his scouts and passing over a local boy named Mike Bossy in the draft to take Mark Napier from the WHA’s Birmingham Bulls in the WHA.
At the time I had not minded the pick at all, as I had gotten to see a lot of Napier that past season playing for the Toronto Toros in games that were televised on one of the three channels we got with our country cable..the new station called Global out of Toronto, and I thought he was going to be a special NHLer as he’d been a sensation at the age of 18 in a league filled with veteran pro players.
Already an avid subscriber to the Hockey News, I’d seen the great statistics this Bossy kid had put up, scoring 70-plus goals in four consecutive seasons in Laval, but I kept reading that he was soft and paid no attention to the defensive side of the game. Oh, how wrong they were. The following season as Napier had a so-so sophomore season with Birmingham in the WHA, Bossy was notching 53 goals and running away with the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year playing on a line with another burgeoning superstar the Islanders had stolen in 1975 in the second round of the draft by the name of Bryan Trottier.
As a huge hockey fan…incidents like those made me fully aware that the NHL draft was the single most important component in building a hockey team. Lafleur became the key piece on a Habs team that would win four Cups from 1976-80, and the next four years Potvin, Trottier and yes…Mike Bossy…would be the cornerstone of an Islanders team that would also win four consecutive Cups.
Almost a decade after picking Lafleur first overall right after a Cup victory, there was a distinct feeling of deja vu as the Habs, fresh off a Cup win, once again finagled their way into the top pick, and were poised to select a player everyone was touting as the game’s next superstar in Doug Wickenheiser in 1980.
As history would show…this time around the Habs weren’t so fortunate with that top selection as they proceeded to shatter this great young player’s confidence in his first two seasons by playing him sparingly or sitting him in the stands, and he never developed into the great player all had him destined to become. Meanwhile, much like in 1977 when the Hab has passed over a local Quebecois kid in Bossy, the third overall pick from that draft – Denis Savard – would become a superstar in Chicago, and Habs fans were once again left with the feeling of what could have been….if only the scouts in Montreal had been “wise” enough to predict the future for these two young men.
It only served to strengthen my fascination for the whole drafting process, as I was now well aware that even when you held the first-overall pick, you have no guarantees that player will turn into a star that will help your team win playoff games. It also became clear to me that perhaps the most important part of building a successful hockey team was in hiring good scouts.
It was a major reason why the Islanders became a powerhouse team in the late 1970’s and early 80s. Washington selected a kid named Greg Joly first overall in 1974 when they could have chosen Clark Gillies, who went fourth overall to the Islanders. The following year Philadelphia chose Mel Bridgeman first overall when they could have chosen Trottier. Two years after that 14 teams passed on Bossy..and voila..the Islanders..once the joke of the league…now had what would be the top line in hockey for the next eight seasons thanks to oversights by other teams’ scouting staffs. An inexact science indeed.
Each and every season throughout the 1980’s I would closely follow junior prospects in the Hockey News and try to see as many of them as possible attending junior games in Hull and Ottawa, then the day after the draft, pick up the Ottawa Citizen and wait anxiously for the next issue of the Hockey News to study all of the draft selections for weeks on end, as that was how you found out about who was selected. There was no pomp and circumstance in those days…no radio or television coverage. Sadly, there were no Bob McKenzies to fill us in on draft day.
I studied journalism in the mid-1980’s and at every opportunity, I was writing about hockey, including a period of time as the sports editor at a weekly paper and as a cub reporter with a daily covering the Pembroke Lumber Kings.
With the 1990’s came increased interest in the draft proceedings as sports networks began to appear on our cable TV packages, and hockey fans were starting to take notice that this draft thing was a vital component in building their favourite hockey team…that you weren’t going to build a winner the Harold Ballard way by trading away young players and draft picks for quick fixes.
By the early 90’s I was tired of the long hours and crappy pay a journalist got if he or she was not writing for a big daily newspaper (they wouldn’t even grant you an interview if you “merely” had a diploma and not a degree), so I decided to start up my own weekly newspaper in the Gatineau Hills called the Gatineau Gottaknow. This afforded me the opportunity to write about hockey every chance I got as I was my own editor…and I did. I wrote about the draft whenever June came around, kept sharpening my writing skills, and learned the ins and outs of running a publishing company.
By the turn of the Millennium, after close to a decade of publishing small newspapers and magazines in the Ottawa Valley, I made the decision to concentrate on hockey-based publications, eventually launching a monthly newspaper in eastern Ontario called “Slapshot”. It was during this time that I ran into Bob Gainey, Pierre Gauthier and Trevor Timmins one day in the Corel Centre parking lot in Ottawa during the annual rookie tournament and handed them each a copy of my newspaper. It was my introduction to Timmins, who grew up 20 minutes away from my hometown of Renfrew in Arnprior, and we exchanged phone numbers.
I began calling Timmins on occasion and soon procured his email, a decision he probably regrets to this day as I haven’t stopped bugging him about the draft ever since. In 2007…after coming to the realization that the publishing industry was dying and that the future of sports journalism was on the internet I started publishing periodical hockey magazines instead of weekly ones and got involved in scouting/writing with McKeen’s. I had never stopped following the draft and had also moved to my parents’ hometown of Shawville. Qc. in the mid-2000’s and had gotten to know Tim Murray and Todd Hearty, who were scouting for their uncle Bryan Murray at the time in Florida and then Anaheim.
I would bombard them with questions about draft-eligible prospects all of the time at the local watering hole, and began to gain a reputation on the internet as a competent draft follower who caught the eye of McKeen’s publisher Iain Morrell with my posts about prospects on HF Boards.
Established McKeen’s Draft Guide
After establishing McKeen’s draft guide in 2007 and haunting junior hockey arenas, studying tape on prospects and interviewing as many scouts, GM’s and coaches as possible over the next two years, I was getting fairly knowledgeable about scouting and half decent at it. Timmins, Montreal’s head scout, offered me a part-time position scouting for the Habs in Eastern Ontario/Western Quebec. I may have been paid as a part-time scout but I treated it like a full-time job and poured my heart into the work – this for me was a dream come true scouting for the Montreal Canadiens – who were run by Bob Gainey at the time.
Unfortunately, Gainey decided to step down after the 2010 season, and the new man in charge, Pierre Gauthier, believed in having a skeleton scouting staff; thus he eliminated several scouting positions, including mine, and it has never been filled by another part-time scout ever since.
I kept working as the head scout for McKeens during this time…co-publishing their draft rankings (I had published their first-ever draft guide in 2007), and I also found work writing draft profiles for Bob McKenzie’s top 60 list on TSN.ca for the 2011 draft. I had gotten to know Bob over the years and he helped get me the writing job, but when Craig Button was hired after that season it was decided by TSN’s executives that he would write Bob’s profiles in addition to all of his other draft work.
The next two seasons I worked for the Hockey News’ compiling the draft rankings for their annual Draft Preview, essentially putting the rankings together and having a few of the picks tweaked here and there by senior staff, and after a two-year hiatus decided to return to work for McKeen’s as their chief amateur scout in 2014.
The past couple of years while doing my draft work I kept wondering why there was not more French draft coverage on the internet and television; I had often wondered why none of the scouting services offered French draft articles and draft guides. I also wondered why a hockey website didn’t maintain a daily mock draft like I saw on both NBA and NFL sites that I always thought was a great idea as it kept people informed about where their team would be drafting and who they might select, and figured it was something that should be offered to hockey fans who like me were rabid about the draft.
I also noticed that there were all sorts of scouting services out there that employed many people without real scouting background or NHL experience offering their opinions and lists to the public, but few offering insight from NHL scouts to the hockey public, and it struck me that I not only had the connections but also the background to offer people scouting notes and rankings from NHL scouts’ perspectives. As a draft junkie, I’ve always wondered what the NHL scouts thought about prospects leading up to the draft, and the only place where you ever got any semblance of that was from The Hockey News Draft Preview….which for a draft aficionado like me was really never enough. A couple of hundred words on each prospect with a couple of quotes from NHL scouts? It was essential..but it wasn’t enough.
A New Scouting Service is Born
So I made the big decision in early January to leave McKeen’s and start a scouting service..one that I have always wanted to see as a dedicated draft follower for the past 45 years. I’d like to think I know as well as anybody what draftnik craves after being one since 1971..so why not provide it for people?
ne of my followers on Twitter from PEI noted he was adept with WordPress..and that was an understatement. I lucked out in finding Scot MacDonald to design this site…I think it is going to please all users not only aesthetically but in terms of ease of use. The search item alone is worth the $4 per month it will cost to have full access to this site, and I couldn’t be happier with his work.
I attend as many live junior games as possible, and living in the Ottawa area affords me the opportunity to scout both QMJHL and OHL game within 30 minutes of my doorstep. I also watch anywhere from 20-40 games per week on video, studying prospects extensively in the WHL, OHL, QMJHL, USHL, college hockey FHL, SHL, Russia and the Czech Republic. There is not a single top 100 prospect that I have not seen at least once on video, and with the many NHL scouting contacts I have accumulated over the years, I go over these players with scouts as often and thoroughly as possible. I truly believe that I put out the best draft rankings of any source that is not an actual NHL team as I not only utilize my extensive and credible scouting input, but also that of others who are the most qualified scouts on the planet in making a comprehensive draft list that leaves no stone unturned.
I am going to also be offering “Grant’s Slant”, which will be concise notes and opinions on prospects I have assembled from the hundreds of games I scout each season, and as we go along we are going to be offering in-depth fantasy coverage for all of the hockey poolies out there. We are starting slowly with offering French coverage, for now translating feature articles and offering a French draft guide as we target the response from the francophone community. if the demand is there to have everything on the site available in both languages, I have the translation staff in place to provide this service.
So there you have it…welcome to recrutes.ca! We are launching the site officially today with a top 100 ranking and profiles on each player ranked in the top two rounds which include NHL scouting comments that are still being accumulated and keyed into the website. As we go along in this draft year more and more information from NHL scouts and the Recrutes staff will be added.
I can assure you by the time the draft rolls around, if you are following this website, you will be fully informed about the draft.
I look forward to bringing you the best draft coverage possible.
Wishing you great sucess and looking forward to utilizing your site.