Leafs doing plenty of homework as draft approaches

Strome or Marner? Marner versus Strome. Hanifin or Marner? Hanifin? Strome? I think we’ll go Marner. No, maybe Strome. Gotta like Hanifin.

That’s basically the Leafs and their fanbase in summary over the last month or so. 

The organization is going to welcome at least one major building block in June, this much we know. There’s a great – possibly elite – player on the way in that top pick, but Shanahan and company will want to make sure they’re getting the absolute most out of it, and the picks beyond. And apparently they’re going above and beyond to maximize their chances of hitting a homerun or two.

Everything I’ve read or heard about Mark Hunter suggests he’s a rink rat; someone who wants to get an edge on every other scout by simply outworking them and clocking in as many viewings as possible. According to Zeisberger at The Sun, his level of commitment to watching games at the junior or college levels is unparalleled – keeping in mind we’re talking about the Leafs’ Director of Personnel here, not a scout at the lower levels trying to get ahead.

Just how many games has he watched?

“I started (with the Leafs) late, didn’t I? I think it was late October,” … “So, I’d have to say probably only about 200, if not a few less.”

My quick garbage math tells me there haven’t even been two-hundred days since Hunter’s hiring, so basically he’s been watching junior or college hockey every day since joining the Leafs. I wonder if he’s tired of stadium fries yet. Is it possible to eat too many stadium fries?

And Hunter isn’t the only one subsisting on deep-fried potato and bleacher gum.

“Kyle (Dubas) doesn’t get enough credit,” Hunter said. “He’s been all over the place watching games.”

No doubt the Leafs view this draft as the true kickoff of building a contending team, and they’re going to try and raid it. Dubas implied the same thing in a recent interview. It’s struck a chord through the fanbase as well. We talk draft constantly – I’m talking draft right now.

There’s no secret here, the Leafs are going wall-to-wall with preparation for bringing in talent, and I think it’s a testament to what Shanahan is creating. By dipping into the OHL ranks and pulling up the brightest minds, he’s given Dubas and Hunter a chance to create a contender in the Leafs, the largest franchise in hockey, in their home province no less. They’re new to the pros, but likely motivated beyond anyone else you could put in those chairs, and just as importantly, they’re smart. 

There’s no entitlement here, no yelling about truculence and making headlines. For once, it feels like the Leafs are actually focusing on the process.

  • MatsSundin#13

    So glad they are handing the reins to these guys – Hunter and Dubas’s level of dedication is certainly there, and while I am not saying that the previous brass were not dedicated, I am saying that as a fan it is nice to have more insight into what management is doing (i.e.: actually attending CHL games and putting the hours in) – loving the new system, now all I hope is that the Leafs first round draft picks (both of them) are ONTARIO kids!!! Sorry Hanifin, but I’ll take Marner or Strome any day.

  • STAN

    This piece implies that the 18 or 20 scouts send packing by Shanahan didn’t really go to many games and just took the money and laughed all the way to the bank.

    Until you let us know exactly what the fired guys did or didn’t do, can you please hold off on writing a puff piece about how unbelievably talented and dedicated these two are? I mean it’s so, so early in the game.

    • Jeremy Ian

      It’s true, we may be getting a bit caught up in the hype — like a psychological reaction to the trauma of last year, falling in love with a new date.

      But there’s one good sign: the spate of young signings and the clear indication that management is going to use Orlando and the ECHL as an incubator to widen the pool, is smart. In the talent hunt, there’s way too much tunneling. There’s a tendency to over-focusing on the familiar, which means you wind up competing over scarce goods. Great managers find ways to diversify. Best way to diversify: expand the pool size and be more inclusive.

      When people think “diversity” they assume it means race or ethnicity. To some extent it is. (It’s also why more inclusive strategies make for more successful businesses) But it also expands the range of choices, which is usually a good thing. And it forces team members to think outside the box and become more complex thinkers. These are traits that Leafs management have needed for a long time.

    • Nope, it more so implies that the team has been terrible forever, doesn’t have a particularly good prospect pool, and had to fire their entire scouting staff for a reason. Meanwhile the new guys (both from the strongest backgrounds in junior hockey) appear to be glad to get down in the weeds and take a hands on approach to scouting and development, and aren’t shy about it.

      I’ve read that Hunter prides himself on getting to the rink more than anyone else – I can’t remember reading that about any one of the others that were let go. Couple that sort of scouting approach with the Leafs buying up many of the best analytics consultants, and yeah, I think it’s fair to say they’re more focused on the process.

    • Gonna guess that the weak prospect pipeline and crappy roster are part of the reason the scouts got fired. That may be bold speculation, but I’m gonna run with it.

      I think two former GMs of OHL powerhouse teams assessing draft talent is a good reason to write something optimistic.