MARC DENIS: Sitting down here with vice president of player personnel with the Montreal Canadiens, Trevor Timmins. In town a few days, a few hours, away from the World Junior Championships, how important is it for you to be present here, at the World Junior Championships?
TREVOR TIMMINS: It's one of the most important scouting events of the season for us, both from an amateur scouting and a semi-pro scouting perspective. For example, there are elite prospects for the NHL Draft this coming season playing in this tournament.
If you take a look back to last year's draft, names like Matthews, Puljujärvi, Laine, Juolevi, they all played in this tournament and they were standouts as well, and now, you know, they're standout young players in the National Hockey League. So there's some of those this year, unfortunately, there are none playing for Team Canada nor the U.S., but there are some very good Finnish prospects and Swedish prospects. And there's one Czech and one Swiss, who will all be first round players selected in this coming 2017 NHL Entry Draft. But also, from a pro scouting perspective a lot of these players in this tournament have already been drafted. You know, down the line we may be talking to a team about a trade in the future - and way down the line, maybe as free agents. But it's good, we do scouting reports and we watch these players here as well and get a good book - continue our book on them from the amateur ranks.
MD: You and your staff will also be keeping a close eye on Montreal Canadiens prospects playing in this tournament. One of them will be playing for Team Canada on home ice: Noah Juulsen. How has he improved after a very tough season a year ago?
TT: Yeah, Noah - or as we call him, Juuls - has had an outstanding first half of the season for the Everett Silvertips. He's their captain, he's their go-to guy there, he's a leader, and we expect him to do the same here for Team Canada. He'll be relied on heavily. He's got that veteran presence. He was one of the last cuts, unfortunately, last year to make this team. He had to make that long trek back from Finland.
But he's healthy this year and he's ready and raring to go and we're looking for him to help Team Canada hopefully get that gold.
MD: What's his identity as a defenseman?
TT: He's an ultra-competitive defenseman. He does it all. He brings offense, he brings defense, he's very hard to play against. He blocks shots. He's easy to coach - coaches really like him - and I think you'll probably see him do a little bit of everything out there. P.P., P.K., and just be a calming presence and a physical presence for the back end of Team Canada.
MD: Staying on the Team Canada topic, two players just missed making that team. One of them probably came out of nowhere for a lot of people. Michael McNiven, a goalie, was one of three invited to camp but is unfortunately not on the roster. Is he more of a surprise, or is it a disappointment that he's not wearing the Team Canada jersey for this tournament?
TT: I think coming down and being one of the final three goaltenders to be selected for Team Canada was important, and with one injury he's back here. You know, he doesn't have a lot of history playing for Team Canada, but it's not a surprise.
He's had a really good go here in the first half of the season. He was outstanding when the OHL played the Russians back in November, and he made a good impression with the Team Canada personnel. It's not a surprise. He's very athletic, he's got good size, and he's coming along developmentally the way we had hoped. Hopefully we'll get him in next year to help in the system.
MD: A young defenseman nearly made that team as well. Victor Mete was cut from Team Canada but left a pretty good impression as well.
TT: He sure did. Victor is one of those guys you want to push away because of his lack of height but he is thick. He's just a good defenseman. He's good all around, he's an outstanding skater, and he's very difficult to beat one-on-one. I think he gave it a good shot here. It was impressive that a young defenseman like him went so long in camp and got that look. I'm pretty sure you'll see him back here next year if he keeps playing the way he is now.
MD: I'd miss the mark if I didn't talk heading into the World Junior Championship about a player that started the year here in Montreal, Mikhail Sergachev, who will be a stud on the Russian blue line. How has he been doing just with heading back to Juniors in the OHL with Windsor, and what do you expect out of him at the World Juniors?
TT: You know what? When a player leaves an NHL camp or team, especially when they play some regular season games, they go back and there's an adjustment period there. He was like no other player; he had a little bit of an adjustment time period there. But he got through it and he's back to where his game should be. It's very good for him developmentally to get a lot of ice time, to play the power play, to play the penalty kill, and to really be relied on heavily by his Junior team. And he'll have the chance to go deep into the playoffs here and play for a Memorial Cup. His team, Windsor, is hosting the Memorial Cup, so he's going to play a lot of hockey this year, and we were very impressed with his camp. He's right on par - now we just hope he doesn't hurt Team Canada when Canada plays the Russians coming up.
MD: You're heading a big staff with the Montreal Canadiens. It's obviously a passion for you to talk about prospects, within the organization or even prospects outside of the organization every time you have the time to talk about them. How many people are you overseeing? I'm not sure everybody at home watching this can appreciate how much work goes into amateur and semi-pro scouting.
TT: Right, especially on the amateur side we go through a cycle. We go through right from the day after the NHL Draft right through to the day of the NHL Draft. And every year, it's a new crop of players, of potential prospects. We just get going through the summer months and into the fall into January and we get to know all of the players. We get to separate what I would call the "suspects" from the "prospects" and identify those potential NHL players and the players that eventually make our draft list. Once we get to know everybody, we get all set for the draft, we have the draft, and then we have to start all over and learn the new crop of players for the new year.
I put a lot of emphasis on our area scouting. We have 16 area scouts spread throughout the world. For example, we have a scout in Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the Czech Republic. We've got scouts in the Boston area, and Minnesota, we have two full-time scouts in the Quebec league, we have three scouts in Ontario, including myself, and then we have four out west. We have bodies spread out throughout the world and we try to turn over every stone we can to make sure we're trying to find a diamond in the rough.
Scouting the high profile prospects, that's the easy job. It's turning over those stones and finding players maybe in Northern Russia or in a high school or in a Tier 2 game and getting to know them well and getting it right on the projection. The hardest job in scouting at the amateur level is the projection. We're looking for potential NHL players. It's not what they can do today, it's what they're going to do in the future, whether that be two, three, four, five, six years down the road. Everybody gets to know the high profile players and the players that are selected in the first round, and their chances of playing are a lot higher than the players you may pick in the fifth, sixth, and seventh round. But you have to do your homework and rely on the area scouts - the scouts that see those players whether it be eight, nine, 10, 15 times in a season - and bank on those guys.
A good example is Brendan Gallagher. He wasn't a high profile prospect in his draft year. We had a scout in Vancouver, Vaughn Karpan, who is with another franchise now, but that was his home game and he'd seen him a ton. He really stepped up for him and then I supported him on that. Brendan had a lot of strikes against him: he wasn't big, he wasn't a great skater. But he had two dimensional qualities that allowed him to get to where he is today. Those being, he can score. He was a goal scorer. And his drive, determination and competitiveness. That's second-to-none. And that's what's led him to the NHL.
MD: So let's stay on the Brendan Gallagher example. You're watching him play at 17, and projecting him to be an NHLer, and a good NHLer, at 22. So how many of your scouts, and you mentioned Vaughn Karpan and how often he'd seen him play, but once he's targeted as a prospect, how many of your scouts and your people end up watching him play during that period before his draft?
TT: Well it always depends on where we view that player or project him and what round it's going to be in. If it's a Top 3 round player, it could be anywhere from myself and two more cross-over scouts and I may have other scouts, full-time guys in the Quebec league, go and see him as well. So it depends and varies on the quality of the prospect that we see. For example, we also have management see prospects, especially Top 2 round prospects. Marc Bergevin last year did a lot of work on amateur the second half of the year, as did Rick Dudley, Larry Carriere, and Scott Mellanby. Those guys all came in and helped us as well.
MD: So it's a concerted team effort obviously at the draft?
TT: It's a team effort, exactly. At the end of the day, someone has to step up and make the final decision and that lands on my shoulders. But it's a team effort. We have a lot of viewings on the players. I always say to our scouts, "You get paid for your opinion, so we want to hear your opinion." We don't ridicule anyone's opinion. That's what they get paid for. So you don't want to have a lot of scouts that always agree with what the boss is saying. I value each and every scout's opinion and we work as a team.
MD: And then you make the final decision.
TT: And then someone has to make the final decision.
MD: I've got a feeling we could go on and on. You're a passionate guy about amateur scouting. Trevor Timmins, thank you so much for sitting down with us.
TT: Thank you, Marc.