Two Stanley Cups, a Calder Cup, an IHL Turner Cup and a National Championship playing for Harvard. Not a bad resume for Canucks 47-year-old Assistant General Manager John Weisbrod.
“I’ve been lucky to be in a lot of good places,” said Weisbrod between scouting meetings recently. “Regardless of whether or not I had anything to do with it—you know, maybe I’m just a fortunate bystander—but you do develop a sense of what winning environments have.”
And what do they have?
“You don’t just have to have a team that’s among the best on the ice on paper, but you have to have a lot of the intangible elements like the unity and togetherness that it requires to go through that battle. In some ways, the 2011 Boston Bruins team was the best example of that because we were certainly not the most talented team in the NHL that year. We were sort of an average scoring team and a lot of teams we beat along the way were better than us as far as talent, but we were built correctly.”
Those 2011 Bruins were built to win and two of their main architects fill out the Canucks management team in Weisbrod and General Manager Jim Benning, a duo that has maintained the same philosophy since day one: success starts with the Draft.
“[The Draft] is the one time per year where you have a real opportunity to make your team better for the future. The way the League works now, particularly now with all of the salary cap implications, it’s the only way to build a team,” said Weisbrod.
Drafting well comes down to scouting with a clear, united vision.
“One of the first things that we did when Jim and I came in here was that we reworked the scouting criteria,” said Weisbrod. “It’s just a matter of weighting and focusing the different areas of the game the way we would want them weighted based on what we think is most important or least important.”
It’s an approach Weisbrod established with previous teams, including the Calgary Flames where he worked with Jay Feaster, former Flames General Manager and current Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Director of Community Hockey Development.
“With bringing John in, he came onboard and he really honed in on ‘let’s define what makes a Calgary Flames player.’ ‘Let’s define what it is that we’re looking for’ and let’s make sure that all of our scouts out there in the field…if we’re talking about grit or we’re talking about hockey sense…that we all understand what we mean,” said Feaster. “And really he brought a great deal of discipline and focus to our scouting process. I felt that the process became better as a result of bringing him onboard.”
Weisbrod has implemented that same approach with Judd Brackett and his Canucks scouting team.
“Character might be defined differently for me than it is for you, so a large part of what we do is establish our own definitions of exactly what we mean and what we consider important in these definitions and these terms and then we try and teach our [scouts] how to recognize these things while they’re out in the field,” explained Weisbrod.
At his first Draft last year, Weisbrod’s new approach helped the Canucks pick promising winger Brock Boeser, who would go on to lead the University of North Dakota in scoring his rookie season and has been touted for his character.
Combine draft picks like Boeser with recent key acquisition, defenceman and former third overall pick Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks brass have plenty of irons in the fire to keep the momentum going towards building a winner, continuing this weekend in Buffalo.
“It’s always a really exciting time,” Weisbrod said of Draft. “To build a team that can sustain winning, you need to do it through the Draft. Every Draft and every pick is important and we put a lot of time and effort and attention to detail to making sure that we do it correctly.”
Sounds like a winning formula.