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Armstrong Prepped for the Draft by 'Drafting' Early

Two scouting hires will help him find the Coyotes' future talent

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Bill Armstrong is ready to work his first draft Friday as Coyotes General Manager.

Two of his first "draft picks," Darryl Plandowski and Ryan Jankowski, will be by his side. 

Both joined Armstrong's restructured hockey operations department two weeks after the GM was introduced September 17, 2020.

Plandowski, Director of Amateur Scouting with 21 years experience in that field, was hired October 1, 2020 following 12 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose roster he helped build into a Stanley Cup winner. He also has worked in amateur scouting with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.

Jankowski, Associate Director of Amateur Scouting, was hired one day after Plandowski. He spent two seasons as the Buffalo Sabres' Director of Amateur Scouting. He also has four years experience in several roles with Hockey Canada, including Head Scout and Director of Player Personnel. 

"We have a lot of faith in those guys," Armstrong said. "Over the years, they've drafted some unbelievable players. They're really key guys for us who know how to win and how to build winners." 

Armstrong, too, has championship pedigree. As Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting in St. Louis, he was instrumental in building the Blues roster that won the 2019 Stanley Cup.

Plandowski has a distinctive draft history, having a major hand in drafting high-profile, Stanley Cup-winning stars, such as Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli.

"My role is to find the next talent for the Arizona Coyotes," Plandowski said.

"It's been a really good experience for me, and I'd say the same for Ryan, to work with Bill and the excitement to build a team that's been fairly down in the standings. Now, you're rebuilding it again. As a scout, I guess that's the exciting part. You want to win in the end, but part of scouting is building teams. I think everybody's kind of in that mode." 

For Plandowski and Jankowski -- and the entire scouting staff -- this is the moment to shine.

"The draft is our baby," Jankowski said. "It's what we work all season toward. There's even more excitement this year that we have a year under our belt with our staff. This is the first year of what we hope is a long time together, and you build the chemistry through every draft. I know our guys are excited; the staff is excited. It's a different challenge when you're all new, yet that brings that excitement of growing together through the process. Not just this draft, but future drafts." 

The Coyotes have 15 picks over the next two drafts; six are second-round selections.

Arizona owns seven selections Saturday in the 2021 NHL Draft. They comprise three, second-round picks (No. 37, 43 and 60); two, fourth-round picks (No. 107 and 122); one fifth-round pick (No. 139), and one sixth-round pick (No. 173).

COVID-19 has created numerous challenges for scouts and draft teams.  

"For big parts of the year, we couldn't see players play," Plandowski said. "There were some leagues that didn't play -- important leagues such as the OHL -- and 40-45 kids a year come out of that league. When you don't get to watch them, it's really hard to get a feel for their abilities. We weren't able to go to Europe to see the Russians or the Swedes. The hardest part this year was not being able to lay eyeballs on them and get the feel for them.

So, the scouting staff relied heavily on video. 

"But that's just a tool, it's hard to get a really good feel for the kids," Plandowski said. "We didn't get to travel and see the guys live and see them in big moment games where it meant a lot -- playoffs, league championships, just types of games we really value when it comes to evaluating kids." 

The on-ice performance isn't the only thing the scouts analyze - far from it. 

"We really dive into their mental makeup, their off-ice situations and how they act as people," Plandowski said. "We're trying to predict what they're going to be like at 23. That's the hardest part of the amateur side. You're looking at 17-18-year-old kids, and you're trying to project them to be men. That's why we do a lot of background --   interviews, talking to coaches. This year we probably had to do even more." 

Plandowski stressed that t's not just the player, but also the person.

"I don't think building a sports team is any different than having a real good business model where you're hiring good employees," Plandowski said. "You want good people. I think the Coyotes want to be a really talented group, but we also want to be in the community, being approachable and being good human beings. That's important. You don't want too many kids who are outside the box, or are distractions -- and that's something we're trying to build, a solid base. And we're trying to just get a base right now."

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