When NHL Seattle pro scout John Goodwin showed up for his first training camp with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, a top juniors-level powerhouse franchise in the Ontario Hockey League, he was hopeful but unsure whether he would make the team.
As it turned out, Goodwin survived the final roster cut because all-time NHL great Wayne Gretzky had left the Greyhounds to sign and play as a 17-year-old for Indianapolis (eight games) and then Edmonton of the fledgling professional World Hockey Association. The WHA later folded, merging four teams (including the current-day Oilers) with the NHL.
"If Gretzky doesn't leave, I don't make the team," says Goodwin during a recent phone conversation. "If he stayed, he would have taken all of my minutes."
Goodwin explains: Both he and Gretzky were offensive-minded centers. Hockey coaches like scorers but want to make sure they have enough centers on the roster to handle the defensive, end-to-end duties of the position-including the disruption of the other teams' top scorers. Turns out the Greyhounds coaching staff made an excellent decision. Goodwin was the OHL rookie of the year for the 1978-79 season, scoring 43 goals and adding 82 assists for 125 total points.
Two seasons later, Goodwin racked up 56 goals and 110 assists in 68 games. Fellow center and new 17-year-old teammate Ron Francis (26 G, 43 A) played on that Sault St. Marie squad. It was the start of life-long hockey-centric relationship.
"We reconnected when I was coaching with Kingston [for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 OHL juniors seasons]," says Goodwin. "We had a couple of his [Carolina Hurricanes] players, Warren Foegele and Roland McKeown. We kept in contact, talking about those players and about trades he was making involving kids that I coached."
Foegele plays regulars shifts as a left wing for Carolina, averaging about 14 minutes a game. McKeown, a defenseman who has appeared in 10 NHL games, plays for Carolina's AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers [2019 league champions].
Goodwin is a font of hockey perspectives. He was a star player in juniors, signed undrafted with the Montreal Canadiens organization and played six seasons of pro hockey (four in the American Hockey League and two in the International Hockey League, which folded in 2001 and merged six teams into the AHL). Goodwin totaled 456 points (152 G, 304 A) in 474 games.
He coached six seasons with the Oshawa Generals, another storied franchise in the OHL. He was assistant for three seasons, then head coach for three more seasons in 1997 through 2000 with a record of 97 wins, 81 losses, 17 ties and 7 overtime losses (the ties and OT losses earned one point each in the standings).
In the summer of 2000, Goodwin chose his year-round job and career at Ontario Power Generation over coaching, especially with three school-age kids at home playing hockey, lacrosse and baseball. Goodwin kept his hand in hockey, operating annual summer skills development camps for players "16 to 21, 22 years old, including numerous NHL and OHL first-round draft picks."
He returned to coaching as an assistant with the North Bay Battalion in 2013-14 and then the Kingston Frontenacs for two more seasons. When Francis called to float the idea of scouting for NHL Seattle, Goodwin was thrilled and willing.
"I have a lot of enthusiasm for hockey and Ron is such a grounded, humble, smart person and leader," says Goodwin. "I love everything about scouting and the draft. I'm kind of a draftnik for every sport. I've always loved pre-game preparation as a coach. Whenever we traveled to another town, I would try to go see the kids coming up the ranks in Tier 2 [juniors] or U16."
For NHL Seattle, Goodwin is scouting all Toronto Maple Leafs games (both the Leafs and opponents), same for the AHL franchises Toronto Marlies (Leafs affiliate) and Belleville Senators (Ottawa). He makes some nearby Buffalo Sabres games too. Plus, Goodwin's interest in the OHL attracts him to some juniors games when time permits.
Goodwin made NHL Seattle history Oct. 2 at the Maple Leafs home opener against Ottawa. He is the first official NHL Seattle scout or staffer to be credentialed for an NHL game.
For NHL games, Goodwin typically writes a scouting report on players who might project to be available for Seattle's 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and/or players who might be free agents July 1, 2021. For example, "maybe a third- or fourth-line forward" who would thrive with more scoring chances alongside "more skilled linemates." Or maybe focus on a "third-pair defenseman who projects to be a player who would do well with more powerplay time or become a shutdown defenseman."
Goodwin says scouting AHL players requires at least a three- or four-game sample set: "Top players in the OHL might dominate, while AHL players are all fighting and scraping…in the AHL, the first year as a pro can be toughest. You are on your own, planning your own meals, playing against everyone who wants to make it [to the NHL]…it's a real grind, a difficult league to score in, playing against men, handling your mentality when teammates get called up instead of you… consistency and perseverance are important."
As a player, Goodwin says he compensated "for not being the fastest skater" by studying his opponents, learning their tendencies when shooting, maneuvering in the faceoff and more. He constantly studied which players were performing well for other teams. When he coached, he quizzed his players about the previous night's OHL games to teach them that "you learn the league, whether NHL, OHL or AHL."
As a player, coach, camp instructor and now scout, Goodwin fully embraces the process of projecting a hockey player's career trajectory to advance to the OHL or NHL.
"I have always been pretty accurate for the most part," he says. "You know which kids are driven who put in the extra work. You observe players who are taking short cuts and guys who don't. Those who play a different style when the score is close, have a different body language."
Goodwin is forthright about applying his own experience as a pro hockey prospect to his new job. He went undrafted in two consecutive NHL drafts, prompting his now brother-in-law and then juniors hockey reporter Bob McKenzie, a famed NHL insider for North American television networks, to write personally about Goodwin's undrafted status: "There may worse hockey-related kicks in the teeth, but I am not sure I can come up with one."
"I have learned what scouts look for," says Goodwin. "I went through two drafts and didn't get drafted. I can see now some reasons why that happened, what scouts look for and how they project [potential career success]. I played with teammates who went on to long NHL careers that maybe I never thought would have long NHL careers. Now I see why. That part of the sport has always intrigued me."