When Al Murray left the Los Angeles Kings after 12 years as the Director of Amateur Scouting, there was a perfect new challenge awaiting him.
Hockey Canada was searching for a head scout for the national teams, a job Murray had looked at in the past.
“The timing was right,” Murray said.
Murray spent the next three years, traveling the country and helping put together Canada’s Under-17, U-18 and World Junior teams for international competitions.
It was a great experience. Murray said it was a first-class organization, with outstanding people. It was an honor to work for his country. But when Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman called, it was time to get back into the NHL.
Murray takes all the knowledge gained in his three years with the best young players and coaches in Canada and 18 years of NHL experience into his position as the Lightning’s director of amateur scouting. He will run the entry draft for the Bolts, June 24-25 in Minnesota.
Murray won a gold medal at both the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships with Team Canada and the 2008 World Under-18 championship. He also won the prestigious summertime Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament from 2008-2010. He has been following a lot of the players he will be looking at on draft day for a few years.
“The biggest thing I was able to do the last three years was make an incredible amount of connections,” said Murray, who lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. “So much in hockey is knowing people and trusting people’s opinions and getting more information. I was able to really network a lot more than I ever was just from being in the NHL.
“Seeing the players for a couple years, leading up to this draft and the next year’s draft, I think I have a better book than some other people might.”
Darryl Plandowski, heading into this third season as the Lightning’s head amateur scout, said Murray is professional and very organized and it has been an easy transition the last 10 months.
Murray reorganized the staff model, keeping scouts in specific areas of the world to get to know their players inside and out. Murray and Plandowski then travel to view the top players in each region and make decisions.
“I think it gives us a clearer picture,” Murray said.
Murray has seen the NHL Draft change over the last two decades. You can’t hold on to Europeans forever now and rules changes have opened up the game for different types of players.
What hasn’t changed is that direction from the top is just as important. Murray said that there is no doubt what type of player Yzerman wants to bring into the organization. That makes it much easier for the scouting staff.
“You’re looking for people with good character qualities,” said Murray, who coached Regina University from 1985-88. “You want people with intelligence and competitiveness.
“Size is not as big a factor as it used to be. The bigger, stronger player that didn’t have speed and quickness is not as effective as he used to be.”
Murray said the NHL draft is not at all like the one in the NBA or the NFL. It’s more like the one just completed in Major League Baseball, with seven rounds instead of 50.
Even though there might be some areas of need in the Lightning’s system, Murray said you cannot think that way when you are about to make a pick.
“If you take the best player and they all turn out good, then whatever you have a surplus of you can use to trade for whatever your need might be,” Murray said. “You’re picking the guy that you hope develops into the best player. Everything in hockey is about projection.”
You are searching for talent, but you are also trying to judge what’s in a player’s head.
“It’s our job to take the best character guys and the kids with the strongest wills,” Plandowski said. “You want to pick the guys that will do the work to get better.”