Gary Eggleston began his scouting career working part-time for the Detroit Red Wings
when Hall of Famer Sid Abel
served as general manager and coach in the early 1960s.
He gradually worked his way up the scouting ladder to become one of the more respected talent evaluators in the business, particularly for those interested in the Eastern U.S. prospects. After this season, the 77-year-old Massachusetts native, who has spent the last 31 years working for NHL Central Scouting, will hang up his clipboard after 50 years of dedicated service.
"It's hard to believe … where do the years go?" Eggleston told NHL.com. "I sometimes look back and say to myself, 'Gee, that happened 20 years ago?' There have been so many interesting people and those annual trips to downtown (Toronto) for the spring meeting were always fun."
Eggleston, recognized in 2010 as one of hockey's 50 most influential people in New England by New England Hockey Journal, was one of the first to scout Chris Drury
when he starred at Fairfield Prep in Connecticut, Brian Leetch
at Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut and John LeClair
at Bellows Free Academy in Vermont.
Eggleston's top five
Gary Eggleston has observed thousands of players during his 50 years of scouting, including the last 31 with NHL Central Scouting.
The veteran scout has decided to retire from that position following the completion of the 2011-12 campaign.
In addition to those players mentioned in the accompanying story, here are five others he remembers as can't-miss prospects. Also listed is the school or team the player competed with at the time of Eggleston's evaluation.
, Cornell University (N.Y.)
, Thayer Academy (Mass.)
, University of Maine
, St. Michael's College (Toronto)
, Springfield Olympics (NEJHL)
-- Mike Morreale
"Gary devoted his life to the NHL," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He has worked hard and watched thousands of games. He helped many young men get to the next level of their hockey careers. It's a bittersweet day since we're losing a great scout and friend, but he deserves to spend time with (his wife) Judi and be at home during those nor'easter snowstorms."
Eggleston worked part-time for the Red Wings during the 1962-63 season, when the League was comprised of six teams. He also worked in Detroit for Ned Harkness and was a U.S. Eastern scout under Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay
"The thing I remember during that time was how few American-born players there were … I think Tommy Williams
of the Boston Bruins
was the only one," Eggleston said.
During the 1962-63 season, Williams, a native of Duluth, Minn., was described as "hockey's lonely American."
"The first player I ever expressed an interest in was Jack Leetch, the father of Brian Leetch
," Eggleston said. "I believe I first saw Jack at the Beanpot in 1963 (for Boston College). He played right wing and was so big and strong. He was very impressive.
"It's pretty amazing to think 20 years later, I'd be scouting his son in high school."
Eggleston also recalls taking plenty of notes on forward Larry Pleau
in the summer of 1963 at "Doc" Connors Hockey School in Worcester, Mass. Pleau, who at the time was playing for Lynn English High School in Massachusetts, was one of the top American hockey players of the late 1960s. He currently is the Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations with the St. Louis Blues
He also was impressed with another fantastic prospect he scouted in 1965-66 from Norwood High School in Massachusetts named Richie Hebner. Hebner elected to stick with baseball, and was part of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 1971 World Series championship team.
"He was a left-handed center with great hands and was tough as nails," Eggleston said of Hebner. "We were hoping to have a shot at him, but I guess he made the right choice. I remember a headline in the Boston Herald in 1966 that read 'Wings Eye Hebner.' All of a sudden, the Bruins were all over him, trying to get him to go to the Niagara Falls Flyers junior team."
Not long after his time with the Red Wings, Eggleston was contacted by then-director of Central Scouting Jim Gregory.
"There was a period there after the Red Wings where I didn't plan on scouting since I was starting a job as New England district manager for a publishing company," Eggleston said. "I was also evaluating players from the New England area for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, looking at guys like Jim Craig, Dave Silk
and Jack O'Callahan
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Gregory hired Eggleston as a part-time scout in 1981 and hired him full time in 1989. As a full-time employee, Eggleston traveled all over North America, making at least two trips each season through the three major Canadian junior leagues, while also viewing all U.S. high schools, colleges and those budding prospects in the United States Hockey League.
"Jim Gregory was a great role model for me back then," Eggleston said. "He was always very appreciative, even with the part-time people. The expectations he had for himself were no less than your expectations. He always wanted your opinion and would never reveal those individual opinions with anyone outside Central Scouting -- lists were only revealed as a group."
During the 1977-78 season, Eggleston was in awe of another Massachusetts product, this one from St. John's Prep in Danvers -- Bobby Carpenter
"He was 15 years old and you could just see what he was going to be," Eggleston said. "No one predicted a player from St. John's to reach the NHL, but I definitely could tell he was going to be a good one. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in his draft year as 'The Can't Miss Kid.'"
Carpenter was selected by the Washington Capitals
with the third pick of the 1981 draft and had 32 goals and 67 points in 80 games in the 1981-82 season.
"The thing is, NHL teams had no track record with American players back then until Bobby Carpenter
came along," Eggleston said. "Our January lists would bring out-of-town NHL scouts to the East Coast to see top prospects. I remember a few of them telling me, 'We're all here because of you.' Talk about pressure. It wasn't easy to stick your nose out and claim that this guy or that guy should be taken in the first round, but that's what this business is all about."
Two players Eggleston did put on a pedestal, regardless of what others might have been saying, were a pair of Massachusetts prep stars -- Keith Tkachuk
of Malden High School and Tom Barrasso
of Acton-Boxborough High School.
"Tkachuk played only six games his senior year since he was having some ankle issues, but I watched him about 15 times in the summer leading up to his final scholastic season and that was enough to make me a believer," Eggleston said. "Many NHL scouts weren't sold on Barrasso. He was seeing so few shot attempts each game. But I remember thinking to myself that if guys were just getting around to seeing Barrasso in his draft year, shame on them. You could tell he would be something special."
It's those memories that Eggleston cherishes most -- being able to witness what ultimately would turn out to be perfection at its finest on a professional level.
In retirement, he'll enjoy more quality time with his wife of 54 years, Judi, and his two sons, Paul and Jeff. He also is looking forward to promoting the incredible art works of his father-in-law, the late William F. Boogar, who "lived probably the most fascinating life of anyone I ever knew."
And what will life be without hockey?
"It'll be tough … but there's a lot to reflect on and those memories will last forever."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale