With my first blog, I thought it would be important to discuss how I got to this point, as a Western Canada scout for NHL Central Scouting. Also, I wanted to talk a little bit about my hockey career up to this point.
I played the game from a young age and climbed through the ranks, all the way to the NHL. When it was my time to retire, I wanted to stay involved with hockey, so, first, it was coaching.
I coached for the Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm teams, and then I went to Europe and coached there for a number of years.
I coached in Germany, Italy and Austria for a season each. It was an excellent experience. I had lots of fun.
When I coached in Germany, I lived in Frankfurt, and lived right downtown. That was really neat. When I coached in Italy, I lived in a little town in northern Italy where most of the hockey-playing areas are located. We lived in a vineyard, and I walked through a vineyard every day into town to go to practice; it was so picturesque and beautiful. It was like a postcard. When I coached in Austria, some days my wife and I would go to Venice for lunch. We were that close!
After those experiences, I decided I wanted to pursue a different sort of career. I got my opportunity when former NHL defenseman Harold Snepsts, a friend of mine who had been with CSS, left to pursue a position with the Vancouver Canucks. That opened up a position in CSS, so they called me. Since I’m located out West and they were in need of a Western Scout, it worked perfectly.
These days, I’m living the life of a professional scout. I’m located in Vancouver, but I travel all over and I try to get a good read of all the teams and players in both the Western Hockey League and in the British Columbia Hockey League.
Getting toward the end of the year as we are, you want to make sure you get a good read on all the higher-end guys, especially, so that you feel comfortable where you have them placed in our end-of-season scouting meetings. I see a lot of teams come through Vancouver. I try to balance it out by visiting other cities, other arenas -- particularly those out in the prairies -- as much as possible.
Blair "B.J." MacDonald has been with NHL Central Scouting since 2005. He was born in Cornwall, Ont. on Nov. 17, 1953, and was drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Kings in 1973.
That same year, he was selected by the WHA's Edmonton Oilers. MacDonald, who played three years with Cornwall in the QMJHL, decided to join the Oilers. In his first season, 1973-74, he earned Edmonton's Rookie of the Year award. He also won back-to-back Edmonton MVP honors in 1978 and 1979. He finished his WHA career as Edmonton's third-leading WHA scorer with 242 points and was a member of the "GMC Line" with Brett Callighen and Wayne Gretzky in 1978-79.
After his playing career, MacDonald served as a coach in the farm systems of both Vancouver and Pittsburgh. He also coached extensively in Europe. Today, MacDonald's serves as CSS's WHL and BCHL scout. He currently resides in Vancouver, B.C.
I’m always very impressed with the quality of hockey here in the Western Hockey League. This is not slighting the other leagues -- I watch them as well -- but I think the WHL is the closest to the NHL style. It’s more physical, and you have to be a strong, developed, mature hockey player to handle a full schedule of games. It’s physically demanding, they play their positions in a system-based philosophy, and, of course, travel is further -- the distances between teams are greater -- so it’s a little more of a grind. The young kids coming in, it’s a pretty good jump for them. They get challenged quite a bit.
That might be part of the coaching philosophy here, where they bring the younger players along slower. But, then again, coaches want the best players to play; so if you’re good enough, you’re going to get ice.
This season, as in the other seasons, “The Dub” is full of a lot of solid prospects, and more than a few of them are defensemen. The NHL Entry Draft is very strong this year, as far as defensemen go. All have good size and mobility. So, the top picks -- it all depends on what each team needs of course -- but its starting to look like of the top 10 or 15 guys taken, maybe eight of them will be defensemen.
In fact, since I began with CSS, this has been the strongest group of defensemen I’ve seen as a whole. Most are similar in that they have good size, coupled with a high degree of skill. Last year, there were some good ones also, but they were sort of smaller guys: 6-foot, 5-foot-10 guys that were very skilled and could skate. This group is far bigger.
One of the top players who will be selected out of the WHL this season goes by the name of Tyler Myers, who plays in Kelowna. He is 6-foot-7, but he skates like a kid 5-foot-10. I like him just because he does little things you can’t teach, and, for me, I like him because he has such a huge upside. In two or three years, this guy is going to be a monster. He moves so well for a big guy that he’s surprised me. A guy that size, you don’t expect him to be able to move as well as he can.
Another guy to look for is Kyle Beach. This guy isn’t a defenseman, but he could possibly be the first player selected out of this league -- again, depending on the particular teams’ needs. Beach is a power forward skating with the Everett Silvertips. He’s been hurt a little bit in the second half, but, all in all, he’s probably the power forward in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. I don’t think anyone competes more than he does. He competes like you wouldn’t believe. He’ll do anything to win games: he’ll fight, he drives the net and he leaves three or four guys in his wake, and from the blue line in he’s really focused. Remember him. He’s a very good player.
Now, as I said, most teams are into their final playoff push and that means the same thing for us -- we’re leading up to coming out with our final list. The final meetings we hold are the first week of April.
We have a pretty good idea at this point of what the players can do. Now, we’re watching how they ramp up here. With a lot of them in playoff races, you get a chance to see how they respond to that playoff drive. At this point, you’re watching for consistency, seeing if they’re playing the same way, or if they’ve improved, which is what we expect to see around this time of year, especially from the top-end guys.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I’ll be back with another blog soon. I have some thoughts about what I particularly look for in players and what I believe makes the best pros. So, stay tuned for that. Until then, goodbye.