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Francis scouting WJSS begins long process to NHL for Seattle

Colleagues praise new GM, believe he's perfect choice to build expansion team

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- The Seattle NHL expansion team took its first steps in scouting when Ron Francis walked into USA Hockey Arena on Tuesday.

Seattle announced Francis as its first general manager on July 18, and here he was at the rink less than two weeks later to watch Canada play the United States in the World Junior Summer Showcase.

He wore a plain black jacket.

"It's my understanding we'll hopefully get a name out the first part of 2020, and hopefully with that will be some colors as well," Francis said with a smile. "And then we can go from there."

Seattle won't select players until the NHL Expansion Draft and NHL Draft in June 2021 and won't begin play until October 2021.

The WJSS is a tournament of players younger than 20 from Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States. Most have been drafted already; the others will go in the 2020 NHL Draft.

But Francis must know everyone and be ready for anything for June 2021 and beyond.

"You want to know everybody's organization top to bottom, and (there are) a lot of prospects here," Francis said. "So you're just trying to get a handle on who they are and what they can do and what they may be able to do in the future."

Time flies too.

"On one hand, it's very daunting," Francis said of building an organization from scratch. "But on the other hand, I think it's a great challenge. I'm certainly excited about having that opportunity. I know we've got 23 months till the expansion draft and 27 till puck drop. That's going to go pretty quick, so we already are down to business."

Life has been a blur for Francis since the announcement -- even before, actually.

He flew to Seattle on July 16, and the news of his hiring broke while he was in the air. After he was introduced at a press conference two days later, he did media interviews and attended a meet-and-greet with fans. He attended a staff barbecue the next night, looked at houses with his family the next day and flew home to Raleigh, North Carolina, the day after that.

Video: Ron Francis on building Seattle into a contender

After a preplanned golf grip and a charity event, he flew to the Detroit area to scout the WJSS. He will watch Canada play Finland and Sweden play the United States on Wednesday, then fly home again. He'll head back to Seattle on Sunday.

"I think I stopped counting when we crossed 300 between texts and emails and phone calls," Francis said. "Obviously a bunch of congratulations and some people looking for work, so we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

The Seattle hockey operations department currently consists of Francis and director of hockey administration Alexandra Mandrycky. Together with owners and business executives, they will figure out the process of hiring analytics and scouting staffs.

"There's no shortage of resumes coming in," Francis said. "We're going to sit down in the next couple weeks and kind of get more specific as to exact numbers we want to hire and when we want to hire them, and that'll give us a little more clarity on that."

NHL Seattle retained a search firm in January and identified six criteria it wanted in a GM: an experienced leader and team builder; a relentless worker; a visionary who understood analytics; someone with relationships across the NHL; someone with a keen understanding of the NHL salary cap and the NHL Draft; and someone who could evaluate players.

Francis, a Hockey Hall of Famer who was GM of the Carolina Hurricanes from 2014-18, checked each box. He brings instant class and credibility. Listen to some of the other GMs in the stands at the WJSS:

Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland: "He's a classy, classy man. I think he did a great job in building that Carolina team, and I'm thrilled to see him back in a general manager's seat."

New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton: "When you have somebody that's going to start off an organization, he's got to hire all these people. He's got to bring all these people in. Who better than him?"

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong: "He's probably the most underrated great player in the history of our game, and I think he has that same demeanor as a manager. I think he'll do a great job out there in Seattle. It couldn't happen to a better guy. The NHL is better, but certainly the management group is better, when Ronnie's on the inside of it."

Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray: "I think he'll do an outstanding job."

This was one of what will be many firsts on the journey for Francis and the Seattle organization.

"I think the best advice everybody's kind of given is make sure that we take the full runway here," Francis said. "We do have some time. We want to make sure we do things right and hire the right people and establish the culture we want, because that's what we're going to have for a long time."

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