|Oilers brass pose with Taylor Hall after selecting the winger first overall this past June (photo by Getty Images)
That collective sigh of relief following Taylor Hall
's first NHL goal Oct. 28 wasn't only emanating from the Edmonton Oilers' front office.
Stu MacGregor, who has run Edmonton's draft table as the team's head amateur scout the last three seasons, also was breathing much easier. Particularly after putting in so many trips, conducting countless interviews and working sleepless nights deciding who ultimately would be the top pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.
MacGregor, the married father of an 18-year-old son, dedicates an average of 21 days on the road each month to scouting and creating reports on the top draft-eligible prospects each season. Based out of his home in Kamloops, B.C., he covers junior and college teams in western Canada and the United States and also travels to several international events each season.
It certainly isn't easy work.
His most recent road swing had him in Central Alberta for a viewing of top center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
of the Western Hockey League's Red Deer Rebels on Oct. 20 before flying to Toronto. He got three days off before heading to the Montreal area to report on high-end power forward Sean Couturier of Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"That was certainly one of the most interesting experiences how it boiled down to those two particular players and how deep (Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini) asked us to dig down and find out about these young men. As an organization, we wanted to set a path in a new direction for our team, so it was important for us to make what we felt was the right decision." -- Stu MacGregor on choosing between Hall and Seguin
While MacGregor will remain on the go the entire season, it's unlikely he'll experience the same buildup that took place prior to Edmonton having the first choice of the 2010 Entry Draft in Los Angeles -- when Taylor Hall
was selected ahead of Tyler Seguin.
"That was certainly one of the most interesting experiences how it boiled down to those two particular players and how deep (Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini) asked us to dig down and find out about these young men," MacGregor told NHL.com. "As an organization, we wanted to set a path in a new direction for our team, so it was important for us to make what we felt was the right decision."
In the end, Hall's experience and "ability to rise up and do it when it counted" were keys. There also was one memorable moment, during a May 14 round-robin game at the Memorial Cup when Hall's Windsor Spitfires were matched against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
MacGregor recalls it as if it happened yesterday.
"I remember Taylor Hall
getting hit so hard (just 30 seconds into the game by Brandon's Travis Hamonic) and going face-first into the boards and then rolling over … I thought he was done and hurt and the decision was done that he'd never play again so the choice would be Tyler Seguin," MacGregor said. "He rolls over with blood on his face and they help him to the bench. On his next shift (4:45 into the first), he comes out and scores a highlight-reel goal. It just showed his drive and determination to succeed. He's always risen to the occasion and he's carried that mantel of being the great player since he was very young and was quite humble through it all. The pressure never seemed to bother him."
Right or wrong, MacGregor sometimes is bothered by the expectations placed on such young players coming out of the draft.
"Do I think those expectations come with the territory? Yes. But is it fair? No," he said. "I don't know if it's ever fair how people judge things from afar when they don't really understand what these young men have to go through. If they knew what a young 17- or 18-year-old has to deal with as he goes through his draft year, maybe they'd temper their expectations."
MacGregor pointed to the fact most draftees are just finishing high school and hoping to graduate. Some are in the process of choosing an agent, while others have girlfriends who demand their time. Then there's the responsibility of finishing their current hockey season on a positive note so as to not let down their teammates.
"They go to school, then go to practice when most kids that age go to school and then come home and have a rest," MacGregor said. "It's a very difficult apprenticeship. Just like anyone else going into the work force or interning with a large business or assisting an electrician or plumber. It's kind of the same thing, except there's a little more pressure and lot more people watching."
MacGregor feels Hall's progression in his first NHL season has been fairly similar to any other top draft pick he's watched work his way up the ladder.
"Scouts always worry and the pressure starts to build until the player gets that first NHL goal," MacGregor said. "But Taylor is moving is along well. He was named second star in a game against Minnesota where he didn't even get a point, but was carrying the play and generating opportunities, using his ability and speed. He's moving along the way he should."
As does MacGregor in his tireless search for the next great prospect.
"The 2011 Draft will have some good scorers and some defensemen," he said. "There's the defenseman in Sweden (Adam Larsson), who will be a high-end player. I think if you're looking into picking either Couturier, Nugent-Hopkins or Larsson, you better be finishing really low (in the standings) and have the high pick. But there's also a lot of depth in this upcoming draft."
One player, perhaps off the mainstream draft radar, that recently caught MacGregor's eye was Ryan Strome of the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs. Strome has 8 goals and 24 points in 14 games this season.
"He's a young man who sort of fell off people's radar coming into the season, but is among the top scorers," MacGregor said. "He kind of reminds me of where Tyler Seguin was last year. At the beginning of the season, Tyler was in the back of the pack but he eventually moved ahead." Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale