(PRESS RELEASE: MacKinnon promoted to Director of Pro Scouting
This year’s NHL Entry Draft will be the Penguins’ second under General Manager Ray Shero.
However, it’s the first for Shero’s scouting staff.
Shero took over as Penguins Executive Vice President/General Manager on May 25 last year. With the 2006 NHL Entry Draft about one month away, he did not have time to assemble his own scouting staff. Instead, he worked with those already in place and the Penguins’ top selection – Jordan Staal – paid immediate dividends in 2006-07.
Following the draft, Shero assembled his own scouting staff in Pittsburgh, led by Jay Heinbuck, the team’s Director of Amateur Scouting.
|Jay Heinbuck |
“I was hired last July and it’s been an interesting ride since,” Heinbuck said. “It was a hectic beginning, but we put it all together and hired a staff that has been a very good one. Things worked very well this year for us. The excitement of the year was phenomenal because the team just kept getting better and better and better. It’s been an exciting year.”
Prior to joining the Penguins, Heinbuck worked for the New York Islanders as their United States Head Amateur Scout for four years. He oversaw amateur scouting efforts inside the U.S. and also scouted in Canada and Europe during his time with the Islanders.
However, he was elated to get the opportunity in Pittsburgh to oversee the amateur scouting staff.
“Speaking with Ray last summer, when he offered me the position, I was very excited. Everybody knew the last couple of years that Pittsburgh is an up and coming organization,” he said. “That’s exciting in that respect, but it’s also great to work for someone like Ray. I have known him a long time and I know he is a very sharp, smart and detailed person. He treats people right, so I knew I was going to be in a good spot.”
Once Heinbuck was hired, he, Shero and Assistant General Manager Chuck Fletcher set about compiling an amateur scouting staff in the couple months leading up to training camp. They retained scouts Chuck Grillo and Matt Recchi and brought in Brian Fitzgerald, Jim Madigan, Wayne Meier, and Darryl Plandowski, in addition to European scouts Patrik Allvin and Robert Neuhauser.
“Last season, there were about four or five general manager changes. So, after the draft, unfortunately for scouts, there were some scouts looking to catch on with other teams,” Heinbuck said. “There were some quality scouts available. We ended up keeping Chuck Grillo and Matt Recchi on the staff because we didn’t want to turn everybody over. That was a little bit of continuity and those two have worked out well for us.”
Before joining the Penguins, Heinbuck knew there were many talented players in the organization – he saw most of them himself.
“If you’re a scout for any team, you get to know players. You know what other teams have. That’s part of our jobs, too. Even though we’re amateur scouts, when we’re at amateur games, we’re still ranking other players that are drafted by other organizations and giving them a rating, too, because their names always come up in trades,” he said. “The core group of players here is at such an age that it’s going to be enjoyable to try to build around. The whole outlook in the organization, whether you’re in the scouting business or not, you have high expectations and I think there are some legitimate expectations with the group we have. Ray Shero and Chuck Fletcher don’t miss many details. They have been so on top of things in trying to create this culture here and they have been great to work for. It’s exciting.”
The Penguins face an unfamiliar situation at the NHL Entry Draft in Columbus. Instead of picking in the top five – as they have done the past five years – the Penguins will have to wait until No. 20 to make their selection Friday night – a direct result of their successful campaign in 2006-07.
“It’s the good and the bad. You don’t get those high picks anymore, but that means you’ve had team success, which is the ultimate goal,” Heinbuck said. “It makes your selection a little more difficult, there’s no doubt about that. It’s an easier pick in the top five than it is at No. 20. But, that’s our job – to try to find a player in that mix of guys who didn’t get the notoriety of the high pick all year, so we have to sort that our and find who we think is going to be a good player down the road.”
Heinbuck says the team’s philosophy will remain the same – take the top player available.
“I don’t know if it changes your philosophy because you’re always trying to get that best player. We don’t look at that core group and see we have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal center and say we just can’t draft a center,” he said. “Because if that guy comes along in our draft and he’s a centerman and he’s next on our list, he’s the guy we take. In retrospect, if he’s your best asset, he is going to have the most value in a trade, if you make one. That’s our philosophy. Not once in our meetings, when two players were close, did position determine who was higher. It’s not like that.”
In addition to his scouting experience, Heinbuck spent 10 years as an assistant coach at St. Lawrence University. He was the program’s primary recruiter and helped the Saints to ECAC championships in 2000 and 2001 and NCAA tournament appearances in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
“It was an exciting time. At the time I came to the program, St. Lawrence did not have full scholarships to give. They were a financial aid school. We were always up against it a little bit because we’d recruit these kids, but they’d have to pay to come to St. Lawrence. If they were very good, they were getting full rides to go somewhere else. We lost some battles there. But, my fifth or sixth year there, we got full scholarships and put together some very strong teams that went to the NCAA tournament three years in a row and won our league and the ECAC two years in a row and went to the Frozen Four once. That’s probably what led to me getting my first job with the Islanders. They were looking for someone to head up all of the United States for them. My name was put forward and I got the job,” he said. “People always ask me if I miss the coaching aspect. I did at first a little bit because you have that team aspect and you’re around the guys. I look back at it now and realize it was the right choice. I think coaching has helped me in this job because part of my coaching in college is scouting and recruiting, too.”
And, with the Penguins, he feels like he’s part of a new team.
“We look at ourselves as a team and you get that camaraderie. That’s why you get a few of us together at some major games or major tournaments. You are going about your business and talk about the players you saw, but it’s also fun,” he said. “There’s more to it than fun, though, because it’s our livelihood. We take it seriously at the same time. The better we do, the better the team does and the better for our job security.”
The Penguins scouting team is eager for the NHL Entry Draft.
“I am looking forward to it,” Heinbuck said. “As a group, this is our first draft together and we’re all looking forward to it.”