ST PAUL, Minn - The most significant restructuring of the Vancouver Canucks' amateur scouting department since Mike Gillis became general manager 4½ years ago has the National Hockey League team committing itself to more thorough scouting in Western Canada.
The team has been criticized in recent years for not drafting more players from British Columbia and the Western Hockey League. The shakeup in the scouting department, unnoticed outside the organization when it occurred last summer, saw chief scout Ron Delorme redeployed to Western Canada and an expansion of duties for director of player personnel Eric Crawford.
Crawford now manages both pro and amateur scouting. He has assumed some of the administrative duties previously handled by Delorme, who replaced Harold Snepsts as the main regional scout in the west. Snepsts now works with senior adviser Stan Smyl scouting and recruiting undrafted players from college and junior leagues.
The restructuring was overseen by assistant general manager Laurence Gilman, whose staff of 16 amateur and five pro scouts is one of the NHL's largest.
“This is absolutely not a demotion for Ron Delorme,” Gilman said before Thursday's Canuck game against the Minnesota Wild. “Far from it. Not only is he still our chief scout, but we're putting our best scout back in a region where we need to do better.
“We felt we had been systemically undervaluing players in the western region. The moves that were made were not done specifically to draft more players from the west. It was done after an analysis of where players (to the NHL) were coming from and where we were devoting our resources. We felt we needed to improve our coverage in the west. It is our backyard, but it's also a very big yard and we needed to scout it more efficiently.”
The Canucks drafted Surrey winger Prab Rai from the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2008 – the first draft for Gillis and Gilman – and did not chose another player from B.C. until they called the name of Victoria's Wesley Myron in the sixth round last June.
The team hasn't drafted a WHL player since 2008. Gilman said the Canucks have also bolstered their scouting in Ontario, repositioned associate chief scout Thomas Gradin to oversee Europe, and have established a chain of command for amateur scouting that includes regional chiefs.
Crawford, who worked his way through pro scouting to Canuck management, is being assisted by career amateur scout Ted Hampson.
“We felt on the pro side of things, the structure we had was working well,” Crawford said. “We wanted to establish the same type of structure on the amateur side. It's a challenge, for sure. You're talking about over 2,000 (professional and amateur) players around the world that we need to have knowledge of.”
Crawford reiterated Gilman's position that the aim isn't specifically to draft more players from Western Canada or Ontario. But he said successful organizations retain the good players they develop, and if the Canucks have players from the west it is more likely they will want to stay with the team.
The 20-player lineup the Canucks used against the Wild included three B.C. players, Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Volpatti – all acquired as free agents.
KASSASTER: Former Vancouver Giants' junior Matt Kassian appears to be at a dead end with his NHL career in Minnesota. The enforcer, a second-round pick of the Wild in 2005, has been a healthy scratch every game this season. And when Minnesota coach Mike Yeo decided he needed more toughness, the team traded this week for New York Ranger heavyweight Michael Rupp.
“My job as a pro is to be a good teammate and come to the rink every day with a good attitude,” Kassian said Thursday morning. “You have to kind of check your brain at the door a little bit and just kind of go in and enjoy what you do. There are a lot worse situations in life to be in."
At least Kassian has his nickname protected. The 26-year-old has legally trademarked the name "Kassassin" in the U.S. and Canada, which means Canuck Zack Kassian will have to call himself something else. Or he could buy the name rights.
“No, I wouldn't consider selling,” Matt said. “When you have a nickname, (trademarking) is a smart thing to do if you ever want to do self-branding or product stuff or run a website. I have lawyer in the family, so counsel is free."
WILD SPENDING: They say you can't teach scoring. But in the NHL, you're supposed to be able to purchase it. Maybe $196 million just doesn't buy what it used to.
After signing coveted unrestricted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98-million contracts, the Wild have started slowly and still can't score goals. Their average of 2.22 per game before Thursday was 25th in the NHL.
Parise did his part with six goals and 10 points in the first nine game, but Suter was still looking for his first goal and the star blueliner lugged a ghastly minus-seven rating into the game against Vancouver.
“We know we have to be the best players,” Suter said. “The fans here are very passionate. I don't know how patient they are, and hopefully we won't have to test that out. I feel like I've got to be better, obviously, but I don't think that (plus/minus) is a reflection of how I'm playing. It's sad to have that number this early in the year but hopefully we'll get out of that.”
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Maxim Lapierre #40 (left), Chris Higgins #20 and Zack Kassian #9 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate a goal by Higgins during the first period of the game against the Minnesota Wild on February 7, 2013 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota.
Photograph by: Hannah Foslien, Getty Images