Q&A with Al Murray, Kings Director of Amateur Scouting

By John Logue

Al Murray is in his tenth season as Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Kings and is directly responsible for the club’s amateur scouting operation, including scheduling, assignments, evaluation of talent and development of the final list of players leading up to the annual NHL Entry Draft. Hockey’s Future spoke to him earlier this week.

HF: How do you feel the upcoming draft compares to recent years? Most of the draft publications say it’s a weaker draft that 2003.
AM: I agree this draft is much different than last year’s. Last year our goal was to get as many picks as possible. This year there is a significant drop off after the top 2 picks. Picks 3-15 could go in any order depending on each team’s needs and scouting.

HF: The Kings have always said they take the best player available no matter what the case. With the rebuilt prospect pool and farm system are you starting to look to fill certain positions or still going with the best player available philosophy?
AM: We are still taking the best player available with the exception of the over-age Europeans we have drafted. Those by and large have worked out. Now that we have much more organizational depth we focus on the player that is going to be the best for the organization in the long term even if it is a position we are deep in, it might be an asset that can be traded down the line.

HF: Has the experience with Jamie Storr kept the Kings from drafting another goalie in the first round?
AM: No, we still take who we think is the best player available. We think we can never have enough goaltending prospects. Goaltending can be 80 percent of your success as a team and a bad goalie can be 90 percent of your problems as a team. Goalies do take much longer to develop and if you look at the NHL, the goalies came from all over the draft. Goaltenders are not the safest pick, drafting a goalie is a hit or miss proposition.

HF: Which of our young players are you most excited about?
AM: There are a number of them we feel good about. We have four that should play major roles for the Kings next season. Frolov, Gleason, Brown and Grebeshkov.

HF: Let’s talk a little more about Gleason. The Smolinski for Gleason trade looks like is it really going to help the Kings for years to come.
AM: From day one, Tim really impressed us with his maturity, work ethic and hockey smarts. He is a very honest player. Scouts would say he would try to force offense and make bad plays. We didn’t see any of that. Signing a pro contract may have relieved the pressure he may have been trying to put numbers up to get signed, but we couldn’t be happier with Tim Gleason.

HF: What do you think was the biggest factor in turning around the Kings prospect and farm system?
AM: It definitely started at the top with Mr. Anshutz and Mr. Lieweke. They shifted the focus of the organization, we started looking long term, we held onto the draft picks and draft choices and make farm teams so we can control the development of our players. Dave Taylor has added picks in most years, and he is never hesitant to make a trade to improve the team.

HF: How has AEG’s ownership of European Hockey teams helped your job?
AM: It hasn’t affected it as much as I thought it would. They give us some really good reports, but they operate to win their own league and get a foothold in their cities. Most of their players are older. It’s not really a huge advantage, but it is an asset.

HF: Which players you drafted are you most pleased with from a development standpoint?
AM: Too many to mention. Cammalleri, Kanko, And Barney have made huge strides. If I had to single one out it would be Richard Petiot. We think he has really taken big strides. When he is on his game, he is one of the best defensemen in the college ranks. He’ll never be a point producer, you can compare his game to Aaron Miller. Richard has really taken huge steps.

HF: Looking back to last year’s draft, which of the 2003 first rounders are you most pleased with?
AM: Obviously Dustin Brown. It was very disappointing to see him get hurt. Dustin is a lock to be an NHL player. He has the heart and intensity of Adam Deadmarsh. We were very pleased when he fell to us. We felt we had a legitimate chance to get him. Because of the quality of the draft, it wasn’t a shock that he was there, but we are glad he was.

HF: How about the other first rounders from last year Jeff Tambellini and Brian Boyle? How do you feel about them a year later?
AM: We hope Jeff will be a top 2 line guy who can score. He is a very dedicated two-way player. Hockey Canada saw that and played him in more of a defensive role, for the Canadian Junior team, which was really fun to watch him to do that. He worked just as hard as he did the year before, got a lot of quality shots. We don’t see him slipping in his offense at all and see him continuing to be a top part of that Michigan program and move onto being a major contributor to us.
Onto to Brian Boyle, Brian spent the year with one of the Top 3 teams in the NCAA. For most of the year, Boston College had Brian playing with Adam Pineault who is going to be in the draft this year, and another first year player on the fourth line. They didn’t play every fourth shift. They got a fair amount of ice time, He got time on the first and second unit of the power play. They brought him along as they do a lot of their players. It was a learning experience for him moving out of high school and into the college ranks. He played for a very good coach, we have a lot of faith in Jeff Dorff. He’s developed a lot of pro players and sometimes you just have to wait your turn, and I think it was more of Brian having to wait his turn. Watching him play I thought he gave good effort
and you hope he’s just going to continue to get better and better because if can get a regular role next year he can grab it and just run with it and we expect that his numbers can jump significantly.

HF: How does your focus change in this draft not having three first rounders or even a second rounder?
AM: We expect to get a very good prospect at 11. We focus in very closely on 10 players. There are good players in this draft at all positions, but there is no lock who will be chosen where form 3-15.

HF: Have you complied you final list yet?
AM: We have actually, we had our end of the year meetings. Now we’re spending a lot of time looking at what Central Scouting has to say about people. We’re making phone calls to teams, coaches and managers to double check on players and find out more about players, not just as a player but as a person. And we’re doing some additional interviews in Toronto next week where the NHL brings all of the players together for a week of interviews and fitness testing. We’ll have access to about 50 players to interview there, we’ll find a little more about them, and we’ll bring all of the additional information we’ve gathered and see if it alters the draft list at all and it usually does get altered.

HF: 2002 fifth round pick Greg Hogeboom recently signed with the Kings. Can you tell us a little more about him?
AM: We really like Hogie. He is very smart in the offensive zone. He has a great shot, and a lot of upside. He is very strong a good two-way player, very hard working and gritty. I would expect him in Manchester for a year or two.

HF: How about Noah Clarke. Noah described himself to me as a late bloomer, but he has really bloomed.
AM: Noah had a very good year in Manchester, got named to the All-Star team. He is the kind of player who needs to play an offensive role. He plays better with good players, he has great speed. He has really impressed us. He made the transition from college to pro very easily. He is very dedicated.

HF: How would you rate the progress of Denis Grebeshkov in his first season as a pro?
AM: Denis is not like a lot of young players. Denis came from Yaroslavl in the Russian elite league and that team won the championship two years in a row and he was one of their top six defensemen. He had a really good background from playing over in Russia. He is a terrific kid, he showed up everyday, worked hard and after the injury got better and better. He was terrific for the Kings in his first couple of games and the next couple of games wasn’t quite as good. All part of the learning process. We see his first season as very good, very solid from a development standpoint and we look forward to him taking another step this year.

HF: Can you tell us about Konstantin Pushkarev?
AM: Everyone has their own little story. I’ll tell you Konstantin’s. He was in Kazakhstan. He moved to Avangard Omsk. We were very happy with that. He went to a very good team and the new coach was going to play him a lot. The Russian League passed a rule where they had to have three young players in the lineup for every game. After a short amount of time, the league changed its rule and you didn’t have to play the three young players. The team he was on was expected to do very well and wasn’t living up to expectation. They fired the coach who was his main ally. Konstantin ended up on the second squad.
Konstantin was a player we had on par with Tambellini and Boyle. We took him in the second round because when we were evaluating him at the tournament where everyone else got to see him, we knew Phoenix and Detroit were very interested in him, but didn’t pick until after our second rounder. We knew they were not going to be able to trade up in this type of draft. We felt pretty comfortable he was going to be there and we felt like we ended up with four first round draft picks last year as opposed to three.

HF: Marty Guerin is looking like he might be a late round steal (2003 9th rounder) can you tell us some more about him?
AM: He had a really good first year of college. All of the credit for Marty goes to Gary Harker. I didn’t see him last year more than once. We turn over the scouting for our later draft picks to our area guys. Gary in particular went to bat from Marty. Marty had a unbelievable first year of college and he hope he continues to work hard. He just needs to remember he is a two-way hard nosed, hard working player.

HF: Matt Zaba ended up having a very good year at Colorado College, you must be pleased with that.
AM: We didn’t know if he would play at all, he comes from another very strong program that has a returning goalie. We thought he’d maybe play a few games as a backup and probably stay in that role until McElhinney graduated. But, McElhinney sustained an injury and Matt Zaba jumped in there as the No. 1 goalie for a good chunk of the year and we felt he played really well. So you don’t know what is going to happen next year. They’ll have McElhinney back as a senior, Zaba will be pushing him so we hope he will get in 50 percent of the games and then solidify his position for the year after and hopefully be the starter his junior and senior years. Colorado College was happy he could step and in we were very happy he did the job in a tough situation.

HF: How does the current CBA affect your decision making process when deciding who to draft?
AM: It definitely plays a factor. When you are putting your list together for the draft you are comparing players from all over the world, you want the best possible prospect. You don’t worry about where they are from initially. But as it gets into the later rounds, you only have two years to watch and evaluate your major junior players, have an indefinite amount of time with the Europeans and in most places three or four years with the college players, a lot of the time the guys don’t go early because they need more development time. Often times when you take major junior players they don’t have enough time to get developed by the time you have to sign them, sometimes they want large amounts of money to sign even though they haven’t proven themselves yet. It’s more difficult in the later rounds to select major junior guys than college and European guys, at least we feel that way.

HF: Who do you feel has been your best late round pick?
AM: Robert Lang, I wasn’t there when Luc Robitaille was drafted but, probably Robert Lang and Kimmo Timonen. They have both gone on to be All-Star caliber players in the NHL and important members to their teams.

HF: 2001 first round draft pick David Steckel recently finished his senior year at Ohio State. How do you feel he developed?
AM: In every case there are usually reasons why players don’t develop. And when we took Dave Steckel, he had very solid years behind him. He had a very good year in the USA development program for a large, tall player who hadn’t developed yet and a good freshman year at Ohio State, he and Umberger, who was drafted by Vancouver that year. Dave put up good numbers, got a lot of time on the power play and penalty kill, and worked very hard. He is at a university that had a lot of success developing NFL football players — they have good strength coaches and strength programs. We felt that going to Ohio State he would work with those people and get stronger. For some reason it just didn’t happen for Dave. After we drafted him his next two seasons were very poor, maybe he felt as a first round pick he didn’t have to continue to work as hard, maybe it wasn’t him to mature and physically develop, maybe we didn’t push him hard enough. I’m not sure what the reasons were but his sophomore and junior years were definitely below average. He rebounded his senior year and showed a little more of what we thought he could be. But he lost, in our opinion, two to three years of physical development. We have a tough decision to make whether to sign Dave or not sign Dave, we have a year to make up our minds. If we choose not to sign him, we will receive a second round pick for him in the 2005 draft.

HF: And what about the other 2001 first round pick Jens Karlsson?
AM: Jens is a completely different situation than Dave. We knew he would take time to develop. He is one of the more physical Swedes you will see. In the Swedish leagues, the coaches don’t play their young players a lot. We knew it was going to be difficult for Jens to get ice time. He didn’t want to come over and play junior in North America, we checked that out. We have to go with the situation the player wants to be in. If you look at his last two seasons, he hasn’t played very much in the regular season, but he has gotten a lot more ice time in the playoffs. His numbers during the post season have almost matched his numbers during the regular season. We are still very high on Jens and are very happy with the way he comes on in the playoffs. We still view Jens as a definite prospect and have lots of hopes for him.

HF: The Kings didn’t sign Aaron Rome last year and have until June 1 to get him signed. Can we expect to see him signed?
AM: That is still up in there air. A lot of that depends on Aaron. We tried to sign Aaron at the end of last year. Aaron was offered what we felt was a very good contract from his level of play and where he was taken in the draft. One of the things I heard was that one of his teammates that was drafted in the fifth or sixth round was given a significant amount of money. Aaron’s offer was lower and he viewed himself to be every bit the player as the other guy. He felt we were short changing him and he wasn’t going to sign that contract. He could have played pro last season, but returned to Swift Current. We would like to see him as part of our organization, but a lot of it is Aaron’s decision, not just ours anymore.

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