Coyotes VP and Assistant GM Laurence Gilman tracks team’s prospects

By Jeff Dahlia





Vice President and Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman offers an<br />inside look to the future of the Coyotes franchise





Over the
last three years, the Coyotes management team has spent numerous hours, days
and months on strategic planning for the future success of the franchise. The
team is building a solid foundation to stand on, all the while maintaining
fiscal responsibility. Above all, the franchise wants to promote a model where
future success is built from within.

Hockey’s Future spoke to Vice President and Assistant General Manager
Laurence Gilman, who also doubles as the AHL Utah Grizzlies General Manager. To
an average fan, he might get lost in the shadows cast by the likes of the Wayne
Gretzky, Michael Barnett and Cliff Fletcher. Nevertheless, Gilman has been a
big part of how the Coyotes have been shaping up over the years.

From life on the Canadian prairie when the franchise was known as the Winnipeg
Jets, to more than a decade later in the American desert, Gilman has flourished
in the franchise. Starting as legal counsel for the team and handling contract
negotiations, he has seen his career grow in a hockey franchise on the rise.

While juggling a very busy schedule, Gilman was able to offer an inside look at
the key components in building and a solid franchise from within.

Grizzlies start season without a bite

As the season started in the AHL, residents of West Valley City, Utah
and Coyotes fan alike were eager to see what the Grizzlies had in store. The
roster contained an impressive blend of young talent and veteran leadership,
which many hoped would translate into an improved team.

Things are not going as planned for the Grizzlies. Through 30 games thus far, Utah has had three
separate losing streaks of eight, six and five games, which in turn has led to
an overall record of 9-19-0-2.

Realizing that the current makeup of the roster was missing the correct
chemistry and chiefly a quality veteran presence, Gilman and Utah carried out a series of trades. Trying
to shake things up, Jonathan Sim would go to Philadelphia for Peter White, while Jason Jaspers and Nikos Tselios returned to Springfield in exchange for Jarrod Skalde and Terry Virtue. Gilman also went out and signed
veteran forward Aaron Gavey, who was playing in Norway.

While Gilman is reluctant to offer an excuse for the dismal start, he does
explain some important factors regarding the situation.

“We feel the part of that is the virtue of the fact that we have the
broadest base of young prospects that we’ve ever had,” says Gilman.
“At no point in the history of our organization has the hockey team had
this amount of bonafide prospects playing for its
farm team at one time. If you look, we have three young players on defense in (Keith)
Ballard, (Matt) Spiller
and (Joe) Callahan, who we project to be NHL
players some day. We have a young goalie prospect in David LeNeveu, who is demonstrating night in and night out
that he has been a tremendous draft pick for our scouts and very well someday
be an NHL player. Looking up front, we have Jeff Taffe,
Eric Westrum, Fredrick
Sjostrom
who all played in the NHL last year. We
also have Kiel
McLeod, Randall Gelech, Jakub
Koreis
and Martin Podlesak
(who has been hurt).”

Gilman continued, “The bad news is that this is a team that has struggled
at times, but the good news is our players are getting a tremendous amount of
experience that will only make them better players down the road.”

Even though certain prospects are making great strides in their professional
careers, Gilman realizes that winning is a very important piece of the puzzle.
Well before the season started, Gilman and the rest of the Phoenix management envisioned an environment
which promoted success through development for all the prospects.

“Historically, if you look at successful minor league teams like Phoenix
did, there is not a 100 percent direct correlation between winning and
developing players,” explained Gilman. “Often times the best or
winning minor league teams are the ones that had great veteran minor league
players. That often translates into championship caliber teams. There is no
question that having a losing franchise is not an environment that you want
your prospects to develop in. Are they developing? Under certain circumstances
they are. Do I think that losing is effective in their development? I
don’t think that any player should be taken off the hook, but they are
still developing. Our philosophy while putting the team together for Utah, was to create a winning environment where our players
would flourish. That hasn’t transpired this early in the season.”

He also pointed out that the loss of two players the franchise projected would
have a big impact with Utah
this year.

“In all fairness, we lost two great players in Sheldon Keefe and Martin Podlesak very early on,” said Gilman. ” We are
not trying to use that as an excuse, but I have to be honest when I say we
expected a lot of good things from these two players. With the both of them
out, it totally changes the dynamics of the equation we previously had heading
into this season.”

Though the loss of Keefe and Podlesak altered the
equation to a degree, Gilman stated the organization was “concerned with
the overall performance” of their players and that, “We believe
that our young players, as well as our veteran players all need to be playing
up to their potential or at least the level we feel they are capable of playing
at.”

To their credit, the Grizzlies have answered that request from management. When
all the player personnel moves were completed with the addition of Gavey, the team has started to show some life. From
December 4th to December 22nd, Utah
has a record of 5-7 during the stretch. It isn’t the best record anyone
would have hoped for, but it gives some hope to scratch out a decent season and
give the organization something to build on.

LeNeveu is having another good season, regardless of
the team’s suspect defense. Sjostrom, who
slumped early on, is finding success often and is starting to turn in some
solid performances. Gelech has been one of the been
one of the more consistent forwards, notching 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) as
well as working on shrinking his -7 plus/minus rating.

Steelheads proving to be a fruitful
affiliation

While Gilman tries to get Utah
on the right track, he is also keeping an eye on the team’s other affiliate,
the Idaho Steelheads, in the ECHL. In contrast to the Grizzlies start, the Steelheads
have had early success.

He has been kept up to date on the Steelheads through various scouting reports,
the internet and talking to head coach John Olver on a frequent basis.

“The ECHL is an extremely important developmental tool for a NHL franchise,”
says Gilman about the pairing. “Oftentimes we sign very young players who
don’t understand how good the American Hockey League is. Of course it is
amplified this year because many high caliber players are obviously playing in
the AHL, who would otherwise be playing in the NHL. The ECHL in many cases is a
great transitional league for young players. It gives players the chance to get
used to the rigors of playing professional hockey. It also allows them to enter
a system that will hopefully enable them to perform well whether it is in the
AHL or NHL.”

When asked how fortunate he thought it was for the Coyotes and their prospects
to be under the direction of Olver, Gilman says,
“Having John [Olver] is a great bonus. Seeing
how he operates and how he deals with his players reinforced that Idaho was a first-rate
operation. He treats all of his players like they are a part of his family and
he is an excellent steward for our young players.”

Gilman also stated that the proximity between Utah
and Idaho as
well as the fact the players were going to a Kelly Cup championship was a win-win
situation.

Currently, the Idaho’s
roster boasts four Coyotes prospects in Frank Lukes,
Landon Bathe, Darren McLachlan
and Ladislav Kouba.

Keeping Tabs

With prospects spread about the globe, Gilman admits
he would have wished to have had the opportunity to get out and watch more of
the franchise’s prospects. However, his duty as the Grizzlies General
Manager has precluded from doing so. Don’t be fooled though. Gilman
states he is well aware of what all his prospects are up to through updated
franchise player and productivity database. It is updated on a very frequent
basis and keeps him up to date on everyone.

“One regular aspect of my day is to go into the scouting system each
morning to see who our scouts are watching and to read their reports,” he
explains about tracking prospects. “In essence, I know what guys are
doing on a daily basis in either juniors, college or Europe. I am able to see how our prospects are progressing
on a daily basis through the eyes of our scouts. In addition, I speak on a
regular basis with our Chief Scout, Vaughn Karpan and
Eddie Mio, our Director of Player Development.”

For the first time this season, he will finally get a chance to view the progress
of Kevin Porter (USA),
Enver Lisin (RUS) and Dmitri
Pestunov
(RUS).
All three are taking part in the IIHF World Juniors Championship in North Dakota, on their
respective national teams.

“My attention has been focused towards getting Utah on the right track as of late,”
explained Gilman. “After the juniors tournament,
I will be coordinating trips to visit with and watch some of our prospects who
are currently in junior or in the college ranks.”

Getting out and watching the future of the franchise is just another important
aspect in Gilman’s routine, because he also happens to be responsible for
player contract negotiations for the Coyotes.

While looking at either their in house talent or possibly a free agent, Gilman
says it is extremely important to him have a vivid picture about a particular
player, his skill set and where he might fit into the picture when sizing him
up with the rest of the talent pool as well as other NHL team’s
prospects. He wants to see everything, all the way down to the situational play
a prospect must face.

“You want to see things like, for instance, does the coach put your
prospect in the game late when they are protecting a lead? Is he a guy when
they are down a goal or does he tend to use your prospect in important defensive
situations or even to kill a penalty?” he listed. “You can look at
a scouting report and see all the things a player is doing, but there is
nothing that can replace getting a three dimensional picture in your mind about
a player, which comes from being in the arena and watching the game in
person.”

How the future will shape up

When asked how the Coyotes will continue to monitor
incoming players, Gilman says it is necessary for the club to actively maintain
a level of consistency when it comes to scouting future talent. After talking
to Chief Scout Vaughn Karpan on a very frequent
basis, he feels that the franchise is well on track and prepared if a draft
happens happens this season or next season, whenever
that may be.

As far as filing any holes the franchise might have, he says, “We feel
that we are at a point where we feel we have broad base of prospects and young
talent. That is something that we want to continue to build upon. As an
organization, we want to creatively diversify a group of talented prospects as
we can, with an eye towards how the game will continue to evolve.

“The base of our job, which is primarily carried out by our scouting
staff, is to not just look at the immediate needs of the organization but
anticipate what they are going to be future, he says. “We need to draft
players who will ultimately fill the roles on a particular team for the
future.”

The Assistant General Manager is not one to steal a page out of a history book,
but he has in fact used history to identify what has led to successful teams
and organizations in the past.

“In order to truly understand how to build a winner from within, you look
at all the championship teams of the past,” Gilman explains. “They
all have a number one centerman. They all have a bonafide goal scoring winger. They have a physical
defenseman who makes others accountable in their own zones. They have an
offensive quarterback who can run a power play and carry the puck up the ice.
And most of all, they obviously have strong goaltending.”

Gilman says whether the scouts are drafting North America,
European, college or junior players, it is important to continue to identify
those key elements. Ultimately, they hope these prospects will develop into
their roles and become key components of the Coyotes franchise for the future.

 

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s
Future.  Do not duplicate without
permission of the editorial staff.