Q&A with Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray

By Jeff Dahlia

The Los Angeles Kings entered the 2006 NHL Draft in Vancouver, B.C. with a new President and General Manager in Dean Lombardi and a new Head Coach in Marc Crawford.

Even though some faces have changed, Al Murray remained in his position as the Kings Director of Amateur Scouting. When the dust settled on the draft floor at GM Place, Hockey’s Future caught up with Murray. We recapped the draft and broke down the team’s new prospects.

HF: Can you give me your overall feelings and impressions on how the team did at the table today?

AM: We’re very happy and excited to have this draft go the way it did. When you get the first round under your belt and it goes the way you want, then you’re very pleased. We got two of the guys we felt were elite players. Not a lot of people know Trevor Lewis, but the hockey people know him. We had several teams come up to us and stated, ‘geez, you got our guy.’ These were teams picking after us in the first round.

Jonathan Bernier was best goaltender we think for the draft. He’s been our No. 1 guy all year; he’s been Central Scouting’s No. 1 all year. He’s played U-18 tournaments for Canada and he’s been terrific. We were happy once the first round got out of the way. Then we had a couple players drop to us, who we hoped would, so it worked out to be a great day for us.

HF: The Kings may face some criticism because they traded Pavol Demitra away. How big is that though he was traded, it helped the organization get younger?

AM: I really can’t answer that. My job is amateur scouting only. Since Dean (Lombardi) is fairly new on-board, he’s been doing a lot with the pro scouts, with the trades and things. We actually didn’t get to talk to him as much this weekend as we thought we might because they were in one session, while we were in another making sure we had our list in order. Dean would have to answer the direction the team is going because our job was just to pick the players.

HF: Once the trade went down, how did you feel when you had the chance to grab Lewis where you did?

AM: We knew early on in first part of the round, there was some potential to make the trade. That helped us because then we could have the right guys in order we wanted and to make sure we could get them. Lewis was a player that was very important to us, so it was great we could finalize that deal.

HF: What does defenseman Joe Ryan bring to the picture?

AM: Joey is a Boston boy who played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league for the Memorial Cup Championship team, the Quebec Remparts. He brings a real physical element to the game and as a physical defenseman; he’s got good size and good skating. He’s not just a heavyweight and defends all his teammates. He’s got a shot that is okay, moves the puck on his first pass okay and defends his own zone well. He’s a solid, mean, defensive-defenseman. With the way the league is going these days the guys are going to have be able to skate. We got a physical defenseman who can skate really well.

HF: With your fourth pick, you went with another goalie in Jeff Zatkoff, who plays out of Miami-Ohio. Why two netminders?

AM: He was actually our other top ranked goalie. We had Bernier No. 1 and Zatkoff No. 2 and a couple other guys close to Jeff. He was our second rated goalie, so we got arguably what we feel was our two top goalies.

He played only Saturday nights for his team out there at Miami-Ohio. His coach [Enrico Blasi] is a disciple from George Gwozdecky from Denver because he used to work there. George believes in that rotation so Jeff only played half the games. We think as things go along here, he’s going to be able to change his coach’s mind and take over more of a prominent role. He’s also going out for the World Junior team for the U.S. as a tryout, so I think that speaks to how well he plays and how well thought he is. He was the third ranked goalie on the Central Scouting’s list for North American goalies. So, he’s got a pretty good background.

HF: With your next pick you went with Bud Holloway from the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. I’ve seen him a couple of times and I’ve noticed that he’s a gritty two-way forward, who’s never played himself out of the line-up since he’s been with the T-Birds. What that what you saw in him and/or is the evaluation somewhat accurate?

AM: Absolutely bang on. You’ve got him nailed to a T. He’s a gritty two-way guy with a little bit of offense, who scored 21 goals this year. When you look at Bud, you think in terms of a third or fourth line guy, who’s an absolute pain to play against. Those guys are extremely valuable in the new NHL, the way it is. Those are the guys who are tailor-made for this league.

HF: Moving on, you jumped the pond and picked up Niclas Andersen from Sweden. What’s the report on him?

AM: He’s a physical defenseman form Sweden. He’s a good skater and he’s very physically tough. He had 217 penalty minutes in the Swedish junior league this year. He also played for the Swedish U-18 team all year long. He’s a nice combination. If you can go out and get the really good offensive-defensemen, then you have to make sure your defensive guys can be able to skate if they’re going to be physical guys. You can kind of think about Mattias Norstrom as far as Andersen’s style goes.

HF: You took David Meckler with your seventh overall pick. He played on an offensively challenged team at Yale last season, but what can he offer given the right environment?

AM: He played in the USHL two years ago and scored 30 goals. If you do the math in the USHL, very few guys ever score 30 goals. He was with Yale this season but he was playing the majority of the season with a broken wrist. The team hid that and it affected his overall ability to put points on the board. He is the potential shooter, who can finish around the net. We anticipate that he’s going to come back season with a hand that’s solid and a wrist that’s solid, which should lead him back to his scoring ways.

HF: With your other fifth round pick, you took 19-year-old defenseman Martin Nolet who played last season with Champlain. What’s the story on him?

AM: Martin Nolet played at Cegep. Cegep is a cross between college hockey and university hockey. It’s an intermediate step educationally, between high school and university in Quebec. They have a tier-2 league now, which incorporates these teams. A lot of the Quebec junior teams send their players who aren’t quite ready for the league to this. He wanted to go college, so he’s got a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts for next fall. I know Clarkson and a couple of other schools were interested in him.

He’s a 6’3 guy, who’s a very good skater. He’s got a little bit of time left to put his stamp on whether he wants to be a offensive or defensive defenseman. He’s a good skater who can move the puck and he’s somewhat physical. He’ll have four years to develop at a good NCAA school. We thought he was well worth the gamble.

HF: What would be Cegep’s equivalent in the states?

AM: Cegep is like a division 3 school, or better yet, it’s more like a junior college. It’s like a place where a lot of baseball players and a lot of those basketball players go to those juco’s and spend a year or two years there and move on to a full ride at a NCAA school.

HF: To finish this year, you went back to Europe and selected Constantin Braun, a big winger from Eisbaren in the DEL or the German League. How did you come across him?

AM: Constantin’s a left winger, who’s big at 6’3. We saw him play at the U-18’s for the German team. We also have a little more background on him because Jan Vopat and Ari Vuori, our European scouts, go into Germany and watch those leagues. Mr. Anschutz owns a couple of German teams. Braun plays for one of those teams, the Berlin Ice Barons. Peter Lee and Pierre Page run that team. Peter Lee is the General Manager and Pierre Page, the former NHL coach, is their coach.

Constantin is probably going to play on the men’s team with the Ice Barons next year. Big kid, good skater, has a good shot. He’s a little off the beaten track, but it’s not the first time we’ve gone to somewhere different. We’ve got a goalie form Japan and Anze Kopitar from Slovenia. We’re not averse to taking someone who’s not on the main hockey landscape. If he can play in the German men’s league next year, that’s a terrific league, which is full of American and ex-NHL players. It’s a men’s league and it’s a hard-nosed league.

HF: The team lost a couple of prospects either to moving up or through trades. How does this new group help bring balance to the current make-up?

AM: Well, we wind up with pretty good balance. It wasn’t the way we planned to do it, but we got that balance. We got a couple of goalies, a couple of defensemen, a center, a right wing and couple of left wingers. It’s good balance that keeps providing good pieces for the organization.

I think we have some good goaltending prospects in our organization with Danny Taylor, Ryan Munce along with (Yukata) Fukufuji. They’re good prospects, but the two guys we added at the draft are elite. And that’s what you want to do. You want to add as many elite players at each position as you can. Regardless of what you strength is, you have to take the best player available and that should give you some good assets down the road.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.