If Gary Eggleston applied today’s metrics to the left-shot center he once scouted out of Norwood, the 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pounder would have been a guaranteed first-round pick. He could skate. He could score. He’d blast through anybody parked in his lane.
At the time, Eggleston was scouting for Detroit. The Red Wings would pay Eggleston $100 for any player he scouted who signed with Hamilton, their Ontario Hockey League amateur affiliate. Eggleston would receive $500 for a player who turned pro.
Eggleston pitched the player to Johnny Mitchell, Detroit’s assistant general manager. Richie Hebner (1,908 career games for the Pirates, Phillies, Mets, Tigers, and Cubs) had other intentions than earning Eggleston a hundred bucks.
Eggleston’s scouting career spans the likes of Hebner to second-year NHLer Jonathan Huberdeau. On Nov. 13, Eggleston’s contributions will be recognized with his induction into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame.
Eggleston, a Melrose native who lives in Wakefield, will be inducted with Massachusetts hockey builder Carol Champagne, former Belmont Hill coach Ken Martin, voice of Boston University hockey Jim Prior, Olympian Joe Riley, Brockton youth hockey builder Marion Sturdevant, and sled hockey pioneer Dale Wise. The ceremony will take place at Stoneham’s Montvale Plaza. For tickets ($60) or more information, visit www.mahockey.org.
Eggleston worked for the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau for 31 seasons until his retirement in 2012. The 78-year-old was in the trenches for the NHL’s evolution from a six-team, Canada-heavy league to its current 30-club international bazaar.
The quality Eggleston always tracked first was skating. He would then look for puck skills. Neither characteristic, however, defined which player would excel. Six decades of bird-dogging confirmed to Eggleston that hockey sense and courage allowed great players to rise above the rest.
“It’s what a kid had under his cap and under his cup — two things you can’t see,” Eggleston said. “That’s what made the difference.”
Eggleston scouted a fiery schoolboy from St. John’s Prep who led the American charge against the Canadian roster stranglehold. It wasn’t just that Bobby Carpenter could skate and shoot and hit. Carpenter competed.
Prior to the 1980 Winter Games, Eggleston belonged to an Olympic evaluation committee. He helped to pick a group of New Englanders, including Carpenter, that competed in a four-team festival in Colorado Springs. Carpenter was 16 years old. In one game, Eggleston recalled Carpenter clashing with Boston University defenseman Bill Whelton, a Winnipeg draft pick.
“Bobby cross-checked him right in the face,” Eggleston said. “I thought Jack O’Callahan was going to kill him. He was the type of gritty kid who had that extra fire in him. He was just outstanding against those future Olympians.”
Carpenter’s generation bridged into the vanguard of American talent. That group included Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick, Bill Guerin, Brian Leetch, John LeClair, Scott Young, Ted Donato, Tom Fitzgerald, and Shawn McEachern. All New Englanders, rolled onto rinks because of Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins. Now, their sons (Ryan Fitzgerald and Ryan Donato) are filling the clipboards of Eggleston’s former colleagues.
Things have changed since today’s fathers were yesterday’s prospects. Scouts use high-definition video to track players. The NHL shuttles draft-eligible players through physical and mental testing at its annual combine in Toronto.
Central Scouting even tried a numbers-based rating to improve rankings’ accuracy. They used Sidney Crosby as a 100-point player. With that benchmark, scouts formulated a points system to peg a forward as an 85-pointer, for example, if they projected him to be 85 percent of Crosby. But that proposal lost momentum after the 2011 death of E.J. McGuire, the bureau’s former director.
But projecting teenagers as 15-year professionals remains a game of darts. It still requires eyeballs on players and a lot of luck. Even delaying the draft by one year would make it a more accurate exercise.
“You’re trying to be objective in something that’s pretty subjective,” Eggleston said. “There’s so much that’s done not with a stopwatch or radar gun. It still remains chancier because you’re drafting 18-year-olds. One year would make a huge difference. A 19-year-old draft would be great. It would be better for the game if you wait a year to draft. You eliminate mistakes. It gives teams a chance to take a second better look.”
Naturally, Eggleston’s had some misses. Dallas won’t know for years whether Jamie Oleksiak will develop into a monster like Zdeno Chara, the comparable Eggleston used when scouting the defenseman at Northeastern during his draft year. The Stars picked Oleksiak 14th overall in 2011.
But Eggleston will remember the hits. In 1994, he had a good feeling about a former Little League champion. Every time Eggleston watched him play at Fairfield Prep, the center would do anything to help his team win.
Eggleston tabbed the boy as an early second-rounder. Seventy-one players were picked before Quebec drafted Chris Drury in the third round. Drury’s accomplishments: Stanley Cup, two-time Olympian, captain of the Rangers and Sabres, Calder Trophy, Hobey Baker Award.
Drury had always caught Eggleston’s eye. Eggleston mailed Drury a letter after Trumbull’s Little League World Series win in 1989. Eggleston congratulated Drury and reminded him to continue his schoolwork. Several years later, Eggleston set up a fitness testing session for Drury at BU. Drury told Eggleston he still had the congratulatory note.
“With some players, they get to a point where they have to make that extra push to get into the NHL,” Eggleston said. “They get to that wall and say, ‘Uh-oh, how am I going to get over this wall? Can I do this?’ With Chris Drury, he wasn’t going over the top. His best way was to go right through it and come out the other side.”
Like Eggleston, that boy is now retired. It seems like yesterday that Eggleston scouted Drury as a teenager. Time flies, it seems, when you enjoy a hockey life.
Coaches learn from the pros
On Oct. 26, the Bruins held their third annual coaching symposium at TD Garden. Local youth coaches were invited to attend. Some of the session’s highlights:
■ Promote stick skills (Harvard coach Ted Donato). Even away from the rink, players can practice their skills with tennis or golf balls. It’s important to develop a feel for the stick.
■ No one-sport athletes before age 16 (Bruins strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides). Players can develop bad habits and repetitive-stress injuries if they play hockey full time as kids. Also, it’s easier for kids to burn out when they don’t play other sports.
■ Stick positioning is critical (Bruins assistant coach Doug Houda). The Bruins teach their defensemen to place their sticks on the ice. They instruct them to lead with their sticks with one hand when a puck carrier approaches. They should then switch to two hands once the puck carrier is close enough to engage.
■ The importance of net drive (Bruins assistant coach Doug Jarvis). If a forward charges to the net, it opens up multiple offensive options. If the puck carrier is skating down one wing, strong net drive can create a passing lane for the weak-side forward because opposing defensemen have to cover the middle. The puck carrier can also send a shot on goal in hopes of a rebound caused by net-drive havoc. Even if a chance isn’t available at first, the puck carrier can go deep into the corner, stop, curl, and hit a supporting defenseman up top. The middle-drive forward will then be in position for a screen or tip.
■ Teach hitting earlier, not later (Bruins assistant coach Geoff Ward). By introducing body checking at younger ages, coaches can teach kids how to hit with respect. When kids start checking at later ages, they feel they have to hit to hurt. According to Ward, checking is a skating skill, not a physical skill.
■ Trick your players (Bruins coach Claude Julien). A defenseman practicing solo starts, stops, and pivots will soon be bored. The player can practice the same skills by turning a drill into competition. A coach can throw a forward into the drill. The defenseman has to sprint to the blue line, slam on the brakes, and turn to play the forward, thereby practicing starts, stops, and pivots without realizing what he’s been fooled into doing.
Kessel willing to pay price
Through 14 games, Phil Kessel led the Maple Leafs with nine goals, and he entered Saturday tied for fourth in the league in goals. The number of Kessel’s goals wasn’t the impressive number. More eye-opening is where he was scoring goals. Of his nine strikes, the farthest Kessel was from the net was Oct. 22, when he rang up the Ducks for a hat trick. On his second goal, Kessel took a pass from James van Riemsdyk and approached Jonas Hiller on a two-on-one rush. When Kessel neared the bottom of the right circle, approximately 15 feet from the cage, he snapped in the puck. Kessel scored all eight of his other goals from even closer. Shooters less gifted than Kessel can score from that range. But there are plenty of forwards who aren’t willing to enter those areas because of the price they’ll pay — cross-checks to the teeth, slashes to the leg, wallops from behind. Kessel isn’t sniping pretty, easy, long-distance shots. He’s going to the danger areas. He’s being rewarded for his toughness.
Several days after San Jose’s visit on Oct. 24, the Bruins were still buzzing about the Sharks’ overwhelming speed and power. In the first period, when the Bruins were legless (they had played in Buffalo the night before), the Sharks continually rolled out their three-man forecheck. San Jose also gave its defensemen the green light to pinch. The Sharks took away every Boston breakout option because they were so quick to hop on pucks, and strong once they got on them. The Bruins tried to work the Sharks’ forecheck against them by setting up a bypass. On D-to-D breakouts, they posted up the weak-side wing along the boards. The first defenseman was instructed to sell the D-to-D dish, bypass his partner, and go hard around to the wing. In theory, the bypass would allow the Bruins to elude the forechecker who was taking away the D-to-D pass. But the Sharks even sealed that off by taking away the first defenseman’s time and space.
Alexei Emelin has yet to dress for a game this season. The hard-hitting Canadiens defenseman had knee surgery last spring after a hit on Milan Lucic. But Emelin’s vacant 2013-14 stat line didn’t prevent him from scoring a four-year, $16.4 million extension. Emelin would have been an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The contract models the four-year, $16 million deal Tim Gleason signed with Carolina on Jan. 30, 2012. Gleason’s deal was also a benchmark for Dennis Seidenberg’s four-year, $16 million extension with the Bruins. It’s harder to quantify how much a defense-first defenseman deserves. But Gleason’s contract is the standard. The next defenseman expected to score a similar deal is Dan Girardi, who will be a UFA after this season. But like most of his Rangers’ teammates, he has had a wretched start to his contract year (0-0—0, 21:19 average ice time in 12 games). Girardi also played poorly in last year’s second-round playoff loss to the Bruins.
Even with Viktor Fasth sidelined because of a lower-body injury, the Ducks have continued to roll in goal. The Ducks are deep at the game’s most important position. Hiller has carried the mail in previous seasons. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim’s third-round pick in 2012, went 3-0-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in his first three career NHL starts. Carolina originally picked Andersen in 2010, but he reentered the 2012 draft after declining to sign with the Hurricanes. Long term, the best of the bunch might be John Gibson. The American netminder, Anaheim’s second-round pick in 2011, is tearing up the AHL as a first-year pro. With Norfolk, Anaheim’s AHL affiliate, Gibson started the season with a 3-1-2 record, 1.44 GAA, and a .953 save percentage. With all those riches in goal, the Ducks could seek midseason assets for Hiller, who will be unrestricted after this season. Best of all, GM Bob Murray didn’t have to part with any pieces to land any of the four. Murray signed Hiller and Fasth as free agents. “The organization is very deep,” said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. “Bob’s done a great job of acquiring all these goaltenders. They’re four we think are very, very good.”
The Ducks credit former UMass-Lowell standout Dwayne Roloson for their consistency in goal. Roloson is in his first season as Anaheim’s goaltending consultant, replacing ex-Bruin Pete Peeters. Last year, Roloson was a volunteer coach at his alma mater during the lockout. He had hoped for one last chance to play post-lockout. Roloson, who lives in Minnesota, will meet up regularly with the Ducks during the season. “He communicates really well,” Boudreau said. “In a lot of ways the goalies’ play nowadays, he’s on the cutting edge.” . . . Carolina signed ex-Canuck Manny Malhotra to a one-year, $600,000 contract on Thursday. At the time, the Hurricanes were ranked 23d on faceoffs (46.4 percent). Malhotra won 61.7 percent of his draws during Vancouver’s 2010-11 playoff run . . . In last season’s sweep of Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bruins matched Zdeno Chara against the Penguins’ powerful offensive duo of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. In Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh, Chara played most of his shifts against Sidney Crosby and wingmen Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. The switch underscored the Bruins’ respect for Crosby. But it also showed how much more dangerous Malkin is with Neal on his right side. Neal (upper body) could start practicing with his teammates in the next week or so . . . Good guy Jay Pandolfo has been a Garden visitor lately. The former Bruin retired last season after suiting up for his hometown team. Pandolfo had enough of the daily grind of being a player. “Mentally, I was done,” Pandolfo said. The Burlington native would like to remain in hockey . . . The Bruins’ Chris Kelly jumped the gun on his November moustache by starting it in October. Peculiar move, given that Kelly is usually very good about staying onside.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.