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Scouting series: A look at the Coyotes' Canadian amateur staff

Craig Morgan Avatar
July 1, 2022

NHL scouting staffs rarely garner much media attention. They work long hours and log countless miles in near anonymity, with their one moment in the sun coming at the NHL Draft. This is the fifth story in a series about the Coyotes’ amateur scouting staff — a series that will shed light on the lifeblood of the Coyotes’ rebuilding efforts by profiling the staff members and examining individual and collective roles. The series will conclude on July 4 with at look at the US staff. You can read the first, the second, the third and the fourth stories in this series by following these links.

A wave of national angst has gripped Canada over the past two decades as the percentage of Canadian players drafted into the NHL decreases. In 2009, 102 Canadian players were drafted, accounting for 48.8 percent of the draft class. Ten years later, the number dropped to 64 Canadian players drafted, or 29.4 percent of the draft class.

The numbers recovered a bit over the past two seasons with 73 (33.8 percent) in 2021, and 89 (39.9 percent) in 2021, a number that hasn’t been topped since 2013. 

No matter the patterns, here’s the bottom line: Canada still accounts for the greatest percentage of drafted players and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. Despite the recent trends and 2022 chatter that the OHL may produce an historically low amount of drafted players this season, Canada will remain a major focus of the Coyotes amateur scouting staff.

Director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski is based in Halifax, associate director of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski is based in Calgary, and the team has seasoned scouts Randy Hansch, Cory Banika, Kevin Thacker and Kevin Pedersen spread out across the nation to canvass the CHL’s three major junior leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) as well as several other leagues.

“It’s a big part of what we do,” Plandowski said. “There’s always going to be top-end talent in Canada and it’s our job to find it.”

In keeping with the franchise’s desire to build a staff of diverse experiences, the Coyotes’ Canadian amateur staff has a varied résumé that is chock-full of bullet points.

As the GM of the team from 2013-18 (and previously its director of player personnel) Randy Hansch is a key architect behind the Edmonton Oil Kings’ four straight division titles in the WHL and run to the Memorial Cup this season. Had it not been for COVID canceling each of the 2020 and 2021 postseasons, the Oil Kings might have made three straight trips to the CHL’s signature event, and had it not been for key injuries this season, including the loss of Coyotes top prospect Dylan Guenther to a knee injury in the WHL finals, the Oil Kings might very well be celebrating a CHL title.

“Having worked at different levels and gained that sort of experience just gives you another perspective on how you’re viewing things,” said Hansch, who scouts the WHL, BCHL, AJHL, MJHL, SJHL and Canadian universities. “As a director of player personnel, you’re projecting the player at a much younger age, especially when you’re doing the Western League, and then as a GM, you’re kind of doing the overall projection once the player gets into your lineup — where does he eventually fit into your lineup in years down the road? The common theme for all of this is the word projection.

“In the end, a draft is a draft; it really doesn’t matter what level. An NHL player may be a little more of a finished product, but there’s still room for growth mentally, physically and everything so you’re still projecting the future. You just have a deeper understanding when you go back even further in a kid’s life.”

Hansch, 56, was the director of player personnel for the Kamloops Blazers earlier in his career but he has also spent time as a scout with Tampa, Calgary and Buffalo. His area stretches as far east as Winnipeg and as far west as the Pacific Coast. Over that span, he built a relationship with Plandowski while Plandowski was a scout in Seattle (WHL), with Jankowski while he was in Buffalo, with Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong on the scouting trail, and with several other Coyotes scouts on that same trail.

“The West is pretty spread out so it’s a lot of travel, but I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of history with the people involved in those teams so that makes it easier for me,” he said. “Whether it’s a GM or coach or a head scout I need to talk to, I still keep in contact with all of those guys and have relationships that really help when you are gathering information on players.”

Hansch shares his area with Pedersen, who joined the Coyotes around Christmas time in the 2018-19 season after a lengthy career as a scout, assistant coach and video coach in multiple western-based leagues.

Pedersen, 33, grew up in Vancouver and gained his first scouting experience with the Vernon Vipers (BCHL). When Vernon’s Mark Ferner was hired to coach in Everett (WHL), Pedersen moved into scouting for the Silvertips, but returned to Vernon to be an assistant coach and the head scout. He also served as the lead evaluator for the U16 Team BC, and was the video coach for Team BC at the Canada Winter Games.

Pedersen and Hansch crisscross Western Canada with precise coordination.

“Usually, if he’s on one side, I’m on the other and then we coordinate, after what we’ve seen, to kind of switch it up, and he’ll cross over or I’ll cross over,” Hansch said.

The work that the duo is doing this season in coordination with Jankowski and others may be even more important than usual. Some analysts project the WHL to have a banner year at the draft, and some scouts and executives agree.

“I think it’s stronger than maybe people think it is,” Armstrong said.

The list of highly rated WHL prospects includes forward Matthew Savoie (Winnipeg), defenseman Kevin Korchinski (Seattle) and goalie Tyler Brennan (Prince George).

The two main area scouts for the eastern half of Canada are Banika and Thacker. Banika covers the OHL, OJHL and Ontario high schools/prep hockey. Thacker covers the QMJHL and also does some OHL coverage.

Iain Fraser and Eric Lindros take a ceremonial faceoff dropped by their teammate Bill Armstrong during a ceremony to honor the 1990 Memorial Cup-winning Oshawa Generals. Coyotes scout Cory Banika (No. 11) is pictured on the far right. (Getty Images)

Thacker was a scout with the OHL’s Guelph Storm for three years, and the director of player personnel for the Oshawa Generals for two before joining the Coyotes in 2019.

Banika won a Memorial Cup with Armstrong when the two played for the OHL’s Oshawa generals in 1990, and he was a part-time scout for the St. Louis Blues from 2012-17 while Armstrong was the Blues’ director of amateur scouting. He also scouted under Jankowski in Buffalo before the Sabres made a host of staff changes in the summer of 2020.

“It was an exciting time when Bill called me after we all got fired in Buffalo,” said Banika, 52, who had been a scout for eight years. “He just asked, ‘Do you still want to stay in the game?’ I was on board when he started talking about bringing on Darryl Plandowski, Ryan Jankowski and all these guys that I really respected. Getting to work with people that I know are good hockey people, people that I trust, and just the chance to build an organization essentially from the ground up was an exciting opportunity. I had gotten some calls from other teams but I believe in what Bill and the organization want to do moving forward here.”

Banika said the top of the Coyotes scouting pyramid has brought all of the best practices from its previous NHL stops (St. Louis, Tampa, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders and Montréal).

“When I got to St. Louis, there was a bit of a model for the type of player that they wanted to build the organization with so that eliminated some players that other teams liked, but weren’t the right fit for the Blues,” Banika said. “I think we have that same approach for the Coyotes with Bill and Darryl and Ryan.

“Bill told me very early that the more you see a player, the better you know him and I really took that to heart and did it over and over. I make sure I see every team at home and away at least once by mid-November just to get an eye on them as quickly as possible. From there you start building a list for the next year’s draft. Every scout is wrong on lots of players, but you lessen the mistakes the more you see them, and there’s different things that you take out of every year, whether the players turn out or they don’t turn out. It’s always a learning experience.”

The Coyotes scouting staff will arrive in Montréal for the 2022 NHL Draft on Saturday. In the four days before the draft, they will hold their final meetings and build their final list before making seven selections in the draft’s first 45, and 10 overall.

“We’re ecstatic and we’re very excited for the opportunity,” Hansch said. “From a scout’s standpoint, I don’t think you could ask for a better situation. 

“All season long when we were going to the rink, other scouts would joke with us, ‘How many picks do you guys have now?’ You always have incentive to do well at the draft, but having this many picks just gives you extra incentive and it’s also a huge responsibility to deliver. You want that opportunity and Bill and the staff have certainly provided that for us.”

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