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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 sixth and final 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. You can read the first, the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth stories in this series by following these links.
Chris Butler brings a unique perspective to the Coyotes’ scouting staff.
As a recently retired player, he has been through the NHL Scouting Combine process so he knows what a nerve-wracking event that can be for draft hopefuls. He was tutored in the less traditional market of St. Louis where retired NHLers stuck around to help build the game with organizations such as the St. Louis Jr. Blues, so he understands the American hockey model.
When he hits the road to scout his wide American territory, he is also living proof of the growth of the game in places other than New England and the upper Midwest.
“If you look at the landscape of hockey and how far the US has come in a short period of time, it really has closed the gap on Canada and Russia and Finland and Sweden; you don’t see one country dominating,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to a lot of the NHL alumni that have stuck around and stayed in the states and helped coach programs. Growing up in St. Louis, I was fortunate to have a couple of Blues alumni who helped me and I think you see that all over the US now.”
If you need further proof beyond the overused Auston Matthews narrative, take a look at two of the top 10 prospects in this year’s draft. Logan Cooley grew up in Pittsburgh. Cutter Gauthier grew up in Arizona. The USA National Training Development Program’s U18 roster featured players from 17 U.S. states this season, and the USHL’s profile continues to grow.
“The USHL has done a great job,” Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said. “They’ve gotten better every single year. Last year was a particularly strong year for them. I don’t think it’s quite at that level this year, but I still think there’s some really good players between the US program and USHL.”
Butler and his American cohorts have seen them all.
“If you’re looking at the draft-eligible kids this year, you have to look at all the high-end guys that are going to come out of the national program,” Butler said. “They obviously got a lot of attention but it was for a good reason. It was a really fun group to watch. Some of the games, they were scoring six, seven, eight goals. They were a high-flying, dynamic, offensive bunch that also competed really hard and were well coached by Adam Nightingale (now at Michigan State).”
The NTDP is clearly the cream of the US draft crop, but the large swath of draft-eligible American players now stretches across the country to places as unexpected as Arizona State University, so the Coyotes employ just as many area scouts in the US as they do in Canada.
Butler’s main area is colleges, but like most of the Coyotes scouts, he does a lot of crossover work into the USHL and even Canada. He has seen the NTDP play a half dozen times this season.
He is joined by Luke Curadi, and complemented by Rick Comley Jr. and Matt Tiesling, who focus on the USHL but also cross over into other areas. In all, the foursome covers players in the NTDP, the USHL, the NCAA, the NAHL and in high school or prep schools. Comley’s father, Rick Comley Sr., coached Coyotes director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski at Northern Michigan University.
“We’ve got a cast of characters on this staff with every different type of personality, which is fun,” Tiesling said. “I guess one way to phrase it is that there isn’t any animosity toward one another. There’s no feeling where anybody wants the US guys to get drafted over the Ontario guys or your area players over another guy’s. It’s about building the list and making it such that when the Coyotes make a pick, we’re picking the best player. I don’t care if he’s from Russia or from Quebec or from wherever. It’s collaborative in the sense that none of us are competing with each other. We’re all pulling the rope in the same direction.”
Speaking of unique perspectives, Tiesling brings one as well. Because he didn’t have a significant playing background (Wisconsin–Eau Claire), he knew that he needed an education to get into the hockey world so he went to law school with a keen interest in becoming an agent.
He spent nine years alongside former NHLer and Wisconsin badger Dan Plante with the boutique agency Forward Hockey, representing players such as Joe Pavelski, Andy Greene, Connor Hellebuyck and Cole Caufield. When he called the Buffalo Sabres on behalf of a friend, assistant GM Steve Greeley (now with the Stars) convinced him to take the job instead.
Tiesling also works part-time as a scout for the NTDP, providing the Coyotes with an advantage over other teams.
“As an organization, we have the benefit of being in that circle and knowing what’s going on at the national program, when you have 31 other teams that don’t,” he said. “But Ricky and I also scour New England preps, Minnesota high school and the USHL. It’s our job to ultimately alert the bosses that, ‘Hey, we’ve got a player.’”
There are two ways that the US scouts go about that.
“If it’s a one-through-three round guy, we alert Darryl and (Ryan Jankowski) and say, ‘Hey, there’s a guy that you guys need to see,’” he said. “If it’s a lower guy, say in Tri-City or Omaha, Ricky and I write them up, we get our draft grades, we put them on the list to let everybody know it and if it ends up being a four-through-seven-round guy then we kind of drive the bus from there.
“You go watch the USHL Fall Classic, you watch every team in the league play twice to start the year, and you get a good idea of the kids you need to see more. You get the word of the mouth from college coaches or junior coaches and then we’re using our intuition and everything else we’ve got.”
All of that information will be on the table this week as the Coyotes prepare to make seven picks in the first 45 of the NHL Draft, and 10 overall. Those numbers have the scouting staff giddy ahead of a critical event in the evolution of the franchise.
“First off, on a personal level, having all those picks leads me to believe that Bill believes in our scouting staff,” Tiesling said. “You don’t acquire those picks if you think you’ve got a bunch of jabronis working for you so it means that our boss believes in us.
“We understand what’s ahead of us in Arizona. We understand what we’ve got to do to become competitive and I don’t see another path to do it. Bill’s been able to find us the picks that we’re going to need to do this so it’s gonna be on us to not miss on any of these picks.
“This is the lifeline. This is how you get out of jail.”
Top photo: Coyotes scout and former Blues defenseman Chris Butler kisses the Stanley Cup after St. Louis won it in 2019, his last year as a player. (Getty Images)
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