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Scouting series: Plandowski prepared to put his stamp on Coyotes’ future

Craig Morgan Avatar
May 27, 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 second 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 before the 2022 NHL Draft in Montréal.

Al Murray has a reminder for analysts who want to credit him as the architect behind Tampa Bay’s sixth conference finals appearance in the past eight seasons, and the Lightning’s quest to become the first three-peat Stanley Cup champions since the early 1980s New York Islanders. 

“I can give you a lot of names and players that we’ve selected in Tampa that can make me look like I’ve done a pretty good job,” the Lightning’s director of amateur scouting said. “Or I can give you a lot of names that will make me look like I don’t have a clue what’s going on. That’s just the nature of the job. You’re failing a lot more than you’re succeeding, even on the successful teams. Every year, there’s only about 50 guys that come out of the draft that play regularly as NHLers. We’re not talking about star players. We’re talking 50 or so guys who become regular NHLers.”

When former GM Steve Yzerman hired Murray to his current post in 2010, the Lightning had just selected a pair of those NHL regulars when they took Steven Stamkos first overall in 2008, and Victor Hedman second overall in 2009. All of the remaining scouts had another year left on their contracts. Murray knew that he would make changes after that year, but he used the 2010-11 season to evaluate his staff and keep the guys who could help Tampa fill in the gaps around its two future superstars.

One of the guys under the microscope was head scout Darryl Plandowski, now the Coyotes director of amateur scouting, who had two seasons of experience with Tampa, 12 years of NHL scouting and 16 seasons of scouting overall.

“I got a chance to work with him over that year and it was pretty clear to me that not only was he a good person, which I knew coming in, but he was a fantastic scout,” Murray said. “I was really happy when he chose to stay with us because I very quickly decided that if he wanted to stay, he was going to be a big asset for us.”

Over the next few seasons, Plandowski helped the Lightning select players such as Nikita Kucherov (2011, 58th overall), Ondrej Palat (2011, 208th overall), Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012, 19th overall), Brayden Point (2014, 79th overall) and Anthony Cirelli (2015, 72nd overall) — key pieces in Tampa’s run. Tampa made Plandowski its assistant director for amateur scouting, but given their respective duties, Murray said that they might just as well have been co-directors.

“No one individual is responsible for any one person we’ve drafted,” Murray said. “You’ve got a lot of eyes on players once you have identified them and a lot of times, it’s our area (scouts) who identify the guys first, but if you’re talking about somebody who has played a role in a lot of the players we have drafted, Darryl’s fingerprints are as deep as anybody’s in our organization. He and I are the ones that meshed the top group together and helped make the final decisions. 

“But there’s another side to this. Our area people are incredibly important. You have to make sure those guys feel valued because they’re not just pointer dogs; they’re decision makers as well. It’s really important to be able to work with staff and develop people and then help them find the right players. Darryl is great at that, too.”

As the Coyotes prepare for the Scouting Combine this weekend, and what could be a watershed July draft with seven picks among the first 45, Plandowski and associate director of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski are putting the finishing touches on a draft board that they hope will deliver foundational pieces of Arizona’s future.

Plandowski understands how important this draft is to the Coyotes’ rebuild efforts. He appreciates that GM Bill Armstrong has given him a lot of picks to increase those sobering odds that Murray outlined, and he is applying every lesson that he has learned over the past three decades of scouting.

“It really is exciting to finally get the ability to stack players,” he said. “The kids at the front of the draft usually are the better ones, but if you look through the history of the draft, there’s kids that come from everywhere.

“In that area of the draft there’s always guys you really like and you always wish you had another pick. We have the ability to just take all the kids we like and we just wait to see how they develop. Usually, you’ve got about three or four guys you like and you get one shot at them but we get a chance to scoop them all up.”

Armstrong has his own ideas about scouting success. Those tenets have been crafted by two decades of experience in the business, as well as stints as a coach and a player in the AHL. Given that background, he brings a stronger, more informed voice to the scouting meetings than many NHL GMs, but there is one basic characteristic that he had to have in his scouting director. Armstrong is a grinder, a blue-collar worker and he would not abide a director who didn’t share that personality trait. 

“When you’re around the scouting world, you know the guys in the industry that go to work,” he said. “You know the guys that grind on it and have a philosophy and a theory and really work at it. Darryl was one of those guys. I had a lot of respect for what they’ve done in Tampa Bay and I know he was a big part of that because I have seen him on the scouting trail. To be able to get a guy from a winning franchise and bring him in right away, it was just huge.”

Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong (left), director of amateur scouting Darryl Plandowski (center) and associate director of amateur scouting Ryan Jankowski prepare for the first round of the virtual 2021 NHL Entry Draft at Gila River Arena on July 23, 2021. (Getty Images)

When I spoke to Plandowski in February, he had already been in Europe for three weeks with plans to stay longer. COVID-19 has presented challenges for every NHL scouting staff over the past two seasons. Despite league and game cancellation or postponements, and despite increased travel restrictions and flight delays, Plandowski’s staff never stopped traveling to put eyeballs on players through live viewings that could not be replicated through video.

“This year, there’s a lot of kids in Europe that we wanted to see and they’re all spread out so we decided to get over here and see the kids we need to see early,” he said. “Usually, you come over for two weeks and then go home, but the schedule has been good and they’re good, quality kids so we wanted to make sure we knew them really well.”

Most of this work has been conducted in near anonymity, away from the eyes of fans and media, but whenever the Coyotes scouts have found a gem in the rough, Armstrong has been quick to laud them for their efforts.

“I think that they deserve to go out there and get some recognition because they put it all on the line,” Armstrong said. “The one thing you want is scouts that want to take swings. There’s a lot of risk, but there’s a lot of reward, too. When they hit and they find that player that can really change an organization, you try to share the credit.” 

It’s an attribute that gets noticed by the scouting staff, and it’s an attribute that Plandowski expected when he took the job in Arizona, despite the organization’s historic challenges. 

“I wouldn’t have come to Arizona if it was just a guy that didn’t have the knowledge that Bill did, and the belief in the amateur side and the draft and bringing the emphasis so much on that part of it,” Plandowski said. “I think the top teams do that.”

Plandowski might have earned other opportunities, given Tampa’s success, but when Murray encouraged him to explore the Coyotes job, he did so with the belief that Plandowski was uniquely qualified for it.

“He’s been through this before,” Murray said. “He was with Tampa when we were down and had some really high picks so this isn’t foreign to him. He knows players. He’s got a great eye to evaluate competitiveness and character and he’s got a vision of what’s important.

“There’s only 32 of these jobs in the world and most times, you’re not walking into a really good team that’s already made where you can just put your feet up and enjoy the spoils. I have known Bill Armstrong a long time and I’ve got a lot of time for Bill and the type of person he is, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for Darryl. And I knew that if it was the right situation where he felt comfortable, he’d be really good at it.”

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