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Expert eye on the prospects

Meeting the man the Jets trust to navigate the draft

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When it's time to start naming names at this weekend's NHL entry draft in Pittsburgh, the Winnipeg Jets have an experienced man in whom they've placed a great deal of trust.

Meet Marcel Comeau, the Jets' director of amateur scouting.

The Ponoka, Alta., native turned 60 recently, and has lived in the Seattle area since 1991, when he started coaching the then-Tacoma Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

Comeau, in his playing days, was a point-producing centreman. Four times in his career he had more than 100 points in the IHL and he was named the league's MVP in 1981. He was a 10th-round draft selection of the Minnesota North Stars in 1972.

Once he turned to coaching, he spent 10 years behind benches in the WHL in Saskatoon, Tacoma and Kelowna, twice winning the league's coach-of-the-year award. In 1993, he was honoured as the CHL's coach of the year as well.

Comeau, who joined the Atlanta Thrashers organization in 1999 and became the head scout in 2003, spoke to the Free Press on Monday, just days before every scout's biggest weekend of the year.

FP: What's the biggest carrot for you as a scout?

MC: When the players come down to the table to shake hands and are introduced, you always see that glint in their eye. It's really exciting for them and it's really exciting for the scouts as well. It's a long year, you put a lot of time into the process, and it's nice to see the process come to fruition.

FP: How did you end up joining the Thrashers?

MC: The guy that was the director of amateur scouting then, Bob Owen, I had done a little bit of work for Bob when he had his own independent scouting service. He asked me to do some work for him in the WHL when I was working for a youth hockey program in Seattle after I finished coaching in the WHL. I ended up doing a bit of work for him and when the opportunity came along when he moved to Atlanta as director of amateur scouting, he asked if I'd do some work for them.

It was part time before I came on full time in 2000.

FP: How much hockey have you watched in the 2011-12 season?

MC: I'd say north of 200 games, in the 220 range. As far as the travel is concerned, it's anywhere the players are. We've spent some time in Russia and quite a bit of time in parts of Europe. Certainly in the Quebec League, the Ontario League, the USHL, the college leagues and in U.S. prep school hockey out east and high school hockey in Minnesota. It's wherever the players are, you try to get there. We have scouts in a lot of areas and you try to identify the players and between myself and the other full-time people, we make sure we get the required viewings of those players to try to get an idea where they fit into things."

FP: Can you share some of the challenges and difficulties you and your fellow scouts had last year when the ownership of the franchise changed at the end of May?

MC: We were a good ways through the process as far as our final list was concerned. It wasn't finished but we'd had our meetings at the Memorial Cup in the Toronto area and we were at the scouting combine in Toronto when the turnover scenario happened. All of a sudden we were working for some different people. It was a little bit unsettling there for a while because we didn't know exactly where we would fit into things moving forward. We just tried to be as professional as we could, go about our business and let the chips fall where they may.

We prepared ourselves for the draft as best we could. We still had some work to do after the combine and tried the best we could to get it done."

FP: Would you call last year's draft the most difficult you've been through?

MC: I wouldn't say that necessarily. Once we got on board there with Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) and Zinger (assistant GM Craig Heisinger) we had a pretty good idea what we were looking for. I didn't think it was any more difficult than the rest. You still had to do your homework, be prepared. They gave us a pretty free rein on what we would do and certainly that had some input but hadn't seen as much amateur hockey as they've seen this year. I think they trusted our judgment and we tried to impart to them what we were trying to do and how we were going to do it. They were very supportive."

FP: Tell us what you can remember about Cheveldayoff, coaching against him.

MC: When I was coaching in Saskatoon for five years and he was in Brandon. I remember him as being a hard-nosed performer, somebody difficult to play against. His skill level, not quite at the level as the rest of his game and he freely admits that, but he brought other things to the table and those things were important to his team in Brandon. He came across as a leader on his team, somebody difficult to play against. He was in your face all night long, making it tough for you to get much done. He was a respected opponent.

FP: Do scouts have a style? Do you have a style as director of amateur scouting?

MC: I guess everybody looks at different things. When I coached, I always appreciated players who would go the extra mile, not necessarily guys who just brought skill. I always appreciated second effort, guys willing to go to war for you every night. I always thought character is a very desired commodity in a player. I felt we really had a lot of character when I worked in Saskatoon. We always had high-character, high-quality individuals on our team that played a strong team game and I think I tend to gravitate toward those players because that's what I've liked. That's what I like in a player, one who brings that consistent work ethic and one you'd like to share a foxhole with at some point in time.

FP: Every organization has its high-profile, first-round picks. Do you personally have a pick you're most proud of through your tenure as a scout?

MC: Good question. I was just part of the team in Atlanta, wasn't the director of amateur scouting for a certain period of time, but we certainly drafted some high-end players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley, Kari Lehtonen, Braydon Coburn. I really liked Coburn as a player and person. Unfortunately, he was traded from Atlanta before he ever got a chance to play with the big team but I liked what he brought to the table, a good player and good person and he's proven to be a very good NHL player, a top-four (defenceman) on a contending team on a yearly basis. I knew Brayden pretty well because I lived near Seattle and he played in Portland. I saw him play for an extended period of time and got to know him. He's a high-quality individual and he's become the player we all thought he would when we drafted him.

FP: It's on a lot of fans' minds this week -- how's this week going to go? Will it be wild with trades and unusual picks and surprises?

MC: Whatever you predict, it'll probably end up going in the other direction. But there are a few teams (Washington, Tampa Bay, Buffalo) that have more than one pick in the first round and sometimes that makes for some extracurricular activities, so to speak. Teams might try to move up a bit, get themselves a little more high-profile player. You can expect some of that but I'm not saying it'll happen. After the first 10, there are teams like that. There's always room for some kind of manoeuvering with that situation, with teams having extra picks.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2012 C6

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