Cape Breton Post

Finding talent amid COVID-19

Eagles head scouts discuss challenges faced during pandemic season of 2020-21

- JEREMY FRASER SPORTS REPORTER jeremy.fraser@cbpost.com @CBPost_Jeremy

SYDNEY — When it comes to scouting, Jonathan Murphy and Patrick Leblond may have a difference of opinion on players sometimes, but they can agree on the challenges of the 2020-21 season.

For the Cape Breton Eagles head scouts, it was a tale of two stories with Murphy located in Atlantic Canada and Leblond based in the province of Quebec.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, all four Atlantic provinces were able to offer hockey at the under-18 level this year with various restrictio­ns in place to limit the spread of the virus.

However, that wasn't the case in Quebec. A large number of COVID cases along with tight restrictio­ns caused both the under-18 ‘AAA' and under-18 minor leagues to cancel competitio­n for the 2020-21 season.

Through the challenges of an unusual season, the Eagles scouts were still able to compile a list of players for both Atlantic Canada and Quebec which were merged to form an overall list for this year's Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft.

NO GAMES IN QUEBEC

Leblond, who rejoined the Eagles scouting staff in 2019 after working with QMJHL Central Scouting, considers the season to have been special.

“The only hockey that we had in Quebec was training camp and even that was 10 versus 10 and not the full squad with no contact,” said Leblond.

“We had the opportunit­y to watch some good hockey players, but it was tough for us to really evaluate them because there was no contact, so guys with tons of skill looked great in the games, but it was tough for us to project them in major junior.”

Although competitio­n wasn't allowed, players and teams were able to practise.

Like many teams, the Eagles used a program known as InStat, which provides profession­al tools for individual and team performanc­e evaluation and scouting.

“It was a really good tool for us, but there was limited viewing,” said Leblond. “For example, some teams in Quebec played two games during training camp, so we had to base our evaluation for some players on two games.

“Luckily, in the past couple of weeks, there has been some showcases, but it was not even five-on-five, it was three versus three with some skill sessions and practice.”

Leblond said the team's scouts used everything available to them in terms of learning about the players, working the phones a little bit more than usual.

“We worked a lot with the coaches and former coaches and they had some pretty good informatio­n for us — they worked with these kids all season and they were on the ice with them,” he said.

“Every one of our scouts had some contacts here and there or some relations with coaches or agents, so we had the opportunit­y to get some informatio­n and we put all that together and built a list.”

As part of the interview process, Leblond, Murphy and Eagles general manager Jacques Carrière conducted between 50 and 60 zoom calls with top-seeded players.

“I know some teams decided to send forms to players to fill out, but we don't believe in that,” said Leblond.

“There's going to be some rebates in this draft. The lists are different from team-toteam, even Central Scouting had a list and we were surprised by that. We're confident that we may pull a rabbit out of a hat with picks this year.”

PLAY IN ATLANTIC CANADA

Murphy and the team's Atlantic Canada scouts had it a little easier compared to their counterpar­ts in Quebec.

Under-18 major leagues in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundla­nd and Labrador all played games during the fall and winter months.

“In the fall, I got to see all the Nova Scotia teams live at an event in Pictou County, so it gave us a point of reference to start the season,” said Murphy, who's been a scout with the Eagles since the 2012-13 season.

“You do the best with the informatio­n you have.”

Murphy admits there were challenges with league disruption­s and shutdowns, but the power of technology provided plenty of guidance.

“The under-18 leagues in Atlantic Canada stepped up and quickly switched to online, so there were games to be viewed and watched,” said Murphy. “In a lot of ways, I'd say this year I watched more games than I would have in a regular year because of the availabili­ty.

“It's not the same as being in the rink, that's for sure, because the video tends to follow the puck and you don't get to see all the things behind the play — you want to watch the players when they're not typically with the puck as well.”

Murphy believes the Eagles have a good handle on the Atlantic Canadian players heading into the draft.

“We feel pretty confident with the amount of games that were played,” said Murphy.

“There weren't any big tournament­s, but we have a body of work for the majority of the players that we can utilize and that makes us feel very confident where we stand with our list.”

VIRTUAL DRAFT

For the second straight year, the QMJHL Entry Draft will take place virtually and not the traditiona­l in-person event.

Leblond and Murphy agree the virtual aspect of the draft was challengin­g last year with scouts in different places and not in the same room together.

“It was a different experience for us on the scouting side,” said Murphy. “The communicat­ion and adjustment on the fly, you can still do that, but sometimes it's easier when you're physically sitting next to each other and have conversati­ons.”

Murphy believes the event will run more smoothly this year given the easement of provincial restrictio­ns, especially in Atlantic Canada.

“Last year, I was in P.E.I., we had people in Sydney, people in Quebec, and people in various other locations in Nova Scotia,” said Murphy.

“This year, we'll have two main locations with one in Quebec and one in Sydney and that will make things logically a little bit easier in terms of one line of communicat­ion.”

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft will take place Friday and Saturday with Round 1 slated for Friday night. Rounds 2-14 will be held Saturday along with the league's annual American draft.

Following the weekend draft, the team will turn its attention to the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. That virtual draft will be held June 30 beginning at noon Atlantic time.

 ?? JEREMY FRASER • CAPE BRETON POST ?? Lucas Canning of the Cape Breton Eagles, right, was a second-round pick, No. 35 overall, at the 2020 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft. He finished his first season in the league in April.
JEREMY FRASER • CAPE BRETON POST Lucas Canning of the Cape Breton Eagles, right, was a second-round pick, No. 35 overall, at the 2020 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft. He finished his first season in the league in April.
 ?? CONTRIBUTE­D ?? Jonathan Murphy is the Maritime head scout for the Cape Breton Eagles.
CONTRIBUTE­D Jonathan Murphy is the Maritime head scout for the Cape Breton Eagles.
 ?? CONTRIBUTE­D ?? Patrick Leblond is the Quebec head scout for the Cape Breton Eagles.
CONTRIBUTE­D Patrick Leblond is the Quebec head scout for the Cape Breton Eagles.

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