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Leafs promote from within, naming John Lilley Director of Amateur Scouting

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The former head of US scouting now runs the whole department.

2018 NHL Draft - Round One
John Lilley at the draft this summer.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

John Lilley has been named Director of Amateur Scouting today, taking on a role that didn’t exist as a stand alone position in recent years.

When Mark Hunter was hired by Dave Nonis in 2014, he bumped Dave Morrison out of his position as the Director of Amateur Scouting. He had essentially held that position since, even after he became an Assistant General Manager.

In the most recent reorganization, Morrison was made Director of Player Personnel, another role that Hunter held as well. Troy Brodie took over for Morrison.

Now, the other side of the equation has been filled in with Lilley, one of the four regional scouting directors promoted to rule them all. No rings were involved in this change.

Lilley has been with the organization since 2006, which means he’s seen it all and survived the big purge in the scouting department when Brendan Shanahan took over.

Here he is back in 2009 discussing the drafting of three American players in enthusiastic terms.

Kenny Ryan, selected 50th overall that year, was not a hit, as it turned out. But not every pick is a winner.

In more recent years the Leafs have drafted several American players while Lilley was director of the US region:

  • Joseph Woll was taken 62nd overall in 2016
  • James Greenway was taken 72nd overall in 2016
  • Jeremy Bracco was taken 61st overall in 2015
  • J.J. Piccinich was taken 103rd overall in 2014
  • Dakota Joshua was taken 128th overall in 2014
  • Nolan Vesey was taken 158th overall in 2014

Going a little farther back Leafs Hub did a critique of the Leafs drafting record in 2015, and they had this to say:

In 2005, the Leafs drafted two Americans from U.S. junior hockey leagues. One did not make it to the NHL (Alex Berry) and the other (Chad Rau) played 9 NHL games for the Minnesota Wild. In 2006, the Leafs drafted only one American player (Tyler Ruegsegger). Interestingly, 6 out of 7 of these 2006 draft picks made it to the NHL. Can you guess which draft pick failed? The lone American pick.

In 2008, the Leafs drafted two more Americans. Both were dealt early and have played games in the NHL. One pick, Greg Pateryn, has only played 9 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, while the other, Jimmy Hayes, has played 168 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Panthers. Hayes appears to be the anomaly throughout these drafting mishaps.

How did that Pateryn guy turn out? Their criticism is as much about the record the old Leafs had for trading away everyone as it is about the scouting, particularly the US scouting, although going back beyond 2015 takes you to the Kenny Ryan and Tyler Biggs days. They note that in the great purge of 2015, Lilley was the only US scout to remain on board.

The list above might not be full of stars, but I want to emphasize that the highest pick used was for Bracco, and he’s only had one year in the AHL to show off so far. Piccinich was very good in the ECHL last year, Woll is yet to show what he will truly be, and the Oilers gave the Leafs a pick for Nolan Vesey for reasons only they understand. But it’s a list of genuinely possible players, there’s no “big projects” as Lilley discusses in the video above.

Lilley, by the way, is listed on Elite Prospects at 5’9” and 170 lb. He had an interesting hockey career that featured only a few NHL games, great AHL success, four years in the DEL and a big finish in the WCHL (a league which was eventually folded into the ECHL) where he was obviously too good for the competition around him. He may well have been giving the party line with his talk about Kenny Ryan that day in 2009. It’s hard to believe he isn’t well aware of what a player like Bracco (5’9” and 180 lb) can do.

The larger picture here is that the area of control Mark Hunter dominated has been split up an apportioned out to a larger number of people. Kyle Dubas likes to talk about having a lot of voices to listen to and opinions to draw on, so this looks like more his style of management than the one man at the top silo that Hunter had over the amateur scouting and player development departments.