NHL revises

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

For a guy who just had a lot more work piled on him, E. J. McGuire is remarkably upbeat.

The head of the National Hockey League's central scouting department is charged with picking gems from the passing hockey parade and advising all 30 NHL teams which ones he and his staff deem the best prospects.

Suddenly, a lot more little jewels are popping up. Little is the operative word. Even for defencemen.

The removal of the red line this season, along with the serious clampdown on such impeding fouls, has created a revised prototype for the ideal defenceman.

Big and rangy always works. So does strong and aggressive.

But into the mix now is the defenceman who is quick, smart and can send a stretch pass accurately and hard to a teammate streaking into the other team's zone. In the new NHL, there is less of a premium on size if there isn't a good level of superior puck-handling ability with it.

Size still matters, of course. A giant forward cannot be permitted to set up camp on your goal crease, so somebody of like dimensions has to be around to handle him.

And a good big man is preferable to a good small one. But the smaller player -- if a six-foot, 200-pound defenceman can be called that (hello there, Danny Syvret) -- now fits the NHL if he can move the puck out of his zone safely and efficiently and, as a bonus, jump into the attack, too.

The game is changing and so are the people who can play at the top level.

"The list (of potential NHLers) is way wider and we are evaluating them in much different terms," McGuire said. "Before, we'd say a player is a good junior but won't make it to the next level. Now, if a kid is five-feet-10 or even five-feet-eight, it's a good time to be in his draft year."

McGuire, who replaced longtime director Frank Bonello this season, has a fulltime staff of 10 as well as 15 part-timers. He thought his staff would be looking at far more players when his boss, executive vice-president Colin Campbell, told him of the expected rule changes in April.

"The big tree of a guy on the current NHL defence could reach out and the smaller guy didn't have a chance of succeeding," McGuire said. "But maybe the big strong defencemen who currently are under contract might not get that many more contracts if they can't move their feet with the small, quick guys."

When he goes to the world junior championship, McGuire will be scouting only a half-dozen North American players, since many of those on the Canadian and U.S. teams have already been drafted. The annual prospects game in Ottawa in January, for which players are nominated, is a different story.

"By contrast, it's loaded with prospects. We just sent the ballots out today. There are so many a kid could get lost if he doesn't stand out."

One example of what McGuire terms "broadening our scope" is smallish Andrew Cogliano of the junior A St. Michael's Buzzers. He was rated at the top of central scouting's third round last year. He was the Edmonton Oilers' No. 1 pick last June.

"In Belleville, John Hughes is a smaller kid and he's just coming into his own as a scorer," McGuire said. "I was there the other night and Kingston's Cory Emmerton (of St. Thomas) is another example of a small, skilled kid doing well."

It has been suggested here before that the NHL, by design or good fortune, has opened up an untapped pool of players. McGuire welcomes the expanded scouting pressures.

"It makes our job a bit more difficult but for the tradeoff in excitement, we're willing to live with it certainly," he said.

Somebody's finally doing something for the little man.


Videos

Photos