Today the Edmonton Oilers announced that they have hired the Ottawa Senators’ chief European scout, Vaclav Burda, to become their director of European scouting.
Burda joined the Senators in 2008 as an amateur scout and obviously his departure raises a few concerns.
Whenever a hockey ops member is poached from the organization, the immediate fear is for brain drain and a deterioration in the strength of Ottawa’s amateur scouting staff. As others have noted before, the Senators already have one of the smallest scouting staffs in the NHL and Burda has not been the only one to jump ship recently.
The Senators lost chief amateur scout Bob Lowes to Las Vegas last September.
It will take years before anyone can definitely say that the Senators are worse for wear without these scouts’ eyes and evaluation skills, but the unease is real.
The lifeblood of any sports organization lies in its ability to identify and evaluate young players for the draft. The Senators are no different in that regard, but with the kind of limited resources that the Senators are putting into their staffing budgets, it’s just another competitive disadvantage that the organization has to overcome.
This past January, general manager Pierre Dorion had an interview on TSN 1200 in which he was asked about the organization’s philosophy on drafting Russians. Having not drafted a Russian born player since Ruslan Bashkirov was selected with the 60th overall pick in the second round of the 2007 NHL Draft, Dorion’s response may shed some light on the organization’s reality when it comes to drafting European players.
“We’ve looked at (drafting Russians). We haven’t done that, I think, since my first year as chief scout and moving to director of player personnel and assistant GM where I ran the drafts. We’ve looked at it. Last year we looked at the guy that went before our pick. At times, it’s easier with Russians in North America because you know more about them than the Russians who play in Russia, but we would never not take a Russian just because he’s Russian. We always look at (the player) case-by-case. I think with Russians, it’s best to look at every player individually and then you have a better idea on if you want to take him or not.”
The Senators have never been shy about drafting Swedish players, but like Russians, recent evidence shows that the Senators have essentially been hesitant to draft European players who have not played junior hockey in the Canadian Hockey League.
Out of the 66 players who the Senators have drafted since Burda joined the team in 2008, the Senators have drafted 18 European players. Of those 18 players, only two of those players were neither Swedish nor played in the Canadian Hockey League. Markus Nurmi was drafted in the sixth round out of the Jr. A Liiga in Finland in 2016 and ironically enough, Christian Jaros is a Slovakian-born player with Swedish roots. He was the Senators’ fifth round selection in 2015 out of the J20 SuperElit league in Sweden.
There will probably be some pundits or Edmonton Oilers fans who will look at the timelines and Burda’s European scout title before adding some positive spin on his presence during a time when the organization drafted players like Erik Karlsson, Jakub Silfvererg and Robin Lehner.
As an outsider, the reality is that it’s hard to assess how much on an impact a scout like Burda had.
Thanks to the well-documented stories that give Anders Forsberg, Ottawa’s European scout from 2007 through 2010, a lot of credit for the drafting of Erik Karlsson and a number of other Swedish-born players during that time frame, who knows how much credit Burda deserves?
It’s not like the European players drafted since 2010, with the exception of a top-10 pick in Mika Zibanejad, have gone on to have much of an impact in the NHL. (Mind you, there’s still time for players like Andreas Englund, Christian Jaros, Filip Chlapik or Marcus Hogberg to demonstrate that they can be productive NHL players.)
That’s not on Burda however. Maybe he’s a very good scout, but the reality of the Senators’ situation is that the organization appears to have shied away from drafting European players unless they play in Sweden or North America because the organization is afraid of evaluating performances in limited viewing opportunities.
If anything, his departure should help shine a light on the way the Senators’ amateur scouting staff and raise a few questions. Do the Senators have enough scouts? Out of resource necessity, is the amateur scouting staff too North American-centric? Or, is the organization willingly leaving too many stones unturned?
These are very important questions, but as an organization that lacks the competitive advantages that a number of its peers enjoy, one would hope that the Senators would be willing to look everywhere for hidden gems instead of having players fall through the cracks because of where they play.