NHL Draft is showtime for Coyotes director of amateur scouting Bernhardt
Every year, when the NHL releases its schedule, stories are written about the travel advantages of eastern teams and the disadvantages of western teams. Last season, the Colorado Avalanche traveled a league-high 48,639 miles.
Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt probably does that in two months.
“I became an Air Canada million-mile member a long time ago,” Bernhardt quipped. “Too many planes, trains and automobiles to track.”
The fruits of Bernhardt’s labor — and those of the Coyotes’ entire scouting staff — will be on display at the NHL Draft on Friday and Saturday at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
“It really is their show,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka, whose team has seven picks in this year’s draft, including five among the first 74. “Those guys work all year and they fly a lot, drive a lot of miles, stay in a lot of hotels, make a lot of sacrifices. Seeing their players play at the NHL level is rewarding for them. I don’t do the scouting like they do so this is their time to take the reins.”
After a 16-year playing career, spent mostly in the American and Central hockey leagues, Bernhardt broke into this business by working three seasons for NHL Central Scouting. By the time he and then-Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk parted ways in 2011, Bernhardt had amassed 13 years as the Stars’ director of amateur scouting, 18 years in the organization (with a Stanley Cup, another Cup Final appearance and four conference finals appearances on his resume) and 21 years in the business.
He wasn’t ready to dive right back into that life with another team.
“You have to love it because this job can consume you,” he said. “You go to 200 hockey games a year and there’s tons of travel in North America and Europe. You have to have an understanding wife and family, that’s for sure.”
It took some effort for then-Coyotes GM Don Maloney to pry Bernhardt out of his newfound life of leisure. Bernhardt still had a year’s salary left from his contract with the Stars and he was enjoying the fruits of family with his wife, Sheri, and his boys, Matt and Jake.
“My wife has managed to do a really good job raising the boys,” Bernhardt said. “In the summer, I’m here a lot but in the winter, there is no doubt your wife has to run the household and it’s not easy when you have a couple of growing boys.”
“The time with them absolutely helped me a ton. You see things in a different light. I have more balance in my life now and I think it helps the overall picture.”
The lure that dragged Bernhardt back into the game was the same lure that drives most scouts: seeing their projections pan out at the NHL level.
The guy who drafted Jamie Benn, Marty Turco, Loui Eriksson and Mike Smith (among others) in Dallas has been the Coyotes director of amateur scouting for the past four drafts since taking over for Rick Knickle after a short stint as a Coyotes amateur scout. In that span, the Coyotes have drafted Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Christian Fischer, Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun, along with prospects Adin Hill, Nick Merkley, Kyle Capobianco, Pierre Olivier-Joseph, Filip Westerlund and Tyler Steenbergen.
“Tim is one of the better talent evaluators in the league,” said Stars senior advisor to the GM, Les Jackson, who worked alongside Bernhardt for his entire tenure there. “Working in NHL Central Scouting gave him a real good base of the industry and what to do within amateur scouting, but he has grown and evolved – changed with the game – and he has established a foundation for how amateur scouting works.
“He knows the type of people you need to be successful and how to establish a working environment globally. He’s got contacts everywhere and a philosophy that provides guys with direction. I just sense that guys who work for him like him. They’ll do anything for him because he’s fair and he’s honest.”
As a young GM, Chayka understands the prejudices that can cloud outsiders judgments of inexperienced personnel, but he believes Bernhardt’s breadth and length of experience are vital components in his success.
“It’s one of those jobs and roles where experience really matters and he’s got a lot of it,” Chayka said. “I like his process, I like how he analyzes the different alternatives and how he values the different variables. He’s got a great eye and he manages his staff very well.
“As a manager, there’s always a lot of different things going on so you need good leaders in place. He just owns this job and takes responsibility for all aspects of it. You learn a lot from a guy like him.”
When Maloney was the GM and the Coyotes were owned by the league, the scouting staff was a bare-bones operation, but Bernhardt said there are no complaints on that front any more thanks to the past two ownership groups and Chayka. The Coyotes now have scouts in all the major European hockey-playing nations (Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Russia among them), as well North America, and Bernhardt has the necessary resources to do his job.
“John has been able to put much more of an emphasis on it and I think the stability in our group helps, too,” he said. “One of the things that happens in scouting staffs is they constantly change. When you have stability in your group – the core of our group has been together five or six years – you get to know the other scouts and their tendencies, their strengths and their weaknesses and you become a stronger staff, make better decisions.”
Bernhardt, 60, has a core philosophy that will guide the Coyotes when he returns to his NHL scouting roots in Dallas this weekend. The strength of that approach will be all the more important as the draft progresses and Chayka’s influence on the picks lessens.
“We want to know a lot about a little,” Bernhardt said. “We try to get scouts in an area to really know it well and we put trust in those people. We don’t need five or six guys seeing a certain player. You end up with a whole bunch of opinions and you’re never going to come to a real consensus. We want the scout to really know the players well in their area.
“We developed that approach when I was in Dallas and I brought it here. The best decisions I’ve made over the years are on the players I know really well and the worst decisions I’ve made are because I’ve seen a player once or twice and I thought wrong about him. Players evolve. They evolve from September to April. They evolve from their 16-year-old year to their 17-year-old year. When you have a scout who has seen that player evolve each step of the way, it’s good to have it documented, because if you don’t know where a player has come from it’s a lot harder to predict where they are going.”
While there are positions of greater strength within the Coyotes’ system, Bernhardt said the approach must always be about taking the player with whom he is most comfortable for the particular DNA Chayka and coach Rick Tocchet want.
“You can’t look for specific holes to fill,” he said. “We’re like 30 other teams. Center ice is a hard position to fill and get depth in. Defense is probably the second hardest and then goaltending and wingers, but it’s hard enough to find players when you’re looking at 17-year-olds so we can’t get too specific.
“Our approach is: Let’s get good players and it will be up to John to move those pieces around, like he just did in the trade for Alex Galchenyuk. You have a lot of left wingers so you trade one for a guy who plays center and right wing. If we get enough good players we’ll be a good team because it will give John the ammunition and assets to move around. You don’t build a team with the draft. You build an organization with the draft and then you build a team by using those pieces.”
Coyotes 2018 draft picks
First round: No. 5
Second round: No. 55 (from Minnesota)
Third round: No. 65, No. 73 (from Carolina), No. 74 (from Calgary)
Sixth round: No. 158
Seventh round: No. 189