The Guelph Storm, caught in arms race that is the Ontario Hockey League's Midwest Division, shuffled their organizational structure on Monday by promoting assistant coach Chris Hajt to assistant general manager, with an emphasis on the scouting and recruitment of American-born players.
It's a good move by the Storm, who chose to bolster their own organization rather than succumb to the recruiting dominance of Kitchener and London. The Rangers have brought aboard Ryan MacInnis, Nick Magyar and Mason Kohn, while London was able to bring Montreal Canadiens first rounder Mike McCarron north and also Wisconsin-commit Christian Dvorak. It's an alarming rate that these two franchises are able to get American-born players to shake their NCAA prospects, so the line in the Storm's press release could be taken as a signal that general manager Mike Kelly is willing to try to compete with those two teams on the same plane:
With his new position, Hajt fills an organizational need that was evident at the management level. As such he will work with Mike Kelly in all areas of hockey operations, including scouting (with particular emphasis on US based teams and players), prospect development, OHL and Import drafts as well as team administration, public relations and business relations.
“Chris is a proven OHL coach who also has significant management abilities. Having him help me with the hockey operation side of things makes us a better team now and in the future,” Storm GM Mike Kelly said.
Our friend Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey had a great post up Monday on the recruiting battle between the Canadian Hockey League and the NCAA. Are the Storm indicating that they want in?
So while Hajt moves from the bench to the executive suite, and the Storm hired a new body in former NHLer Todd Harvey, a first round NHL pick out of the Detroit Jr. Red Wings during his own OHL days. Harvey skated on ice with the Storm last year. Kelly says he not only has a "wealth of experience as a player" but also as a "hockey teacher." He relates extremely well with our players as was proven last season when he volunteered his time with the team". Harvey will join Bill Stewart as an assistant to Storm head coach Scott Walker, yet another former NHLer.
The Storm were comfortable adding to their management group since they had a familiar face to add to the coaching staff. It remains to be seen if the Storm will be able to make their program desirable enough for more American-born players to feel the need to break commitments and join. Last year their only American-born players on the roster were goaltender Garret Sparks and overage defenceman Saverio Posa. Like it or not, there's no limit to the number of American-born players on a CHL roster, so the team taking a step to at least attempt to break into the market is a worthwhile endeavour.
Update: Admittedly, I don't have a tuned memory to which players the Storm could have got with a stronger recruiting effort, but play-by-play man Steve Fitzsimmons points out that the Storm had the OHL rights to Kevin Shattenkirk once upon a time.
In the 2013 priority selection, the Storm selected Luke Kirwan, a commit to the US National Development Team. Mike Kelly has suggested that Kirwan has shown interest in the OHL in the past. The Storm gambled on him and are seemingly doubling their recruitment efforts to the would-be top 10 pick in a land where the NCAA doesn't exist.