Late nights, cold rinks, miles upon miles in the car, working across the country from your employer, and an expectation to be bang on with your evaluations through it all.
That’s the life of an NHL scout, a job that has those challenges, but also its share of amazing rewards.
Denis Fugere and Brent McEwen recently concluded their time in that profession with the LA Kings organization. McEwen retired after the 2020 NHL Draft in October, followed by Fugure after the 2021 edition back in July.
“I think that both of these guys should be very proud for the work they put in, what they accomplished, it’s really incredible,” Nelson Emerson, Kings Director of Player Personnel, said. “The scouting world, it’s not an easy one, it’s a lonely world at times and they were good at it for a long time.
Both men spent the entirety of their NHL scouting careers with the LA Kings organization. McEwen joined the Kings back in 2004, followed by Fugere in 2007. Both had extensive experience in their respective Canadian junior leagues.
McEwen was responsible for the Western Hockey League, where he had previously been the General Manager for the Saskatoon Blades. Fugere was the expert on the QMJHL, joining the Kings from the Drummondville Voltigeurs, where he had been an Assistant General Manager. Both were embedded in their areas, as others are with the Kings in different areas and different leagues. Their stature and longevity helped to form a team that knew each other – and the process – well.
“With the staff, where we are now, with the learning we’ve had with the guys that have been together so long — including our guys like Tony Gasparini, Christian Ruuttu, Brent McEwen, Chris Byrne, and Denis Fugere — I think we recognize each other’s strengths and biases and weaknesses,” Kings Director of Scouting Mark Yannetti said. “There is a respect and an intelligence that it bores itself out now in debate. I think we’ve come to the point now where the strength of the group is what all of those guys bring to the table, that is what allows us and our model to evolve.”
From the time they joined the organization, both men embarked on long journeys as scouts, contributing year-over-year in the NHL Draft. Both McEwen and Fugere spanned multiple regimes of management with the Kings, and through it all, remained loyal to the organization that gave them their first NHL opportunity.
“I think that’s the people they are,” Emerson added. “They’re down to earth, small-town people and they believe in loyalty. That’s hockey at its forefront, that’s what hockey people [are about], it’s important and we believe in that. I think those two, they definitely believe in that as well. I think it shows you what kind of people they are.”
For Denis Fugere, it didn’t take him long to answer when asked what his proudest moment with the organization was.
“October 2016, when I was invited to LA with my wife after I had survived cancer,” Fugere said, without hesitation. “That was the cancer night, I was invited, first-class all the way around, with my wife and that was a special moment.”
Fugure had been diagnosed with cancer – mantle cell lymphoma to be specific – in September of 2015. After he beat the disease, Fugere was honored not only with a special presentation on Hockey Fights Cancer Night at STAPLES Center, but also by his peers within the hockey operations staff.
In the 2018 NHL Draft, with Fugere back on the grind with his cohorts, General Manager Rob Blake announced at a staff dinner the night before the draft that Fugere would announce the team’s first-round selection the next day. A moment that he did not expect, and a moment that has stuck with him to this day.
“When Rob Blake said that we are family, and because of that, Denis Fugere was to announce the first-round pick, wow, I didn’t expect that at all,” Fugere recalled. “That was a great moment. I had goosebumps in the moment when I announced it. Even though I had made announcements at the junior level for many years, it was different.”
Fugere was responsible mainly for scouting the QMJHL, helping to evaluate the top players in Quebec during his time with the Kings, though as he was quick to mention, it’s a team effort across the board. Scouts will pound the table for the players they believed in from time to time, though Fugere never viewed himself as an “ego guy”, someone who wanted to see players from his region selection more than any other.
It was always about making sure that the best player available was the one that the Kings took, a statement that couldn’t be cut more directly from the cloth of hockey culture.
“The player that is the best that I think of, that’s the guy we should draft,” Fugere said. “That’s the way I have always been. I’m not a strong ego guy, I’m a strong team guy. If you’re not a strong team guy, you’re in the wrong business.”
As he went through his final draft as a member of the Kings organization, Fugere noted the differences, as has been the case over the last two seasons due to COVID-19. The meetings moved from in-person to virtual, scouting became less of a defined thing and more of an enigma. The QMJHL was the closest major-junior league in Canada to playing nearly a full season, with certain teams breaking the 40-game mark, still well short of a normal schedule.
Fugere called the entire process “sort of awkward”, between the combination of a fully virtual situation, interacting with his coworkers, and the knowledge that this would be his final draft.
“In the Q, we were lucky enough to attend a few games live, but it was an awkward situation for the whole year, and the draft was quite awkward,” he admitted. “Knowing that it was your last one, you want to push for guys, but you have to be careful, you have to think about the team rather than just push for a certain guy. Was it a good year though? Yes, it was still a very good year.”
As he reflects back, Fugere recalled several players he scouted over the years that went on to be successful, both Kings draft picks and not, as memorable moments. His passion for Nicolas Deslauriers, a former Kings mid-round selection who is now approaching 500 NHL games, stood out. Emerson recalled that Fugere knew that Deslauriers had “this heart of a lion in him”, which resonated. It was never about one player for Fugere, but that 2010 draft, which also included J-F Berube, was one he remembered.
As he moves on, Fugere was a “one-team man” at the NHL level. He said he never considered switching allegiances to another organization, and now, as he moves on, he is at peace to enjoy a new chapter in his life.
“The Kings were the first team that gave me the opportunity to work at the NHL level, the team won two Stanley Cups, so what could I expect more of?” Fugere said. “I’m at the point where I was sick for one full year, I’m 67 now and I need to think about me. It was time for me to turn the page and time for me to move on to something else and enjoy life differently.”
While one month ago marked Fugere’s final draft, for Brent McEwen, it marked the first NHL Draft he hadn’t worked.
That first one away left some mixed feelings. McEwen said he didn’t really miss being a part of it, but still found himself following along a bit too. The draft-eligible players from 2021 were players he was somewhat familiar with, as they played during his final draft cycle, and he was happy with how the Kings handled the draft, going after the players that they wanted.
As he reflected back though, McEwen knew it was the right time for him to step away.
“When I retired, it was time for me to retire and do other things,” he said. “I’ve got an interest in it, but it’s not something that I studied or watched, or looked at the guys. I sort of bumped in here and there, I kept track of who the Kings picked and how they got there. I didn’t miss it, when I left, it was time for me to leave. When I left, I had been with the Kings for 15 years, I played, I coached from the time I left University. It was time to do something else.”
McEwen had been a part of the Kings scouting staff since 2004, spanning several management regimes. McEwen’s primary responsibilities were in the WHL, where he scouted players ranging from the Northwest corner of the United States to the cold confines of Winnipeg.
For many years, McEwen was the only person responsible, on the ground at least, for that league. Emerson recalled he liked “size and big bodied players who were hard to play against” and that jived quite well with how the Kings were built for several years. See King, Dwight as a WHL selection who fit that bill.
Those years certainly added up for McEwen, who worked with many of the same scouts for a large chunk of that time with the organization. It was those relationships that he cherished the most, and when he finally decided to step away, it was the relationships he wound up missing the most.
“It wasn’t so much leaving the game as it was leaving the guys I’ve worked with for so long,” he said. “A lot of us had been together for 12, 13 years and we had a really good working relationship and personal relationship. That was probably the most difficult thing, giving that part up.”
Like Fugere, McEwen worked for just one NHL organization during his time as a scout.
Could there potentially have been opportunities to go somewhere else, during his fifteen-plus years in the profession? There probably would have been. For McEwen though, it wasn’t really on his radar.
He discussed the comradery amongst the scouts with the Kings as a huge sticking point of why he chose to remain with the Kings for so many years, and why he enjoyed working here so greatly.
“I don’t know what other teams are like, but I think this almost went beyond the game and work relationships,” McEwen said. “I think that everyone liked each other, really respected each other and their opinions, whether it be hockey or anything else. You have your arguments when your thoughts are different, which is what you want, but it was all very respectful, nothing was condescending. We had a real working relationship and a real personal relationship, we all liked each other, enjoyed each other’s company, respectful of everybody’s opinions, which was a real nice environment to work in.”
As he moves on to his next chapter, McEwen is enjoying his time on the lake, and the next chapter of his life seems to have that relaxing element to it. That’s not to say though that he didn’t appreciate and enjoy the exciting moments from his time with the Kings.
The Stanley Cups were naturally a high point from his time here, and that first on in 2012, after being a part of the rebuilding process that led to that moment, was certainly one he’ll recall fondly.
“It was really nice to see everybody sit back, the day they won the first cup, watch the elation of the players and the fans, it was like a religious experience for the fans,” he recalled. “It was unbelievable. To sit back and watch the emotions come from everybody, it was just to me, not sure if it was the proudest moment, but it was probably the most special moment, it was just an unreal experience.”
As both men move on to the next juncture of their lives and careers, they do so thankful for their time with the Kings. Fugere said he’ll be working with a couple of junior teams and organizations in Canada, but strictly on the business side.
“I’ll still be involved somehow in hockey, but not at the scouting level, or even specifically the hockey side, more on the administration level. No more pressure for me,” he joked.
McEwen was just thankful he could leave both on his own terms, and with the LA Kings.
“I was very fortunate that I went through three administrations and I was very fortunate to be able to stay on with all three,” he said. “I was happy to leave the game with Los Angeles. I thought they gave me so much, and I have a real affiliation and loyalty to the Kings. It was nice to be able to leave on my terms from the game and be with an organization that I really enjoyed being with.”
Best of luck to both Denis and Brent moving forward!