Cammi Granato is used to making history at this point. She won the first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey in the Olympics in 1998 as captain of Team USA. She was the first woman to be inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame and the first to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Angela James.
In 2019, Granato was the first woman hired as a pro scout for an NHL team, joining the Seattle Kraken. While she wasn’t the first woman to be hired as an assistant general manager with the Vancouver Canucks — Émilie Castonguay preceded her by a couple of weeks — she was certainly among the first.
But, as she takes the draft floor for the first time as an assistant GM, she won’t be alone.
"Maybe those biases can change."
Along with Granato and Castonguay for the Canucks, there will be three other women on the draft floor working as assistant GMs for their respective teams — Hayley Wickenheiser for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Meghan Hunter for the Chicago Blackhawks, and Kate Madigan for the New Jersey Devils.
“There were times I didn't think that was an option for women,” said Granato on Wednesday in a conference call. “Growing up, there was no representation, so it wasn't something that I thought would happen in my lifetime.”
“I think it’s just the league trending in the right direction,” said Castonguay. “They’re hiring very competent people and that’s what I’ve said from the beginning — there are competent women in this industry and they deserve a chance to be in these positions.”
In a way, it seems like Granato and Castonguay set off a cascade effect around the league.
“Sometimes, it’s just one domino that needs to fall and I think the glass ceiling was broken there,” said Castonguay. “I knew that after that, the floodgates would open.”
For Granato, one of the most exciting aspects is the changing view around the league that will open future doors for women.
“I think the mindset that is changing is that women are qualified,” said Granato. “Before, it was like, 'women can't do this job, or women aren't qualified, women don't know hockey' but that's just not true. That's just biases or myths. With so many women now, maybe those biases can change.”
"Our goal is to get the best out of every single player."
Of course, the primary thing Granato is focused on is doing her job. Part of her portfolio as assistant GM is overseeing both sides of the scouting department — professional and amateur — as well as player development. That means she’s been heavily involved in organizing and directing the discussions that have taken place heading into the draft.
“The one thing with this group is the communication is really strong,” said Granato. “There's a great respect for one another's opinions. We don't all have to be on the same page and I don't think you want everyone to have the same mind or the same outlook, you want to get different aspects, listen to that side of the arguments.”
A big part of those discussions has been about how to deal with the Russian prospects in the draft.
“It’s a really tough one because there’s an element of the unknown,” said Granato. “We’ve put the Russian players in line of where we think they are but there is definitely those thoughts of ‘what if.’ It’s a really tough situation but we’re just trying to do the best that we can and make the right decisions.”
With her combined foci of both scouting and development, Granato’s work doesn’t end after the draft — in fact, it just gets started. The Canucks have focused on expanding their player development department in recent weeks, which will hopefully help their drafting look a lot better.
“Whoever we draft and whoever’s in our pool of young players, our goal is to get the best out of every single player,” said Granato. “No matter if they’re a first-rounder or a seventh-rounder, we want to get them to their potential… I think you can do a lot with players that are raw and that’s where our group is really excited. The guys that we brought on are champing at the bit to get going.”
Speaking of those guys, Granato said she was looking forward to seeing everyone face-to-face at their upcoming prospect development camp after the draft. New hires Mike Komisarek and Mikael Samuelsson have yet to meet in person with Granato and the development camp will allow them, along with Chris Higgins, Ryan Johnson, and Daniel and Henrik Sedin, to set the direction for the Canucks’ future development.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “It’s new, this whole group is new, and everyone’s really charged up to go… Having guys like Henrik and Daniel joining us as well, you can’t get better guys as far as what they know, their hockey minds, who they are as people, their character, their work ethic — all those things they can instill in these young players.”