Inside the Eyes of a scout

By Glenn Gawronski
Throughout this season, we will be running a special series of articles taking a look at the world of scouting. It will focus primarily on the player evaluation/development side of scouting, particularly as it relates to draft-eligible prospects. We hope this will offer a bit of insight into an inexact science. Our first installment will cover some of the basics behind scouting and some of the issues that a scout must deal with.

The easiest place to start is from the beginning. The first thing a scout has to do is ask himself “What is my objective?” And when it comes to evaluating players for the NHL draft, the objective is pretty clear: try to project where the 17 and 18 year old prospects are going to be in say five years. Just which players from this years draft class will be the best in 2003. Easier said than done. At this point, scouting becomes a game of projection.

Very simply, how is a player going to perform if and when he gets to the next level? How much upside potential does he possess? How much will he improve? Will he be capable of making plays at the NHL level the way he does at the junior level? Scouting, at least as it pertains to the draft, has less to do with evaluating a players current performance as it does with projecting a players future performance.

Another aspect to consider is that success at one level certainly does not guarantee it at the next. A junior age player may be great in his own age group or in his own league, but one flaw in his game could prove fatal to his NHL chances.

For example, he could be an excellent goal scorer snd a terrific puck handler, but if he’s a poor skater, a red flag goes up. If you don’t anticipate significant improvement or don’t think he can compensate for that weakness, he must be downgraded on your scouting list. And how far down scouts drop a player would vary. Some organizations will never draft a player if he isn’t at least an average or better skater. Other clubs meanwhile do not attach such a premium. All too often, a player is great at one level and can’t make it at the next. Just as one or two great strengths will get your attention, one or two glaring waeknesses will turn you away just as quickly.

The ultimate goal obviously is to find a complete player. One who can combine offense with defense. Speed with power. And has the heart and character. Of course this player is a rarity, but it’s still what we shoot for. Anf if someone isn’t a complete player or you can’t see him developing into one, then the focus shifts to whether or not he has the overall ability to play a role in the NHL. And with thousands of draft eligible players scattered throughout North America and Europe, the search for future stars requires time, effort, insight, and organization. And a little luck never hurts.

Next article, we’ll take a closer look at the NHL scouting systems and how organizations are set up to find the best prospects.