Inside the Eyes of a scout (Part 2)

By Glenn Gawronski
In the second installment in our series on the world of scouting, we take a look at how National Hockey League clubs organize their scouting departments and utilize their resources in order to find the best available draft prospects.

A typical NHL team will begin its scouting structure by assigning their scouts to specific regions or territories. And these area scouts are responsible for scouting all the prospects in their particular region. Generally, clubs will have different scouts assigned to Ontario, Quebec, Western Canada, U.S. College and High Schools, and Europe. The scouting director meanwhile helps to organize and direct the group while receiving and reviewing all player reports and updates. He too will take to the road, along with the general manager, to see select players/tournaments firsthand.

Crucial to the entire scouting system is the ability to communicate and integrate the information. The computer networking age has certainly helped to facilitate this. As reports and rankings are compiled by region and league, the next step is to consolidate that information into a useable format–one that allows the club to evaluate all prospects evenly.

Say you’re a scout based in Western Canada. You’ll be confident in the accuracy of your Top 10 list of prospects in the Western Hockey League. You’ll have a pretty good handle on those likely to have NHL futures. But the major question that needs to be addressed by the organization however, revolves around how, for example, the third ranked player in the WHL compares to the top ranked Ontario Hockey Leaguer and the fifth ranked European. The real task at hand becomes how good is a prospect in one league relative to a prospect in another. This is an escpecially difficult problem given that there are very few opportunities for all the prospects to go head to head against each other.

Major international tournaments such as the World Junior Championships, European Junior Championships and the Under-18 Tournament prove helpful. Drafting decisions however are based more on how well a player has performed for several years and how he projects to play rather than how well he played in a two-week tournament. You have to weigh most heavily a players day to day performance.

Having uniform and consistent standards for evaluating players is of paramount importance. All the scouts must be working in unison. And as the season goes on, clubs begin to identify certain players who fit their criteria and they begin to focus on a smaller core group of players. Again, each organization’s perspective may be different.

One club may want to emphasize finding big, strong, defensive-defensemen, while another team may have sent their scouts out with the directive to find the fastest, most offensively gifted forwards. Clubs will also attach premiums to players from a certain hockey league or from a particular hockey system or who played for a particular coach.

Certain players meanwhile may not fit into a teams system. How many times have you heard the phrase “He’s not our type of player?” That doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t a prospect, just not for your team.

Another factor to consider is where your team is picking in the draft. This is something that is very important in the first round or two but tails off as the draft goes on. If you’re likely to pick late in round one and your organization doesn’t expect to make any deals to move up in the draft, you target players that may go in the #15-#25 slot. You improve your comfort level with players who may be available when your pick rolls around. You still scout the best prospects and you may find someone worth moving up for. But you must be realistic about the players you’re likely to wind up with.

And as the junior seasons conclude, scouting departments formally gather together again to assemble final draft lists and rankings. And it’s from these final lists that most draft decisions are based.

Next article, a look at how scouts evaluate a players physical tools.