The Scouting Post is pleased to debut a new series in which we’ll talk about the world of hockey scouting of amateur prospects and share some insights and anecdotes on our experiences and what the life is like. Some of the names are omitted or changed to protect sources, many of whom are often more candid than their teams would like. This series is also designed to help inform and educate fans who might not be as aware of the process. This is about the sharing of ideas and providing background on the challenging life of an amateur scout, who often has to deal with a lot of different inputs and factors while watching physically underdeveloped (in most cases) teenagers and trying to forecast who has the talent and gusto to be impact players in the National Hockey League.
You are welcome to leave comments and ask questions that we can perhaps address in future posts. As always we appreciate the support of this blog and the civil discourse. Even if you might not agree with some of the methods or conclusions, we can have a robust debate without descending into the white noise that often distracts from good points on opposite sides of the spectrum.
These posts are not intended to be a definitive guide or to capture all the elements of scouting the game but to identify areas where “common knowledge” might not be as common. – KL
So, you want to be a hockey scout?
That was a question posed to TSP’s founder by a member of the Boston Bruins amateur scouting staff back in the early 2000s, when he was covering the team for the New England Hockey Journal. At the time, there was no Twitter or Facebook, though the Internet itself was a burgeoning hive of information sharing- he realized that there was an opportunity to focus on the team’s organization and future players, as many of the dedicated NHL beat reporters were too busy on the big club to give the prospects the attention they deserved.
Bottom line up front- having crossed over from the “pure media” analyst side and into hockey operations for several junior (USHL and QMJHL) teams plus in a sixth season with the Red Line Report- an independent scouting service subscribed to by just about every NHL team plus myriad college, junior and European pro clubs as well- let us just say that the job is not as glamorous as one might think.
It’s a ton of work, travel, commitment and a life spent constantly asking yourself what you’re doing wrong, what you’ve missed and how you could have approached a situation differently. It’s about long miles on desolate roads or bouncing from airport to airport in the hustle and bustle of air travel when the weather poses the greatest risk at disrupting your logical travel plans. Scouting is about watching more bad hockey games than good- sitting in nice rinks and not-so-nice barns, drinking bad coffee in many cases and having to focus on details. In other words- you’re not there to enjoy the game, but to do a job, and so if you’re someone with a passion for the game, understand that by pursuing a life in the scouting industry, you’re going to give up some of the basic things you’ve spent your lifetime doing. For most, that’s not an obstacle, because let’s face it- if you know enough about hockey to have an interest in scouting for living, then you are already doing a lot of the things that are important for people in the business, even if you might not realize it.
In this post, we’re going to touch on a few things that might be helpful for those who are either actively working for teams, other independent services, or are students of the game with a serious interest in understanding the NHL draft or taking that step to try and cross over to join the fraternity. We’ll not cover every little thing, obviously, but a few of these stories and situations just might either help send you on your way or at least give you some important perspective when you sit down to watch live or digest the results of the next NHL Entry Draft in June, 2017 (Chicago).
Many scouts in the NHL and NCAA and other junior leagues or teams around the world are former pro players or high-level collegians or juniors. Note- we said “many” not everyone. If you’re reading this blog, then chances are- you’re not a pro or a high-level player. Even if you are, (and we’re certainly flattered that you’re reading), the perception is that if you didn’t play the game at a high level, the door to one day becoming an NHL scout or talent evaluator beyond your local minor hockey club is barred to you. Once upon a time, that was probably the case, but in the 21st century, opportunities abound for those who might not have elite credentials as a player or coach, but who are students of the game and have a good eye for talent. The road is no doubt longer and tougher to navigate, but it’s certainly attainable.
If you’re trying to figure out how to get started, the best thing to do if you are in an area where you have high-end junior or college leagues, is to just get out of the house and to the games. It seems simple enough, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to talk about going to games and scouting players but a little harder to get up and go. You might have financial challenges or other things stopping you, but here’s the thing- you’re not going to gain an appreciation for players the way future prospective employers need you to by sitting at home and watching games on HockeyTV all the time. You can always supplement your viewing that way, and the artist formerly known as FASTHockey is a great resource in that regard for amateur leagues in the U.S. and Canada (plus you have the online pay packages for the CHL in Canada), but there’s so much that happens behind a play- the details in a player’s game- that you’re just not going to get by watching online or on television, where the camera follows the puck around.
It’s all about the network
The other thing critical to getting going on a scouting career at any level is networking, and you’ll absolutely have a tough time doing that from your computer versus being at games, recognizing scouts and striking up conversations. Most of us are like anyone else- we genuinely appreciate people who share our interests and love of the sport and who are willing to discuss some of the players we’re there to see. The scouts aren’t hard to spot- we’re typically up in the higher levels of a building at the corners or behind the net- standing more often than sitting- and watching. The black jackets and slacks/dress shoes are a good sign as well. Often times, striking up a simple conversation (during the intermission or extended stoppages in play like media timeouts) will pay dividends for you if your instincts are right and you spot the guys who are working the game. Sometimes, those jackets will have their team crests- NHL, CHL, NCAA, etc- but not always. Try it. Most won’t bite and will welcome the exchange- just be careful to maintain a respectful distance and seek to ask intelligent questions. For example, “Who are you here to see?” is a good way to get a scout to engage. On the other hand, after establishing that your contact works for an NHL team, following up with “So, who are you guys going to draft in the first round?” is not the way to make hay.
Ultimately, regardless of how you choose to get your foot in the door, establishing contacts in and around the game is an ongoing process and your work is never really done, especially given the tremendous turnover of team officials and staffs season after season. But you need to develop a network if you ever hope to move beyond simply being a fan and one day work in hockey. The best way to develop that network is to be seen regularly at the games and as your conversations with contacts advance beyond small talk, offering up some of your views if solicited and even if not- so they can get a feel for what you know. Resist the urge to be a know-it-all or to dry to dazzle them with your knowledge even if you do know quite a bit and have a great grasp on the game. It’s kind of like the old advice you might have received in love about telling a prospective partner about your alleged romantic prowess- even if true, saying very little and letting that knowledge be revealed as a surprise is almost always the best way to go.
It’s no different with career scouts- some are open and approachable and will talk candidly about the game and players. Others are more guarded and take longer to get to know. The big thing is to be yourself and not be a phony- don’t try and make yourself out to be someone you’re not. The key is to listen sometimes more than you talk and give respect even if you don’t agree with that persons views. Sometimes, it is truly shocking at how obnoxious some fans who approach us purporting to want to get into scouting can be. Not too long ago, I had a Boston fan ask what I thought of Zach Senyshyn, and before we could even respond, launched into a diatribe about how brutal a pick he was and how the B’s would rue the day they didn’t draft Colin White, then dared us to disagree. Even if he’s got a pretty solid point about White, that’s not the way you go about making a contact with someone who might be able to recommend you to someone down the road.
One more thing- scouts spend years cultivating sources and building trust. That is hard earned and not simply given in a single night of light banter. Don’t ever freaking ask someone to give you their sources. Ever. It’s uncool. You can ask for an introduction if you know they know someone you want to connect with, but the day you go up to a scout and say, can you give me the numbers of the guys you know, you’re done. I continue to be amazed that there are people who will ask me for my contacts with NHL team X. Are you effing serious with that? Don’t. Do. It. Get to work and cultivate your own network. If you aren’t willing to get to rinks and get to know the guys in the business whose inner circle you want to be a part of, then you don’t deserve any sources. It’s that simple.
In the end, anyone with the knowledge of the game, a good eye for talent and most of all- MOST OF ALL- the willingness to work, sacrifice personal time, and follow up with comprehensive reports on what you see and find, can be a scout. It’s those who lack the commitment far more than the ability who will fall by the wayside and ultimately not reach that goal.
Now that we’ve covered the bigger picture, we’ll focus on some of the things that good scouts need to have in their tool kit. We’ll share some (note- we said some, not all- where’s the fun in that?) of our own methods to give you an idea of what goes into a scouting report and why multiple viewings and player research to build a kid’s body of work is so crucial to the process.
We hope you enjoy the series and if this has convinced just one of you to take the plunge or step away, then our job is done. Likewise- if you’re a fan who feels enriched a tad by some of the discussion, then like Scott Wooderson famously said- “All right, all right, all right!”