24 April, 2014


10 Questions for a Full-Time NHL Scout, Part II

[The following continues a conversation with NHL Scout started Thursday, March 29, 2007]

In Part II of my dialogue with NHLScout, I examine the contemporary American hockey development landscape, particularly with respect to college hockey, as this is his primary scouting territory. I sought to get a portrait of the college game’s increasing infusion of talent from very non-traditional outposts, like California and the lower Midwest. I also wanted his thoughts on Ann Arbor’s USNDTP, now in its 10th year of existence.
pucksandbooks: What is the “offseason” like for you? Late spring or summer, what are your principal tasks for your NHL club?
NHLScout: The “offseason” really depends on where you are. The draft is in late June, and every team has meetings in early June. Come summer, there are tournaments in different parts of the world — Europe, Boston, Michigan, different areas of Canada. It just depends on your role on your team, and where the good players are. If you are a trusted, veteran scout, and a top kid is playing in the Slovakian tournament in July, you’re on that plane. For the most part, summer is pretty low key. From Mid-May (or so) to late August (or so) you have meetings, the draft, and maybe two or three tournaments. A lot of guys will work hockey schools to bring in some extra cash.

pucksandbooks: The 10th birthday of the United States National Development Team Program (USNDTP) is occasioning its share of overview from the American hockey journalism community. What is your sense of where it is today?
NHLScout: I think the successes of the U.S. Development Program are clear — top draft picks, numerous college players. On the one hand, it’s too bad that leagues such as the Minnesota High School league or the New England Prep Schools are losing their top players. On the other, the U.S. is finally producing elite level players such as Jack Johnson, Eric Johnson, Phil Kessell, etc. on a consistent basis thanks to better coaching, better preparation, and better competition. It’s helped the college game by giving them more ready-made prospects. And it’s given players such as those previously mentioned the chance to play against good competition.
Is it a perfect system? No. Is it worthwhile, and better than not having the team? Definitely.

pucksandbooks: I’m a strong believer that scholarships in college hockey ought to be given to as many American hockey players as possible. There are far more Americans there today than there were 15 or 20 years ago. Looking ahead, will the college game, do you think, be able to maintain its basically North American identity, or will more international players comprise those rosters much as they have in recent years with Canadian Juniors (which is capped, of course)? Or, is it simply too difficult in terms of resources for college coaching staffs to scout European players?
NHLScout: I have no real preference where college hockey gives the scholarships. To me, I want the best players in college hockey. I would hope that U.S. youth hockey will continue producing enough top players that the majority of the players will be American, just as Canadian Junior Hockey should remain predominantly Canadian. However, if it means raising the quality of play, I will happily embrace Europeans and Canadians in the college game. In fact, with pro teams now strip-mining the college game (thanks to a CBA change, college players now cost less to sign, so teams are taking more and more players who are not quite ready because there’s less cash at risk), college hockey is going to need to find new sources of talent to even maintain the current level of play.

pucksandbooks: InsideCollegeHockey.com earlier this year published what I thought was an under- appreciated report titled “States of the Game,” about where college hockey players come from, by state and province. The thing that stood out to me was California’s emergence. More than 30 Californians were on D-I college rosters this season. What the heck is going on out there, and with places like Texas and Missouri, too?
NHLScout: What’s going on in the warm weather states is very simple — NHL expansion worked. In 1991, the San Jose Sharks arrived in California, expanding the NHL’s presence beyond LA. It’s now 16 years later. Those college kids from California were roughly 3-5 when the NHL got there. Now they’re hockey players. That’s not an accident.
Others will look at the Gretzky trade — 1988, hockey hits the big time in LA. That was 19 years ago. Guess how old these college kids are? 1992, Tampa Bay. 1993, Florida, Anaheim, Dallas. The kids who picked up hockey because they were finally being exposed to it are just now hitting the age where they are hitting the national scene.
California, Texas, and Florida are widely considered (among) the best states for athletes in football and baseball. To make my math easy, let’s say that in 1993 there were 5 million 5-year-old boys in those three states. 2.5 million played football, 2.5 played baseball. Now, let’s say 500,000 of those kids picked up hockey. All of a sudden, you’re talking about some of the best young athletes in America lacing up the skates instead of playing other sports. An extra half million athletes for leagues to pick through to find talent. While the vast majority of those athletes will fail (as is the case with all athletes), the USHL, NAHL, New England Prep Schools, NCAA, and, eventually, the NHL now have a deeper talent pool to utilize.
I forget where I heard this, but I’m sure one of your readers can find it: look back at the recent U.S. Bantam/Midget National Champions. I’m fairly certain many of them have been from California. The number of rinks in these states has exploded, meaning that ice time becomes cheaper and parents don’t have to drive three hours to get their kids on the ice. The kids who used to be centerfielders are now centres, and that’s vitally important for the future of the NHL. While intelligent people can disagree on the merits of expansion and how it immediately affected the NHL talent pool, we’re just now beginning to reap the benefits of exposing young athletes to the game.

pucksandbooks: My last question for you: who will get — and who should get — the Hobey Baker this year?
NHLScout: If I had a vote for the Hobey Baker, I would vote for David Brown from Notre Dame. Frankly, no player had a better season than Brown. He was the most outstanding player in college hockey. The other nominees all had great seasons — Bagnall was an amazing defenseman, Curry carried BU at times, Hensick and Duncan are two of the best offensive threats in college hockey, etc. — but I have questions about the merits of all of them.
For example, Brown had better numbers than Curry, and on a worse team. Duncan plays on a line with Oshie and Toews, making him the third best player on his own line. Hensick, like Curry, is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast. Frankly, for their talent level, ND was barely a Top 25 team. It was only because of coaching and David Brown that they were ranked #1. That said, I expect Hensick and Brown to split the Midwest/Western vote and Curry to carry the entire East Coast, so he’ll bring it home. For me, it would have gone (1) Brown, (2) Hensick, (3) Curry, (4) Bagnall, (5) Duncan.
By the way, I’ve had a couple of days to check out your site, and count me as a future regular reader. You guys have done a terrific job.
I’d like to first thank you for this opportunity, and the readers of this blog for their support of the greatest sport in the world. And if you see a scout at a game, buy him a coffee. He works his ass off to put the product you see out there on the ice, and he’ll appreciate it.
pucksandbooks: The Frozen Four is coming to Washington in 2009, and I expect to see you there. You won’t be paying for your coffee or your beer that week. Thanks for giving my readers and me so much of your time and such thought-provoking insight.



7 Comments

  1. 30 March, 2007 at 5:09 am | Permalink
  2. Caps Nut wrote:

    That certainly puts the expansion into new light.

    30 March, 2007 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  3. GopherGirl03 wrote:

    I agree that many high schools lose some of their best players to the development program. Regardless, in Minnesota, the High School Hockey Tournament is the highlight of the year (attendance in 2004 was 120,000 plus) and quality players are still produced. However, some of those development players do attend college (i.e. Eric Johnson). As for college scholarships going to American players, The University of Minnesota hockey program has always recruited in-state players first. I could see where other D-1 programs would have to expand their recruitment efforts in order to compete, especially in a state with five D-1 hockey teams.

    30 March, 2007 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  4. GoBucks9 wrote:

    Great stuff! OFB, are you guys coming out to columbus for the draft?

    31 March, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  5. OrderedChaos wrote:

    Thanks for the comments!
    GoBucks9, yes, a couple of us are planning to attend the Columbus draft, though nothing’s finalized yet.

    2 April, 2007 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  6. spark wrote:

    I agree with Caps Nut. I had always been one to simply write off expansion into the South as folly. Very interesting interview. Great work, OFB!

    2 April, 2007 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  7. Leah wrote:

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful information in this little 2-part series! I’ve been looking for as much information as possible on hockey scouting since that’s what I want to do. This definitely helped!
    I am a student at UND and a huge supporter of the Fighting Sioux, and we are all SUPER PROUD of Ryan winning the Hobey this year!! And I plan on continuing my quest on attending Frozen Fours in the future (I’ve already been to 2!)

    27 April, 2007 at 3:47 pm | Permalink