The Art of Scouting

Scouting is the backbone of a “heatlhy“ franchise, one of the success factors for an organization to continuously be a playoff team. Scouts have to foresee the future and evaluate how good prospects will be in a couple of years. While it is not possible to predict the future completely, scouts still have to judge players and give advice on draft rankings to their Head Scouts.

Scouting knows its own language and list of evaluation. Scouts aren’t going to simply pull out a stopwatch and see how quickly a kid can skate from blue line to blue line, a good scouting report goes as much in detail as possible.

”I’d say hockey scouts don’t really go by the criteria in other sports. I can only illustrate that by looking at one of the greatest players of all time, Wayne Gretzky, Dennis MacInnis of ISS says. ”You can’t say he was built like a fire hydrant or that he was really fast. But he just had a lot of talent and a really good head on his shoulders.”

A while ago, THW prospect evaluator Ross Bonander came up with a scouting glossary and described some of the evaluation terms scouts use. In this article, I am going to explain you more terms and let you know how scouts evaluate prospects in language easy enough for all hockey fans to understand:

Hockey IQ (Hockey Sense)

One of the harder “skills” for a prospect to learn. Often players are just blessed with a high Hockey IQ while others might have the right work ethic but will never possess a high Hockey IQ. But what does Hockey IQ actually mean?

It isn’t that easy to explain this term but basically it is the mental understanding of the game. Former NHLer Keith Primeau described it on NHL.com: “understanding situational play. Understanding where I’m supposed to be as the non-puck carrier, where I’m supposed to be on the forecheck. … It’s all situational play.”

Scouts often say that they can’t describe Hockey IQ, they just know when a player has it. Another great debate among scouts is if Hockey IQ is teachable. In my opinion it kind of is, but not completely. You can teach players how they should play/think in certain situations, but in the end it depends on how a player plays on the ice and not only in his mind. A similar comparison would be the difference between skill and talent. Can you teach talent? No! A player can be a hard working or skilled player, but he will need to bring a certain amount of talent to the table or he wont make it. Same goes for hockey IQ, the best players in today’s game have one thing in common – They have a high Hockey IQ.

First strides

Helps to define a player’s skating abilities. A scout has to evaluate how a player’s first strides are. Is he showing a quick acceleration or does it require time for him to hit top speed? A scout also defines how powerful a players first steps are. Is he a powerful skater who uses 2-3 powerful strides to hit top speed?

Active stick

When a player uses an “active stick” it means that he uses his stick to be in passing lanes, deflect shots or pressures the puck carrier actively. Is the player using his stick actively to provoke turnovers and eliminate scoring chances? An efficient forechecker can use his stick actively to pressure the puck carrier or a defender does the same stick work in his own zone. Important is that the stick is on the ice, this is how players find their ways into notebooks of scouts.

Hand-eye coordination

Hand-eye coordination is the ability of the vision system to coordinate the information received through the eyes to control, guide, and direct the hands in the accomplishment of a given task, such as handwriting or catching a ball. Hand-eye coordination uses the eyes to direct attention and the hands to execute a task.

Hand-eye coordination is an important skill for hockey players, especially for forwards. How is the player’s ability to knock a puck out of mid-air with his stick to knock down a pass? Can he deflect a shot into the net or swat a puck out of mid-air to score a goal? Those are important questions a scout has to think about when evaluating a player’s hand-eye coordination.

Quaterbacking the powerplay

Similar to the original football term, a hockey player who quaterbacks the powerplay is someone who “orchestrates” the plays. Is he able to shoot the puck from the point and does he make good passes resulting in getting opponent penalty killers out of position? In most powerplay units, a puckmoving defenceman is quarterbacking the powerplay, but it can be a forward as well.

Long shot prospect

A long shot prospect is a prospect who might never find his way into the NHL, a prospect who has a rather small chance to blossom at NHL-level. Usually, long shot prospects are players outside of the top 10 of an organization’s prospect pool. The term is sometimes also used for prospects who are not yet NHL-ready and require more than 2-3 additional years until they have a shot at NHL-level.

Amateur- and Pro scout

NHL-organizations have two type of scouts, amateur and pro scouts. The difference is quite simple: Amateur scouts scout prospects/undrafted players while professional scouts scout other NHL (and other pro leagues) teams. Meaning the amateur scouts are trying to find the most intriguing prospects for the upcoming draft. Those prospects are available to NHL-teams and are usually junior players. To ensure that players of all regions are evaluated, amateur scouts are usually located all over the world to cover every possible draft eligible player.

The Pro Scouts are evaluating professional players who might be under contract with an opponent team. Typically they are scouting players which could be interesting for a potential acquisition, trade or off-season signing.

Frame

Basically another word for size. A prospect with a big frame is a big sized player and often also someone who has good strength or muscle mass.

Quiet checking

As the word already indicates, a quiet check is not really a booming hit, not one that knocks the opponent player down with a high impact. When a player performs a quiet check, he basically knocks the player off the puck with a shove and with using his leg strength.

(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

To perform a quiet check, the player needs to be very strong on his skates. Good examples for efficient quiet checkers are Pavel Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby. While both are not known for their physical game, they are able to knock players off the puck using the above mentioned skills.

Challenging a shooter

An evaluation point to rate how a goaltender is trying to cut the angle on shooters. USAhockeymagazine.com is explaining the term the following: “In general, it is the goalies attempt to “cut the angle” by playing at the top of the blue crease (or above) to limit the amount of net seen by the shooter.”

By challenging the shooter aggressively, the goaltender makes the net smaller for the shooter and forces him to make an action. Jonathan Quick is probably one of the best challengers in the league as he plays an aggressive style and is at the top of the crease to cut the angles perfectly.

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