MONTREAL, QC — The amateur hockey scout. The not-so-glamorous best job in hockey. Most of us don’t know who they are, don’t even know their names. Every hockey organization, at every level, needs help finding the next big thing and the amateur scout plays an important role in the building of a successful hockey team. Although there are no defined prerequisites for becoming an amateur scout, a good eye for talent, dedication, time, and a passion for the game are required.
“Basically if you want to get into scouting, you have to go out and actually scout without being paid. Get to know the players, put your own list together and that way if you approach someone and ask them for a job or a possibility of one, you’re prepared. But, that list has to be accurate,” Steve Lyons told The Hockey News. Steve is a former assistant director of amateur scouting for the Phoenix Coyotes.
This is exactly how Rick Springhetti got started. Rick is a scout for McKeen’s Hockey, and he started writing his own scouting reports, just for fun.
“I feel that a scout, on any given day, is only seeing 50 percent of a player’s potential. It’s up to him to speculate on the rest of his potential. This is why scouting prospects is a lot harder than it looks.”
For Paul Charles, an amateur hockey scout with the Minnesota Wild, he believes that “Honesty and integrity are the key components to being a successful scout.” Paul has been scouting for the Wild since 2000. Before joining the club, he served as the Head Scout for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) for five years. Prior to that, Charles also worked as a St. Albert firefighter for 14 years.
Consensus is that already having contacts with people in the business of hockey can certainly help if you want to get into the scouting field, especially if you’re aiming for the big league, but as others have shown, making a name for yourself through hard work and dedication is also possible. Having played the game at any level helps you better understand what it is you’re supposed to be looking for on the ice, but it is certainly not a prerequisite for landing a job.
“Learning to scout is a process, a lot of highs and lows while dedication is key. Even after all these years I still question my own skill set at times, which I like to think forces me to focus on improving my skills,” explains Gus Katsaros, Pro Scouting coordinator for McKeen’s Hockey.
Perhaps you’ve heard of International Scouting Services. ISS is recognized as a leader, providing scouting information worldwide to industry leaders such as TSN and The Hockey News. They scout, evaluate, analyze and rank players aged between 16 and 19 years old. The information can be found in their flagship publication, The Monthly NHL Report.
ISS offers a Scouting and Coaching Program. The course is a newly-developed 12-week online course geared towards training and educating scouts and coaches from varying degrees of expertise and levels, en route to a career in scouting or coaching. The ISS scouting portion of the course covers all the ins and outs of being an effective scout, such as evaluation techniques for young players, how to identify elite talent, how to identify and gauge pro potential, networking techniques and the difference between drafting/recruiting for junior or college compared to the pros. They aim to be a springboard for all graduates to find employement in hockey. According to their website, the course costs $995.00.
Håkan Andersson. Andersson is a Swedish amateur scout who currently serves as the Director of European Scouting for the Detroit Red Wings. He is directly responsible for the Red Wings drafting Tomas Holmström, Valtteri Filppula, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, to name a few. Not a bad resume.
Andersson began his journey playing hockey until the age of 19, when a knee injury ended his career. He then began his compulsory military service in Sweden. After his military career was over he began working as a fishing guide with Frontiers International Travel, guiding clients such as Seymour Knox, founder of the Buffalo Sabres, around the waters of Sweden, Norway and Argentina.
So how did he end up a scout? Andersson began scouting for the Detroit Red Wings in 1990 after being recommended to the position by Christer Rockström, who was leaving the Red Wings organization at the time to work for the New York Rangers. Rockström is now an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens, working in Europe.
What does Andersson believe it takes to have success as a scout?
“I would say it comes down to 30 percent hard work, 30 percent good eyes and 40 percent luck.”
Rick Springhetti. Rick’s introduction to scouting is not typical of many people. Growing up, he was always a moderate fan of the game. He played with friends, but never any organized hockey. Although he identified himself as a Habs fan, he was much more interested in watching the game in an analytical way and, as previously mentioned, started writing his own scouting reports just for fun.
He listened carefully to what analysts would say, started reading books on the more technical aspect of the game and after a while, started corresponding with some scouts. One of them was Grant McCagg, who at the time was working for McKeen’s Hockey. After a bit of coaching from Grant, they got Rick on board. He has been scouting the QMJHL and Midget AAA League for four years. Since, he has scouted an average of 40 to 50 games live and around 75 games via video every year.
“I think a good scout has to interpret properly what he is seeing. The obvious abilities of a player are there and fairly straightforward: his skating, shooting, decision-making, etc. After that, he has to assess if the player’s abilities can work at the next level.” – Rick Springhetti
“For example, a smaller player who has only average skating ability may get by in junior hockey if he has solid hockey sense, but in the NHL, that may not be enough. All this has to be assessed in the context of his role in the team, his teammates, his opponents, etc.”
Gus Katsaros. Gus has been reading the McKeen’s Hockey Pool Yearbook since inception. He approached the organization to do some fantasy hockey analysis. He brought a fairly good knowledge base to them and they taught him what to look for and how to scout players. As Pro Scouting Coordinator, once players are drafted, Gus follows up and monitors their culmination into professional leagues, whether they are returned to junior, playing in the AHL (where applicable) and even into the NHL. His responsibility is to decipher where players are in their development or in some cases, WILL they become professionals. This also applies to players that are added through tryouts and walk-ons in NHL training camps, NCAA players that are signed through free agency and Europe. Essentially any routes that NHL teams will explore to add to their asset base of players.
What differentiates an Amateur Scout from a Pro Scout?
“Amateur scouts focus their attention on players that are on their way to getting drafted and perhaps a little monitoring afterwards, but they spend most of their time with young, undrafted players”, says Katsaros.
“Pro Scouts focus on players after they have been drafted, while NHL Pro Scouts are invaluable to their management to supply reports on NHL and minor league players belonging to other teams. Reconnaissance, although minor, is another facet, with networks being utilized for information dissemination. Although I’m not involved with a team, getting whiffs of players that may be available and taking that back to management is important and could become the basis of trade talks.”
As a scout, focus will always be on talent, skills, and whatever you see, or don’t see, on the ice. But how can a scout evaluate character in a player?
“I don’t think that one can judge character without knowing the players, or being informed of what they are like. Even then, the source could be biased in either direction and one has to take character information wearily.”
“There are some small indications of a player on the ice, but again, they are but glimpses and not totally indicative of what a player is like in the room, or how he behaves generally, or how he cultivates relationships. I’ll look for individualism and degree of team play and staying loyal to their players.” – Gus Katsaros
Gus points out most will identify character by taking on opponents in fights after a bad hit on a teammate, but that’s almost expected in the game these days. He uses an example of Pavol Demitra when playing with the Blues back in the late 90’s, where he was spying an open net and could have scored but instead waited and passed off the puck to a teammate so that the teammate could trigger a bonus clause.
“A small, insignificant event, but showed why he was loved.”
There are no blueprints on how to become a hockey scout. Scouts come from all walks of life, and every one of them has his own journey. Knowledge, passion, a keen eye for talent, a deep understanding of the game, perseverance and maybe a contact or two in the hockey business can get you there.
Many thanks to Rick Springhetti, Rick Stephens, Gus Katsaros, and The Hockey News for their valuable assistance.