Prospector Files: Top scouts talk talent evaluation
What do the top evaluators at NHL Central Scouting look for in players eligible for the upcoming NHL draft?
With the release of Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list Thursday, NHL.com figured now was as good a time as any to learn what goes into a scout rating a skater or goalie a "can't-miss" performer. It's a process Central Scouting has taken great pride in as the premier scouting service for NHL teams since the 1975-76 season.
The first area scrutinized is a player's ability to skate and do it well in all situations.
"If he can't skate, he can't play," Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen told NHL.com.
Central Scouting's Chris Edwards has been watching top prospects from the Canadian Hockey League for over a decade.
"You have to decide if a player has a skill set of a pro prospect; can he skate or is his stride good enough that he will improve with strength," Edwards told NHL.com. "You then have to decide what type of player he is, a skilled forward, offensive-defenceman or an energy type of guy and figure out if he's effective enough to play at the next level."
Edwards also acknowledged most players that make up the third and fourth lines on NHL rosters once were high-producing players in junior and college hockey. It's imperative to have the foresight that if a particular player cannot star among the top six in the NHL, that he be willing to take on a checking or energy-type role.
"It's also important that you make up your own mind from what you see and not be influenced by coaches, agents or other scouts," Edwards said. "You must have an opinion that's your own and stand firm with that opinion."
Rajanen, who specializes in United States prospects, said the passion and compete level exhibited in a player is as important to him as hockey sense.
The reason is simple.
"If someone doesn't work hard, how will they get better?" he said. "We're projecting players one to four years down the road, so if passion is not there they'll get passed up."
Scouts usually view a top prospect four or five times over the course of a season. They look to see him against top teams and weak teams as well as on the second game of a back-to-back set or the third game of an extended road trip. They prefer to see a player when he might be most vulnerable, because only then will they get an accurate assessment.
The scouting philosophy doesn't change much overseas. NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb lists skating, attitude and team play as big points during his evaluations.
"Some players look great in August but just cannot keep it up," Stubb told NHL.com. "Other guys might be late bloomers. For us in Europe, the Under-18 Five Nation tournament in February is an extremely important scouting event with the best players from Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, Russia and the United States."
SOMEBODY'S WATCHING YOU
Peter Sullivan, who has been evaluating Western Hockey League prospects for NHL Central Scouting for 17 years, acknowledged he rarely goes to a coach to uncover additional details about a player.
He leaves that to the team trainers.
"The guys that know the most in the organization are the trainers," Sullivan told NHL.com. "They will tell you the truth if they like the guy or don't like him. A coach will see maybe 80 percent of what goes on in the room, but a trainer knows everything. A lot of times you will approach a coach about a player and he'll tell you how unbelievable he is, but you talk to the trainer to find out if the guy dogs it in practice or is terrible in the dressing room.
"It's something I've learned from past experience."
Sullivan also feels young players today need to surround themselves with good people and players.
"These kids are going from a boy's world into a man's world and some adapt better than others," Sullivan said. "As the old cliche goes, you are judged by the company you hang around with. So it's so important for these kids out of junior, even if they think they're big shots in their last year before going pro, to hang around the right guys because you can easily get untracked.
"When you fall into that hole it gets pretty deep and then you can't get yourself out of it. By that time, word is out about that player prior to the draft."
SAGE ADVICE FROM SETH
Nashville Predators rookie defenceman Seth Jones entered the 2013 NHL Draft with very high expectations.
He was No. 1 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters and was taken No. 4 by the Predators.
To his credit, the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder has impressed not only the veterans but the coaching staff with his poise and maturity as a 19-year-old. NHL.com recently caught up with Jones to ask him what advice he would offer a top prospect eligible for the 2014 draft.
"You never forget your first training camp and you have to go in and gain respect of your teammates; prove to them that you will do anything to help the team," Jones said. "That comes before the ice part, because the game will take care of itself when you're out there with the way you play. The most important thing is in the locker room; you need to gain trust and chemistry with your new teammates."
There's no doubt Jones has achieved that goal just two months into the season.
"You can tell the respect a young guy earns by the way the veterans treat him," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "You can always tell which guys get it. The vets have pulled him in and said, 'Hey, we know you're going to be a special player and big piece of this team.'"
SCHMALTZ STARS AT WORLD JUNIOR A CHALLENGE
Center Nick Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League certainly is making the most of his draft year.
Schmaltz led all scorers with nine points (five goals, four assists) as the United States finished second at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August. Then this past weekend he led the U.S. to a gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge behind a tournament-record 12 points (four goals, eight assists).
Schmaltz, named the tournament's most valuable player, broke the previous scoring record of 11 points shared by Kyle Turris in 2006 and Mike Connolly in 2007. He also equaled the assist record set last year by U.S. defenceman Ian Brady.
The U.S. scored a 4-1 victory against Russia in the gold-medal game, played Sunday in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
"I thought I played well," Schmaltz told reporters after the game. "A lot of great players to play with helps a lot. They were feeding me pucks and being able to get them right back [to them], it's the players around me so it's not just myself."
The "A"-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft has five goals and 12 points in 10 games for the Gamblers.
"He's a dynamic offensive player," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He's really good at making you think the puck will be taken away from him, but he has such quick hands and can skate with it at full speed and then pull it away from you at full speed."
Schmaltz became the youngest member of the USHL All-Rookie Team in 2012-13, when he had 18 goals and 52 points while playing in all 64 regular-season games.
SCHOLASTIC ELITE LEAGUE ALL-STARS
Three players that participated in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League and have attracted the attention of NHL scouts recently were named to the 2013 International Invitational Tournament All-Tournament Team.
The highest-rated prospect among the three was center Steven Spinner of Minnesota White, which captured the tournament championship. Spinner, a "B"-rated prospect on Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list, totaled seven goals and 20 points in 20 regular-season games and then had two goals and three points in three playoff games.
The 5-foot-11.5, 196-pound right-handed shot, who will play his high school hockey for Eden Prairie, is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2014-15.
"He's a high-energy player who is hard on pucks," Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen said of Spinner. "He creates chances with his high-end compete, physical play and puck pursuit. Steven has a quick release and can finish in tight. His skating has shown to be quick out of the blocks and he has a second gear."
Spinner's teammate at Eden Prairie, defenceman Luc Snuggerud, is a "C"-rated skater on November's list. The 6-0.25, 180-pound left-hander, also committed to Nebraska-Omaha, had five goals and 21 points in 19 regular-season games and two assists in the playoffs.
"Luc gets the puck out of the zone with a good first pass and by skating it out," Rajanen said. "He likes to get up and support the rush and is solid on the power play. He does have some bite in his game as a skilled defenceman."
Team Wisconsin defenceman Matthew Berkovitz, a 6-1, 180-pound left-hander, had three goals and 13 points in 21 regular-season games. Berkovitz, a "C"-rated skater on Central Scouting's November list, will attend the University of Wisconsin in 2014-15.
PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
1. Vaclav Karabacek, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): The 5-foot-11.75, 182-pound right wing is a standout from the Czech Republic who is making his presence felt in North America as a rookie. In his first season for the Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Karabacek has nine goals (four power-play goals) and 19 points in 24 games. Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau, who specializes in evaluating players from the QMJHL, has been pleasantly pleased with Karabacek's ability. He's a "B"-rated skater on Central Scouting's November players to watch list.
"He can skate, shoot and make plays and he's really strong on his skates," Bordeleau told NHL.com. "Every time I see him he gets a ton of chances and that's a credit to his desire to want to be the best."
2. Nelson Nogier, Saskatoon Blades (WHL): The "B"-rated defenceman on Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list isn't flashy but is consistent. He possesses an ability to anticipate the play as well as anyone and sees the ice well. Saskatoon coach Dave Struch told NHL.com that Nogier (one goal, six points) has been working closely with assistant coach and former NHL defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn, which has fast-tracked his development.
"He's very steady and does a lot of things well," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said. "He's not an offensive defenceman yet he'll join the rush. He's on the power play because he's smart and there's not much weakness to his game; he's just a solid guy in all areas and has a good reach with his size [6-2.25, 191]."
3. Aleksi Mustonen, Jokerit (FIN): The 5-9, 161-pound left-handed center recently was promoted to Jokerit in Finland's top professional league, sm-Liiga. NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said he likes Mustonen's compete level but his size limits what he can accomplish on the ice at times. He was listed as a "C"-rated skater on Central Scouting's November list of Finnish players to watch but could be upgraded by season's end. He served as captain for Finland at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, totaling three goals and five points in seven games.
DATES TO KEEP
Nov. 18: Subway Super Series - QMJHL vs. Russia, Gatineau, Que.
Nov. 20: Subway Super Series - QMJHL vs. Russia, Sherbrooke, Que.
Nov. 21: Subway Super Series - OHL vs. Russia, Oshawa, Ont.
Nov. 25: Subway Super Series - OHL vs. Russia, Sudbury, Ont.
Nov. 27: Subway Super Series - WHL vs. Russia, Red Deer, Alta.
Nov. 28: Subway Super Series - WHL vs. Lethbridge, Alta.
Nov. 30: Boston University vs. Cornell, Madison Square Garden, N.Y.
LEON DRAISAITL: DRAFT DANDY OF THE WEEK
Prince Albert Raiders center Leon Draisaitl is one of five forwards from the Western Hockey League tagged with an "A" rating on NHL Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft.
"I think I'm a playmaking center with good vision," Draisaitl told NHL.com. "I like to make good passes but can finish as well."
The Raiders selected the native of Germany No. 2 at the 2012 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. Draisaitl had options to play in Sweden and Finland but decided the CHL would provide greater opportunities.
With soft hands and smarts on the ice, the 6-foot-1.75, 208-pound left-handed shot has 10 goals, 29 points and a plus-3 rating in 22 games. As a WHL rookie last season he had 21 goals, 58 points and a plus-22 rating.
"He plays a big, power forward-style of game," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "He goes to the net and the opposition has a hard time stopping him from getting there. He's a big presence in front of the goal and skates well with deceptive speed. He can shoot the puck and overpower goalies with it. I like his style and attitude; he has a lot of upside."
Draisaitl had 97 goals and 192 points in 29 games for Mannheimer at the under-16 level in 2010-11, and 21 goals and 56 points in 35 games for Jungadler Mannheim at the under-18 level in 2011-12. He's also represented his country on several occasions, including the 2013 World Junior Championship when he had two goals and six points in six games for the ninth-place Germans.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer