Respect Thy Scouting Department

"Belanger. Alexandre Belanger. 7th round. I'll make you guys look really smart." - Bruce Bennett

This was supposed to be a tribute to scouts, but then something happened and this came out. I'll get back to this topic with much more detail. I promise.

Scouts. I love them. The good ones, the bad ones, every single one of them. So much so, that I'd do anything to be one. I mean, YOU'RE PAID TO WATCH HOCKEY. How sweet is that?

Not always as sweet as you'd think.

Sure, the draft was a million weeks ago and this really should've been posted back then, but this is a topic that's fascinated me for years. These guys work their asses off, and rarely get anywhere near the credit they deserve. And I'm not talking about the pro scouts, because they've generally got it good. They're not the ones driving and flying thousands of miles every season to watch potentially decent teenagers, most of whom will still go undrafted and never make it to the NHL.

Sure, these guys get paid to watch hockey. How much? Depends on the organization and the scout, but the number I've been told is anywhere between 30 to 70 thousand dollars per year. A decent paycheck, but these people are a huge part of any hockey club and its future. You can steal a dependable two-way 3rd liner in the 5th round? Score! Nobody gives the scouts credit, of course, the pick being mostly just lucky and hey some guys are late bloomers and whatnot.

But you know what? After the top tier prospects, it's always a guessing game. This is the part of hockey that has everything to do with luck. And by the way, the top tier I'm talking about here? Ovechkin, Crosby, Tavares, Malkin, the "can't miss" -types. After these guys, there's always a chance you blow the pick because some scouts loved a player way more than they should have, but that's just how it goes.

The good part? Most fans won't bother to learn the names of their team's scouting staff, so the GM gets most of the blame. Most of the time, the scouts stay safe from the internet superheroes*, who "absolutely knew that A.J. Thelen wouldn't be playing hockey 7 years after the day he got drafted". But they also don't get the credit when they find that 6th round "diamond in the rough". It's not a glamorous job, but these guys know it.

The big point of this post was supposed to be the unimaginable difficulty of evaluating the eventual upside of a player. So here goes.

I find it baffling how any fan (myself included) can rip a draft pick literally seconds after it's been announced. Well, I mean, there's always the "Jay Feaster Exception" where a GM - in the first round - picks a player that even eliteprospects.com doesn't know exists. Those are the picks that you are, as a hockey fan, obliged to mock. But you get the point.

And stay away from the stats. Advanced stats I can deal with if you have those available. But the point totals and the single most useless stat anyone could ever come up with, the plus-minus? "DROP THAT STAT SHEET AND TAKE THREE STEPS BACK!"

Here's a great example. Player A and Player B (both drafted by the Wild). In his draft year, Player A combined a respectable 11 goals and 29 points in 42 games. His plus-minus was +16. He was described as a mobile defenseman who could move the puck well and had a really good shot. Not overly physical, but could hold his own around the boards. His play in the defensive zone was something he needed to work on, but the skating made up for some of his positional errors without the puck. A project, but a promising one.

Player B, in his draft year, played in 42 games as well, collecting just 4 assists. His plus-minus was +6. This defenseman could fly around the ice with or without the puck, but didn't do anything flashy. The average hockey fan wouldn't see anything that special about him, but hey, "the scouts must know what they're talking about". After all, you can never have too many defenseman that can move the puck decently and are really solid in their own end, can you? This kid didn't have any specific weaknesses, although "he could be a bit bigger, his size might get him into trouble in the NHL level". But why would you draft a guy that doesn't really seem to have anything special about him? "Offensive upside is limited, if there even is one".

This is why I love scouts that know their sh*t. And this is why I, for one, would make one lousy scout. The players (A & B) shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

*Internet superheroes = In this case, yours truly. When I'm not sleeping, I dedicate 99% my time being an idiot.

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