“Eyes open, ears open, mouth shut.” – Paul Charles, Minnesota Wild
While a prime condition of being a successful scout is being able to keep your cards close to the chest, not letting on what you may or may not know, when it comes to discussing players with your staff, you have to have the gumption to stand behind what you see in a player, no matter the popular belief.
“The one dissenting voice may save your life,” said Stu McGregor, head amateur scout of the Edmonton Oilers. “Sometimes you get in a situation where everybody falls in love with a player and you have one guy who just doesn’t see it, they see other problems. (The player) shows talent or ability, but he’s missing this or that. If you respect your staff you’ll take another look and sometimes they’ll come back and agree that, yeah, he was right. We can’t overcome that.”
It’s common for various members of scouting staffs to disagree with one another. It’s those debates and disagreements that make for a great team atmosphere and, in turn, a great overall team.
“A good team will work together, share ideas and develop themselves as better scouts,” explained Paul Charles, an amateur scout with the Minnesota Wild. “Working with success teaches you how to be successful. You’ll learn from a good scouting team and work as a team so you’ll just improve your skills.”
The romantic version of a scout is a shadow, watching the game from the corner seats, keeping to himself, working and traveling through all hours of the night in small, remote arenas and uncovering a hidden NHL superstar. While there is certainly a lot of travel and even more places to visit, it’s rare a future NHLer is discovered by just one set of eyes.
“One scout doesn’t usually find a player, it’s a group,” said McGregor. “One scout might find a player initially, but there’s follow-up from the rest of your staff that will refine that initial evaluation. You may have one head scout, but there’s a lot of good people behind him.”
The head scout is the one who has to sift through the differing opinions and ultimately make the final call. But for him to make that selection with confidence he first wants to hear what everyone else in the room thinks.
“I prefer (our staff) to speak their mind whether they’re right or wrong, because I’m not right all the time either,” said Jim Cassidy, head scout of the Ontario League’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Being a scout, however, you always have to be careful what you’re standing up for. On the one hand, you have to stick up for what you believe in and what you have interpreted on the ice, but on the other, you have to be careful to keep an open mind and see the whole picture.
“You may not agree with your team on everything, but they have to be in the ballpark,” Charles said. “You want guys to speak their minds and have their opinions, but don’t get blinded by a kid and don’t put all your chips on your first impression.”
But when you stick to your guns and those guns start shooting out the lights on Saturday night, your profile really takes off. Just play your cards right and the payoff could be Hall of Fame-worthy.
“You have to do it the right way,” explained Steve Lyons, assistant director of amateur scouting with the Phoenix Coyotes. “Everyone sees the guy and has a different opinion on him and you might like a guy you’re arguing against, too.”
“When (Jeremy) Roenick rolled around there were tons of questions because he was a high school kid in Boston who played, like, 22 games and he was about 5-foot-10, 160 pounds,” said Lyons, who was with Chicago in 1988 when J.R. was drafted. “(The Hawks) were really questioning me, but I had enough experience to see that this kid was special and he wanted to play.
“The fact is, yeah, there was opposition. There were other scouts, like in any organization, who didn’t see it that way. They had another guy. Are we happy we picked him? Absolutely. When you draft, you draft as a staff. What we talked about in that room will never leave that room and that happened 20 years ago.”
And looking at the 509 goals and 1,203 points and counting J.R. has amassed during his Hall of Fame career, it’s safe to say whatever was discussed behind those doors ended up producing the right decision.
A Scout’s Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we’ll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.