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A Scout's Life: Finding hidden gems

Geoff Sanderson scored 355 goals and 700 points in 1104 NHL games. (THN Archives)

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Geoff Sanderson scored 355 goals and 700 points in 1104 NHL games. (THN Archives)

“There are always guys who will jump out you weren’t expecting to. That’s a bonus, someone else to follow.” - Paul Castron, director of amateur scouting, Columbus Blue Jackets

When you sit down to watch a hockey game there are a lot of players to see. Some big, some small. Some slow, some fast. Some tough, some soft. Some with potential and some, well, without.

So how does a scout keep an eye on all these guys without missing anything? Part of it is getting a heads-up from your area scouts so you know who to watch before you set foot in the arena and another part is getting there a little early – about one to two hours beforehand – and making sure you’re prepared.

“Prior to the game I’ll check out all my reports on all the players I expect to play and the date the last time I did a report on those players,” said Mark Dobson, director of player personnel with the Atlanta Thrashers.

As a pro scout – who looks at NHL and American League teams – just like an amateur scout, you need to have the most information possible. The difference is, your reports could have a more immediate effect on your NHL team. When your GM comes knocking in early February with the trade deadline looming it’s good to have a few reports on a bunch of different players he may be interested in.

With all the travel, though, it’s nearly impossible to be up on what’s going on in every NHL and AHL city, so it’s helpful to talk to local media members before the game.

“You have to be careful the information is right,” Dobson said. “You can’t listen to one guy say a player is playing bad because of a broken leg, print that in a report, and later find out he doesn’t have a broken leg, he’s just playing bad.”

In the junior ranks, an amateur scout has to weed out the potential professionals from the rest of the crowd, so part of their prep work is making note of which specific players merit watching. That might mean going through the rosters, highlighting players in their draft year and putting guys who have already been drafted in a different color.

The next crucial part is situating yourself in the right seat. Like a lot of fans, the scouts could do without the netting at the end of the rinks because it distorts what they see.

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In junior rinks, if you go to places with packed houses – such as Kitchener or London – you don’t generally get your pick of the litter when it comes to seating. Some guys like to sit low at the ends so they can see the defense back up, or how the goalie reacts to deflected shots, but for the most part you want to be near center or possibly in the corner, high up in the lower bowl.

“I don’t like to sit at the end of the rink because it takes away your depth perception,” said Paul Charles, an amateur scout with the Minnesota Wild. “If two guys are skating up the ice and one guy fires a rink-wide pass and misses his target, sometimes you can’t tell if the pass was too far ahead or not.”

Before the game even starts, you generally know who you’re there to see. However, every now and again a scout is treated to something special and notices a player he hadn’t even heard of. While this does happen at the high-end junior level, it tends to happen more when scouting bantam-aged kids about to be drafted into junior.

As Charles explains, years ago there was one bantam triple-A kid in particular who caught him off guard.

“I went to watch a select few players who were highly touted, high-end guys and on this team was a kid named Geoff Sanderson. He didn’t even play on the team the year before; he got cut. So when I went back the following year he wasn’t on my list at all, but once I saw him I thought, ‘holy smokes.’ ”

Once the game is over, however, a scout usually doesn’t hang around for too long.

“I could go to a game in Guelph that’s three-and-a-half hours from my house. I’m going home that night, so I’m on the road after the game,” Castron explained.

Because there’s always more games to see and more talent to be found tomorrow.

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.

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