Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla were both project coming into junior and now are both NHL All-Stars. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“Ryan Getzlaf was drafted in the third round of the bantam draft. He had first-round skill, but had some other problems I didn’t like and he wasn’t very big, but he developed. You need good people in the organization to get the best out of players. Some players won’t develop, but some players have come a long ways.” – Paul Charles, Minnesota Wild
Being on the brink of the NHL, whether you’re playing major junior in Canada, the USHL, or college hockey, having a coach who understands how to prepare you for the next level can be the difference between developing properly and going stagnant.
“Coaching is kind of like parenting,” one Philadelphia Flyers scout said. “It’s sort of a surrogate for the player.”
There is a lot more to moving on to the next level than just being able to skate fast, hit hard and fire a puck accurately.
“The best junior coaches look at the big picture,” said Mike Futa, a scout with the Los Angeles Kings. “When you look at what Pete DeBoer did in Kitchener, that’s no accident – you see the way these kids move on.
“Successful programs mirror what the next level is like. That would be having discipline on and off the ice, not (allowing) a free run for the kids with regards to their lives away from the rink; I think those are the ones that are preparing them for the next level.”
While being prepared off the ice is important for having immediate success and being ready for the next step up, careers are ultimately made by what happens on the ice. Different coaches have different styles and it’s important for a scout to know what a coach’s philosophy is when watching a game to analyze what a player is bringing to the table.
“As far as scouting goes, you try to know what kind of coach the kid has,” the Flyers scout explained. “Here’s this kid, he’s a minus-3, but his coach, I know, likes the run-and-gun offense and doesn’t seem to hold his team accountable defensively.
“Whereas this (other) guy is supposed to be putting up big numbers, he’s got hands, but is numbers aren’t so great. Well that’s because he plays in a defensive system and they only forecheck with one guy and he’ll lead the team in scoring, but his numbers aren’t great compared to the rest of the league.”
A big thing scouts like to see from coaches, especially in regards to the high-end talents, is to make those players take accountability for their play.
If a player is given a free ride for a few years before the NHL simply because he is the go-to guy, that kid is going to be in for a rude awakening upon arriving at his first pro training camp because, as one scout stated, “the silver spoon won’t be there at the pro level.”
The best programs have gained a reputation over the years and are recognized by the scouts for producing NHL-level talent.
“If we’re watching – the Vancouver Giants as an example – if you’re watching their hockey team and the defenseman makes a mistake and it’s a horrendous one, you know when that guy comes off, (coach) Don Hay’s talking to him,” said the Wild’s Paul Charles. “To me, that means something because the kid is learning. If the kid goes out and makes the same mistake, you question, well, how smart’s the kid?”
While the best natural talents will more often than not get drafted high, when it’s all said and done, where he lands in the draft can be determined by what situations scouts are able to see him play in and witness how he reacts to them.
“One kid last year who was picked pretty high, (defenseman) John Carlson, I thought wasn’t necessarily as good as he looked because…they were winning games 7-5, 8-6, so he was putting up tremendous points,” the Flyers scout said. “You want to see him in a defensive role, but you didn’t see him in a 2-1, 1-1 game, with five minutes left when he has to suck it up, play hard, be physical and play his own end. (Carlson) is a hell of a player, but it’s just tough to see his defensive play because whenever the play was up ice his coach would say ‘go.’ ”
Paul Ranger, Wayne Simmonds and David Clarkson are a few players one scout thought benefitted greatly from their junior coaches. So if given all the right opportunities, played in all situations, and taught with patience and support, a junior coach could have a budding star on his hands.
“Don Hay developed Jarome Iginla,” Charles said. “Iginla was a talented kid out of St. Albert, Alta. who would not go into a corner. He got into Kamloops at 16 years old and they worked with him. They developed him into a hell of a hockey player.
“Dion Phaneuf was a third round pick in the bantam draft. He was 5-foot-10 and deserved to go in the third round. His defensive play was horrible. Brent Sutter developed that guy.”
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.