I was at the Calgary Hitmen game a couple of nights ago. I love watching junior hockey because it's entertaining and I get to see some of the talent that will perhaps make it to "the bigs" one day.
At the beginning of the second period, I notice a guy, around 50 years old, sitting by himself, in front of me, with a coil-bound notebook. There's no question in my mind that this guy is a scout. To his left, separated by 3 empty seats, is a couple in their 60's. Just in front of the older couple and a couple of seats further away is another guy, mid-fifties, with his own coil-bound notebook -- another scout.
As a lifetime hockey aficionado, my interest is obviously piqued, so at a break in the action, I lean forward and ask, "who are you scouting for?" He says "Vancouver", shows me the back of his iPhone case with the Canucks logo on it, confirms that he's with the other guy with the coil book and tells me what his territory is. My suspicions confirmed, I continue to watch the scouts more than I watch the actual game. Of course, after I got home, I looked at the Canucks website to see who these guys were and had no trouble recognizing their pictures.
As a hockey fan, what I saw was informative and, as a non-Canucks fan, not at all disappointing. I'm certainly no scout, but I can tell you that if I was, I would put a whole lot more effort into my job than these guys did. They both spent more time chatting with the older couple than they did watching the game. In fact, in my clear view of the scout that was furthest away from me, I noticed that his body was turned in his seat so he could chat with the couple behind him. His eyes weren't on the game and his heart was not in his job. The clincher -- he's the Chief of Amateur Scouting for the Canucks!
Granted, this was really only one period of one game, but it left me with a bunch of questions:
- Is this how all Vancouver's amateur scouts approach their jobs?
- Were these guys actually scouting anyone at this game?
- What is Vancouver's view of the WHL and where does it rank in terms of importance?
- Knowing what I know about the abysmal draft history of the Canucks, (since 2004 anyway), shouldn't they be trying to improve their performance?
- What separates teams that have great scouting from teams that have poor scouting?
- What does good scouting look like at a WHL game?
I remember when I was a kid, playing games when the scouts were in the stands. Coaches knew, parents knew and it seemed like the scouts were engaging in serious evaluation of players. They were focused and intense. I guess I expected that that level of focus and intensity would only increase as the level of hockey increased. Perhaps not.
I know that hockey is a boys' club and I know that many of these types of jobs are patronage appointments that are given to team alumni, but the "romantic" part of my hockey brain thought that scouting, at least at the WHL level, is serious business that should be taken seriously. If I'm the owner or general manager of an NHL franchise, I'm not be happy with what I saw.
Western Canada is fertile ground for NHL prospects and as I look at the history of the Canucks at the draft, here is a list of the players drafted by Vancouver out of Western Canada in the past 10 years:
- Hunter Shinkaruk (WHL, 2013 - 1/24)
- Mike Williamson (AJHL, 2013 - 6/175)
- Wesley Myron (BCHL, 2012 - 6/177)
- Kevin Connauton (WHL, 2009 - 3/83) - traded to DAL (with a 2nd) for Roy
- Prabh Rai (WHL, 2008 - 5/131)
- Morgan Clark (WHL, 2008 - 7/191)
- Taylor Ellington (WHL, 2007 - 2/33)
- Dan Gendur (WHL, 2007 - 7/206)
- Michael Grabner (WHL, 2006 - 1/14) - traded to FLA (with a 1st) for Ballard & Oreskovich
- Evan Fuller (WHL, 2006 - 7/197)
- Mason Raymond (AJHL, 2005 - 2/51) - Released as UFA
- Matt Butcher (BCHL, 2005 - 5/138)
- Kris Fredheim (SJHL, 2005 - 6/185)
- Andrew Sarauer (BCHL, 2004 - 4/125)
- David Schulz (WHL, 2004 - 8/254)
So there appears to be a lack of results within the Canucks organization from the players scouted and drafted from Western Canada. And the players who are NHL players are no longer with the Canucks. Is that because the talent pool during those years was shallow? Not likely. More likely that the team was following a BPA philosophy, which can't be faulted -- at least in the first two rounds. For the rest of the draft, it's scouting that makes the difference. That said, here's a list of Western Canadian players that Vancouver didn't draft (since 2004):
- Kris Versteeg
- Troy Brouwer
- Kris Russell
- Darren Helm
- Cody Franson
- Darren Helm
- Derek Dorsett
- Jamie Benn
- Dwight King
- Tyler Myers
- Joe Colborne
- Luca Sbisa
- Jordan Eberle
- Tyler Ennis
- Travis Hamonic
- Zack Smith
- Braden Holtby
- Matt Calvert
- Jared Spurgeon
- Tyson Barrie
- Cody Eakin
- Brendan Gallagher
- Henrik Samuelsson