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Scouts turn to Tarter for advice

Sunday, 04.05.2009 / 7:33 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Words alone cannot describe the talent that the NHL's Central Scouting Service witnesses on a daily basis over the course of a single season.

After loading their notebooks and Excel spreadsheets with their findings, it's back to headquarters inside Air Canada Centre, where a dozen or so of those hockey junkies will conduct a week-long meeting of the minds to determine where 210 skaters and 30 goalies will fall in the final ranking of North American prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

It certainly is an arduous and, at times, thankless job, but Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire and his crew aren't intimidated. That's the feeling emanating from the detailed meetings this week.

The more eyes and ears that are on deck, the better, and that's precisely why Dr. Ralph Tarter, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences, psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, was front and center at this weekend's meetings to listen and offer some assistance. He'll also be utilized at the Draft Combine beginning May 26 at the Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport Hotel.

"Dr. Tarter and his staff allow Central Scouting some off-ice feedback to the teams," McGuire told NHL.com. "What he brings is an objective view from an educator's perspective not only from our statistical side and how we load our voting, but also from the behavioral side in what might be our weakest area -- a player's personality."

Dr. Tarter, who sat only a few feet from the scouts over the first two days of meetings here at the Conn Smythe Boardroom, was invited in an effort to establish some sort of edge for those NHL and amateur scouts by creating a recipe with future off-ice evaluations.

Let's face it, there's no exact science to predicting that a skater from the Ontario Hockey League should be rated one slot higher than one starring in the Western Hockey League. In fact, that's usually the sticking point when the scouts begin debating and scrutinizing those players on their list. But that's what Dr. Tarter is hoping to find out and, in the process, provide professional scouts with much more than your average report card composed of those everyday clichés claiming that a player has "heart, leadership and courage."

"We've heard words during these meetings that everyone has a sense for, but when we try to value those attributes of the person, we have to put it into words and sentences. What I needed from these scouts were their interpretations of some words that were said during my monitoring of the meetings," Dr. Tarter said. "We need to put these words into a scalable, objective form that could be quantified, so I needed to say these words and find out exactly what the scouts are physically seeing in the athlete when they use them."

Truth be told, the 20-minute discussion was rather riveting and forced several of the scouts, including Ontario-based Chris Edwards, mid-west based Jack Barzee, WHL scouts Peter Sullivan and Blair MacDonald, goalie scout Al Jensen and McGuire, to put on their thinking caps -- yet again.

"The factors that go into evaluating and predicting an athlete are extremely complex," Dr. Tarter said. "They are inter-related with each other since we're looking at kids who are still in the process of development. It's like predicting how good wine will be when it's still in the fomenting stage."

Dr. Tarter, incidentally, was the impetus behind the founding of EXACT Sports in 1997. The company is a professional, scientific organization consisting of experts in youth development, kinesiology, neuropsychology and sports analytics. Through EXACT, Dr. Tarter leverages his expertise in evaluation and intervention to promote the monitoring and development of athletes.

"It's a strange dilemma because we have different scouts looking at different athletes in different leagues at different levels of competitiveness," Dr. Tarter said. "How in the world can you get one ranking of all your athletes across different kinds of positions? That's a tremendous challenge and that's why I'm here."

Dr. Tarter and his staff, who have assisted Central Scouting the last four years, hope to project a player's psychological path to the NHL.

"What EXACT does is provide a player tracker for athletes at all levels and to monitor the tracking or trajectory of an athlete," Dr. Tarter said. "Once we identify what the trajectory direction is and the slope of that trajectory, based on that information, we'll be able to help recruiting organizations, such as the NHL, make a more accurate assessment of how long it will take an athlete to play in the NHL and, once there, how good they're going to be."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.