Greg Rajanen feels one key to unearthing a future blue-chip hockey prospect is pinpointing at least one quality that could be carried over into the NHL.
It's a philosophy the 59-year-old believes has suited him well in his inaugural season at NHL Central Scouting. Rajanen, who is responsible for the Minnesota and midwestern United States regions, including the United States Hockey League and NCAA, joined Central Scouting on Sept. 1, 2012.
"This was an opportunity for me to go full-time in an area that I have a deep passion for in scouting," Rajanen told NHL.com. "I was told on Day One that I needed to hit the ground running, but I think it's been more like a sprint."
Rajanen's journey to Central Scouting
Rajanen, who is in his first season as a midwestern scout for NHL Central Scouting, spent a total of 22 years coaching scholastic players at Austin High, Fridley High and Anoka High.
"I had a few players I coached who were drafted and I also coached against many different drafted players from Minnesota," Rajanen told NHL.com.
Center Reggie Berg played for Rajanen for two years at Anoka High School and was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the seventh round in the 1996 NHL Draft after spending two seasons in the United States Hockey League with the Des Moines Buccaneers (1993-95). Berg played four seasons for the University of Minnesota and spent time in the ECHL but never reached the NHL.
Defenseman Dan Reimann also played for Rajanen at Anoka and was drafted in the ninth round by the New Jersey Devils in 1991. He spent four years at St. Cloud State and four more in the ECHL but never played in the NHL.
One other player Rajanen recalled from Anoka was center Steve Magnusson, who was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round (No. 85) of the 1991 NHL Draft. The 6-foot, 185-pound forward spent three seasons at the University of Minnesota but never reached the NHL, most likely, according to Rajanen, due to an off-ice injury.
-- Mike G. Morreale
That passion will be put to the ultimate test beginning April 5 when NHL Central Scouting conducts its week-long final meetings to project the top players eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft.
"It's exciting to see all your hard work put to good use, but the key is to get these players in some proper order. That's when you've done your job," Rajanen, a native of Superior, Wis., said.
As a part-time scout with the Calgary Flames for six years, Rajanen was an amateur scout responsible for Minnesota high schools, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the USHL. The former collegiate forward at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wisconsin-Superior also served as a high school coach for 22 years in Minnesota with three schools and was an assistant coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Rajanen was a three-sport athlete in hockey, football and baseball at Superior (Wis.) High School.
"The biggest challenge is projecting these young players three or four years down the road," Rajanen said. "You have to figure out if there's a weakness and whether or not they can improve that weakness. Thing is, if a player doesn't have that passion and compete level, it will be very hard to improve. So it's all about looking into your crystal ball and using your knowledge and experience."
Central Scouting's David Gregory said he feels Rajanen has found a home within the group.
"The thing you learn very quickly about Greg is that he's a professional and really works hard, knows the game and is able to articulate an opinion, which is very important," Gregory told NHL.com.
Rajanen was hired following the retirement of Jack Barzee, who called it a career last spring after dedicating 27 years of his life as a professional scout, including 23 with Central Scouting.
"I worked with Jack closely when I was in Calgary and it's not going to be easy replacing a legend -- and Jack's a legend around [the Minnesota] area and North America," Rajanen said. "He really helped with my transition from a part-time guy into full time."
Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, who specializes in players from the Ontario Hockey League, said he feels Rajanen has done a great job while taking over a huge coverage area.
"It's not only the games, but he has a vast network of people he reaches out to for information regarding scheduling, player injuries and suspensions," Edwards said. "The worst thing any scout can do is to be influenced by coaches or by what you hear in the scout's room, but when he comes to the meetings, he has strong opinions about the players that are his own.
"That's something he shares with his predecessor, Jack Barzee."
NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said he believes one of the key factors for any scout is his connections and knowledge of the area for which he is responsible.
"The scouting community that I consulted had a great respect for Greg's commitment, work ethic and knowledge of players and I was impressed with Greg's strong desire to take on this position," Marr said. "The fact that he was recommended by his predecessor [Barzee] also weighed heavily on the decision."
Rajanen said he is confident in the approach he's adopted to scouting over the years. He lists skating, puck control and hockey sense as the three areas of importance when viewing a potential prospect.
"When you work hard, you get better," he said. "Sometimes players don't figure that out right away, so it's your job to find out why they're not competing as well as they should."