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Colorado's Scouts Blanket the Globe

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The job of preparing for the NHL Entry Draft is truly a year-long undertaking.

NHL scouts are the men behind the scenes who have the arduous task of knowing each team in their region and the draft-eligible players on those clubs like the back of their hand.

It’s common knowledge that scouts are everywhere hockey is being played, from small rinks in towns like Fargo, N.D., to sprawling international events such as the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

Still, the amount of leg work leading up to the draft is often more than meets the eye.

“You’d be surprised. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into it,” said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey. “We’re sort of strategically placed around the globe, trying to cover every corner of the world.”

When Pracey says that, he’s hardly exaggerating. The Avalanche, like most teams, has regional scouts stationed throughout North America and Europe in order to fully blanket the world’s hockey hotspots. Their job is to identify players they believe have the potential to one day make it to the NHL.

In scouting jargon, the term for that concept is “coverage,” which essentially reflects the amount of times a prospect has been viewed and how familiar a team’s scouts have become with his game.

“There’s certain coverage criteria we have to meet for kids who we think are going to be in the top three rounds versus the middle to late rounds,” said Pracey. “Every scout is responsible to meet those benchmarks in terms of how many times we see a player so we have a comfort level with them.”

A scout’s job is seemingly never finished. Every team’s approach to scouting is different, but Pracey estimates he and assistant director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple have each seen roughly 200 to 225 games in the past year.

Countless hours go into scouting and evaluating a player - like Cameron Gaunce, Colorado's top pick in 2008 - before they are selected at the NHL Entry Draft
Attending tournaments can help boost that number, but simply watching hockey games is just the first part of the job. Scouts also spend time talking to coaches, writing up reports on the prospects and sharing their findings in meetings and conference calls. And that doesn’t even take into account some of the logistics that are often overlooked, such as the toll traveling can take on a person.

When you add it all up, preparing for the draft is a monumental task.

“When you go through your list in January and look at your board, you kind of scratch your head because you realize how much work you still have ahead of you,” Pracey added, with a chuckle.

In addition, each of the Avalanche’s part-time scouts view anywhere from 100 to 150 games per year, depending on their geographic location. Combining the expertise of multiple people who have seen a player is a crucial part of the process.

“That’s important to us, because when we’re building our lists we look at how many times we’ve seen a player, who has seen him and when we’ve seen him,” said Pracey. “There’s a tremendous amount of strategy that goes into coverage.”

It’s important to note that Pracey and his staff are scouting 17 and 18 year olds who are still coming into themselves, both physically and skill-wise. At such a young age and an important point in their development, it’s not a stretch to say that a prospect can be a very different player in February than he was in November.

That’s where a team’s coverage strategy really comes into play. It’s important to see players at different points throughout the season in order to have a measuring stick in regards to their progress as individuals.

“I can’t stress enough that these kids are young and every situation is different,” said Pracey. “You might have a Minnesota high school prospect whose schedule is 28-35 games long. If you’re not careful, you can miss the first half of the season while you’re bouncing around the world.”

But even with a seemingly perfect coverage plan, things don’t always go as intended.

“You just have to do your best to time things properly,” said Pracey. “Then, of course, you throw in injuries, which can throw a wrench into your plans. Just when you think you have a perfect schedule, it never works out.”

Other dynamics also factor into the scouting process, including the strength of each league in a given year. Pracey notes that in years when a league has a particularly strong class of draft-eligible players – like the Ontario Hockey League did a year ago – it changes his scouting approach slightly and results in more time spent in that region.

However, one thing doesn’t change from season-to-season. It takes a group of dedicated, knowledgeable people putting their hockey-savvy minds together to properly prepare a club for the draft.

“Certainly it’s a group effort and there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility placed on our guys around the globe in terms of channeling information and getting to know players that we like,” said Pracey. “Then it’s about coming to a general consensus and building lists, organizing it and getting it to the point where we’re comfortable picking guys in the order we want to pick them.”

When the 2009 NHL Entry Draft concludes, the Avalanche’s scouts will sit back and take a quick breather to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor. But that reflection process won’t last long, as there is plenty of work to be done in preparation for the 2010 Draft.
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