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Changing the Scouting Game

by J. Ryan Mulcrone / Columbus Blue Jackets

Most jobs require quality over quantity and some the opposite, but what if you could get both.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been getting quality looks at draft picks and seeing a lot of them over the past two-plus years by utilizing video scouting.

"It started a few years ago and (General Manager) Scott Howson was intrigued with it," Assistant General Manager Chris MacFarland said. "All the NHL clubs knew that Buffalo had gone to it pretty heavy. Scott talked to (Buffalo GM) Darcy Regher and it gave us a ground floor as to what we wanted to do with it."

Director of Video Scouting Bryan Stewart was added in 2007 bringing with him two years of knowledge of how Buffalo had created this new department of scouting in their team.

"Buffalo out of the lockout had to adapt to the new culture of the NHL and with uncertainty, they were looking to separate themselves in some way from other clubs," Stewart said. "Buffalo was the first team and really dove in."

The Blue Jackets essentially became team number two in this area when Stewart was hired, but the initial focus was on professional scouting. Stewart said the club saw how effective the video scouting was on the pro side during trade deadline and free agency, so management figured why not try it on the amateur side.

In 2009 Stewart brought in Assistant Video Scout Scott Harris to run the amateur side, which meant collecting video, cutting it up and then distributing it to scouts, Howson and MacFarland or watching it and making his own reports. "It's great for me as a young scout," Harris said. "I watch hockey at least 8 hours a day."

Harris still goes to watch games live and says the video scouting brings a balance to seeing a player live and that both ways have their pros.

The biggest advantage on the video side is the sheer volume of games available to the Columbus management and scouting staff. Harris was able to get his hands on around 1,200 game tapes prior to last years draft and had access to a little over 2,000 this season.

Throughout the year, Harris distributes it to Scott Howson, Chris MacFarland or anyone else in the department in by various methods from his almost never ending library of games.

"(Scottie Harris) gives us three or four games (to watch) on a trip," said MacFarland. "He also has a library, so we can go back and see what a player looked like (in previous games or years). Did the player get bigger, did he grow, did his skating improve and that sort of thing. It's amazing the amount of footage (Harris') been able to secure in two years." Even though the video scouting has not caught on league-wide at the level it has in Buffalo, Carolina and Columbus, Harris says he knows some of other 27 teams are obtaining amateur video. Stewart feels this is just this generation’s way making their mark in scouting, by utilizing technology to change the scouting game.

So, what's next for the video scouting department?

"The next step is to grow the contacts and the department," MacFarland said. "The time consuming part is getting the tape and breaking it down, so not spending so much time on the technical side cutting the tapes. That's in the short term.

"In the future, getting (the video directly) on your phone someday."

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