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Draft puts spotlight on area scouts

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

The later the picks go the more the area guys are responsible for it. It’s just being out there and seeing these guys multiple times and then willing to step up and say, ‘Hey, I want this guy. He’s got some holes but we’re going to take him because he does this well and he does that well.’Tod Button

CALGARY, AB -- Hundreds of games, thousands of hours of viewing and weeks of arguing boils down to two days, and in the case of the Calgary Flames, nine picks.

Welcome to life as an amateur scout in the National Hockey League.

The Flames, fronted by Tod Button and an army of eyes on rinks around the globe, are gearing up for the 2015 NHL Draft.

And it’s where the work of nameless scouts will have their moment to shine -- outside of the spotlight -- to fight for their guy, especially in the later rounds.

“It’s always exciting to see that happen,” said Craig Conroy, one of two assistant general managers for Calgary. “I think you have to give those guys a little leeway. When you get to those picks you haven’t seen them as much. It’s not easy for me to sit there and say this is the guy I want. On those guys, they’ve seen them 10, 12, 15 times.

“I’ve probably seen 55 and I’ve made sure I’ve seen all the top guys. I think for the first 35-40 guys on the list, I’ve seen them all. I feel very comfortable weighing in. It’s when you get into the fourth to sixth rounds, I might have one viewing on them. I can’t say as much. I listen. I let the guys in the area, hey, he saw him 12 times, I saw him once.”

While Conroy has logged in excess of 150 games this season, stretching from Vancouver to Switzerland, so too have scouts like Bobbie Hagelin (Europe), Jim Cummins (USHL) and Rob Sumner (WHL West), for example, have logged an equal amount -- and in some cases more viewings -- in a more concentrated area.

It’s a luxury that has allowed the Flames to bolster their scouting staff.

“I think we have resources that allows us to do a lot as far as getting viewings, having a lot of scouts,” said Button, director of amateur scouting. “The more eyes you have in the field the more eyes that are competent that you trust that can go out there and find these guys and find them multiple times and keep watching and digging in on them. I think that helps a lot. I think that speaks a lot to individual scouts in their area and believing in players.”

It was Sumner whose voice rang loudest with Calgary’s final pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, using his persuasion to snap up prospect Austin Carroll in the seventh round, 184th overall, with the Flames final pick last June.

It was Mike Sands, now an amateur scout with the Arizona Coyotes, that stood up and fought to select current Calgary defenceman TJ Brodie with the 114th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

“[Sands] believed in this kid,” Button said. “We took him on his recommendation in the fourth round. That’s how it goes.

“The later the picks go the more the area guys are responsible for it. It’s just being out there and seeing these guys multiple times and then willing to step up and say, ‘Hey, I want this guy. He’s got some holes but we’re going to take him because he does this well and he does that well.’”

Though a month removed from the draft, slated for June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, FLA, the battle is well underway.

And the voices of area scouts are being heard.

“I know it may sound funny, a bunch of 50-year-old guys sitting around a table fighting for players but the preparation the scouts put into it and their evaluation and them spending nights on the road and at games is important to them and if it’s important to them they’re going to fight for players,” Button said.

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