Careful research is done on every player in the National Hockey League, as well as the American Hockey League. But Cheveldayoff can’t do all this research alone. In fact, even with the assistance of Assistant General Managers Larry Simmons and Craig Heisinger, that amount of research is a tall task.
Enter the Winnipeg Jets pro scouting department.
“It’s a very time-consuming process obviously. We go through every player in the NHL and AHL and we rate and grade them, and build depth charts that way,” said pro scout Ryan Bowness. “It’s an important part of the process. It’s tough for us to get together. We’re on the road all year so it’s good to get together as a group and go through those things.”
Bowness isn’t kidding about being on the road all year, either. He estimates that over the course of the 2014-2015 season, he’ll see between 150 and 160 NHL or AHL games. They don’t all happen in Phoenix, Arizona, where he’s based.
“In a given week, from Wednesday through Sunday I’ll be on the road,” said Bowness. “I’ll have some time at home Monday and Tuesday. If the Coyotes have some home games I’ll get to stay at home, but in a general sense about three or four days a week I’m on the road.”
Director of Professional Scouting, Mark Dobson, agrees with Bowness.
“The travel is by far the toughest part of it,” said Dobson. “Going to a hockey game every night is great. I always say it’s getting to the hockey game that’s the tough part. Never complain about going to a hockey game, just getting there is tough.”
Dobson heads up a professional scouting department that includes Bowness and four other scouts. Evgeny Bogdanovich and Anders Gozzi work for the Jets in Europe, while Marcel Comeau and Mark Hillier head up an amateur scouting staff comprised of 12 people.
Barrett Leganchuk is the one who takes all the information from the scouting staff and compiles it all together. As the Coordinator of Scouting and Hockey Video, in addition to compiling information, Leganchuk is always on the lookout for video on up and coming amateur players, as well as different reports on NHL players.
“The exciting part about scouting is bringing everybody’s opinion together and coming to a consensus. Everybody sees things differently,” he said. “It’s like a football game, everyone has a different analysis of the game, but they go to the same game. It’s an ongoing search, especially in amateur to find out information on players. You can never find out enough information.”
During the NHL and AHL seasons, the professional scouts watch games and make notes on players. These notes are compared throughout the year, but more extensive conversations are held during one of the four formal meeting sessions: training camp, middle of the season, trade deadline, and end of season.
“We have to grade each player on every team, on attributes from their puck skills to skating, to character, to hockey sense,” said Bowness. “Then we grade them and place them in order of where we think they would fit if a trade happened with that team, or if a player became a free agent. Where would he fit in our line up?”
“We’re typically close (in evaluations). There’s new players coming in every year, and there are players that are changing. There are players that are getting better, and there are players on the decline,” added Dobson. The process is constantly updating itself so that we are up to date on it. It’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard for us to change, because we know a player a certain way, but they do change.”
The ‘middle of the season’ meetings took place over the course of the Winnipeg Jets road trip through Arizona and California. During this time it was not uncommon to see the full professional scouting department heading to another meeting session, often hours in length. Though they don’t often need much in the meeting room outside of a projection screen and their own personal notes, finding dates to get everyone in the same room is the real challenge.
“It’s actually very difficult. It’s not just the scouts either,” Dobson said while taking in the Jets 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings. “It’s just the general manager, the assistant general manager, it’s the schedule, it’s the amateur scouts. Everybody is on a different schedule, so it’s very hard. The things that made it easier for us is that we were able to combine it with a road trip for the team.”
So while the lifestyle of airports, hotels, and hockey rinks can mean constantly living out of a suitcase, Dobson and Bowness wouldn’t have it any other way. For Dobson, his career in the scouting world began on a part-time basis.
“I was out in the working world, and out of hockey pretty much. Then kind of got tugged back into it,” he said, smiling. “Then that part-time got into a bigger time and bigger time. I had the decision to make to whether to go full time or not, and I made that decision in 1998. Been a full timer since then.”
Leganchuk never left the hockey world. As soon as his playing career ended at 19-years-old, his career off the ice began. He served as a scout for a junior team in Manitoba, and coached in different capacities in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and Quebec.
“I always had a passion for scouting and coaching,” said Leganchuk. “They relate a lot, but you definitely watch the game differently as a coach than a scout.”
For Bowness, hockey has been in his family as long as he can remember. His father, Rick Bowness, played for and coached the first version of the Winnipeg Jets. While the older Bowness began coaching the Jets in 1984, Ryan ran around the dressing room and learned more about the game as he got older.
“I was educated on it, very hands on. It’s what I know and that’s how I became interested (in scouting). I played hockey. I played junior, college, and pro,” Bowness said. “When I retired I knew I wanted to stay in some capacity. I sent my resume out and ended up getting hired on a part time basis to work in the office in Atlanta.”
When he came to Winnipeg from Atlanta, Bowness quickly became involved in more than scouting. He worked in Team Services, where assisted in planning and executing the team’s road trips, along with aiding management in the day-to-day running of the organization.
“I was fortunate enough to be brought along when the team moved to Winnipeg. This is my second year in the pro scouting capacity,” Bowness said. “I’ve been very fortunate to stay in what I know, which is the game of hockey.”