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MacDonald looking for 'the little things'

by Blair MacDonald

Blair MacDonald scouts the WHL and BCHL for NHL Central Scouting.
Back again.

I thought I would give you some of my thoughts on what I look for in particular players (as I said I would in my first blog). And the playoffs have begun in the CHL, which gives us scouts a chance to watch these players in likely the most competitive and intense hockey of the season.

It also gives us a chance to see who is able to raise his game, and who thrives in the pressure situations of playoff hockey. We do not penalize players whose teams are out of the playoffs. We look at this as more of a bonus look at the guys who are in, a chance to confirm our regular-season evaluations and perhaps get a chance to see something extra.

I mean, we look into the fact on how each player maybe leads his team, but as far as playoff position or not, we look at the player and what he does for the team and what skills he brings rather than team standings position.

Obviously if he plays really well and contributes to the team then they have a better chance to get into the playoffs, but we don't really rank them as “well, his team is in the playoffs so we'll rank him a little higher.”

Our evaluations are based on individual skill sets and talents, and of course, who the player has to play with and whether or not he makes the players around him better.

Now, a player who gets up for a playoff game is nice to see, but I think we like to see players that have been consistently getting better and better throughout the season and who continue to do so in the playoffs. Because that's what we're doing: We're trying to project what that player will be like in three or four years. If we see the kid consistently improving, that's a big plus and it's a good sign for us.

In that case, wherever we put him in the Draft, we can say to ourselves that because he's continually improving, we feel comfortable with his ranking, and he might just end up to be better than we think. In the end, our job is projecting the best players not now, not next year, but 3-5 years down the road and beyond. So we definitely look at whether he's improving every 10 games or so.

As for specific talents, and I can only speak for myself here, when I watch players, what I watch for is the creativity he brings to his game, and whether he does “the little things,” and then if he has improved, in some way, since the last time I watched him play. If he's creative and he does the little things well and consistently over a long period of time, then he makes my job a lot easier.

For his creativity, it's a matter of watching how he reads and reacts to the play. Those instincts, if you see them take over, especially when he has to make decisions in a nanosecond and he's consistently making the right ones, you can almost see one day he's going to play in the National Hockey League.

When I say “little things,” I mean the aspects of the game that maybe don't show up on the score sheet after the game is over. Instead, it comes down to playing your position right, filling your role and making as few mistakes as possible. That's the difference in the NHL: Everyone does his job. Everyone does those little things.

Finally, if he does job really well, and he mixes in really well with the other players on his team, then we can say to ourselves that the particular player has a very bright future. If he's more individual and doesn't jell with the other guys, typically he won't turn out to be as good a pro prospect.

I mean, you have some players who are great juniors, are very good individually, but then they don't achieve as much at the NHL level. And then you have some kids that are good, solid junior players, not spectacular by any means, but turn out to be very successful pros because they do those little things right.

In fact, some players you watch and you can just tell the way they play their game that they will be good pros. I'll even comment sometimes on some players that “he plays a good pro-style game.”

So in a nutshell, that's what I look for in guys: Creativity, doing the little things that make you an effective member of a team, and the ability to improve and get better the more you play the game.

That's it. I know each scout is going to look at players differently, but for me, that is what is important. And like I said, in playoff hockey, there is more pressure, more intensity, and you have even less time to make your decisions. So the really top-end players, the ones who will be the best pros, tend to stick out just a little bit more.

Making this the time of year that everyone, players, coaches, scouts and fans, all look forward to.

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