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NHL Seattle's pro scouts discuss learning curves, taking notes, hockey IQ and quality over quantity at PacSci "Science of Sports" event

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

If Tuesday night's "Science of Sports" event at the Pacific Science Center were a hockey game, you would remark, wow, that's a lot of shots on goal. NHL Seattle's pro scouting staff took to the PACCAR IMAX Theatre stage to answer a flurry of questions and prompts from sports commentator Ross Fletcher for an hour before then fielding more than two dozen more questions from the sellout crowd dotted with authentic hockey jerseys and NHL Seattle toques.

The banter was both fun and informative. During his introductions of the expansion franchise's first-ever scouts, Fletcher noted John Goodwin enjoyed a banner juniors season with the storied Sault St. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, effectively averaging either a goal or assist over every 20-minute minute period of hockey (3 points each game) he played that season.

"There were no goalies back then," joked Goodwin, who played with NHL Seattle general manager for that junior team and also made the team as a 16-year-old because in an unprecendented move hockey legend Wayne Gretzky had left the squad to play as a 17-year-old for a fledgling new pro league, the World Hockey Association. 

The hockey experience at PacSci was palpable and fully noted Tuesday night. With Francis in the audience, Fletcher introduced the scouts: Stu Barnes (16 NHL seasons as a player, two Stanley Cup finals, NHL assistant coach with Dallas); Ulf Samuelsson (16 NHL seasons as a player, two-time Stanley Cup winner, assistant coach with three NHL teams); Cammi Granato (Olympics Gold Medal winner, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee): Goodwin (OHL star and long-time coach, six seasons in the American Hockey League) and Dave Hunter (four-year player at Cornell, ten seasons as amateur and pro scout with the Carolina Hurricanes).

Samuelsson and Barnes were both quick to note they now had a deeper appreciation for the scouting role, as both are first-time full-time scouts with NHL Seattle. Samuelsson said he "gives a lot more credit to the scout's job now." For Barnes, an eye opener is "I really appreciate is the value of multiple viewings of a player--it takes several games and reports to fully evaluate the player's strengths and weaknesses.'

Those reports and the scouting routine were common curiosities for Fletcher and fans alike. Barnes offers that he watches at least three or four shifts before writing any notes about a player. Goodwin got the crowd chuckling when he said during his first game in Toronto-his credential is a piece of NHL Seattle as the first-ever of its kind-he saw a fellow pro scout from another NHL team writing notes, so he scribbled nonsense in his notebook to "make it look" like he was doing his job. Granato said her first scout outing in Vancouver was similar; the scout next to her wrote a note after the first 30 seconds of play. She did a double-take, thinking to herself, did I miss something, darn, what did I miss."

With guidance and reassurance from Francis and assistant GM Ricky Olczyk, all of the team's pro scout now feel confident in writing their notes with both confident opinions and patient viewing. Olczyk especially has emphasized quality over quantity, picking a handful of players on which to file reports the next morning. More than once, Granato noted the importance of "building a database of games" for the team's hockey operations group. The database is well past 400 games, going on 500 with two-and-a-half months of regular season remaining. 

Hunter drew lots of nods and lean-ins from the packed house when he discussed what he looks for during his ten years of scouting both amateur prospects and pros in the NHL and AHL. 

"I want to see how a player plays away from the puck, does he handle his responsibilities [on defense or moving into optimal offensive position]. Body language is important. If a 2-on-1 [offensive move] doesn't work out, does the player work out, does he come back hard on defense." During an audience question about whether scouts take notes on players on the bench, Hunter said with emphasis, "yes, I want to know if that players is banging his stick after that unsuccessful 2-on-1 or chirping at some teammate. You want to know if players are good teammates."

Samuelsson's sense of humor and back-and-forth exchanges with Fletcher provided many laughs. Samuelsson went into to detail on his drive from his southern California home to scout games in Anaheim and LA, adding there is "nearby parking" and "free food and popcorn" for scouts. Fletcher interjected, well, he just told us everything about his game nights except the scouting job itself. To his credit, Samuelsson explained he takes his work and reports quite seriously, zoning in during games and reviewing video and analytics the next morning before filing his findings to the NHL Seattle hockey operations database.

It is clear Samuelsson is unafraid to speak his mind during this week's historic pro scouting meetings in town, not surprising for a NHL defenseman who racked up more than 2,400 penalty minutes during his career. "It is important that everyone brings their opinions. We are getting more comfortable sharing what we think about players, especially the ones who might in the [2021] expansion draft."

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