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Life of an NHL Scout

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Penguins

Patrik Allvin was stranded. 

Allvin was in his native Sweden, but needed to be in Minsk, Belarus for the 2010 World Under-18 Championship. However, a smoke cloud emerged over the Nordic countries after the volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted in Iceland that grounded all flights. 

Allvin, Pittsburgh's European scout at the time, joined eight other scouts in a scheme to get to Minsk. They took an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Latvia. From there, the group arranged to have two cars pick them up and drive them eight hours to Minsk. 

Against the odds, the group made it for the yearly international tournament. 

"All the stress leading up to it, are we going to miss (the tournament), are we going to figure it out?" Allvin said. "And the communication with the hotel in Minsk to send us drivers, it was pretty fun."

Such is life on the road for an NHL scout. Travel issues are part of the job. As are long days spent at rinks in a one-hotel city, living out of a suitcase and being constantly on the move. 

Well, not always constantly on the move. 

"This year I was in Omaha when a blizzard came in and 10 teams were there," Allvin said. "You couldn't get out to the highway, it was shut down. There isn't much to do, but stay at the hotel.

"Those are things you really can't control. You learn there is not much you can do about it. You can't get stressed over things you can't control."

Scouting isn't all glitz and glamour. But there is a lot more to it than just watching prospects and judging their projected talent. 

"The toughest part of being a scout is learning how to do a schedule, trying to fit the games in with your traveling plans," said Allvin, who now serves as the Pens director of amateur scouting. "The second hardest is doing your report after games. The easiest part is going to games."

"That's the fun part."

Scouts will look 2-3 weeks in advance to make their travel plans. And it takes a lot of preparation and communication. 

"You have to stay in touch with the coaches and see if that specific player is playing," Allvin said. "It's a lot of communication with our area staff to get a sense and feel from each area on where I should be."

A typical week could start with Allvin in the Ontario Hockey League on Monday, a flight to Montreal Tuesday to see a few games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, flying Thursday to Boston to watch a prep school game and finishing Saturday and Sunday in Halifax. 

"You have to enjoy being on the road," Allvin laughed. 

Every scout has their own particular style when it comes to evaluating talent on the ice. Allvin, who has been in the team's scouting department since 2006, has his own method. 

"You circle in a couple guys that are up for the draft and you usually give one team the first period and the other team the second period," Allvin said. "By the third period you have circled them in a little bit more. You're looking for more specifics."

Another thing that scouts must take into account is a prospect's progress over the course of a year. 

"It's more of an identification in the early stages," Allvin said. "The early part is for sure the more challenging part. You've got to try to get a feel for guys, get a sense for who you want to come back and watch. You want to see the growth in each player every month." 

A major part of scouting is learning the psyche of a prospect. A player's mentality and attitude are more important than the actual play on the ice. 

"You want to try to get to know the real player, the real person," Allvin said. "If you can get them to lunch or coffee, it's a more relaxing environment. Our area guys really dig in with the billets, the schools, coaches. We want to know everything. We don't want any surprises."

The Pens cover every detail, even going as far as to scout a prospect's parents. 

"If a player is 150 pounds and 5-10 you want to see how their mom and dad look, maybe there is a growth spurt down the road," Allvin said. 

Those are the depths that a scouting staff must go to these days to gain an edge against other teams. And the way technology has changed the landscape of scouting over the years, it's become harder and harder to gain that edge. 

"When I first started, you could still find the diamond in the rough," said Allvin, who began in scouting with Montreal in 2002. "With all the social media, Internet and YouTube and all the information you can gather now, there aren't many secrets out there. 

"It's just how different teams view different players. I think scouts are very competitive against 30 other teams. We want to be the best."

Technological advances have also made scouting easier than ever before. 

"When I first started, it was a dial-up tone to send in the report," Allvin said. "If you were in Russia for a week, the poor dial-up tone never worked so you couldn't send it in. Now you can FaceTime and talk to anyone."

Perhaps that FaceTime will come in handy if Allvin's every stuck due to volcanic ash. If not, there's always the night ferry. 

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