Several years before Patric Hornqvist became the sixth Predators draftee to post 200 career points and the first to record 20 or more goals in four consecutive full NHL seasons (2009-14), he caught the eye of two of the Preds European Scouts, Lucas Bergman and Janne Kekalainen.
Kekalainen, who is based in Helsinki, Finland, and scouts for the Preds across Europe, recalled the tournament he attended where he watched Hornqvist play for the first time.
“We [Bergman and I] were watching warm-ups and I kept noticing how, when he comes up to take his shots, he puts every cell of his being into every shot,” Kekalainen said. “You don’t see that in every player, but it’s amazing that this little detail, it just really stood out to me.”
Little did Kekalainen know, Bergman had been watching Hornqvist for awhile, taking special note of that very same detail that also stood out to Kekalainen.
Hornqvist would eventually be drafted by the Preds 230th overall (seventh round), the last pick in the 2005 Entry Draft. There have been 44 players selected with the last overall pick in the NHL’s modern era (since 1969) and Hornqvist is one of just nine to have made it to the NHL. Of those nine, Hornqvist is one of just three to have played at least 100 NHL games and score at least 150 points, becoming as Kekalainen put it, “a pretty good story.”
The job of a scout is not as simple as just watching hockey games and picking the players that score the most goals or skate the fastest. Scouts are tasked with spotting things like Hornqvist’s drive that stood out to Bergman and Kekalainen, things that may not stand out to the average hockey fan.
“You pay attention to the little details you see in a couple of situations and make conclusions,” Kekalainen said.
When looking at young players, Bergman, who is based out of Stockholm, Sweden, looks for a player to have a special quality that a team can build upon.
“Everyone has holes in their game, but you have to see that one quality, that special something,” Bergman said. “You can teach the fault, but if you have that [special quality], if that’s scoring goals, working hard, hockey sense, that is the indication that you have something you can build on.”
In order to find the players with the special qualities that they seek, the Preds scouts travel all across the world watching games. Bergman, Kekalainen and the rest of the Preds European scouts can be found anywhere from Slovakia to Sweden. The scouts based in North America travel across the continent looking at players in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), United States Hockey League (USHL), NCAA and more.
“People would be amazed at the amount of travel and the grind that goes into the job,” Predators Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty said. “If you saw some of the things these guys deal with in terms of weather, travel and flights, it’s not just traveling around.”
Kealty, who in 2010 had travel plans from the Under-18 World Championship put on hold by a volcano that erupted in Iceland and grounded flights all across Europe, is quick to point out that the traveling is worth it when you find the player you want.
“When you find these guys, and they develop and have success, that’s the rewarding part of it,” Kealty said.
As they worked last week during the annual pre-Draft scouting meetings to prepare for the 2014 Entry Draft, the scouts could take a look at a Preds roster that, at the end of the 2013-14 season, boasted 11 players that had been drafted by the organization.
Despite travel woes and regularly having to travel off the beaten path, Kealty and his team are getting the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor every time the Predators step onto the ice.