Ask any member of hockey's inner scouting circles and they'll tell you the same thing. Christer Rockstrom
is one of the best in the business. Currently in his 14th season as the primary European scout for the Rangers, the Swedish native has one of the firmest grasps on the pulse of hockey overseas. From Alex Kovalev, Sergei Zubov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Mattias Norstrom and Niklas Sundstrom to Fedor Tjutin and Henrik Lundqvist
, Rockstrom has been instrumental in discovering many of the top European players in the game over the last two decades.
Rockstrom grew up immersed in the sport of hockey. A self-described 'average' player, he learned a great deal about the game from his father, who played in the Swedish Elite League. His brother also played competitively, capturing a Swedish Junior championship.
In 1984, it was his turn to make a name for himself in the game. Neil Smith, who served as Detroit's Director of Scouting at the time, met Rockstrom and soon hired him to cover Sweden and a large part of Europe - a position he would hold until 1989 when he joined Smith in the Rangers organization.
Since then, Rockstrom has become one of the most highly regarded evaluators of European talent in the NHL today. Loaded with knowledge of players at all levels from Sweden, Finland, Russia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, he has proven to be an invaluable asset every summer as the NHL Draft approaches.
Like most scouts, Rockstrom is a very busy man during the hockey season. "I had 197 overnight stays in Europe last season," he recalled. "In Sweden, I drive to most of the games. In Stockholm, where I live, it's a good location because I can drive to many games and come home late that same night. Overall, I saw 255 games last year."
While every NHL teams in this day and age employs evaluators around the globe, a scout's schedule wasn't always this busy.
"Where as in years past, when you had a better shot of uncovering a talented player who many scouts hadn't seen, now every team has scouts that are watching the same guys," he noted. "Scouting has definitely changed and has become much more competitive over the years. I remember going to junior tournaments years ago and there were less than 20 scouts watching. Now, the same tournament, you'll have between 100 and 200 scouts there. You have teams putting in more money and hiring more scouts to cover the area a lot more than in the past."
Aside from keeping a watchful eye in the stands, Rockstrom also takes the time to collect as much information on various players and teams as possible.
"I try to speak with a lot of people, including the kids that I am watching, and get a better understanding of certain players," he said. "I never tell these guys how they should play the game, though. I never tell a kid to shoot the puck more or anything like that. That's up to their coach. But I try to show interest in the player and help motivate them and let them know that they're being scouted by the Rangers. I try to talk to a lot of people about an individual player to help get a better read on him. I talk to coaches, older players, and teammates. It helps to get a better understanding of a player and his personality both on and off the ice."
"Also, with the internet today, information is available all of the time. I go on the internet every morning and check out results and scoring and how teams are doing, both in Europe and in North America. The information is always there for you and it makes it easier to stay on top of what is going on."
With many Europeans currently skating in the Rangers system, we asked Rockstrom to shed some light on a few who have a good shot at taking their game to the next level.
"I like Fedor Tjutin
a lot," said Rockstrom. I think he has the tools to be a very good player at this level. A player that many people might not be as familiar with is Henrik Lundqvist
. I like him a lot. He had an outstanding season with Frolunda and has improved a lot over the past few years. He's considered one of the most talented young goaltenders in Sweden. He has good, quick reflexes, moves well and has a good understanding of the game. I think he has a bright future."
With the globalization of the game growing to new proportions and the competition among teams at its highest level ever, Rockstrom continues his search for the next Kovalev or Lidstrom. Certainly not an easy task by any stretch, but one that this scout is diligently hard at work on.