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Sharp eye for talent still matters most to NHL scouts

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion says technology has changed scouting over the years, but it still can't replace the expert eyes of a seasoned NHL scout (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

The iPad has been a game changer for many in the business world today.

But while one Steve Jobs' greatest legacies has done plenty to simplify the job for National Hockey League scouts, it can't replace good old-fashioned know how for mining the stars of the future.

"It still comes down to having a really good group of scouts, whether it's on the amateur side or the pro side," Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel, said in an interview with XM Radio's NHL Home Ice earlier today. "It's still about putting good lists together and still having that gut feeling — I think this player will play (in the NHL) because of his hockey sense.

"Player Y will play because of his desire or character, or maybe Player Z will play because of his skating ability. Maybe he won't score like he did in junior, but his skating ability will allow him to be a third- or fourth-line player. Those things haven't really changed."

But there is no doubt, Dorion said, that technology has made the scouting game easier in some areas. Gone are the days when scouts dutifully filled out a report on a prospect by hand, then sent it in to his employer by mail. RinkNet Scouting Software, for example, is used by 29 of 30 NHL teams — along with another 50 in the Canadian Hockey League — to make the process more efficient and effective.

Dorion just returned from a scouting trip to the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in the Czech Republic, where he said "I must have seen 10 scouts with iPads, and I don't think I saw any last year. So I think it's just another direction teams are going."

But it's the team of scouts that the Senators have employed — both at the amateur and pro level — that is most responsible for creating an organization that is rich with young talent. Dorion lists off a trio of Swedes — Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg and goaltender Robin Lehner — as the type of "blue chippers" that should make an impact in Ottawa sooner rather than level.

There are also some less-heralded prospects who have grown into budding stars of the future. But it took a sharp-eyed scout to notice that potential.

"A guy who gets overlooked because we had three first-round picks a year ago is Stefan Noesen," Dorion said of the Plymouth Whalers forward the Senators selected 21st overall in 2011. "He's made really big strides. He's the type of guy who plays the game the right way. He goes to the net, he gets dirty goals and can shoot the puck.

"He makes plays in the offensive zone. He competes in both ends of the rink. Where he was a year ago to where he was at the end of the year ... he's made huge progress."

On the pro side, trades that brought goaltender Craig Anderson and centre Kyle Turris to the Senators filled a couple of key spots on the roster. Between that and the draft, it's allowed the club to quickly bounce back from a 2010-11 season, in which Ottawa missed the playoffs and unloaded half a dozen veterans along the way to begin retooling the roster and build a younger future.

"We took a step back a few years ago by trading some of our big assets," Dorion said in reference to deals that included, most notably, veteran forwards Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly. "But we feel we're going to replace them down the road with good young prospects and we're just going to keep going ahead."

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