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Behind-the-scenes work of pro scouts crucial to club’s success

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

They are some of the most anonymous and unsung members of the Dallas Stars’ organization, but the pro scouting department plays a crucial role in any club’s fortunes on the ice, and with the NHL’s trade deadline fast approaching Monday, Feb. 27, their work becomes even more significant.

Matt Fraser
Most fans are aware of the work done by the club’s amateur scouting staff, because the concrete results are seen on the podium at the NHL Entry Draft every June, but the work done by the pro scouts is a bit more subtle and behind-the-scenes than their amateur counterparts, because there is no annual draft that they build towards.

Instead, after watching and evaluating not only every other NHL player, but all of the NHL-affiliated players in the American Hockey League, the top-level minor league, as well as non-affiliated AHLers and the pro leagues in Europe, the pro scouts maintain an updated file on every possible trade target and upcoming free agent on a year-round basis.

So with the trade deadline on the horizon, the ability of the pro scouts to accurately assess other teams’ players and prospects becomes tremendously important, as General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk weighs potential deals.

“They’ve been actively looking at players all year long like they always do,” Nieuwendyk said. “The pro guys, we usually conference about once every two weeks so we’re all in tune with what’s going on around the league.”

“It’s pretty much the sum of all their work, the last couple of years of their gathering of information and building a book on each player,” acknowledged Les Jackson, the Stars’ Director of Player Personnel, who is in charge of both the amateur and pro scouting departments. “The last two or three weeks, it shouldn’t really make a difference, if they’ve done their work, because they should be current on their reports and their profiles of players.”

The Stars have already made one deal over the last week or so, trading defenseman Nicklas Grossman to Philadelphia in exchange for a 2012 second-round draft pick and a 2013 third-rounder, but even though no Flyers’ prospect came back in the deal, that doesn’t mean that the detailed work of the pro scouts wasn’t taken fully into account during the negotiations.

“No question, those are part of the discussion over the last little while with players, even roster players, but at the end of the day, I thought that this deal was probably the most attractive for us,” Nieuwendyk said of the Grossman trade.

Under Jackson’s supervision, the pro scouting department, led by Director of Pro Scouting Paul McIntosh, consists of four people who each focus on seven or eight specific NHL clubs and their AHL affiliates.

“We try to do it geographically because it’s more cost-effective, but it’s never going to be ideal because you’ve got teams everywhere,” Jackson said of how they split up the responsibilities among the staff. “We try to divide it up so that each scout has an amount of teams in his region that he’s capable of covering and then that same scout covers the American League team that works with the NHL team, so you have really an organizational evaluation. In some cases, instead of the same guy going all the way from LA to Manchester (their AHL club in New Hampshire) for a couple of games, we might overlap that team with our Eastern scout, just to make it a little more cost-effective. That is a challenge, because most American League teams are in the East, there’s a few in the Midwest, but it works out okay.”

Meanwhile, the amateur scouts actually keep track of the players still in junior or college that have already been drafted, as well as any potential free agents.

Some recent examples of players the Stars secured as undrafted free agents are highly-touted prospect signed out of junior Matt Fraser and defenseman Brenden Dillon, each of whom have spent most of this year at AHL Texas, but who have also been recalled to Dallas. And 26-year-old rookie Ryan Garbutt, recalled from AHL Texas last week and excelling on the Stars’ fourth line the last few games, was signed out of Brown University back in 2009.

“Basically, the two groups are different, but at then of the day, they’re the same, because you’re going for the same common goals, NHL players, so what you do is, if there’s a scout who, say, is in Washington, he stays in touch with all the guys who have Washington prospects in their amateur region,” Jackson explained. “Really, it’s pretty open communication lines. The pro scouts have a good handle on all the players that we view as NHL prospects in other organizations because they have such good communication with the regional amateur guys.”

And because a player’s performance will improve, plateau or decline over the course of a season, the scouts are consistently re-evaluating, making sure they have the most updated info on each player.

“We try to have scouts see each team a minimum of 6-8 times, and a lot of times, it’s way more than that, depending on the schedule,” Jackson reported. “You take all the teams and start adding up the times you see them. If (each scout’s) got eight teams, that’s a lot of games and a lot of traveling, and then you add on a similar number of American League stints, it gets to be a pretty hectic traveling schedule.”

Indeed, the club’s pro scouts each see upwards of 80 games a season and usually many more, as they take in both NHL and AHL contests.

“It’s hard to say, some of them, Paul McIntosh, he does all the European tournaments, so those add up, but I would say minimum, those guys do 80-some games, maybe even 100,” Jackson said.

And everyone stays in frequently, so that Nieuwendyk is armed with all the latest, updated information he needs to negotiate trades with other organizations.

“With the pro scouts, we usually do a lot of conference calls, we usually do those every couple of weeks,” Jackson said. “It’s the best way I’ve found to get your information and track it.”

“I’m on the phone with those guys all the time, it’s very important,” Nieuwendyk added. “We have a great scouting staff, not only pro but amateur as well, so we’re very much connected with them.”

And while the results of their efforts are perhaps not as obvious as that of the amateur scouts, the pro scouts become even more important in the weeks and days leading up to the trade deadline.

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