NHL Seattle professional scout Dave Hunter isn’t like most hockey fans when it comes to what he focuses on when a player has a big scoring night.
“To me, it would be the play away from the puck that the camera’s not showing,’’ Hunter told more than 300 people packed inside a Pacific Science Center auditorium Tuesday night.
Indeed, the consensus from five NHL Seattle pro scouts partaking in the sold-out “Science of Scouting’’ event was that their jobs entail seeking out things most people ignore. Hunter, Cammi Granato, Ulf Samuelsson, Stu Barnes and John Goodwin, all hired last September, shared stories on how they go about assembling nightly player data the team will use in building a roster ahead of its October 2021 debut.
For now, the group has largely been given free rein to note things they consider important, though they must submit online game reports requiring things like a team’s forward lines, defensive pairings and other basics be filled out.
Granato, the first female pro scout hired by an NHL team, described showing up for her debut assignment last October at a Canucks game in Vancouver uncertain of exactly what she should be noting. Suddenly, just seconds after the opening faceoff, she spotted an opposing team’s scout writing something down.
“I’m like, ‘Damn, what am I missing?’,’’ she told the crowd, generating laughs.
NHL Seattle’s crew is largely new to the full-time scouting world, with Samuelsson and Barnes having played in the NHL and served as assistant coaches for teams. Granato was a Hall of Famer at the highest levels of women’s hockey, while Goodwin was once a top amateur and minor pro player who coached in the major junior Ontario Hockey League and did limited scouting there.
Of the bunch, Hunter, with only collegiate playing experience, was clearly the senior scout having spent a decade watching amateur and pro players for teams, including the Carolina Hurricanes under current NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis. Hunter said the group has already scouted about 400 combined NHL and minor professional games and hopes to reach 2,500 by the June 2021 expansion draft.
“It will be really, really ramping up as we go forward,’’ he said.
Hunter tries to observe things like which players a coach uses in critical situations, such as when pulling the goalie to press for a late tying goal. Or, whether a player reacts to a bad on-ice play by slamming his stick in frustration upon arriving at the bench.
Samuelsson, who amassed more than 2,400 penalty minutes over 16 seasons with five NHL teams as an intense, controversial defenseman, looks for “whoever can maintain their normal game in a pressure situation.’’
The scouting newcomers, responding to an audience question, admitted one of their toughest challenges has been ignoring preconceived biases about players and how hockey should be played.
“I think in any sport we all have our favorite type of player, whether it’s as a quarterback or a pitcher,’’ said Barnes, who played 1,136 games over 16 NHL seasons with five teams and was an assistant coach with Dallas through last spring. “You really just have to take a step back and get a view from 10,000 feet of what that player is really about.’’
Goodwin mentioned how good players can “slip through the net’’ if scouts don’t report what they see rather than filtering that information through a player’s reputation. He recalled Luc Robitaille famously going undrafted until the 9th round, then enjoying a Hall of Fame career in which he scored 686 goals and compiled 1,394 points.
“You’ve got to kind of put out your personal feelings and start with a clean slate,” Goodwin said.
Granato sets aside bad reputations from when players were teenagers: “You have to give them a chance to grow up.’’
Instead, she tries to remember how she felt as a player and looks for things like “compete level’’ and “confidence’’ from those she’s watching. She knows how it feels to “want the puck on your stick and when you don’t want to touch it’’ and can quickly spot those on-ice traits.
Barnes said he sometimes struggles to “scout the player and not the system’’ of the team he plays for, which the former coach in him wants to do.
Obsessing over coaching tactics was “a big mistake’’ admittedly made early by Samuelsson, a former assistant coach with the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks and a head coach of Carolina’s farm team under GM Francis. He told the audience his scouting job requires focusing on individual players and a broader view than the “What are you going to do and who are you going to hit?’’ mindset he carried into games he played in.
“I give a lot more credit to scouts nowadays because you’ve got a lot of moving parts and it’s really hard,’’ Samuelsson said.
But eventually, he added, that hard work may pay off if undervalued talent is spotted in players made available in the expansion draft.
“We’re going to get players that are good,’’ he said. “But we’ll try to make them real good.’’