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Prospect Watch: Study Abroad

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to our look around the world of Red Wings prospects. We kicked this off earlier this week by looking at Red Wings prospects in Grand Rapids, Toledo, and the OHL, WHL, USHL and BCHL. You can read up on those players here.

Today, we’ll wrap up with European leagues and the NCAA. Before we jump into it, I realized that more context on how I view an exercise like this might be helpful. I’m no scout, but I have some understanding of that industry, which I think helps inform the information I’m gathering.

Scouting can be a very isolating lifestyle, trekking back and forth across whatever region you consider your home base. There are flights to remote areas and long drives to even more remote ones. Seeing games in person is important — there is live video for most leagues these days, but the quality can be wanting. Maybe it’s better than nothing, but maybe the limitations are providing you with a misleading picture. Talking to people is important; learning who to trust is more important.

You’re staking your future on kids, or very young men. You want to get a sense of their work ethic, drive, temperament, and how they respond to coaching. It’s great to talk to their parents, but you can only expect so much out of the people who spent tens of thousands of dollars on ice time, equipment and training to get them to this point. You can swap notes with other scouts, but they have their own team’s interests in mind. There are only so many industry experts in some of these small junior buildings — it can take years to develop the relationships you know you can rely on.

You can have a great year. See hundreds of games, file thousands of player reports. And then the draft comes, and your territory is completely ignored — none of your guys are picked. Maybe the players you thought the industry was sleeping turn out to be not-so-secret and go a round higher than even you had them. Maybe the other area scouts just do a better job banging the table for the guy they want, and the crossover scouts (ones who check multiple areas) saw your player on his worst night, and the other player on his best night, so they rule against you in front of your team’s GM. Or maybe you think it’s a down year in your area, but your team’s draft list falls in a way that they take three players that you saw more than anyone else. Suddenly, your future career prospects are linked to a few players you’re not all that thrilled about.

When I was much younger, I wanted to become a scout one day. Once I worked long enough in hockey, I realized that I certainly did not. And if you’re fortunate enough to get to know a few, you might learn how little you know about hockey. There’s following closely from afar, and there’s living and breathing it on the inside for decades. Sure, bizarre decisions are made by every team most years. But it’s never for a lack of legwork and research — a lot of factors go into a draft.

I’m more of an information junkie, someone who has followed this as closely as I’ve been able for a little more than 20 years. So while I know my limitations, I also know that history gives me a good library of context to use and general patterns to look for beyond basic counting stats and some of the message board scouting reports out there. I won’t always be right, but no one will.

These assessments are unscientifically weighted based on a few factors. I’m looking at how they’re performing this year, the quality of competition they’re facing, the quality of competition others in their age group may be facing, and where they rank against the typical progression of a similar-style player, weighted against their draft position and public/personal perception of where they were as a prospect coming into the year.

If most of those boxes are checked, it’s “stock up.” If it’s near 50/50, then they’re “neutral.” If not many are checked, it’s “stock down.” The bar is different for first- and second-round picks, who are quite likely to play at least some games in the NHL, than it is for a sixth- or seventh-round pick, where “having a good freshman year at a good school” or “earning regular ice time in the AHL or a top European league” is about as good as you can hope for in a group of players typically flame out quickly. Successfully adjusting to higher levels of competition is also a giant check mark, especially for later-round picks.

So there’s a little bit about my lens here — with that, let’s dive into the second half of Red Wings prospects…

Continue reading…

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