Do you have the three skill sets that Professional Scouts are looking for?
No matter what level of amateur or professional hockey you play, there are three valuable S’s that ALL scouts look for above all others. Do you know what they are?
The 3 S’s of Professional Scouting
Over the past 14 days, I have seen and scouted just about every top ranked Bantam AAA 1996 player in British Columbia one last time before the Provincial U16 Camp and the WHL Bantam Draft. I get asked all the time, ‘what am I looking for specifically when I scout someone?’ Now this isn’t a simple answer because different teams at different levels have specific and immediate, situational and long term requirements. However, when I recruit a Senior from a NCAA Division 1 program who will be turning pro at the AHL or ECHL level, I understandably have different criteria then if I was looking at the latest crop of 1997 Bantam players or 3rd year AHL pros looking to go to Europe to extend their playing career. But there is one unifying set of skills that I think I can divulge that is a standard set of criteria that every scout, at every level, looks for at every game they attend.
Drum Roll please…. Speed, Skill, Smarts!
There is nothing prettier then a player that glides smoothly up the ice, around the defensemen and scores a beauty in the top shelf. Skating and Speed are the criteria that divide players at each level. Every step of the way up the hockey ladder, the speed of the game gets more intense. Everyone has a power skating coach nowadays, and if you don’t, you are falling that much farther behind. It’s not just being fast, it is being able to make plays at speed. Being able to read and react at top speed separates the 1st liners from the players sitting in the press box. Look, I managed a minor pro career in Europe as a power forward that had average speed, but I had the other 2 S’s and a specialization or two, which allowed me to ply my trade. Today, I honestly would not even get an opportunity, let alone manage to play in 6 different countries. There is no excuse for poor skating technique or poor to average speed, not if you expect to play past the amateur REC level.
It is true scouts will applaud a nice hard hit, but the guys they are furiously scribbling notes about are the players that have amazing puck handling skills or who can score pretty goals on their backhand from in tight! It is very simple, you need to handle, pass and shoot the puck. I’m looking for the guy who can do it the best and who makes it look easy. If you want to get to the next level, you need to be spending hours each week, on and off the ice after practice, shooting pucks and doing stick-handling drills. The players that do, they are the ones that reap the rewards. These types of skills are cumulative, that is, the more you practice, the better you get as you build one skill set upon the foundation of another. At the same time, you can NOT just stop practicing once you do master a skill. You lose it very quick if you don’t practice religiously. The reason I managed to play internationally while being an average skater was that I spent at least 2 hours a day, most of my teenage years working on my wrist shot, back hand, face-offs and saucer passes. It didn’t take $5000 personal trainers every month or a god given gift. It was hard work. True story! You only have yourself to blame or applaud if your skills sets don’t set you apart from the rest of the crowd.
No one can teach you hockey sense. Learning to go to the open ice, find passing lanes or how to read the play before it develops is a learned skill that comes from years of practice, observation and hard work. Scorers learn to get into the best positions to create scoring chances while elite offensive defensemen learn when it is appropriate to jump into the play or bang it off the glass if necessary. Goalies can all learn proper butterfly technique but learning when to cheat on the shooter because you can anticipate the pass is in fact not just guess work! Scouting from the stands I can see all of that. It isn’t rocket science. You can see the players that have hockey sense and those that don’t. If you fall into the category that doesn’t have it, then you either have to work harder and longer or consider a different career path or specialize.
Now, while those three skill sets are the most important, there is always room in the game for players that specialize. Every team needs a tough, stay at home, defensive defenseman with size. Teams also need effective 2nd or 3rd line defensive centers that can win face-offs and kill penalties. Lastly, let’s not forget being a tough guy! Believe it or not, there are still leagues that want and need fighters! Having represented a goon or two in my career, it is safe to say that this is not an easy or desirable career path to hockey glory. I’d recommend going to college instead! Seriously though, teams need roll players and being a valuable part of a successful team is an accomplishment and definitely worth your while. However, if you are hoping to get drafted or earn a scholarship to the College ranks, concentrate on developing your Speed, Skill and Smarts and you will create more realistic opportunities. Adding these specialities to your overall skill set is the most valuable approach.