It’s not easy scouting a player. There are so many different variables that go in to assessing how good a player is now at age 10, 12, 14, 16, and how good he can be down the road.
Will he grow? Will he add more mass? Will he be the player he is now in four years?
Nope, it’s not easy scouting a player.
All-Star and prospect games, like the 2020 Biosteel All-American Game set for Jan. 20 at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., do make it a smidge easier however. Just ask New York Rangers scout Jamie Herrington.
While Harrington puts just as much emphasis on finding diamonds in the rough, all-star and prospect games like the one hosted by USA Hockey are equally as important for evaluating high-end talent.
“It’s a great way to see players from the different leagues in USA Hockey and the USHL,” said Herrington. “It’s a game that you can use as a part of the greater evaluation structure when you’re watching players over the course of the season with their team.
“I think this year’s BioSteel game is an interesting twist to what’s been done in structures before as far as a prospects game entails, but it’ll be great to get those evaluations across the board from both NTDP and USHL players. “
The game itself
This isn’t the first year USA Hockey has hosted an All-American Prospects Game. The governing body has been showcasing the U.S.-born talent in games like this dating back to 2012, boasting 188 NHL draft picks including 44 first-rounders.
It is however in a different format than past years. While still comprised of the best American-born talent eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the team representing the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team will play against the best America-born players from the USHL.
“USA Hockey and the USHL are collaborating here, finding a new way to put together a showcase game,” explained Herrington. “Usually you kind of scramble the teams and mix them together, which comes with a general casualness to it, with nothing to play for and nothing to win. This year, I think with this different structure, when you have the U.S. Under-18 playing with their regular team, the same team they have during the regular season, against a team of USHL guys, it hopefully sets up a more competitive style of game; a more structured game.
“There’s no reason why the U.S. team would stray away from playing their regular team game all season when they get to this point in January, where they’re coming off playing a really competitive schedule against USHL and college opponents, so I think that will increase the level of competition.”
How much stock does a scout place in this game?
“In these types of games, I think you’re trying not to overanalyze a player’s performance,” said Herrington. “You’re trying not to overanalyze what a player does or doesn’t do in a game like this because it is a different format. It sets up players in a different environment, and it’s hard to have the same type of intensity as a regular season game. All those things come in to factor.”
So what exactly is a scout looking for in a player’s performance then? Herrington describes looking at the situation and seeing how a player reacts to being in a setting with and against the best players in the country. How does he handle himself on and off the ice.
“It’s giving you the opportunity to see how a player can problem solve on things,” he said. “How are they going to react being in different situations with different teammates, different team structures and what those situations and circumstances entail in making the choices they make on the ice.
“There are a lot of guys involved in the hockey ops department across the National Hockey League that are former players and have been involved in these types of games. They understand the dynamics. All of this experience is taken into consideration when you’re evaluated.”
For players who aren’t in a prospects game…
Do you have to be selected for a prospects or all-star game to ensure a place on an NHL scout’s or team’s radar?
“No. That’s one of the special things when it comes to player evaluation, it’s a very subjective process,” said Herrington. “Specific scouts and specific organizations have different thought processes behind how they evaluate players and what they’re looking for in specific needs for their organization. There are plenty of players who are selected to participate in this game based on a criteria selected by the people who selected this game, which may or may not be similar or different than the criteria being used by some of these organizations.
“There’s nothing that says players that are here are going to be drafted, and the players that aren’t here are not going to be drafted. There’s a plethora of historical stories of players that have not participated in these games and have gone on to have very successful careers as professional hockey players, but the inverted story is also true in players that have participated in these games, the highly-touted, who have not been successful in the pros.
"It's a very complicated, long-term process that goes into these evaluations and selections. And by no means is someone who is not here (in this game) completely crossed off anyone's list."