NHL – A scouting life

NHL players may be taking time off while the lockout drags on, but for scouts like Montrose’s Glen Sanders, it’s business as usual.

While NHL owners and players may be taking time off while the lockout drags on, for NHL scouts like Montrose’s Glen Sanders, it’s business as usual.

The Nashville Predator scout takes in about 130 junior hockey games per year, traveling thousands of kilometres to watch and analyse up-and-coming prospects, and this season has been no different as he recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

“The lockout doesn’t affect the scouting staff at least not on our hockey team,” said Sanders. “Some teams will cut back a bit but not on our team.”

Like most scouts on the front line, Sanders visits every rink from The Pas to Portland, to source out diamonds in the rough, potential grinders, and sure things.

He covers all of western Canada and the United States and will make at least one trip to eastern Canada to see the top end guys and then pass on recommendations to Nashville’s chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty.

“It’s a massive job,” says Sanders. “I mean you have to be fairly organized. In this business you get a lot of contacts, who I can call, or will call me and say, ‘Hey you better have a look at this kid.’

“We see a lot of guys and a lot of teams and have to get our reports in within two or three days.”

While Sanders’ immediate focus is on the WHL, he also covers the BCHL and Alberta Junior Hockey League recognizing that each league’s function varies.

“It (the BCHL) is a little different . . . you’re looking at it more as long term, more so than the Western League kid, because if we draft a Western League kid we have to sign him within two years, the BCHL guy can have another two years of junior before he even goes to college.”

Sanders has been an amateur scout for the Predators for a decade and his contribution to the team has been significant.

In the June NHL draft, the Predators had traded away their potential first-round pick for Paul Gaustad so didn’t get a shot at the podium until the second day. The team ended up selecting the talent they had projected in their scouting meetings, including two of the top four selections coming from the WHL.

The Preds chose highly touted Pontus Aberg, 37th overall from the Swedish Elite League, and two prospects on Sanders laundry list in Kelowna Rockets forward Colton Sissons, at number 50, described as a strong, good two-way player akin to Mike Fisher, and Brendan Leipsic, 89th overall, a tenacious yet skilled forward with the Portland Winterhawks.

In 2011-12, a franchise-record 22 of 34 players drafted and developed by the Predators appeared in at least one game.

Nashville was also the only Western Conference club to advance to the second round of the playoffs in back-to-back years in 2012 and 15 players on the roster that year were drafted and developed by Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton’s hockey operations and scouting staff. If not for a hot goalie in Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Preds may have gone all the way.

“We’ve been on the cusp, really close . . . but we’ve built from within, we’re almost all drafted players and we (the scouts) work really hard and that’s one of the reasons why our owners understand that the draft is so important,” added Sanders. “We’re one of the few teams that don’t get cut back because they know we have to (draft) to be successful. Some teams can just go for free agents but we can’t.”

There’s a long list of prospects for 2013, and Sanders, like most NHL scouts are drooling over defenceman Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, who is the six-foot-three son of former NBA player Popeye Jones.

Curtis Lazar from the Edmonton Oil Kings, is another top 10 prospect from the west, but where the scouts really make a difference is in drafting a third round player who turns into a Mark Messier rather than a top pick who turns into an Alexander Daigle.

When asked if there will be an NHL season, Sanders was not overly optimistic.

“My hope would be November 2 . . . well, hopefully sometime in November.”

If the full NHL season is scuttled, like the 2005 Sydney Crosby sweepstakes, all teams will go into a lottery giving each team a shot at the number one pick for the 2013 draft.

Nashville has been in need of a high-end scorer and a top-five pick could net them one.

In the ball lottery, every team starts off with three balls.

Teams will have a ball taken away through two methods:

1. To have held a first overall pick in any of the last four NHL seasons prior to the draft.

2. To have made the playoffs in one of the previous three seasons prior to the draft.

No team can have less than one ball or more than three, and the two methods of losing a ball stack with each other; a team that has made the playoffs two times in the past three seasons will only have one ball, and a team that has had multiple first overall picks will have only one ball.

So Nashville could win first pick, but so could the Edmonton Oilers who have had three of the last four first-overall picks. However, they would only receive one ball.