jeudi 4 septembre 2014

Future Greats and Heartbreaks by Gare Joyce

Veteran sports writer Gare Joyce realizes a long-held secret ambition as he spends a full season embedded as a hockey scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He opens a window on the life and methods of an NHL scout and penetrates the mysterious world of scouting.

The 330 page book takes the reader through three major events. 
The first one brings us inside the war room of the Blue Jackets before and during the 2006 NHL draft, hesitating on whom to choose at the 6th overall pick between Nicklas Backstrom, Phill Kessel, Derrick Brassard and Peter Mueller.

The second event is a actually a succession of scouting trips through Europe and North America to follow a chosen list of key prospects such as Angelo Esposito, Akim Aliu, Kyle Turris, Patrick Kane, Olivier Fortier, Jakub Voracek and Alexei Cherepanov. Joyce, shares some insight on a scouts routine, reflexes, models of thinking and fundamentals.  

The last part of the books covers the 2007 NHL Draft held in Columbus while the Blue Jackets are experiencing an overhaul of its management team. Joyce is now cornered outside of the war room and struggles to keep his influence web alive. He becomes more and more isolated as his journey as an NHL scout comes to an end. 

Key Learnings

1.      Everything is possible; one only needs the right person, the right team. For example, the author, Gare Joyce, just needed to convince one NHL GM, in this case Doug MacLean of the Columbus Blue Jackets, to enter their war room as well as their scouting department.

2.      Scouting is a network of information, contacts and personal relationships. In the field at different levels of junior with coaches and local development personnel, the media or with the GM and head scout, one must have the best information, arguments and be able to influence the discussion leading to the draft.

3.     Teams know little on the available prospects and therefore mistake their projections of NHL impact. I come to the conclusion that those projections are not based on hard data but subjective and sometimes vague impressions of scouts. Teams prefer to choose the over-hipped consensus prospects rather than digging deep in extensive background checks especially on enigmatic players like Kessel and Aliu. Often the same benchmark evaluations come back each year and no post-mortem seems to be held. Instincts can drive success but there should be an apparent system for effectively evaluating talent.

The best example is the story behind an enigmatic prospect in 2007, Akim Aliu. This young man was one of the talents Joyce decided to build an expertise on throughout the year. Aliu was suspended by his junior team throughout the year and became renowned as a huge question mark by NHL teams: could this player be “the steal of the draft” as they say or an expert problem maker? Joyce tried to solve the mystery by interviewing him and many people of his entourage; an honest due diligence. Still, one cannot say he got a rigorous analysis of his personality or psychology. The shocking part is that Dale Tallon, the Chicago Blackhawks GM at the time, drafted Aliu 56th in the second round in 2007 based on an hour supper with Joyce, weeks before the draft. Post draft, Tallon said to the Chicago media while pointing at Joyce in the crowd: “We did our homework. He knows. We talked to him.” How can an NHL GM base his evaluation of a prospect on a brief exchange with another team’s scout? Why, of all the NHL scouts that year, was Joyce the most knowledgeable person on the Aliu dossier? For the record, Aliu, struggling between the ECHL and AHL, has played a total of 7 NHL games with the Calgary Flames, posting 3 points and 26 penalty minutes.

Akium Ali in 2007

Future Greats and Heartbreaks illustrates there is still a vast ocean of knowledge to develop on scouting and that many of the questions that attracted me to the book are still valid. What is the value of a top 5 pick versus a top 15 pick? Should teams trade their 2nd round picks? How can teams put prospects to the test? How do teams fine-tune their talent development structure? Do GMs benchmark other pro leagues like the NFL and NBA? Do teams analyse drafting failures? What is the added value of a psychologist in the war room? 

Thrilling to know the answers are still out there!

Jean-Philippe Gagnon

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