First two-step acceleration and typically three live views.
Those are usual responses for the two most common elemental scouting questions I receive.
1 – What is the single most important important/identifiable skill?
2 – How many times do you need to see a player to get a good understanding of their skill level?
From a cold start – no previous live views (live is key here) – I qualify three live views as enough to place players into a model. Through video/television/online viewing, it requires a lot more to get a basic player breakdown, even as high as a dozen just to get base elements correct. Even for seasoned assessors, non-live views are tricky. There’s limited panning into the bench area to see coach’s approaches after a good/bad shift, along with body language and reaction, along with off screen developments among a variety of other concerns.
Why first two-step acceleration?
Pace and tempo are set by puck carriers (and passes), who control game flow, but players don’t control of the puck for long periods of time. Handling the puck can slow players down.
Without the puck, my basic concept of hockey at an individual player level is about creating separation offensively, or cutting down/eliminating space defensively. Players exhibiting superb first two-step acceleration (from a cold hard stop or cruising speed) have advantages over peers, especially if they can kick into higher gears when the play demands it.
The Four S’s of Scouting
Many of these subsets will bleed into more than one category – for instance, speed can be an item of skating, but it’s also a skill, the weighting between the two left to the assessor to determine – as long as a viable conclusion can be made. Shooting is a skill, but the ability to sense release points and locations can be an element of ‘Smarts’.
Some of these sub categories can be shuffled about, while they can remain as sub categories for multiple ‘S’ classifications.
These are not steadfast rules, only guidelines to be able to break down players.
The next stage (albeit with some subjectivity) is to produce assessment sheets that can track and assess player skills in views over time.
Discussing a skilled player has more components than typically described in these subsets. Skating qualifies as a special distinct skillset deserving its own detailed category, however, without a well-defined, high end skating ability, the skills below don’t take root and go unnoticed at peak ability. A soft skater doesn’t enhance elite skill levels, but it’s not entirely a hindrance either. An elite skater will enhance some skills elements, but not all.
- quick hands
- shot generation
- quick, tricky release point
- stick preparation (with and without the puck)
- specialty moves
- skating ability (expanded – See Skating)
- balance and agility (see skating)
- physicality and hitting ability
- puck protection skills
- stride power
- stride length
- knees inside stride, or bow-legged
- dead-stop first step acceleration
- in-motion first 2-step acceleration
- cruising speed
- cruising speed acceleration bursts
- lateral and diagonal cuts
- forwards/backwards distinction
- transition from forward to backwards (and vice versa)
- leg strength
I feel smarts is the most important ‘skill’. Smart players have the ability to adapt to ever changing in-game conditions, while off-ice intelligence is a boon for coaching staff and with other players understanding concepts. Off-ice behavior, character and maturity is difficult to ascertain from high up on a perch. On-ice determination of hockey sense (or smarts) are detected by assessing decision-making process during game play – a hindsight assessment, but there’s a relationship between the player’s decision-making and results of those decisions from game play.
- positional play
- transitional capability
- inside the dots versus outside the dots mentality
- risk assessment
- play reading
- play support
- teammate support
- proactive rather than reactive
- teammate replacement (covering the point on a pinching defenseman as example)
- replacement position within a system
- freewheeling away from the system – and dropping back in formation
- observational innovation – reading the play and being proactive on changes instead of reactive to the overall play
- dead ending the play with the puck or skating into a dead end
- pinching decisions
- safe plays versus assessing offensive risks
- playmaking without leaving your teammates in positions to regroup when abandoning formation
- shift length
- smart passing plays – no suicide passes, no difficult passes
- simple enough plays so as not to confuse teammates or complicate flow of play
- using linemates for space, passing options and outlets under pressure
- finding quiet ice
- finding and filling holes
- losing checks
- takes instruction from coaches on bench during stoppages, in practices and accepts critiques
This is an often misunderstood element. When discussing speed, most likely defer to player speed, or skating speed. There’s an overlap to this subset, no doubt, but I’d refer to players skating speed under the skating categories.
This category is more specific to on-ice conditions and game play, with player elements of speed captured under the skating classification.
- skill deployment at varying speeds
- setting the pace
- varying pace/tempo
- carrying gameplay tempo
- forcing opposition to shift tempo for exploitation of skating/skills subset
- tempo maintenance during transition from forwards to defense skating (also a skating subset)
Not every element will be represented in every scouting report. Players differ, that’s why they need separate reports. To make assessments, each element should be studied.
Scouting progression begins in basic skill assessment. As scouts get seasoned with experience with success and failures, more elemental characteristics blend together and develop into models.
Incorporating skills from each ‘S’ category in harmony becomes more rudimentary with more views. Judging potential in one area can improve/enhance other elemental skills e.g. improved skating to get to scoring areas to use lethal shot; balance and agility upgrades for transitions from forwards to backwards skating, pivots and directional shifts.
For now, here are your guidelines into creating a good scouting report.
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