Looking at a player today and trying to determine who they will be tomorrow is not an exact science. Every NHL team and every scout have their own philosophies and traits they look for in players before their selections on draft day.
With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft approaching, Minnesota Hockey caught up with the Florida Panthers’ Fred Bandel, a long-time amateur scout based in Minnetonka, to find out what he looks for when evaluating young players.
Minnesota Hockey: What are the most important things NHL scouts are looking for when evaluating pro prospects?
Fred Bandel: The first thing has to be talent, because if a player doesn’t have the skills to be a prospect then we don’t go any further. After that it’s about character, which includes effort and the way they carry themselves on and off the ice. Character is a critical component for most organizations. Work ethic, intensity, passion to succeed are all intangibles that separate players from one another. In the later rounds, you look for those intangibles or the ‘one thing’ that may set them apart such as skating or puck skills or if they can play different positions up and down the lineup.
Minnesota Hockey: How much do those intangibles really matter?
Bandel: Body language is important because it gives itself away easily. Players who droop their shoulders when they don’t get the puck, or slam their stick when a teammate makes a mistake – that stands out. It’s the same with coachability. It’s not good if a player is not willing to listen or is overly cocky.
Minnesota Hockey: What about for goaltenders?
Bandel: Goalies are tough because they tend to mature late. If you look at some of the better goaltenders in the league now – someone like Pekka Rinne for example – he didn’t really establish himself in the NHL until he was about 25 or 26 years old. We do tend to look for bigger goalies now, but also someone who is fairly athletic. We look at their composure, their makeup and body language. Goaltenders have to be able to forget and move on.
Minnesota Hockey: Do scouts talk to younger players? And if so, what are some of the things you are hoping to hear from them?
Bandel: I’ll usually talk to players starting around the midpoint of the season and conduct more thorough interviews later. We don’t want a player to seem disinterested or slumped in their seat as if they’re bothered to be there. We don’t want to hear a player with a massive ego or who throws teammates under the bus. If a player talks about himself when he’s not asked about himself, that can raise a red flag. We want confidence, not cockiness. We want to hear a player talk about the team aspect of the game. We don’t grill them, but we do want to get to know them as a person to get a true reading on their character.
Minnesota Hockey: What do you want to hear from coaches or trainers or others who may know the player?
Bandel: Whether they are leaders in the room, what type of leaders they are (vocal or by example), if they are good teammates, hard workers.
Minnesota Hockey: What advice would you have for players who make it to the bigger camps, and those that don’t?
Bandel: Select camps have some importance, but should not be the be-all, end-all. If you don’t get selected, especially at 14 or 15, you shouldn’t get discouraged. Many, many players who preceded them who didn’t make it went on to get drafted anyway and play in the NHL. And conversely, if you do get picked you can’t get complacent. All you have to do is look at the turnover (from kids that make it at 14 but don’t at 15 or 16 or 17). Things change. And let’s face it – many scouts don’t care (if you make it at a younger age). If you don’t make it, it should provide incentive to work harder. If you do make it, you better keep working or it will be a short-lived time at that level.
Minnesota Hockey: Do players feel pressure to rush their development or move up early? How can that impact the evolution or growth of a player?
Bandel: I’m not a proponent of players leaving high school early. … We always tell players that getting to the NHL isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. We will never tell a player what to do, but I believe it’s a long development curve to get to the NHL. If you’re playing in a good high school program against good competition, it doesn’t matter if you leave. You won’t further your advancement any. Good things take time.
Minnesota Hockey: You grew up in Montreal and have evaluated talent in Minnesota for more than 25 years. Minnesota has produced 24% of all Americans drafted over the past 15 years. Why does Minnesota produce so much top talent?
Bandel: Part of it is the availability of ice. I live in Minnetonka, and within a 10-minute drive, there are 10-12 indoor ice surfaces. Coaching is also getting better. Like in Quebec, hockey is ingrained here and because of that we’ll have a higher percentage of kids who play the game. The community model also has tremendous impact. When I started here, the goal was playing for the Gophers. Then later they looked at the Wild. I hear young players in Minnetonka now talking about wanting to play for the varsity. For a young kid, why not look at playing for the (high school) varsity as the goal?
Minnesota Hockey: What has changed the most about the job of a scout?
Bandel: Access to information and technology has played a role. We’ve all heard about the analytics. It’s a useful tool. It’s made it easier in some ways and more challenging in others. The game has also evolved. When I first started working for Montreal, I wouldn’t send a report on a player under 6-feet unless he was a star. Now I’m more than happy to look at players 5-foot-8 if they have skill. When the NHL put in the new rules about clutching and grabbing and interference that changed things dramatically. That gave the smaller, skilled players more opportunity to succeed.
Summer is a great time for hockey players of any age to build strength, sharpen their skills and improve overall athleticism. For young skaters, it’s also important to mix things up and have fun.
A young athlete doesn’t have to play more hockey to get better at hockey, says Matt Cunningham, former Minnesota State Maverick and USA Hockey Level 4-certified coach and instructor.
“Our youth sports culture pushes the myth that not participating in hockey year-round will lead an athlete to 'fall behind' his or her peers,” said Cunningham. “At the younger ages our focus should be on developing well-rounded athletes who have a solid base of general athletic skills. We sometimes don't connect the dots among activities that don't seem to have similarities to hockey. Mountain biking is an example. It requires body control while building the legs and lungs – both big parts of hockey.”
Cunningham, who has experience in holistic health coaching and has demonstrated the benefits of core power yoga for athletes, suggests there are many out-of-the-box activities kids can try during the offseason that may make them better hockey players down the road.
Here are some examples, described by Cunningham:
Tennis – Tennis has many crossover benefits to hockey, including agility and coordination and short-burst, multi-directional speed. You are constantly stopping and starting. Tennis requires lots of power, both forehand and backhand.
Stand-Up Paddleboarding – It might look easy but it requires significant core strength. As you have to maintain an athletic stance on a board (feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, etc.) your core and quads are engaged throughout. Balance is obviously paramount. Plus, you are outside and on the water, so it’s fun, too.
Skateboarding – (Skateboarding requires) balance, agility and coordination. Skateboarding also requires lots of body control and general athleticism. If you go to a skateboard park, you see lots of peer coaching and mimicry along with little to no structured coaching (from adults). It's as creative as sport gets. The flip side, of course, is the risk involved, so be smart, and wear protective equipment – especially if you’re a beginner.
Floorball – Extremely popular in parts of Europe (including Sweden and Finland), it's been gaining traction in North America. (Floorball incorporates) similar skills and concepts to ice hockey but there is no body contact, other than incidental. It's a great way for players to develop creativity and deception skills. Floorball has similar game concepts to hockey, such as creating 2-on-1s or 3-on-2s and creating time and space. Floorball also involves significant decision-making, situational awareness, read-and-react scenarios and more.
Yoga – Yoga has become a huge part of my life and it started strictly as a physical practice, to rehab some old injuries. The physical benefits range from general strength and flexibility to using those muscles in different ways. I also find it extremely beneficial for my posture, especially considering how much time we spend sitting and staring at screens. Yoga is another area where the athlete must learn to focus on his or her own practice while channeling thoughts and energy in a positive way (often easier said than done).
Other fun, “different” summer activities that can boost athleticism away from the rink include canoeing or kayaking, ultimate Frisbee, obstacle courses and even unstructured “free play” activities such as tag.
“Something as simple as tag has numerous benefits,” said Cunningham. “It can be played anywhere and requires no equipment. Think of all the skills that translate to hockey such as stopping and starting, short-burst speed in multiple directions, agility and body control. Another huge benefit is the deception involved in the game. Plus it's fun and competitive in an unstructured environment.”
For young hockey players who may be apprehensive to try something new, Cunningham offers some words of advice:
“Anyone who has tried to play a new sport or develop a new skill will have to develop frustration tolerance,” he said. “I speak from experience as someone who got into triathlon as an adult. It can be incredibly frustrating to fail repeatedly and struggle with something different and new. But it’s important to keep in mind the pursuit of progress, not perfection.”