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.