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Checking the boxes of a USHL draft pick

10/18/2018, 12:30pm MDT
By Michael Caples

It’s not uncommon for 14U/16U players and their parents to begin looking to the future and wondering what USHL coaches and scouts are looking for in a prospect. An anonymous USHL scout took us through his team’s evaluation process. Here’s what he said.


Scouts often begin viewing a game by simply waiting for a player to catch their eye.

“The four things that almost every scout says is skating, hockey sense, compete level and then, people word it a little differently, but being a good person, teammate or your body language,” he said.

You don’t need to be elite in every category, but it helps to have at least two or three of those traits, along with being coachable and a good teammate, which “is an absolute must.”

“If you’re not the best skater, you need to have elite hockey sense and compete level,” he added. “If you don’t have elite hockey sense, if you’re just OK with your hockey sense, then your skating and your compete level has to be elite.

“If you haven’t seen the two teams that are playing, you generally watch the game and you’re waiting for someone to grab your attention. The way to grab attention is through hard work. If you can skate, through hard work, or you’re making play after play after play with that hockey sense, then you have that scout’s attention. Then you’re starting to hone in on that player after they’ve grabbed you through one or two ticks on your line chart, and then you go back to him and your eyes keep going back to him and that’s when you tend to have something.”

Checking the boxes

From there, it’s about watching said player – with or without the puck.

“If I’m seeing a kid that is showing the USHL speed, and that’s what’s grabbing your attention, now I’m following him, now I’m starting to watch to see if he has the hockey sense with the puck and away from the puck,” he said. “Now I’m watching his compete level, and now I’m watching his body language. I’ll follow him off the ice. When he gets on the bench, I’ll see if the coach is giving him any advice – how is he acting towards others? When you get to the lobby, they’re usually wearing the team jackets with the numbers on it. It’s not hard to pick out who the kid is, so that’s kind of that four-step process – the skating, the hockey sense, the compete and the teammate. If you have them all checked off, there’s a good chance that you have a USHL draft pick.”

Character is key

Someone is always watching. Remember that.

“You could be at a tournament, and it doesn’t appear that someone is there, just because they don’t have the logo on their jacket,” he said. “You don’t know who they are. Most of the time, I’m not wearing our logo. There are so many times I’m in a lobby and I can see how a player is acting. I can see how they warm up as a team outside with a soccer ball. I can see how they act toward their parents. That goes a long way because again, if they’re going to be around us from August until hopefully May, at the very earliest April, that’s just not someone we can have around us if they’re not a good teammate and if they don’t respect others.”

Appearance matters

Even just a player’s appearance can catch an evaluator’s eye.

“The way they dress, the way they dress really shows how serious they are in pursuing higher levels,” he added. “Some kids are showing up with backwards hats on and they look really scummy, and then you have other kids who are coming in with khakis and a dress shirt and a tie with their team jacket on. That really just shows you that they’re willing to do anything to try to get to those higher levels.”

One performance won’t make or break

If you did have a bad game, try to learn from it and move forward. And if you have the best game of your life, don’t get too high over it. Evaluators try to capture the big picture of your development by talking to your coaches, teammates and others around the rinks.

The key word is consistency.

“I may ask for reinforcements from that coach that you’re seeing the right thing or if they fooled you on that one viewing, because as someone who coaches and does the scouting, I might see a player once just because that’s the only time I saw that team,” he said. “I might see another team eight times. If I only see said player once, I may use that coach a little bit more than from the teams that I’ve seen eight times or whatnot. But someone’s always watching, and the consistency is important.”

Don’t play to be drafted

This scout’s best piece of advice, however, is to not worry about the scouts.

“Just so that they grow as a player and a person through hard work – enjoy the game and the bond that they have with their buddies,” he said. “I think too many people get caught up in whether they’re going to get drafted or not. When in the reality of it, just because you’re drafted, a lot of the draft picks don’t make it, and there are plenty of players who weren’t drafted who do make it.

“Don’t play to be drafted. Play as hard as you can with your friends and for your friends in an effort to win a national championship or a league championship or whatever it is that you’re playing for and see where the chips fall.”

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