Compete, character, smarts - NHL scouts like what they see in Elite League

by Legacy Hockey

The opening weekend of Upper Midwest High School Elite League Hockey attracted scouts from 27 of the NHL’s 32 teams. 

The desire to evaluate some of the nation’s top high school players hasn’t waned in the weeks since, as many of those folks in the black jackets (sometimes even holding the cliched clipboards) can be spotted at all of the Elite League’s games.

“You don’t hear much about people coming to watch you (in Hallock),” said Sanford Power’s Tyler Hennen, a senior forward who stars for Kittson County Central in the far northwest corner of the state. “Basically the people in the stands are pretty much everybody you know. You don’t see anybody with clipboards like you do here.”

Players, parents and even fans often wonder aloud what scouts covet the most in the players they are evaluating. We chatted with several current and former NHL scouts to get their thoughts on what they like to see. Many repeated the same philosophies and themes in our discussions.

Compete level

The Elite League checks this box with its grueling schedule playing three games in a weekend. Here’s what the scouts we talked to had to say:

“Is the kid going to compete? Every shift is he going to compete for pucks, is he going to compete physically. I don’t mean be a physical brute. But is he going to go the extra mile to get things done.”

“Does he take shifts off? How does he play when they are down by four goals? Or when they are ahead by four goals? How does he compete during the the sixth week of the Elite League versus the first week?”

“It’s not running around the rink trying to hit everything that moves. It’s more just the pure battle factor, just trying to win loose pucks. Instead of just hanging out on the perimeter all the time it’s trying to get to the front of the net. It doesn’t mean you win all your battles, because no one does. But you have to have the willingness to battle.”


The Elite league checks this box as it allows the players to gain leadership experience they can bring to their high school teammates:

“For a lot of guys there are so many dirt roads along the way to playing in the NHL. There are a lot of bumps in the road. If you can’t handle the adversity you’ll never make it.”

“I don’t think you can discount character. Body language is important. Does a kid slump his shoulders if things aren’t going right? How does a kid interact on the bench with his teammates, and his coaches?”

“When they are on the bench are they screaming at the coach? Are they blaming their teammates if things aren’t going welI? If a coach calls a timeout and is talking is the kid engaged? Is he listening? A lot of the scouts see that stuff.”

Hockey sense

The Elite league checks this box as the players gain a ton of confidence making timely decisions in a puck-control model:

“It’s about being in the right place at the right time. It’s about knowing when to move pucks and knowing when not to move pucks. If they don’t have a feel for a game, I don’t think it matters how much skill they have in the end."

“Hockey sense has taken a hit. There’s not nearly the rink rat creativity that there used to be.”

“I guess the word would be creativity. Everything is so structured now there is a lot less of it. Boy, when you see a smart player you notice it right away.”

Skating ability

The Elite league checks this box with it’s emphasis on speed and skill:

“Everybody can skate. If you can’t skate, you have no chance to play. None. You have to be able to keep up with the pace of the play.”

“The game has gotten so fast, if you can’t skate, if you can’t keep up with the pace, even if you have the highest compete level it is still going to be difficult if you can’t skate.”

“You see very few poor skaters, they can all really skate. There just aren’t many poor skaters that can make it even to the high school level.”


Unlike the NHL of decades past, scouts say the league has room for all sizes of players:

“In the old days, if you weren’t 6-1 you had zero chances of being drafted or playing in the NHL.”

“When I started scouting 27 years ago I was told to not even file a report on a kid under 6 foot. Now it has changed, if you have all the other components you can play the game.”

“Size means nothing anymore if you can’t skate. If you are a defenseman, for example, you have to be mobile, you have to be smart and you have to be able to move the puck to the right places.”