SEATTLE — John Goodwin had the honor of being the first and it was a bit unnerving.
He was a pro scout representing a franchise without a nickname and nearly two years away from having a roster – with an arena still under construction – and walking into an NHL arena for the first time on behalf of Seattle’s expansion team was daunting.
”I got there about two hours before. They weren’t even open yet, so I waited,” Goodwin recalled.
By now seeing the Seattle scouts show up in places like Toronto, Boston, Dallas, or Vancouver is no longer a novelty. They are part of the NHL landscape. But when Goodwin or any of his counterparts show up, they are scouting a different game than their colleagues around the league.
While scouts from the other 31 franchises may be looking at another team’s power-play or they way it rotates its lines, Seattle’s scouts are specifically looking at the players. How they play with the puck on their stick. How they interact with teammates on the bench. How they work on both ends of the ice.
Ultimately, they will use that information to make projections about how the players may fit on a team in less than two years.
”With what you’re doing for an existing franchise, you’re looking for perhaps a specific player in a specific role. Whereas now we’re looking, I wouldn’t say for specific players, but players with skills and abilities and characteristics that we want,” said Dave Hunter, who is based in Boston.
”So as opposed to looking for a third line left wing who is aggressive and can kill penalties, we’re looking for a player that can skate, be creative, has a good hockey sense. It’s not a specific role. Whereas I think with an existing franchise, a lot of times, not all the time, but a lot of times you’re looking for specific players that will fill a role.”
Last week, Seattle’s five pro scouts – who estimate they’ve seen hundreds of NHL and AHL games combined already – gathered just a couple blocks away from where their team will drop the puck for the first time in 20 months.
Less than a week later they were down to four after Ulf Samuelsson left to take a head coaching position in Sweden. But he was part of the group that met in Seattle along with Goodwin, Hunter, Stu Barnes and Cammi Granato.
They reviewed players. They talked about their reports and the kind of data being sought by a front office made up of GM Ron Francis, assistant GM Ricky Olczyk and director of hockey strategy and research Alexandra Mandrycky.
They also conducted a mock draft of the players they would like to see on the ice when Seattle plays that first game in October 2021.
Realistic? Absolutely not. But the exercise was a small reward for the work being done toward that expansion draft.
”It’s going to be a really good learning curve for the guys that are kind of new to this and how everything works,” Goodwin said.
Seattle’s primary goal for the first year is building the database of information that existing franchises already have in hand. Some of that info is readily available, but there are specific things Seattle is looking to build into its player profiles tied in with Mandrycky’s focus on analytics.
”We have a base of nothing right now when you talk about compiling data of NHL players, AHL players, amateur players,” Mandrycky said in a September interview with the AP. ”So a lot of the two years has to be spent making sure you have the right infrastructure in place so as we get to making decisions on the expansion draft and free agency, we can do that with as much education about the players as possible.”
While most of the focus is on the NHL product, the scouts have also been tasked with watching AHL games. That reason is two-fold: there are plenty of younger players looking for a shot at the AHL level who could fit into Seattle’s plans, and Seattle will have its own AHL franchise in Palm Springs, also beginning in 2021.
The goal by the time the expansion draft arrives is for the scouts to have seen more than 2,000 games combined, with reports from each one.
”How many people get a chance to be from almost not day one, but from the first group?” Goodwin said. ”You don’t get that opportunity very often in any sport.”