So, what do hockey scouts really look for?

So, what do hockey scouts really look for? It’s a question every serious hockey player will ask as he or she approaches Bantam and beyond. Scouts rate players in five main categories: skating, size, game sense, character and skill.

Glen Williamson, a former scout with the Los Angeles Kings, tells our players every summer at Prep Camp that it is a rare occasion when one player is a perfect “5 out of 5” in every category. Rather, players need to play to their strengths and be a 5 out of 5 in their strongest categories. Every player is unique. Intangible attributes are often the ones that can prolong a career or open up new opportunities for a player. 

Scouts and coaches are always looking for players who can skate and read the game, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win and add to team chemistry. 

Young players need to realize that someone is always watching. Consistent behaviour and performance day in and day out are keys to success. They must do something to “get noticed.” That “something” can come from a wide range of plays — something that catches the eye of a scout, and makes the scout take notice enough to remember the player once the game is over.

The following list will shed light on just some of the subtleties of the game that scouts and coaches look for in identifying good players. 

Players should:

– block shots

– shoot the puck

– head-man the puck well

– pass the puck unselfishly

– communicate verbally on the ice and from the bench

– finish checks

– minimize turnovers in high risk areas

– identify defensive responsibilities

– drive the net

– create offensive-zone scoring chances 

– use their sticks to take away passing lanes

– keep their bodies in the shooting lanes by staying between their checks and the net (also known as defensive-side positioning)

– stay on the defensive side in battles for the puck

Extra position-specific cues include the following.

Forwards should:

– support the puck

– keep a forward high in the offensive zone

– backcheck through the middle of the ice

– minimize turnovers

– cover for pressured or pinching defensive players

Defense should:

– get up-ice with the play to minimize gaps

– keep attacking forwards to the outside

– stay between attacking forwards and the net

– use their partners instead of throwing the puck away under pressure 

– get shots past shot blockers

Goalies should:

– minimize rebounds that bounce into the slot

– battle to make second saves (rebounds)

– communicate with the defense in the defensive zone

– play the puck on dump-ins by setting it behind the net for a teammate or by passing it to the defense

– never quit until the puck is covered or is in the net

– deflect saves to corners

– skate hard to the bench on delayed penalties

– be square to shots by moving well in the crease and anticipating the play

– challenge shooters with appropriate depth, depending on shooter position and other scoring threats

The most skilled players in the world will always find a team that wants them, even if their attitude is not the best. However, these players are few and far between, and they often bounce from team to team until their luck runs out. Every team needs a player who can lead the league in scoring or stop the puck. However, they can only deal with a poor attitude for so long.

Beyond pure skating and puck skills, the above-listed characteristics all relate to a player’s ability to read the play and to make decisions that are best for the team. The best players in the world are not always the best skaters, and they don’t always have the hardest shot or the fastest glove. To have the best chance to move on to the next level, a player needs athletic instincts, a team-first mentality and a passion for improving physical and mental skills.

About The Author

Nate has a Master Degree of Education from Madrid, Spain, speaks German, Swiss German, & French, and played seven years of professional hockey in Europe. Nate is the owner of Leslie Global Sports with brother Boe, the creator of his new member site, How to Play Hockey, and the Director of the West Coast Hockey Prep Camp. CONTINUE.


  1. Heidi says:

    I think this article is informative and educates the young, motivated player. But let’s be clear. Size trumps all of the above. Parents, choose another sport if your son is not likely to reach 6 feet. Size is everything in hockey, despite what anyone says. Scouts overvalue it. Many “undersized” players never get a chance, while their hulking teammates get all the chances to succeed. It had ruined the way I view hockey, unfortunately.

  2. Marc says:

    All of those tips are great skills and attitudes to concentrate on, but it’s a long list and as you rise up the levels of hockey and the “funnel narrows” players find that just about everyone has most of them. A wise coach/recruiter once told me that it’s also important that players just relax and play their game – have fun. He said, “If you are good enough they will find you.” You may think this is obvious, but it is not as easy at it sounds to stay cocky confident when you are surrounded by talented players that you are competing with and against, and it is usually the players that can handle the stress of the scrutiny and competition that stand out and continue to grow and improve.

  3. Barney says:

    Excellent. I am an jr A scout and would add a couple of points.
    – Watching a NHL prospect game last night several things jumped out at me
    – the losing goal keeper let in three goals and every one of them came high over his shoulder
    because he continually backed into his net and went down early and at 5’10” t hat left a lot of net
    open. His team outshot the opposition 40+- 19. He has a history of this but still was selected.
    – Watching the player go to the bench on a line change. Some went quickly to allow fresh legs
    to come onto the ice and either maintain the pressure in the O zone or cover the D zone.
    Others cruised to the bench keeping the fresh legs off the ice and costing their team either
    scoring chances or scrambling to cover the D zone.
    – Some players had quick sticks and moved the puck quickly before the opposition had a chance to either block of cover while others wasted many opportunities and had to stick handle a couple of times before making a move. Quick Sticks often rule.
    – While one team out shot the other significantly most of the shots were from outside and only about 11 were good scoring chances.
    I could go on but suffice it to say that these kids were some of the best in the country from all over the country with over 150 scouts in attendance from NHL, NCAA, CIS and Canadian colleges.

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  12. Nate says:

    Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments. The best part of writing for One Million Skates is the opportunity to express our true opinions and passions, rather than the status quo. Your kind words inspire us to stick to our guns and stay passionate! Nate

  13. Outliltapot says:

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  14. Tama Achzet says:

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

  15. Carlos Berliew says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you actually know what you are talking about! Bookmarked.

  16. SpepleWat says:

    It’s challenging to come across many knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  17. Nate says:

    Hi Jay,

    And thank you for your insight. It gives our perspective great credibility when supported by a professional such as yourself. A quick observation to support your response:

    I am hosting a Pee Wee House team from New Zealand for a few weeks here in Vancouver. They are currently playing the ‘Friendship Tournament’ with teams from 6 countries in Aldergrove. Quite outmatched in every game, we have seen the puck in the back of our net a fair bit more than we have seen it in the opposing net. The tournament has a fantastic format. Once a team is winning by a significant margin, teams are allowed to trade any number of players, and even coaches. Too see the mental strain of a 5-0 first period completely lift today when we mixed teams with the Japanese team today was outstanding! They were laughing attempting to communicate, and of course their energy level increase was completely transferable to their speed and enthusiasm for the remainder of the game.

    Our goalie is a real competitor, and had been feeling quite down after the first few games. He had the chance to watch the Abbotsford Heat (AHL) practice yesterday from ice level, and their goalie took a moment to sit with him for 2 minutes and tell him that life as a goalie can be tough sometimes, that the mental hurdles don’t stop after Pee Wee. As you can guess, our goalie came back today with enthusiasm and spirit, knowing that his feelings were completely normal, even for a professional goalie. To have a role model and mentor to cope with the mental side of sport is equal, or even more important than the physical skills required. Jay thanks again for your insight!


  18. Jason says:

    Hi Nathan,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article. As a sports psychologist, and dealing with many ice hockey players and their parents – I can’t count how many times I have to talk with players about the numerous intangibles that must exist within every player both on and OFF the ice. I think that there is more attention that must be attributed to the mental and emotional development of today’s athlete. Everyone has access to video, on-ice skills development, off-ice physical development, and for some a dietitian … but more and more athletes futures are being determined by the mental aspects they are not developing both on and off the ice. this is not always with regards to understanding the elements of being prepared to play the game, it can also deal with the pressures that life and the game combined can place upon a young player. Learning how to deal with the pressure to perform, can be more difficult than learning an on-ice skill for the very first time.
    Thank you again for putting this information out there for young budding athletes and their parents to see.
    Take care,
    Jay Galea Ph.D

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