The popular notion is that there's at least one NHL scout at every major junior game that's played -- and usually there's more than one.
It's true, by and large. Still, I can guarantee there were many games this past season where the NHL didn't have a set of eyes, where teams and NHL Central Scouting weren't able to see some good prospects in this year's draft pool show their stuff.
I know, I know. The NHL is a big business, scouting is more sophisticated and thorough than it was back in the day and no one flies completely under the radar -- the idea that someone unknown and otherwise unseen by a club is strictly a non-starter. Still, there's no way all the games of all the prospects are seen.
I'll issue a challenge: I'll buy dinner for any NHL scout who can provide a scouting report (and receipts) from a Quebec Major Junior Hockey league game at Rouyn-Noranda this season. Team or Central Scouting, it doesn't matter. It's a pretty safe bet. I can tell you with almost metaphysical certitude that no NHL scout saw R-N defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc play a home game this year.
Gauthier-Leduc is not a star, but he's not chopped liver either. He's No. 50 on NHL Central Scouting's list of draft-eligible North American skaters, which translates into a late second or early third-round pick. He was invited to the CHL prospects game back in January, won the hardest shot competition and handled himself pretty well. In that contest, he played his usual game -- more fundamentally sound than flashy -- against the best that are out there. You'd think that alone would have made his games required viewing, and they were -- as long as they weren't in Rouyn-Noranda.
Scouts just don't go to Rouyn-Noranda, a copper-mining town eight-and-a-half hours north of Montreal by car. Making it even less likely as a destination for scouts is the fact that they regard R-N's Arena Dave-Keon as one of the most inhospitable rinks in junior hockey -- 71 years old with limited seating and poor sight lines. If there were an absolute priority to see a R-N player -- like when Dallas' Mike Ribeiro played there -- scouts would fly in to grab a weekend slate when the team had a couple of home games and, maybe, a game in Val d'Or, the nearest Q team.
For Gauthier-Leduc, no such sacrifices were made, and thus his draft position will not reflect a season of play but a half season -- the away games. It will reflect his play after the team has spent eight hours or so in transit. Moreover, most of the road games are the second game in two nights or the third game in three nights. It's pretty punishing at the best of times and will take a toll on an 18-year-old draft prospect.
Rouyn-Noranda isn't even the worst case in the Q. Baie-Comeau -- where weather is so dicey few scouts brave the trip in even September or October -- Cape Breton and Acadie Bathurst are also towns less visited by scouts than say, Moncton (a priority this year with D Brandon Gormley), Montreal, Quebec and Halifax. In fairness, most regional scouts are based in those cities or nearby.
Ideally, scouts like to be able to see a player both home and away. In fact, they'll say they put a greater value on the performance of players on the road than at home. I believe it, but only to a point.
Top-flight draft prospects stand out, even when playing in remote areas. But players a few pegs down -- players like Gauthier-Leduc -- may not.
Dallas amateur scouting director Tim Bernhardt said Dallas was confident enough to draft former R-N defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy toward the end of the first round in 2007 despite viewing him only on the road that season. And Ribeiro was known from minor hockey in Montreal before he packed off to Rouyn-Noranda.
Bernhardt suggests, as do other scouts, that the players who might take a hit in their status are those in the mid-second round and on.
Looking back at recent history, some prospects selected from remote teams -- based mostly on road viewings -- outperform those who were drafted in the same range from big-city teams. Sticking to the Q, the 2003 draft is a good example: Eight players from the league were drafted in the second round and five have played 20 NHL games or more. The eighth player selected out of the Q (68th overall due to compensation picks that year) was Baie-Comeau defenseman J.F. Jacques, who has found some success with the Edmonton Oilers.
The top three players, all centers, drafted out of the Q in the second round played for teams in Montreal, Quebec and Halifax. You don't know their names. The fourth you do: Patrice Bergeron -- but you'll need a map to find Acadie Bathurst.
From the 2006 draft, there's another Acadie Bathurst player that is outperforming his draft slot: C Mathieu Perreault, drafted 177th overall to Washington, who made it into 21 games with the Capitals this year and could stick with the team next year as their No. 2 center.
Gauthier-Leduc isn't the only player who is working with this disadvantage of showcasing his game. And Quebec isn't the only major junior league with arenas rarely visited by scouts. Here's a quick summary of prospects from the top through the mid-rounds who have been seen far less than most.
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