Updated: Jan 19
First of all, WELCOME to Half-Wall Hockey, the website. I've been tinkering with making this website live for awhile, and how to actually lay out how I want it. For now the website is going to function as a mirroring of the Youtube reports I put out, with more in depth pieces on the prospects in question. A lot of it is going to be repeated material, but some new stuff as well. As always we'll be breaking down each section of the Forward Evaluation Tool (FET), with clips and stills to show off each player. Maybe some of my takes won't seem so ridiculous in print.
Statistics vs. Orbits:
Eventually I want this website to be a place for other amateur scouts to post as well. I'm hoping to get people who want to cover prospects in a long format to voice their opinion here. If you're interested, there will be a place to sign up here, shoot me an email and tell me what you're interested in writing.
To be honest, I have become so turned off with Twitter, Reddit, HFBoards, etc. discourse on prospects and players recently. This is just one man's opinion, but I feel the over-reliance on charts, WAR models, NHLe, etc. have just ruined how people attempt to evaluate prospects and players in the NHL. Prospecting should be about watching a game, looking at how a player is gaining his points, what he does with the ice-time he is given, and making judgments. Now all your opinions don't matter because a random user decides your prospect's NHLe is 2 points lower than the average around the position he was drafted, so therefore he's a bust.
I'm not saying statistical models aren't important. On the contrary, they're very useful as a confirmatory or a contradictory tool to what I see. The key word is see. If I notice that a player is getting to loose pucks a ton, I'll check out the retrieval stats. Was that an aberration of one game or a trend in his game? If I see a player carries the puck well into the zone, and does it often, I'll look into their carry percentages. What are a player's shooting habits? What type of shot is his favorite? Does he do that well? What pattern is there to his shots? Let's check out his shot attempts. Does he ring the puck around the boards or hold and pass to the slot? High danger pass attempts vs. dumping and chasing. The point is, I use both my eyes and the stats to make a prediction for a player. As an amateur scout, I feel like I'm not good enough to rely on only one, and I refuse to hitch my wagon to something that doesn't jive with what I see. Whether or not that's hubris, stupidity, or intelligence is to be seen.
NHLe and the Wide-World of Hockey Prospecting:
NHLe is useful for long-term predicting and verifying a player's production across levels. Think Byron Bader or Patrick Bacon. They have taken what inspires them about prospecting and made extremely useful tools out of it. If I worry a player isn't as good as I think they are, I often check how they're doing comparatively through the use of their models. However, I think people over-rely on these models. A down year, a COVID year, an injury year, a year where a prospect is playing at too high a level and can't produce in limited minutes will KILL their "chances" of making the NHL in their models. It's a blindspot that has no good answer at this moment. Be mindful of what stock you put into it. Be mindful of the player's production relative to his team as well, as I think this is often understated in these models. Just remember that with reasonable production and progression, any prospect can and has made the NHL.
This is Mason Marchment's profile:
This is Nail Yakupov's:
Who is playing in the NHL today? Does being the a 6'4" anomaly that also happens to be the son of a former hockey player help? Yep. But it's food for thought. The percentages are not God. They're useful, but can be deceiving. People who use them to shut down a prospect's potential without having seen them play the game they are this obsessed about to argue with you over are not worth the effort.
Hand-stats and Percentile Fun:
Scouch focuses on his draft rankings and his own hand-tracked stats of what he believes make a successful hockey player. Scouch often talks about how he favors players who can carry the puck in transition and can get the puck into high-danger areas over those who can rip one-T's or check a player through the boards. He painstakingly tracks hundreds of prospects per year. He does the work and he's a huge inspiration for amateur scouts like me and hockey fans alike. A full breakdown of what he tracks (by hand, again...amazing) and how he does it can be found at his website, scouching.ca
One thing to note is that every scout, amateur scout, or fan that you'll read has a bias. I'll talk about my bias (or what I think is my bias) in a bit, but I note them early when I read someone else's opinion. Scouch loves smaller, transition forward, high skilled defenseman. So much so that I think he will see shades of a better defenseman in the defenseman he's watching, and make some leaps in that player's developmental future. Don't get me wrong on this though, he has an eye for talent in that area for sure. He has identified the NHL has a blindspot for these players, and highly skilled players can fall through the cracks.
Scouch also falls in love with high-skill players that can move the puck in transition, so much so that I think his evaluation of what a prospect can do when he gets to the offensive zone can falter. I think this comes from an abhorrence of dump and chase hockey, and again more leaps in logic. Players that can slice a defense may not always be effective once they get into the zone, and players who can't always carry the puck effectively may make quick work of defenses once they've set up shop. The point is an analysis of a player should be based on what they're good at, what they're not good at, and what that means for their future. There are many roles to play in the NHL, and sometimes it is about finding the right fit, rather than jamming a square peg into a round hole.
Again, I just want to preface that what he does is amazing, and he should make a living out of it if he isn't already.
Mitch Brown is quieter. I first noticed him after reading eliteprospects.com reports on players. I would watch a prospect, then read their report after forming some opinions and realize, damn...this guy is seeing what I see a lot of the time. He has an eye for playmakers and a good eye for skating and shooting mechanics. Now does that make us both right? Hell no. Does that mean he'd agree with anything I say about a prospect? Who knows. The point is, I think his eye is good. Key word there is the I part. It's my opinion on his opinion. It's not absolute or all-encompassing, but a lot of what he values matches up with me.
He has a patreon that I subscribe to, a patreon that has just an absurd amount of hand-tracked data. It's got a bit of a bias when it comes to lower-event vs. high-event players though. Because he tracks puck retrievals, puck rushes, shots, xG, etc. it makes his data a bit more predictable than Scouch's because it has to do with puck touches and actions, rather than some very niche and hard to quantify statistics that Scouch has made. He also just tracks more prospects in a given year over the CHL and USHL. I can't speak for the process or the validity of either's hand-tracked stats though, as that is up to them to put out reliable data by hand. I wish he'd put out a bit more work into his over-aching categories like Transition, Retrieval, Defense, etc. and explain why he chose a certain stat for each though.
Both of these folks, and others like them have done tremendous work to illuminate scouting in the NHL. Scouting feels like an art or a practice. It's a skill that scouts possess, teams utilize, and fans wonder about. How they scout remains a mystery, as the majority of what scouts do remains behind each team's curtain. The world of amateur and internet scouting has come alive in the past 5 years, and it's a world I'm excited to jump into.
In some way the following people are the mouthpiece of the NHL when it comes to scouting. Whether they're doing the work or not, or utilizing their vast, vast network of scouts and executives to produce these rankings, they're putting out information related to where a prospect is going to be drafted. Think Bobby Margarita, Craig Button, and Corey Pronman.
Pronman has some serious issues with how he evaluates size and position in the NHL in my opinion. He makes his rankings based on where he believes a prospect will be drafted because of the above two traits, rather than actually predicting or analyzing a prospect's game. He's an intelligent predictor of draft orders because of this, but I don't think he's the best talent evaluator. His rankings and prospect grades are confusing at best, and contradictory at worst. He has very little time for nuances of a smaller player's game, or a prospect that doesn't play a premium position, and I think it is his downfall. I think his rankings are useful to try to understand an NHL's front office thoughts though, and sometimes that information is valuable.
Button has similar blind spots but read physicality rather than size. He's been evaluating prospects since before I was a hockey fan though I'm sure, and I think he's getting just a wee bit of old-man yelling at clouds syndrome lately. He knows hockey though, and if he smells a red-flag it's important to listen and evaluate why.
Bobby Margarita baybayyy. He chose the best route. He polls scouts for his rankings, and I love it. He's not pretending to be anything other than be a mouthpiece for NHL front offices. He's not evaluating really at all, other than how a fan would watch prospects. Still it's hard not to get excited when his rankings come out.
So What are We Doing Here?:
So yeah, what are we doing here? Well primarily I'm a San Jose Sharks fan. I got into hockey in 2002, a couple years after a very distant family member of mine was drafted into the NHL. I was a child and thought it was the coolest thing ever. I started skating, playing and watching hockey at pretty much all times. It's weird to say this that I've been involved in this sport for 20 years, much like many of you reading this (many sounds presumptuous, like there's going to be soooo many). I wrote about the NHL and college hockey while I was in college 10 years ago for BleacherReport.com. I started prospect evaluation on my own in 2015, keeping my own rankings and evaluations. I spend way too much time on HFboards.com. That's me, but what are we doing here?
We're going to be posting prospect evaluation reports using the Forward Evaluation Tool (FET) which is at the top of this blog post (and later the Defenseman Evaluation Tool (DET)). It's a tool that I made that combines aspects of many of the above people's work into one. I love the way that Scouch has tried to break down players into different aspects of a skater. I find the lettering and numbering confusing though, and hard to compare across prospects. I find the 1-9 rating system of Elite Prospects useful for comparison across prospects, but lacking in context of how a player plays the game. What are they good at if their skating is a 7? I dunno. What does a 5 in shooting mean? Does it mean they won't put the puck in the net at the next level? Finally some credit to Pronman because I try to compare a player to an NHL level at all times, much like EP does as well.
The skills on the outside - Physicality, Shooting, Passing, Stickhandling - connecting to the four main categories - Carry, Distribute, Finish, Retrieve - all contribute. They contribute primarily to their linked categories, but that's more of a visual representation rather than a rule. The outside of the diamond represent more nebulous aspects of a player - Speed, Transition, Vision, Positioning. These are aspects of a player's game that are harder to quantify. Certain players have tremendous vision to make plays but lack the passing skill to make it happen. The Distribute category encompasses a grade for both. Some players have great stickhandling but can't operate at speed, the Carry category takes them both into account. Some players have a knack for getting into open ice, but don't have great shooting mechanics, etc.
It's a tool that isn't perfect. It's a tool that requires a lot of work to dig into. It's a tool that is subjective, and a bit copy-cat in some ways to others. But it's a tool that I think has value if used across many prospects. It's also a tool that allows nuance to a player's game. Is a player projected to be a fourth line center with tremendous positioning and a good shot but not much else? Sure. There's room in this tool for him. Is he a speedy winger with a great transition mind but a weak shot and a little lean? Yeah we can profile that here.
It will continue to get refined as I do more and more of these. But for now I like what I've created, and I hope you do as well.
Please if somehow you found this website and not my Youtube page, subscribe over there. I have a few videos out now describing a lot of the above and more. The blog posts that accompany each video will be posted simultaneously (mostly) from now on.
Anyways, that's all for now! Shoot me an email or a DM on Twitter if you have any more questions!