The Art of Scouting, according to its jacket, “delves into the secretive world of hockey scouting, a world more akin to Cold War-era spying than a casual day in the stands.” It’s written by Shane Malloy, a prospects expert who pops up all over the internet, radio and television, and it boasts input from myriad sources across the hockey world, from broadcasters to scouts to managers.
How good a job does the book do of shining light on the world of NHL scouting? The answer after the jump.
What this book is: The Art of Scouting does a terrific job of a few different things. The core of the book is the last 10 chapters, which reveal what it is that scouts look for in prospects, how they evaluate various physical skills and the kind of weighting they put on each. As a guy who relies primarily on the statistical side of analysis, I found the completely different perspective in this book to be fascinating.
What this book isn’t: I’m a big fan of Gare Joyce’s Future Greats and Heartbreaks, where the author spent a year embedded with the Columbus Blue Jackets scouting department and reported back on the scouting process, and got some simply wonderful behind-the-scenes information on the players he covered. The Art of Scouting is a different sort of book – despite the wealth of sources that Malloy talks to, there really isn’t much in the way of inside information or especially revealing anecdotes. I came in expecting the book to have more of those things (thanks in large part to that quote on the jacket) and this simply isn’t that kind of book.
Is it worth reading? Yes. For the casual fan, Malloy opens with a bunch of information most hardcore fans will already know – the breakdown of how scouting departments work, what a scout’s job consists of, how they’re organized and what leagues they cover. This makes the book accessible to a wide range of fans, although it also makes the first few chapters slow reading for anyone with a decent general knowledge of the NHL Draft and where the players who get selected come from. He also spends some time indulging in the pranks scouts engage in and spends a whole chapter on laudatory quotes of some more famous scouts.
After that, Malloy gets to the most valuable part of the book: a relatively detailed analysis of how scouts evaluate a player’s physical skills. For me, the most compelling chapter was the one on goaltenders, but all the information is good, and it will impact the way I watch a game. I also found the psychological aspect of scouting to be interesting, particularly the amount of time scouts spend watching the body language of prospects – because while I agree with the consensus that what’s between the ears is the most important thing for any athlete, I’m not sure that the sort of information available to scouts is enough to give a satisfactory analysis.
The bottom line: A treasure trove of inside information it isn’t, but The Art of Scouting does a great job of showing how to dissect the physical skills of any player, and after a slow start I found myself quite happy with the book.