It’s Never Too Late

How could I have missed him? 

I went back to look at my notes, I had definitely watched the player on countless occasions, but why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t I identify his full potential?  

That’s my job, and to be brutally honest I felt like a failure. 

Fast forward to the following June, the night before the QMJHL Draft. 

As I sat having supper with a CSR colleague in Shawinigan, the player in question’s agent walks past the patio of the restaurant.  

We talked about a few players, and he mentioned his player, I’m not sure who asked the question, but it went along the lines of; how high do you think the player would go? 

He gave us a semi cryptic answer, he clearly knew something we didn’t. 

One team had specifically identified him. 

My colleague had watched the player in question play at the Junior A level and was very impressed with his skill and poise with the puck. 

What team would draft him?  

How high would he go?  How did a player with that skill set get passed over in his draft year?  How could 18 teams miss on “a can’t miss prospect”?  

Well it happened, and it will probably happen again. 

As hard as all the scouts work, putting in all the hours these types of scenarios will happen, I hate to admit it, but it will. 

Oh yeah the 16-year-old phenom in question was Jordan Spence. I guess you could say the rest is history. 

You see every kid develops differently, sometimes it takes longer, but it’s well worth the wait. 

Over the course of the next eight months I would see first hand what kind of player Jordan Spence was and would become at the “Q” level.  

In Spence’s case he developed physically, grew three inches, which in turn led to a quicker first step and stronger skating stride. 

Spence was the prototypical late bloomer. 

Nevertheless, the skill was always there, how could I have missed him, how could 18 teams missed out on Jordan Spence. 

You see it’s the intangibles that Spence possessed that propelled him to the success. 

Hard work, dedication, character and determination, but more importantly an unwavering desire and drive to prove to people that he belonged. 

Spence channeled all the adversity of being passed over as extra motivation. 

The adversity fuelled him, you could say it galvanized him, it help shape the player and person he has become today. 

The young defenceman became relentless in his pursuit to get to the next level.  

That’s the intangible, the inner drive of a player possesses that sometimes gets overlooked. 

As scouts we evaluate and project, but we can’t always predict physical growth and development, even if we try, there’s always going to be a case where a kid just develops differently.

We can try to get to the know player, their family, their character and personality, but at the end of the day we can’t predict a players physiological developmental progression.  

Now, I’m sure there are some exercise physiologists out there that will argue that. 

The first time I saw Jordan Spence play at the QMJHL level in the Moncton Wildcats Training Camp and Exhibition Games I was simply blown away. 

How could I have missed this guy,? the question continued to haunt me.

After the first week of the regular season, I ventured down to the Wildcats dressing room after yet another impressive performance by the young offensive minded defender.

By this time the secret was out, and many NHL Scouts were fascinated by Spence’s style of play. 

I wanted to write an article showcasing his journey to the QMJHL. 

After the interview, I shook his hand, thanked him for his time and apologized. 

‘Jordan, let me tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t see your potential or have you higher on the list.’ 

The young soft-spoken defenceman smiled and responded, ‘oh that’s ok, don’t worry about it.’ 

I quickly replied, ‘Jordan I take my job as a regional scout very seriously, I take a lot of pride in it, I missed you big guy and for that I’m truly sorry.’ 

You see I carry Jordan Spence in the back of mind every time I watch a game now, I feel that’s my job, it’s my responsibility. 

I realize that players develop differently and at their own unique rate. 

I also understand that we can’t always predict a player’s intangibles and that when we rank players we try our hardest to project them at the next level. 

In my opinion, scouting isn’t an exact science, there’s no perfect formula. 

Scouting is subjective, it lends itself to interpretation. 

Scouts project that’s the essence of the job, but that’s still up for interpretation. 

Every team, every scout may have a different list or evaluation of a player.  Every scout, every team has a different approach when formulating their list.  There’s so many moving parts to the equation. Where’s the team drafting? What are the organizations needs? Who’s the coach? What cycle is the team in? What opportunity does the player have going forward? 

There’s always going to be questions, and many of those go unanswered until the player in question steps on to the ice.  

From my experience it’s all about learning and growing, but more importantly learning from your mistakes, gaining experience and channeling that into the next scouting experience. 

Every scout may have their top five “lookfors” or evaluation techniques when assessing and projecting players, but for me the mistakes will shape my future decisions, evaluations and projections.

As one NHL Pro Scout told me, ‘Craig, you carry your mistakes with you, so you can learn from them.’ 

The learning process continues, and in the mean time I’m going to continue to pour my heart and soul into my projections and evaluations, but I’m sure there’s some players that will continue to prove me wrong! 

Perhaps one QMJHL scouting colleague may have said it best.  

“Scouting is all about giving a kid a chance, whether your drafted or signed as a free agent, it’s about giving them an opportunity.”

It’s never too late. It’s never too late to prove people wrong. It’s never too late to keep the dream alive. Everyone develops differently, it’s the intangibles that truly set players apart. 

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