Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Kyle Woodlief, �Superstar� Scout

Scouting is generally an anonymous job. With the exception of New Jersey�s David Conte, and a few head scouts in real hockey towns, scouts aren�t generally well known and revered in hockey�s public eye.

Enter former Nashville Predator�s scout Kyle Woodlief, who currently writes a column for USA Today and publishes the private publication, The Red Line Report.

A direct competitor to the likes of ISS and McKeen�s, Woodlief and Red Line have quickly grown a reputation for their outspoken criticism of �old school� evaluations, NCAA Eligibility rules, and players they feel don�t get the respect of the �other� scouting combines.

From all that I�ve read, people who read Woodlief�s stuff tend to be quite polarized in their opinion of him; they either love him, or hate him. Why? It�s attitude, baby!

Most scouting reports and publications tend to put either a positive spin (Look at what a player can achieve if they reach their potential), or a more unbiased approached (Try to evaluate as if you have no stake in the player) in their writings. Red Line, on the other hand, has no problem letting you know exactly what they think of a prospect, good or bad, and it makes me wonder how it affects their ability to judge the players true talent.

On one hand, scouting is an inexact science, and with the amount of time and money invested in this crucial activity, the players you select and the success they have will ultimately decide the state of your franchise down the road. It hurts a team to invest time, money, and a draft pick to a player that never contributes to an NHL franchise, or has any trade value (like Scott Scissons). If you aren�t willing to look at the negative aspects of a player, and view that player with a very critical eye, you may blind yourself to the fact that the holes in his game may keep him from becoming a worthwhile asset.

Case in Point: Jason Bonsignore. Scouts were blinded to the fact that Bonsignore was a tall, strapping, centerman who was good on faceoffs and could skate well. They didn�t look past the fact that his offensive production was never very good at the junior level, the fact that he had less vision than a bat in daylight, or the fact that he had more interest in Dirt Bike racing than in working hard to make himself a better player. The Oilers invested a 4th overall pick, and the Tampa Bay Lightning gave away Roman Hamrlik to acquire Bonsignore. In the end, Bonsignore provided little real NHL value, and it struggling to keep an AHL career alive.

On the other hand, biased views and emotional decision making can end up leading to the worst choices and moves for any person or organization. If you let your feelings override your objective judgement, you are more likely to make the �lower-value� decision for your organization.

Case in Point: Brent Krahn.

Just ask Flames fans how they feel about this selection. With the 2000 Entry Draft held in Calgary, the Flames wanted to make a splash with the hometown fans. The Flames were coming off of yet another bad season, and they needed to engender some positive PR. They had the 9th overall pick, so they were in position to draft a good prospect.

So what do they do? They draft the �hometown� boy, letting their emotions and �other� needs override their best judgement. Krahn had played his junior career with the WHL�s Calgary Hitmen, and was a bit of a �hometown� hero to some of the fans there.

4 years, and a barrage of knee injuries later, Krahn is not even considered in the realm of top prospects out of his draft class. It�s not as if Krahn was a horrible prospect, but it was obvious to most everyone that the Flames picked him more as a PR move, rather than a smart draft-day decision.

Anyway, let�s get back to Woodlief. As his publication and reputation has grown, his ego and attitude have grown to match. As Woodlief inserts more and more of his personality into his scouting reports, he has really developed somewhat of a �Rock Star� attitude.
His public �battle� and attacks on uber-prospect Robbie Schremp have been well documented.

Here are some samples of remarks Woodlief has had about Schremp:

�We didn�t like this prima donna's attitude before the season began � how do you think we feel about him now that he's run out on his teammates and coaches in Mississauga?�

�In one of the most hilarious (at least to RLR, since we take so much heat from the Schremp sycophants) storylines to come out of amateur hockey this year, word came in early December that talented U.S. forward Robbie Schremp � you know, the kid who pouted and left his Mississaugua Ice Dogs club before parking himself in Ann Arbor with the U.S. NTDP for about a nanosecond while waiting for an OHL trade � has been (wait for it) ... left OFF the U.S. national junior team for the upcoming World Junior Championships in Finland.�

�Nothing could possibly better illustrate the point Red Line made two months ago when we publicly castigated Schremp and dropped him out of our top 10 rankings. Trust us on this one: this whole incident is not going to help him come Draft Day. It may not wind up hurting him dramatically, but if you have stock in Robbie Schremp this morning, our advice is sell, 'cause that stock ain't on the rise right now.�

And then there are his constant boastings about prospects that, apparently, only Red Line Report seems to think are great. Woodlief has no problem in letting you know that is was Red Line that discovered these fine prospects, and NHL teams and scouts are just stupid in contrast to his own publication.

His comments regarding goaltending prospect Dave Brown, who Red Line ranked #2 behind Marc-Andre Fleury
�For those of you who were the most vociferous in your taunts and jibes, including a few organizational goaltending gurus (and yes, you do know who you are), some of you have already heard it from us at the rinks this year. For the rest of you, we have one question: how could ALL of you allow nearly 300 selections to go up on the board without taking the second best goaltender available in a weak goalie crop? It's absolutely inconceivable.�
�No one can legitimately claim not to have been aware of him, especially since you were reading about him in Red Line all year. And besides, there are at least 50 NHL scouts who reside less than an hour's drive from Hamilton. It's not like he was from the side of a mountain in Lithuania. �
�We admit it's early yet, but RLR is looking pretty good thus far on goaltending evaluations�

And most recently, from a chat hosted on

�Darren, Vancouver BC: You're very high on Finnish forward Lauri Korpikoski after his performance at the under 18 tournament. Is there cause for concern for teams picking in the mid-1st round that he really came out of nowhere? And that his only real dominating performance was playing alongside Lauri Tukonen and Petteri Nokelainen?

Kyle Woodlief: Came out of nowhere? What planet have you been on? He's been in Red Line's top 25 for five months now. Everyone in the scouting community has known about him at least since the middle of the season. And by the way, it's Korpikoski who was the catalyst of that line, not Nokelainen or Tukonen. Korpikoski was the one doing it on his own without either of them at the Five Nations in Pori, Finland, back in early February.
I suspect people who don't know about him only read the posers and wannabes like the folks at the hockey news, who don't employ any scouts and never set foot in junior rinks anywhere around the world, yet pretend to know something about the players they write about.


�Sean (Ottawa): Some rank Andreij Meszaros in the top 10, and even one publication in the top 5. Then there are some who have him late in the first round. This for a player who is considered to be farther along in his development considering he's a very good defenceman in the top Slovak league already. What is your take on Meszaros, and why the descrepancy among publications as to where he ranks?

Kyle Woodlief: The discrepancy is largely because some of these so-called draft publications don't actually employ any scouts and don't ever see the players they are ranking (they know who they are). So most of them just go by what others tell them, or lift information from legitimate sources. If you want accurate information, you have to be careful about what sources you choose to read, At Red Line, we have over 30 personal viewings of Meszaros over the past three seasons and we rank him as the second best defenceman in this draft behind only Cam Barker. Meszaros is very poised, mature, and solid at both ends of the rink, and it would not surprise me at all if he went in the top 10.�

Yikes! I�ve never seen a scouting publication publicly rip on another like Woodlief just did. As for Meszaros, ISS was the publication that ranked him at #4, and both ISS and Red Line seem to be high on Andrej Sekera.

I don�t know how he bases his claims about The Hockey News, or other publications, but it seems quite petty and childish to throw out claims like this about competing publications with no basis to back them up.

I know ISS, and I know they have both amateur and professional scouts that have had many viewings of the prospects they write about.

On the positive side, Woodlief has had good things to say about the ridiculous NCAA eligibility rules, teams drafting for need, and smaller players overlooked on draft day. As a big fan of Jiri Hudler, I was just astounded (and quite mad at the Canucks) to see Hudler passed by time and again simply for a lack of height.

From the ESPN chat:

Regarding smaller players...
allen freehold, nj: why are smaller players usually ranked so low? take a player like nigel dawes for instance... he has been unbelievably successful in juniors as well as the worlds, yet he isn't taken till the later rounds... hasn't it been proven that at the forward position size doesn't matter at much as say goaltending or defense (st.louis, gionta, elias, fleury etc.)?

Kyle Woodlief: Good question. This has been a pet peeve of mine, and if I have a bias, it's toward the highly skilled small player. As I've said often in interview situations, the ONLY positive thing about a 30 team NHL is that it has made a place in the game again for the skilled little guy. As long as a talented smaller player has the guts to go and play in the traffic areas, is willing to compete hard for loose pucks, and will fight through close checking, I'll continue to rank them as high as their talent warrants without regard to their physical stature.


Regarding team�s drafting habits...

matt brick, nj: what is better advice, drafting for a team's need or taking the best player available? case: rangers have three young talented goalies in the system, but if the top goalie in the draft is available at #6 do you take him?

Kyle Woodlief: Drafting for need is nothing short of imbecilic. Your needs today are not going to be your needs 4-5 years from now (which is how long it's going to take most players picked today to make it to the NHL). It always astounds me that fans just can't seem to grasp that simple concept. There are almost no teams that would make drafting decisions in the first 2-3 rounds based on immediate needs, and clubs that do find themselves consigned to the lower echelons. I have a question for you: didn't the Buffalo Sabres have some guy named Hasek in net for them when they spent draft picks on Martin Biron, Miikka Noronen, and Ryan Miller? The draft is all about COLLECTING ASSETS! Just get as many good ones as you can and let your GM sort out which ones he might use as trade bait.

In the end, Woodlief is running a business, and his comapny needs to separate itself from the pack go generate itself from the pack. I can respect the fact that Red Line is willing to put its reputation on the line with some ballsy picks, and public criticisms of top prospects that others are afraid to put out there.

On the other hand, Woodlief has developed too much of an ego, and if I am an NHL GM reading his scouting reports, I�d be worried that his bias and judgement would affect his ability to objectively and correctly scout players. It would most likely serve Woodlief and his readers well if he were publicly chopped down a little (Where is Brian Burke when you need him?), or learned to keep his ego in check. The tone of Woodlief�s columns and chats is getting more and more �selfish�, and I have a feeling his ego is the main reason he is no longer employed by an NHL team.

Woodlief has a chat on later today, and I hope he answers my question regarding Michal Valent.

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