I recently had an opportunity to talk with Hakan Andersson, the Director of European Scouting for the Detroit Red Wings.
Andersson has been credited with discovering such players as Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg, Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk, Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and more.
The Red Wings are known to have the best scouting staff in the NHL and it shows, as they continue to be not just competitive, but almost dominant on a yearly basis.
I want to thank Hakan for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions I had for him about his life in hockey.
Alan: How did your career in hockey start and explain the journey you went through up to your current position with the Red Wings.
Hakan: Me being hired by the Red Wings was a result of Neil Smith leaving Detroit to be GM of NYR. He took with him his friend [and Detroit Swedish scout] Christer Rockstrom. Christer and I are friends through hockey in Sweden, so Christer recommended me as a replacement to Detroit. They eventually called me and hired me over the phone in October 1989, [I think].
I was hired for that one season, a try-out kind of deal for both sides, and then we both apparently felt that this was a cooperation that we wanted to continue. Most of the things I know about scouting.
I have learned from Kenny [Holland], who was the chief scout during my first years and then became Assistant GM. My current position as Director of European Scouting is a result of this organization being very good at looking after its people. I was promoted to European Scout after a number of years and then at one point when we where going public with another re-signing of Scotty Bowman, our management, with Jimmie Devellano and Kenny and Jim, decided to promote me and made it public at the same time as they announced the new signing of Scotty.
Alan: What is it like working under General Manager, Ken Holland, whom many consider the best GM in hockey?
Hakan: Working under Kenny is very good for a number of reasons. He is a former scout, so he understands where we are coming from with regards to keeping draft picks, projecting a player’s potential, etc.
He also believes in his people and gives us all the tools to succeed. He is easy to talk to about anything: new ideas, different approaches to things, etc. He also seems to be the best GM in the league when it comes to running an NHL team, which makes it very nice just to be on board for this ride. These days I work a lot more with Jim Nill and Joe McDonnell, both of them are also great to work with, this also shows how this organization is built with people who think the same and are all quality people.
Alan: What is the main difference between American and European prospects that you scout?
Hakan: I think the biggest difference is their level of physical maturity. The North Americans are usually much more physically developed.
Alan: What do you look for the most when you scout a player?
Hakan: It is hard to say one thing that I look for; every player is unique, so I think one has to look at that player and try to see if the combination of tools that he has got can take him to the NHL in the future.
Alan: Is there any “secret” to scouting? Many know you as one of the top scouts in the NHL; how do you do it?
Hakan: I don’t think there is a secret to scouting. Some scout once said that the job rests on three legs: you have to get out and see games, you have to have an eye for players and you have to have some luck. If one of those three are missing you will have a tough time finding players.
Alan: What do you contribute to your ability to find so many diamonds late in the draft?
Hakan: Confidence from chief scouts over the years, they have let me pick players in later rounds that I have had some belief in and most of all we have been very lucky with the way some of those players have developed after we drafted them.
Alan: Is Jesper Samuelsson the next diamond? What did you like about this kid that made you convince the organization to draft him?
Hakan: I like Jesper Samuelsson because of his hockey sense; he can create offense with good passes and stick handling. He needs to work on several other things to just be a regular in Sweden.
Statistically, he will probably never make it to the NHL, I just want to see him improve year by year and then we will see how far that will take him.
Alan: What advice do you have for kids who want to be NHL scouts?
Hakan: I guess my advice would be to try and learn the scouting side of watching the game; it varies some from the normal way of watching a game and then tries any way you can to get a foot in the door with an NHL team.
Alan: As a scout, whom would you build a team around: Crosby or Ovechkin, or other?
Hakan: (Laughs) They are both great players, so that would be a treat to be able to build a team around any of those, the top scorer in the league or possibly the top playmaking center in the league.