I had the chance to chat with Eric Weissman, an AHL scout for the Kings while the team made its Midwestern swing over the weekend. Eric caught the Kings-Blackhawks game on Friday in Chicago, before traveling to Milwaukee to watch the Reign take on the Admirals on Saturday.
Eric joined the Kings staff as an AHL scout in 2017 after he spent parts of 11 seasons in the Buffalo Sabres organization, working his way up from a Hockey Operations Intern to a full-time employee within the department, to a scout in 2014.
Big thanks to Eric for taking the time to chat with me during the second intermission – Great guy and an informative chat to how the thought process works on the hockey operations side of things.
On what territories he focuses on as a Kings scout
I cover the AHL Central, based out of Chicago. Those teams are Chicago (VGK), Rockford (CHI), Grand Rapids (DET), Iowa (MIN), Manitoba (WPG), Texas (DAL), San Antonio (STL) and Milwaukee (NSH), eight teams in total.
On what traits he likes to focus on when scouting AHL players
We like to identify guys that are primarily on entry-level contracts. It might be their first year in the league or they haven’t solidified themselves at the NHL level yet, but they have some sort of dimension that makes them an NHL player. First, you identify the player and then you basically start to project what they could be at the NHL level. Whether that’s on a call-up level this season, if they were called up tomorrow, or down the road once they get some more development. You also identify some guys that might be under the radar a little bit, some of the depth players on an American League team. Guys, that with some more development, might have some upside or some room to evolve into players. First, you identify the guys that are surefire NHL talent and figure out what kind of players they are and then you have the second layer of guys and under there, it’s good to know the vet players too. They can be guys that are either call-up players that can fill a depth role, whether it be on the fourth line or just bringing leadership to a locker room.
On evaluating guys that have maybe 1 or 2 NHL level traits and projecting their futures
I think there are specific tendencies that we look for, things we try to key in on that we see a lot at the NHL level. As the game changes, we like to see what players have those dimensions. Once a player has a dimension, whether it’s going to allow them to define their role at the NHL level, if that allows them to be a top six forward, a bottom six forward, a core guy on a team. Maybe a guy that’s a puck-moving defenseman, someone that’s more offensive minded or someone on the backend that can match up well and be tough to play against. I think once you figure out their dimension, you balance them against what holds them back, what do they need to get better at, what do they need to improve on, where they are in terms of development. From there, you can really figure out their upside.
On how his job and the scouting industry is changing with the game’s current emphasis on speed and skill
I can remember, when I first started scouting, there was a lot of emphasis on size, bringing a heavy game and overall strength. That’s not necessarily, I feel, the way the game is going anymore. You don’t necessarily need to be a big, towering d-man – of course that’s great because it’s going to allow you to defend and matchup well – but I think it’s more important to have the look of a modern defenseman. To be able to transition or retrieve pucks. To be able to get back and break that forecheck speed and get the play back up ice, I think that kind of takes precedent over, in the past, when we used to put the emphasis on size. The same could be said for up front too. Now, you can be a small player that can be an impact player, where I think in years back, we would’ve had concerns that while he’s a skilled player, does he have the size to assert himself at the NHL level and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case anymore. There is room for those smaller players, as long as they have that dynamic skillset or that high-end speed, it won’t necessarily hold them back.
On whether that new emphasis widens his view when looking at players, moving a player like Sheldon Rempal or Sean Walker onto the radar
I think you see a lot of that with college free agents. A smaller player on the amateur side, he may not be as high of a priority, because there’s concerns about whether his size will hold him back. Then at the college level, or as someone progresses through their major-junior career, you see that the size doesn’t necessarily hold them back there. Their dimension, their skillset is strong enough for them to compensate and that’s where you might get guys that go through the draft once or twice and then signing as free agents. A guy like Rempal is a great example of that. He might’ve gone undrafted but by the time he’s ready to make the jump to play in the AHL or the NHL, there’s a lot of teams that really go after that dimension and size isn’t necessarily an issue, where he’s been able to prove himself.
On who with Ontario has stood out to him in his time watching the team
I think Wagner, that’s an easy one. For me, his game has evolved. Lintuniemi, the way he plays, I saw a difference in his game from the first half of the season last year to the second half, as being a guy that can match up well and defend well. Guys like Amadio, for example, who’s up with the [Kings] now, there was some emphasis on bringing more pace or being able to sustain that pace in terms of his skating. From what I can tell, there was a big difference from last year to this year going into training camp. It was obvious that, whether he had a good summer and kind of dialed in on that, I think he’s made a lot of strides in that area, which can in turn allow him to keep up at the NHL level and allow him to assert that dynamic offensive dimension he has. He’s definitely a guy that’s improved his skating for me so it’ll be interesting to see if he can sustain it, because he’s got a lot of upside for me.