One of the most popular resources leading up to an NHL Entry Draft is the multiple sets of rankings posted around the internet. Fans interest is immediately swayed to what some of the major Scouting Services say, be it the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, the International Scouting Services or others to discuss the top ranked prospects, the outliers (to consensus opinion) and anything else notable that could spark debate. The whole premise of this debate is certainly intriguing, but not in a positive way.
Think about this for a second, what exactly is a ranking? It, at the end of the day, usually just looks like a list of numbers and names. Some services offer in-depth guides to supplement their rankings, but the premier Scouting Service, Central Scouting, does not and instead releases just the names and numbers. The issue here in is that a draft list that stands by itself holds no value. The art of scouting is subjective, but even in a subjective industry providing no basis for your subjectivity is of little value. These scouts may be professionals, but they still need to be able to explain and defend what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Even in a subjective field, one still relies on data and uses that to form their decisions. The data may just be historical evidence observed over a lengthy period of time, and susceptible to observer bias, but it is still data. In this case, the observable data are the values and priorities a scouting director has for selecting hockey players. Without an explanation of the why, it makes it very hard to take the what seriously.
Let’s take Texas Hold Em poker, for instance, whose job requires a significant amount of subjective observations on top of the percentage calculations aspect of the game. A poker player picks up on trends in an opponent’s hole card selectivity, their betting patterns in all rounds, and with relation to the opponent’s chip stack and the pot size. They also pick up on personal human tells and behavioral patterns. All this observational research gives them rhyme and reason to their decision-making. A player observes, over a significant sample, that a certain opponent tends to raise a large amount when he has an Ace-King or Ace-Queen pre-flop and only when he has that, so after everyone tosses their cards, our player decides to toss his Ace-10. Under normal circumstances that move wouldn’t be smart for a minimal increase in bet size, but using subjective observable data is a smart move. If you were just watching the one player and saw his cards, you would likely question him and he would explain his reasoning. Without the reasoning, the observer would be left in the dark and likely think less of said player’s poker skills.