By Jason Lockhart
Could you imagine attending over 200 hockey games in one season? That's the life of Islanders Chief European Scout Ryan Jankowski.
The 10-year scouting veteran began his European duties for the Islanders three years ago. Prior to that, he worked for one season in North America for the Islanders, starting his career scouting six seasons for the WHL Spokane Chiefs.
"My father was a longtime scout following his career as a professional hockey player," Jankowski says. "He brought me to the rink when I was young and I learned to love the game."
Ryan's father, Lou, played in the NHL for Detroit and Chicago for four seasons during the 1950s before becoming a scout. Lou spent 15 seasons scouting for the New York Rangers.
Ryan's responsibility as Islanders Chief European Scout could be described more as an adventure. Throughout the hockey season he travels to as many as nine European countries in search of the most promising junior prospects.
His expeditions have taken him to hundreds of rinks, but the most infamous he remembers is one he visited in central Moscow: the training site for the Junior Dynamo team. Jankowski describes it as being bitter cold, rundown and not a good place to watch a hockey game.
"In the fall and spring you go outside to warm up," Jankowski recalls, "but in the winter it's the same temperature inside as it is outside."
However, the European rinks, as a whole, have dramatically improved in quality over the past decade. Jankowski argues that despite some inadequate facilities, such as the one in Moscow, many are as nice as the ones you would find in North America.
Being on the road for so long, Jankowski appreciates the nuances of the different rinks. There is a stark contrast between the atmosphere at the junior European games and the professional ones. He says that at the junior games there might be no more than 50 people, with the crowd consisting of family, friends and scouts. The pro games, in comparison, are some of the rowdiest hockey games in the world.
"The fans are so involved at the games." Jankowski says. "There is chanting, singing, and even drum-beating. It's very exciting."
Jankowski focuses on the junior prospects that are eligible for the NHL Entry Draft.
Skills and skating are the traits at which Jankowski first looks at closely, but it's in their competitive spirit that, he says, makes or breaks a prospect.
"Skating and skills are important, especially in the new NHL, but in my first season as a European scout, I learned that tempo was important as well," Jankowski opines. "These juniors might look good in Europe, but in order to compete effectively throughout a grueling 82-game NHL schedule, they need to be able to kick into another gear. They need to have the drive to compete hard."
Europeans have certainly been productive in the NHL, evident by the increase in European draft selections over the past 15 years. However, the new CBA agreement has made it more difficult to retain European prospects after they've been drafted. Teams now only have two years, following the draft, to sign European players before losing their rights. Prior to the new CBA, Jankowski explains that European rights could be held until players were as old as thirty.
Despite the risk of losing potential European prospects, Jankowski believes that the Islanders should continue to draft European players because they bring a "different dynamic than North American players."
New GM Neil Smith has a history of drafting European players early in the draft. In his ten years as Rangers GM, Smith selected a European-born player three times (Alexei Kovalev, Niklas Sundstrom and Pavel Brendl) in the first round.
Jankowski is not alone in covering Europe. The Islanders have other scouts in the major areas, such as Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic.
"These scouts are the eyes for us and do all the leg work within their respective countries," says Jankowski, who works with Vellu Kautonen, Anders Kallur, Karel Pavlik and Sergei Radchenko. "These scouts are a huge part of the Islanders' scouting staff and in the end make my job easier."
While the Islanders may not select a European in the first round, Jankowski and his fellow European Islanders scouts will be on hand draft day fielding any questions Smith and Co. have regarding European prospects.
"If any European player is drafted, then credit should be given to the entire scouting team." Jankowski states. "Draft day is really a team effort."
The 2006 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for Saturday, June 24th in Vancouver. The Islanders Draft Party, presented by Last Licks, Commerce Bank and The Mortgage Zone, begins at 5:00 pm at Nassau Coliseum. Admission is free.