Looking for Mr. Personality at the NHL Draft

At the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, a gaggle of scouts will assess skating speed, shooting accuracy, and a host of other physical skills. Meanwhile, MLive.com has a feature story this morning on Pondera Advisors, a Michigan consulting firm that examines the psychological side of NHL prospects:

The firm uses a proprietary psychological work-up titled Virtual Coach, offering a window into how players' thought processes might affect performance.

Pondera Advisors' client list includes the National Hockey League's Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

"It's been incredibly accurate in terms of evaluating the personalities we're dealing with," Rick Dudley, the Blackhawks assistant general manager, said of Virtual Coach. "It gives us an idea of what kind of hockey player we're looking at, what will make them function well."

Lots of people tend to dismiss psychological or personality profiling (such as the Myers Briggs test, I'm an INTP by the way) as psuedo-science, but the business world has found great value in it.  When assembling work teams, understanding of the personality types of various individuals, and how they interact with others, can greatly influence the structure and work habits of a team. Some members, for instance, may "think out loud" and dominate a discussion, while others might be more introverted. The introvert's silence may be mistaken as tacit approval of what's being said around the table, but in reality, a good team leader has to make sure they aren't overlooked.

A hockey team is no different - on the ice, some players are more vocal than others, and particularly when you're talking about defensemen and goaltenders, verbal communication is an important facet of the game. Off the ice, these guys spend a great deal of time in game-planning sessions, workouts, and of course travel time; taking an educated approach to how these various individuals mesh together is just common sense, when you're talking about the financial and competitive stakes involved.

The bottom line is making the proper investment into players, [Pondera Advisors partner Rob] Elliott said.

"Being sure that a young prospect isn't going to clash with management or fellow players is crucial when it comes to drafting decisions that involve large salaries," he said. "If you draft a player, commit to pay him $375,000 and they never make it on the team, you have just thrown $375,000 away. ...

"We've yet to have a single person tell us that this thing didn't nail 'em. Everyone says that it's spot on."

This goes far beyond "good attitude and leadership skills", or "he'd be a good locker room guy"; this is about how individuals interact with each other, which is truly the foundation upon which teams are built.

While NHL Draft preview analysis typically focuses on the tangible aspects of the game, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this type of work help teams make the decision between otherwise comparable players.

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