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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Just How Important Is Character?

Now there's a question for you! NHL teams put a lot of emphasis on character and even the most talented of players can suffer in the draft because of the lack of it, or bad character. Some look at character and leadership as 2 different qualities. That may be, but can you have leadership without character? Can someone with a bad attitude or lack of character be a good leader?

Players are under a microscope in their draft eligible years. Some for the good reasons and some for bad. Not a day went by last season that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin didn't have a microphone or camera in front of them. The same could be said about Kirill Kabanov, but for all the wrong reasons.

This year is the same for guys like Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and to a lessor extent, because he's in Sweden, Adam Larsson. Even the next tier, guys like Ryan Murphy, Seth Ambroz and Gabriel Landeskog are getting interview requests at an amazing pace.

Did these kids learn a lesson from the Kabanov saga from last season? The players are so much more prepared than ever when it comes to public perception because nowadays, NHL GM's want to see how they handle themselves. Agents are better preparing their clients for what's in store for them. They bring in outside help to assist them and the players seem to be accepting it as part of the process.

So is there a "bad boy" in this crop? There isn't one in sight, but things change. In Kabanov, we saw a guy who had top 10 potential as a hockey player, some say even top 5. And the New York Islanders "gambled" on him in the third round. Could that happen to a Couturier, Nugent-Hopkins or a Larsson? Sure, but i highly doubt it.

Now, i don't want to get into the whole issue with Kabanov's perceived problems, but the one that is talked about a lot is his "meddling" father. That may be true and may not be. Did he have professional help on how to project himself? No. He couldn't keep the same agent for extended periods of time. Did that hurt? Possibly.

The kids today are so well "trained" that it often becomes difficult to establish if they are being themselves or if it is a response he's been trained for. GM's and scouts counter with some "ridiculous" questions to get into the inner core. We may find some of those questions "out of this world" but it says a lot about these kids.

The fact of the matter is that character is very important to NHL teams. And this years crop has it in abundance. I've talked to a lot of these kids and almost all of them are willing to put themselves at the forefront. I don't see any of these players dropping far because of character issues.

Cal Botterill of the University of Winnipeg did a report on the psychology of hockey and the character of a hockey player in 2004. Here's what he had to say:

Honesty and the ability to nurture trust and respect are important. Hockey people "see through" people quickly, so it is critical to be "authentic". Hockey is a "team" sport, and authenticity, respect and trust are essential to becoming a "real" team vs. a "pseudo" team (Botterill and Patrick, 2003). Obviously good listening and empathy skills can be a big help. In the end, hockey people want "No B.S."!!

He added, It’s also important to be flexible regarding when you are available. The best timing may be "on the road", "on short notice", by e-mail or phone, or at a different time than you might have thought!

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