At best, it's a roll of the dice.
Even with all the homework, gut instinct and educated guesswork that go with the gig when you're an NHL amateur scout, you still get it wrong more often than not.
So, if you get it right, or it at least appears you might because the kid you convinced the boss to draft two or three years ago looks like he has as much chance of being a player as a bag boy at Safeway - or, worse yet, Ed Caron - you count your blessings. Framed like that, Chris McCarthy and Brad Davis liked what they saw as they watched a handful of Edmonton Oilers prospects skating at the AgriCom yesterday.
Specifically, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, the centre the Oilers drafted 22nd overall from Rimouski of the QMJHL in 2003, and Matt Greene, the University of North Dakota defenceman who was taken 44th in 2002 and just passed up his final year of college to turn pro.
Pouliot and Greene haven't played one minute in the NHL, and there's no guarantee they will, but they and two or three other kids will push for jobs when the Oilers open training camp Tuesday.
First things first.
"Seeing them develop is very satisfying," McCarthy said. "The thing is, you learn from it. You ask yourself, 'Why was I right? What did I see in this guy? What about his character or something he did is helping him make it?'
"Why are guys like this on the verge of playing in the NHL while other guys are never going to make it? You learn when you're right and you learn when you're wrong."
McCarthy, beginning his 14th season with the Oilers, and Davis, in his ninth, aren't claiming Pouliot and Greene as their finds. Kevin Prendergast's entire staff has a hand in who gets picked - for better or worse.
With plenty of the latter during some lean drafts in the 1990s, watching the development of Pouliot, first spotted on a sad-sack Oceanic team before Sidney Crosby arrived, and Greene, who started making noise with Green Bay of the USHL in 2001-02, has been rewarding.
Pouliot, 20, survived a 2002-03 season in Rimouski in which the Oceanic were abysmal, turning heads with 32-41-73 in 65 games. Pouliot had 114 points last season and the Oceanic went to the Memorial Cup, losing to Robbie Schremp and the London Knights.
"That was a bad team," laughs Davis, recalling his first look at Pouliot. "The thing that stood out for me wasn't that he made some nice plays and good moves with the puck, it's that he never gave up."
Greene, 22, is a six-foot-three, 230-pound banger who reminds a lot of people of Jason Smith. It was obvious from the first time McCarthy saw him that he had the physical tools. Of course, that's no guarantee.
BIG, RAW KID
"You could see the potential," McCarthy said. "To see him turn out the way he has so far is satisfying, but you never know for sure it'll happen. I just remember him being a big, raw kid who skated very well."
As a bonus, Greene has the same nasty disposition as Smith. His off-season training includes working with two pals who are up-and-comers in the world of mixed martial arts - the Ultimate Fighting Challenge guys who knock each other's teeth out with fists, elbows and whatever else they can maim each other with.
"You could see he had an edge to his game," McCarthy said. "I liked his grit, the way he got in people's faces. Nothing has changed. We could see this kid was a bit of a mean bastard. He makes you pay a price."
Tuesday, the learning curve gets steeper yet. McCarthy, Davis and the rest of the Oilers scouts will continue to watch their works in progress.
"Anybody can recognize talent," Davis said. "You can go into a junior rink and see who stands out. What happens after that? Does a kid have what it takes to take the next step? Some do. A lot don't."