DALLAS – Following a distinguished playing career that included six NHL seasons, Kari Takko has become a well-regarded amateur scout for the Dallas Stars, who have drafted numerous Europeans that have become contributors.
Kari Takko may have played just five seasons for the Minnesota North Stars, totaling 131 games from 1985-90, but the former Finnish goaltender made enough of a lasting impression that when he decided on scouting as a post-playing career, the Stars hired him quickly.
With the franchise relocated to Dallas, Stars assistant general manager Les Jackson, who oversees the organization’s scouting enterprise, welcomed Takko to the club’s staff in 2000/2001 and has reaped the benefits ever since.
As the Stars’ Head European Scout, Takko has developed into one of the league’s most-respected judges of talent and has his finger-prints all over the NHL squad’s roster.
“I finished playing in 2000 in Sweden and after that, I called Les Jackson to see if they had anything available and they were just about ready to change their people in Finland,” said Takko, who played 11 more NHL games following a trade to Edmonton in 1990, before returning to Europe. “The timing was perfect and I knew Les from Minnesota, so that’s a connection. Why scouting? You love the game and evaluating young talent. You might be wrong, but at the end of the day, you’re trying your best.”
“I’ve known him for a number of years,” added Jackson, who has been with the franchise since 1987. “In the course of his playing career, when he was getting close to the end at the NHL level, he had expressed an interest in becoming a scout and at that time, we didn’t really have a presence in Finland, so the first opportunity we had to hire him, we did, and it’s been a good story ever since. He’s done a great job for us over there.”
The NHL Draft coming up on June 30 at the Prudential Center in New Jersey represents the culmination of Takko’s tireless efforts over the last year gathering information on hundreds of prospects in all corners of the globe.
Evidence of how highly-regarded Takko is around the league, consider that incoming Stars GM Jim Nill, who was hired April 29, made several significant front office changes, including firing coach Glen Gulutzan, but he was thrilled to have Takko among his group.
“I know Kari very well,” said Nill, who spent the past 15 years in charge of Detroit’s tremendously successful scouting apparatus in his role there as assistant GM. “The scouting fraternity is pretty tight, we travel in packs, we’re all going to the same tournaments. We all think we’re finding some gem somewhere and you open up the door to the rink and there’s five other scouts sitting there looking at the same guy, so we get to know each other very well. Kari is very well-respected, I’ve respected him a long time. He does a great job and he’s a main part of our staff.”
Takko acknowledges that his experience playing at the highest levels of the sport, including 13 years for SM-Liiga’s Ässät Pori and three with Elitserien’s HV71 Jönköping, in addition to his six NHL seasons, helps him now as he evaluates prospects.
“That’s part of it, you know how much it takes to get there,” said Takko, who also represented Finland internationally on numerous occasions, including at the 1984 Winter Olympics, the 1988 Canada Cup and the 1996 World Cup, three World Championships and two World Junior Championships.
“They have to have a strong personality to be able to practice and play 80 games - that’s a lot of hard work. Conditioning is a big thing, it has been the last 10-15 years, and you just have to have that desire to be a player. I think in that part, it helps. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that you played in the NHL, you just have to have an eye for the game and hockey sense. You have to have a high work ethic, and this way you can have some influence in the NHL for your team.”
Takko certainly has impacted the Stars’ fortunes over the last decade, with numerous players dotting the Stars’ lineup that Takko - along with his staff of European scouts that report to him, including Rickard Öquist and Jiri Hrdina - is considered responsible for. One such example is Swedish forward Loui Eriksson, a second-round selection in 2003 who has developed into one of the Stars’ most prolific offensive contributors, as well as promising young defenseman Philip Larsen, a fifth-rounder in 2008 out of Denmark, among others.
One measure of Takko’s significance in the club’s decision-making process can be seen just by looking at the numbers - out of 93 total draft picks from 2001-12, 41 were European players.
“He has a major influence in that,” Jackson noted. “And the duty of that staff over there - that’s Kari, Rickard and Jiri - they see a number of top American kids and Canadian kids come over to the various tournaments, so they have a good base of the top players from North America, so they can compare what they have and give them a good idea where they can fit their players in.”
Of course, there are also many picks that do not turn out to be successful NHL players, and Takko notes that a crucial aspect of the job is learning from past mistakes.
“Three or four years into scouting, I think it’s that way for everybody,” said the native of Uusikaupunki, Finland, now 50. “You think that you know and then you make those mistakes and then you learn from them, and that’s a key. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re toast. The players are 17 years old, so you don’t know what happens with their families, there could be a divorce or something else, and they’re just kids, so it’s kind of hard to predict what they’re going to be when they’re 23, 24. There are so many other things than the hockey part.”
As for the less-glamorous side of scouting, Takko admits there are some issues that come with traveling all over Europe in the middle of winter, but wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“It’s about 180-210 games a year,” Takko says of his workload. “It’s tough having to travel in the cold, when it’s snowing a lot, no matter where you are. There are canceled flights and you can’t drive, and you miss some games. Then you try to catch up later, and that’s the toughest part, especially in the second half, after Christmas. When you miss a game or two because of bad travel, then you are trying to catch those games and your schedule gets a little complicated. I’m not complaining when I say that it’s a hard job, but that’s key - your scheduling and being organized.”
Having dedicated scouts like Takko is crucial to thriving in today’s salary-capped NHL, because successful drafting is the most efficient way to build a consistent contender. Of course, Takko typically deflects any credit he might receive for his role.
“You need a good supporting group around you,” Takko says. “It’s not one guy, it’s a team effort. It’s the Dallas Stars’ scouting staff, not just one guy.”