Players are ranked based on how well they will translate to the professional game in the NHL. It was founded by hockey executive Jack Button in 1975 to establish a centralized database of NHL prospects.
Button served as the director until 1979. Its current director is Dan Marr.
The Department consists of staff at the NHL Offices in Toronto along with 8 full-time scouts and 15 part-time scouts throughout North America.
To report on prospects playing in Europe, the NHL employs the services of Goran Stubb and his staff of six scouts at European Scouting Services based in Finland.
All twenty-nine scouts reporting for Central Scouting will combine to see approximately 3000 games each year.
The full-time staff of the Central Scouting Service follows a checklist to assess the prospects' skillset and how it would apply to the pro game. Prospects are rated by skill as Excellent (E), Very Good (VG), Good (G), Average (A), Poor (P) or Not Applicable (NA) with different skills being emphasized amongst the different positions: forward, defenceman and goaltender.
The Service releases the contents of the checklists to the public from their website, so anyone can evaluate players at any level of play.
The rankings are compiled by numerous reviews by the professional scouts' combined opinions of the players and released as a bimonthly list.
Eligible players for the upcoming draft are ranked as North American Skaters, North American Goalies, European Skaters or European Goalies. The players fit under the North American or International player based on where they train.
For example, the Czech forward, Jakub Voracek was ranked as a North American prospect, because he played with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
A more recent example is American center Auston Matthews who was first on the European ranks as he played for the ZSC Lions of the NLA.
There are multiple times that the rankings come out during a year. Notably, the midterm rankings come out after the IIHF World Junior Championships and performance in the tournament greatly elevates draft status.
In early April, after all junior and European seasons are completed, the final rankings are released.
- Jack Button: 1975–1979
- Jim Gregory: 1979–1992
- Frank Bonello: 1992–2005
- E.J. McGuire: 2005–2011
- Dan Marr: 2011–present