The Pro Hockey Group, headed up by Jason Bukala, is taking the UFHL to another level of professionalism for the 2022-23 season.
Providing reports, ratings and projections on thousands of players as well as unprecedented access to Bukala — formerly the Florida Panthers’ director of amateur scouting and now an analyst for Sportsnet — this partnership offers expertise and mentorship for franchises and scouts in the Ultimate Fantasy Hockey League. Bukala’s team and tools have been assembled from nearly 20 years of NHL experience.
“My reach that I bring here, with my people that I have in place, it includes all of Europe and all of North America,” Bukala told the franchises during an introductory meeting. “You guys are now going to have access to the same people that I have access to, and it’s going to be an unbiased opinion. It’s a neat thing that you guys are essentially inheriting an NHL scouting department.”
Bukala was referred to the UFHL by Sportsnet colleague and fellow draft analyst Sam Cosentino, who formed the SaLu Scouting agency on the UFFS platform a year ago with Peter Loubardias, a Calgary Flames radio analyst with a passion for scouting hockey at all levels. Together, they have registered 39 prospects to date, highlighted by Luca Del Bel Belluz, who was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (44th overall) of this year’s NHL Entry Draft and the Royals in the second round (46th overall) of the UFHL Entry Auction.
“I’m fascinated by the platform,” Bukala said. “Sam and Peter started to tell me what you guys were up to over a year ago now. I’m excited about this partnership, and going forward I think it offers good exposure for everyone.
“All the guys at Sportsnet and the NHL Network use this module,” Bukala said of The Pro Hockey Group’s extensive database. “This year at the draft, it was really cool, if someone was an anomaly or they didn’t have a lot of information on a player, Sammy would pull it up on his phone or on his computer there on the panel, on live TV, he’s checking these cards and our updates on that player. So you’d now have access to all that same information.”
Craig Button, the former Flames general manager and Stanley Cup champion with the Dallas Stars turned TSN analyst and head scout, is also heavily involved with the UFHL as president of the High Level Scouting agency and director of scouting for the Duckman’s Domination franchise owned by Dean Millard.
Bukala’s role here is at large, consulting for all the franchises and any scouts that become members of The Pro Hockey Group. Bukala’s services will be available through annual memberships, packaging access to The Pro Hockey Group with other value-added tools.
“With some of my relationships, I’ll strive to help out in getting more and more of these types of platforms onboard because they are important. I use them all the time. You can’t see every player in the world 24 hours a day and information is power,” Bukala said. “That’s scouting, we want as much information as we can possibly get. That is a goal of mine, to give everybody as much information as possible without bias.
“There’s no bias from me,” he assured, having attended the World Juniors and most recently the Prospects Challenge tournament in Buffalo over the weekend. “Here’s my opinion, take it or leave it, that’s up to you. But if you have an opinion and you’re not sure about something and you want to drop me a quick email confidentially, because you’re working a deal with somebody on this platform, that’s just between us. I’ll give you my honest opinion and give you some feedback. I can be a sounding board that way. It’s just an extra set of eyes, but this is my career, it’s what I’ve been doing forever, so hopefully I can be an asset to the organization.”
The Pro Hockey Group joins a growing list of industry-leading partners, including EliteProspects, PuckPedia, DobberHockey, Fantalytica and Maplewood Athletics. The UFHL is also partnered with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association (PHPA), the collective bargaining representative for all players in the American Hockey League (since 1968) and the ECHL (since 1995), boasting approximately 1,600 members across 58 teams throughout North America. The PHPA Alumni Network includes a large percentage of current NHLers — more than 82 per cent of last season’s rosters — with a total reach of over 9,000 players worldwide.
More and more real world hockey people are gravitating towards the UFHL and the UFFS platform for the realism and professionalism. This is professional fantasy sports and the most realistic experience, mirroring the NHL and the entire hockey world 1-to-1, with the puck dropping on the UFAHL (AHL dynasty league) this winter and the UFWJ (World Juniors dynasty league) coming off a successful debut this summer. More leagues are in the works, with the U18 level potentially launching in 2023, and daily fantasy (DFS) options are being explored for all levels.
There are more than 4,800 hockey players registered on the UFFS platform — 2,675 are property of scouts, from current pros to the 2025 draft class (2007-born prospects) — and 30 professional players have signed as UFFS Digital Athletes to earn revenue sharing based on their percentage of fantasy points contributed. That group of early adopters includes Ethan Bear, Braden Schneider, Karson Kuhlman and Zach Fucale among those sharing 5% of the UFHL’s prize pool from 2022 — increasing to 7.5% for 2023 and 10% for 2024.
UFHL franchise ownership groups include the Malone and Conacher families, with the latter managed by Ryan Schmelzer, captain of the AHL’s Utica Comets, along with the Conacher brothers Cory and Shane. Together with their dad Dave, they purchased the Gators franchise for a record-setting $80K USD worth of SCORE Coin (SCO) back in December. Ryan and Brad Malone are both heavily involved with the Dynasty franchise, among other members of their family tree.
For aspiring scouts, the UFFS platform offers the ability to monetize their eye for talent, while networking with and learning from several prominent members of the hockey community. It can open a lot of doors in the hockey world as a training ground. Many scouts also end up affiliating with UFHL franchises, working their way onto UFHL staffs to help build feeder systems with the goal of winning championships — be it the Founders’ Trophy for the regular season or the Klein Cup for the playoffs. And agencies have also been recruiting and hiring scouts for their expertise, funding their operating budgets and rewarding them with revenue sharing. So there are no shortage of opportunities and earning potential for anyone wanting to make a name for themselves in the hockey world.
Bukala’s presence certainly adds to the professionalism, and he is willing to host scouting seminars and Q & A sessions for UFFS members a few times throughout the year.
“I know there are some aspiring scouts within your organization, some people that are interested in potentially making a career of it — either at the major junior, European or even the National Hockey League level I would assume, ultimately. Through this partnership, I am available in a mentorship role to answer questions or give feedback on anything you want,” Bukala said. “Feel free to pick my brain on anything that comes to mind … the inner workings of the National Hockey League, how to connect the dots in terms of getting the experience required to become an NHL scout, critiquing some of your game reports and giving feedback, I’m fine with that too. It's basically an open book.
“As far as up-and-coming players, if you want to know what I look for in players, or if you want me to double down and give you a report on a player that you don’t find in my system, I have the means to be able to do that, either myself or through my people. So it covers your whole world here, there isn’t anything untapped.”
The Pro Hockey Group is flush with data and analysis on players around the world, offering trusted evaluations through unbiased, professional, simple to access player and team information. Leveraging Bukala’s worldwide contacts, relationships, and scouting experience at all levels of Amateur and Pro, he has mined talent for the following teams over the last 20 years: Florida Panthers, Director of Amateur Scouting (2016-2020) and Assistant Head Scout (2010-2016); Nashville Predators, Amateur Scout (2005-2010); and the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Director of Player Personnel (2001-2005).
The Pro Hockey Group database is populated with scouting reports from expert evaluators around the world. Bukala, with his experience managing an NHL scouting department, oversees all regions and coverage categories at The Pro Hockey Group.
“When reports get populated in the system, they will be uploaded to The Pro Hockey Group website as they are completed. You’ll have access to the site 24 hours a day — available on your cellphones, tablets and laptops — and the database updates around the clock,” Bukala said. “If a player doesn’t appear on a list, send me a request and I will double down on it. If it is a player in Finland, I will reach out to my contacts in Finland and get them to do a game report for me, I’ll back it up with a video report myself, and we’ll come up with some sort of a feedback module for you. If it is an individual request, we’ll send it out personally through an email, giving our feedback on that player.”
This partnership will give UFFS members a direct line to Bukala for insight on players and prospects from around the hockey world — access that isn’t available anywhere else in the fantasy realm. And Bukala is looking forward to playing armchair GM as an advisor for the UFHL franchises as well.
“I can offer a second opinion if there is a transaction in the works and you want a second opinion confidentially,” Bukala said. “You can reach out to me and I’ll give you my opinion on that transaction, just like I would if Dale Tallon were calling me and saying ‘what do you think of this move?’ Same type of thing. It mirrors the NHL that way. I’m more than willing and that is fun for me too.
“Anything that I would have given to Dale Tallon, all the information he needs in case he’s going to make a deal, you guys are going to get the same in those summary reports on the card. And that will update all throughout the season.”
Follow the UFHL gameplay on Fantrax (2021-22 season, 2022 playoffs, 2022-23 season), and follow the entire hockey ecosystem, including the scouting side at hockey.uffsports.com. You can also check out the UFHL brands on the official UFHL website.
UFFS has 170 active scouts and is welcoming more every month across several sports, offering an opportunity to monetize your eye for talent! If interested in joining the fold or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.