Saturday, February 27, 2010

Consensus and the NHL draft

Fans of the NHL draft often speak as if there is a lot of consensus about who is likely to go where in the draft. They might follow the ISS lists that come out every month, not see a lot of movement, and think that this means consensus is building. That notion needs to be dispelled.

First, we only see the lists of scouting services, not of the teams. So we only see a small portion of the qualified lists out there. Second, it's only the very top guys which scouts can agree on, and here we're only talking say top three. Beyond that, as you move away from the top, there is more and more variance, to the point where someone who is very high on one NHL team's list may not even appear on another's. Teams vary in their draft philosophy and tastes. There are 30 NHL teams, and that means 30 very different-looking lists. Teams usually only rank 125 guys per year. They did this even when there were nine rounds of the draft (290 taken) because no one likes the same guys and all 125 would never be taken.

First rounders regularly bust and guys who went undrafted regularly make the NHL. Thus it shouldn't be surprising that at age 17, opinions about these players should vary. But leading into the draft, when someone voices an opinion about a player that is seen to go against a perceived consensus, they are too often thought a fool. The Phoenix Coyotes took Blake Wheeler at fifth overall in 2004 and it raised a lot of eyebrows. It shouldn't have. The only thing they did wrong there was fail to take advantage of how little other teams valued Wheeler by trading down.

Back to the lists. There is usually a lot of change over the course of the season as well. Players who were good at age 15 and 16 often will plateau (Angelo Esposito), while the late-developers start to shine (Calvin de Haan). Seventeen-year-olds are only halfway developed. And at 17, players will develop just from the beginning of their draft year to the end. Late risers get taken high in every draft -- guys who are thought to have a lot of upside because they are still developing rapidly.

The Combine is a big factor in teams' rankings, with the battery of tests and interviews that it has. Peter Holland fell in the eyes of many, with the exception of Anaheim, after last year's. The playoffs are key too. And the playoffs for the junior leagues are still in the thick of things when the Central final list comes out. There's still lots more to go. Plus the U-18s, don't forget those. They can make or break someone.

All of this variance means that trying to do a mock draft before about April is pretty much ludicrous. You're much better served simply learning the players early in the year rather than trying to match them up with teams. NHL teams don't make their final list until early June just after the Combine. This is when mock drafts should be done.

Some people find scouting service Red Line Report to be "out there" -- believing they have far-out opinions. I don't think they are any farther out than an NHL team is. Some things they get right, some things they get wrong.

Personally I find my opinions closest to those of Central Scouting. I think they overvalue size a bit, but if I know that going in I can mentally correct for it. Their goalie rankings are decent. They had A. J. Thelen lower in 2004 than some others did, and turned out to be correct.

In sum, scouts are paid to have strong opinions about players. And they do. And they vary -- widely.

If we knew which 40 or so guys from each draft were going to make the NHL, we could stop at two rounds. But it goes seven rounds, because no one is sure where the next player will come from.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Greg McKegg is an underdog

In my feature on Greg McKegg for Hockey's Future, I called him an underdog in the teaser. A reader asked why I used that term. He has good stats, how could he be an underdog?

Let me tell you how. Erie is one of three OHL teams that are on the American side of the border. Most NHL scouts live on the Canadian side. Right off the bat these teams gets scouted less. Are there still scouts at their home games? Yes, but only a few.

Second, Erie had some ownership, management and coaching issues in the recent past that soured a lot of people on the franchise. Former NHL coach Robbie Ftorek has been there for two and a half years now, and seems to really be whipping the team into shape. But the poor reputation is hard to shake.

These things lead to Erie's players being underrated. Happened last year with Ryan O'Reilly. You could also possibly include Jaroslav Janus in there, as he is now doing quite well as a 20-year-old in the AHL.

What about Andrew Yogan, you might ask. He's rated fairly high for the 2010 draft. Yes, he is, but he has been on scouts' radars for the 2010 draft for several years, long before he went to Erie in a trade last season. Yogan was the best player in the State of Florida and was going to go play in the USHL, when scouts intervened and steered him to the OHL. He ended up in Windsor, one of the rich teams, which wasn't a coincidence. But he disappointed there. He's got an NHL body and skates pretty well, so he'll probably go in the first three rounds just due to having the tools, but in my opinion he's a long shot to make it. He doesn't seem to have the desire. He seems to play like the game should just come to him.

McKegg on the other hand, hasn't had it easy. He sure is the apple of Ftorek's eye though. I went to Ftorek's post-game "press conference" (all three of us), and was a little nervous about asking him questions, knowing his penchant for yelling at people. But as soon as I said McKegg's name, his emotions changed, almost like a dad talking about his son. It's a high compliment when Ftorek likes you, so that speaks very well of McKegg. He seemed like a nice kid to me too, though he talks a little too fast for my taste. Makes it hard to transcribe.

Next year, for the 2011 draft, Erie will have David Broll. To me, he looks like he should be at least top 100. But I haven't seen anyone talking about him yet. What a surprise, given the team he plays on.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Some USHL features

Last week I went to Indianapolis for the USHL All-Star Game. It was very enlightening as far as the 2010-eligible pool goes. I'm probably making one more trip to see more games later in the year and then will write one big ranking article. So I'll hold comments until then.

Indianapolis is very easy to get around with good public transportation. I was able to take a city bus to the arena, which made me happy. Three-quarters of the bus/shuttle drivers I had were women, interestingly.

So far I've written features on Nate Condon, Jaden Schwartz and Cab Morris from that trip. I've got a few more to go, but they may have to wait until I get back from seeing some OHL games this weekend.

I enjoyed talking to Morris as he's an interesting guy, and Nate Condon was one of the few interviews when I wish I had my video camera going instead of a recorder. He has comic delivery that print just doesn't capture. He'll be a telecast favorite as he moves up. Schwartz I didn't get the feeling is a big talker.