Drafting based on need or position is ridiculous. If any GM in the league is advocating for this strategy, they are wasting the efforts and money committed for over 8 months of scouting each year.
First off, in order to address team needs, there is a focus on short-term organizational weaknesses. Yet, the draft typically brings NHL calibre players to the big leagues in 2-5 years. So, if an NHL team were to draft based on need, they wouldn't actually fill the void that's lacking in the line-up. Therefore, they've used bias to settle for a player, when in fact they won't even solve the immediate issues on their hockey team.
Secondly, you must draft the most skilled player available because ANY other attribute can be readily found on the free agent market and by way of acquisition. So, to every hockey reporter in the country: why must you ask management teams if they are drafting the best player available? Even if they aren't, what answer will you get every time? It sure won't be this:
"This guy we ranked 10th is a world class player and our scouts spent 70 combined hours scouting him. However, he plays LW and we could use a C, so we went with the guy we ranked 17th."
In terms of prioritizing player characteristics, NHL calibre role players with character and work ethic can be easy to acquire in other ways. So it's not necessary to draft high "character" players. Plain and simple: you have to draft your own skill. Skill is not usually made available in the market, and these assets can be traded to address team needs down the road. Far as I can see, Matt Pelech, Krys Chucko and John Negrin had plenty of "character."
Outside of severe personality issues, you have to be willing to take risks on smaller players, or those with deficiencies that can be taught. If the development of these players takes longer, so be it, but you must ensure the players groomed in the system have the potential to become impact players in the big leagues.
In the later rounds, I'm all for taking "flyers" on players. Don't shy away from more risky picks with higher upside. Rather than picking sure-fire NHLers based on size and character, there should be a willingness to draft "project" players in the 3-7th rounds. These selections may have a reduced chance of making the NHL in the short term, but could become high impact players further down the road. Feaster's scouting staff took a step in this direction last summer, drafting 5'6 130 pound winger John Gaudreau in the 4th round. In his freshman season with Boston College, Gaudreau scored 44 pts in 44 games, one point less than teammate (and current NHLer) Chris Kreider, while helping lead Boston College to a championship.
Here's a Rinknet report I filed on Brendan Leipsic, a smaller draft eligible player that the Flames could target:
Scouting report: Brendan Leipsic (Centre, Portland Winterhawks)
5'9 175 lbs. Birthdate: 5-19-1994
NHL comparable (style): Kris Versteeg
Puck Control: A-
Play away from puck: B
Hockey sense: B+
Overall rating: B+
Comments: Leipsic's offensive skills are impressive. In particular, he's able to use his speed and surprising strength to drive the opposition crazy. Brendan's willingness to battle is a major asset, especially for a smaller player. He doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game. His hands in tight are impressive, as he can ready himself for a shot very quickly in traffic. He is crafty with the puck on his stick.
There are areas that could use some work. He has a tendency to "run around," throwing his body at everything and chasing the puck carrier. He would be better served to angle players off and use his stick more frequently, so he won't be caught out of position. Also, he's prone to long shifts, so his play drops off in the last 10-15 seconds before he heads to the bench.
Having said that, his weaknesses are easy to teach, and could simply turn around with age and maturity. The Winterhawks' loss of Bartschi and Rattie for next season will elevate Leipsic's ice-time and he will be relied on more heavily as a leader. This should be great for his development. Presumably, he's ranked lower because of his size. In Leipsic, I'd expect to be getting a future top-9 forward. If he can add some weight and take a step forward next season, his NHL upside could be even higher than that.
The skill is there, he just needs to work on the finer details of the game. If he's still available, I'd recommend the Flames take a hard look at Leipsic in the 3rd round.
To me, the most important factor in any organization is player development. No matter what round a player is drafted in, he isn't going to become a quality NHL player without proper mentorship and development. I think this is becoming more and more apparent. The reality is, there are very subtle differences between teenagers on the draft floor. Whether he's selected at 14th overall or 114th overall, you won't have success with the player if he isn't brought along in the right environment. The best example of first class development is the Detroit Red Wings. Many of their stars are former late draft picks (5-7th rounds) and have become superstars in the league in recent years. Clearly, this is more about development than the kid's original drafting position.
The Red Wings gradual, patient approach puts confidence in young players. They are introduced to new challenges slowly, and Red Wing prospects are "over cooked" in the AHL before getting called up. This allows them to mature slowly and build offensive confidence as a pro, rather than being "thrown to the wolves." The Wings don't have a better chance than any other team of drafting a top player, but young players certainly benefit from developing in that system long-term.
Here's the Coles notes version:
1. Draft ONLY by skill
2. Take gambles in the later rounds
3. Put more emphasis on development. In turn, you'll become less dependent on projecting the careers of hockey players in their teens.
Should be a fun week!
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