By Spencer Fascetta Twitter: @PuckNerdHockey
Every year, my favorite time of the NHL season is the Entry Draft. Hundreds of young hockey players are evaluated, their potential projected, and teams select numerous 18-year-olds to play for them 3, 4, 5 years down the road. However, the draft isn’t just the first 60 picks or so. How many players taken later in the draft actually make an impact in the league? More than you might think.
( Above Photo Credit: Maple Leafs HotStove )
How is it that the Ottawa Senators found Mike Hoffman in the 5th Round, 130th Overall in 2009? What about Ondrej Palat to Tampa Bay with pick number 208 in the 7th Round of the 2011 Draft? How did those same Lightning find Tyler Johnson as an undrafted free agent, who went on to be a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate in his rookie season, and is an offensive dynamo? They were all passed over in the draft. Hoffman and Palat were taken in their Draft+2 season, and Johnson was passed over all 3 years of his eligibility. This can happen for a number of reasons. There are players who, forever reason, take a little longer to hit their stride in their development curve. In cases such as Johnson’s, it could be a size issue. What it typically is, however, is a reluctance to select a player who has been passed over once already. Hoffman had 52 goals, 42 assists for 94 total points in 62 games in 2008-09 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL when Ottawa selected him. Jordan Caron, taken 25th Overall by the Boston Bruins, had 36 goals, 31 assists for 67 total points in 56 games for the Rimouski Oceanic in the same league. Peter Holland, taken 10 picks earlier than Caron at 15th Overall by Anaheim, had 28 goals, 39 assists for 67 total points in 68 games with the OHL’s Guelph Storm. In Hoffman’s two previous seasons of draft eligibility, he scored a total of 24 goals, 24 assists for 48 total points in 62 games. This is not an argument about teams not selecting him in either of those seasons; he did not give them significant reason to do so. However, he fell all the way to the 5th Round despite scoring more than 50 goals in a season, and totaling nearly 30 more points than two other CHLers taken in the 1st Round.
( Above Photo Credit: Zimbio .com )
So, the question is, why did this occur? Caron’s Draft+1 and Draft+2 seasons are difficult to evaluate accurately, as he missed significant time due to injury. He only suited up for 43 games in those two seasons between Rimouski and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, but he scored 28 goals and 27 assists for 54 points in those 43 games. Holland saw his totals increase in both his Draft+1 and Draft+2 seasons increase with Guelph, producing 30/49/79 in 59 games in his Draft+1 year, and 37/51/88 in 67 in his Draft+2 year. For simplicity’s sake, Caron’s Draft+1 and Draft+2 combined points per game average was 1.256. Holland produced 1.325 points per game in that same timeframe. Caron’s Draft+2 season points per game average was 1.435, and Holland’s was 1.313. This to the typical fan says that their development is going well; they are increasing their point totals each year, and are dominating as 20-year-olds in a league with players as young as 16. What was Hoffman’s points per game average in his Draft+2 season you might ask? 1.516. That is indicative of a much higher offensive upside than Holland or Caron, yet, since he had already been passed over several times, it must mean that his production is due solely to his age in comparison to his peers.
So, NHL, you need to add your overage prejudice on draft day to the litany of items that need immediate attention. Who heard of Viktor Arvidsson and Mattias Ekholm until this year? Anyone in Nashville, but not much of the general hockey public. Arvidsson was taken 3 years after his initial draft year, Ekholm 1. If your team could draft Arvidsson, Ekholm, Hoffman, or Palat in the 1st three rounds, I’m sure you would be pleased. But anywhere after that is brilliant asset management. With few picks in this year’s draft, why not maximize the value of those picks? In the 2017 Draft, take a shot on 5’8” St. Cloud State defenseman and WJC Gold Medalist (the only undrafted member of the team besides Jake Oettinger, who is in his first year of eligibility) Jack Achan if you want a young, puck moving defenseman who is lethal with his mind as much as he is with is stick. Need a goalie late? Niagara IceDogs’ netminder Stephen Dillon may be a worthy investment. Need a talented forward? How about Swift Current Broncos centerman Tyler Steenberger, who tallied 51 goals in the regular season, or Penn State winger Denis Smirnov, who put up 47 points in 39 games. They could be the difference between a perennial 1st Round exit and a Stanley Cup Contender for the next decade.