Draft Expectations Part Two: Theory into Practice

Posted by The Coach on June 25, 2012
Draft

Before the draft I posted a piece detailing research I had done into the expected value of draft picks. One of the conclusions I came to was “it would be smart for a team to draft forwards in rounds one and two, then take defensemen in the middle rounds, then pick up a goaltender or two in the later rounds every year.” With this thought in mind, I went back through the Blue Jackets draft picks from 2000-2009 to see how they would have fared had they followed that advice. This was a simple exercise. I changed the Blue Jackets draft picks in rounds 1-3 into forwards, rounds 4-6 into defensemen, and round(s) 7 (and 8-9 pre-2005) into goaltenders. If the Blue Jackets selected the proper position, that picked stayed. If they didn’t, then the next player picked at the proper position was subbed in. Most of this research was done Friday night and Saturday morning. In other words, as the draft was occurring. By picking Ryan Murray (D), Oscar Dansk (G) and Joonas Korpisalo (G) in rounds 1-3, Josh Anderson (F) and Daniel Zaar (F) in rounds 4-6, and Gianluca Curcuruto in round 7, they did not even come close to following my recommendation. So let’s take a look back on how the Jackets would have fared, as well as try to figure out why forwards are better early and defensemen/goalies are better late.

First, I’ll quickly run through the changes made. The format is Round) Player CBJ Picked -> Player CBJ Should Have Picked (difference in pick value)

2000 Draft (Slight improvement)

Round 1) Rostislav Klesla (D) ->Raffi Torres (slight downgrade from Klesla to Torres)

Round 5) Tyler Kolarik (F)-> Alexander Barkunov (no change)

Round 6) Shane Bendara (G) -> Erik Reitz (slight upgrade to Reitz)

Round 7) Janne Jokila (F) -> Jure Penko (no change)

Round 8) Peter Zingoni (F) -> Alexander Polukyev (no change)

Round 9) Martin Paroulek (F) -> Nick Boucher (no change)

Not much movement in 2000. Klesla and Torres have been more or less equally valuable over the course of their careers, with Klesla getting a slight advantage due to being a defenseman. Bendara never made the NHL, while Reitz played half a season. That constitutes a slight upgrade, but barely worth mentioning.

2001 Draft (Significant Upgrade)

Round 1) Pascal Leclaire -> Tuomo Ruutu (significant upgrade)

Round 3) Aaron Johnson (D) -> Nicolas Corbeil (downgrade)

Round 5) Cole Jarrett (F) -> James Hakewill (slight downgrade)

Round 6) Justin Aikens (F) -> Marek Zidlicky (significant upgrade)

Round 6) Artem Vostrikov (F) -> Art Femenella (no change)

Round 7) Raffaele Sannitz (F) -> Jordan Sigalet (slight upgrade)

Round 8) Ryan Bowness (F) -> Brandon Crawford-West (no change)

Round 8) Andrew Murray (F) -> Sebastien Laplante (downgrade)

This draft would have seen two pretty good NHLers join the Blue Jackets in Ruutu and Zidlicky. Aaron Johnson and Andrew Murray are spare parts at best, and really wouldn’t have been missed in the organization.

2002 Draft (Downgrade)

Round 3) Ole-Kristian Tollefsson (D) -> Petr Kanko (downgrade)

Round 4) Ivan Tkachenko (F) -> Daniel Fernholm (no change)

Round 5) Lasse Pirjeta (F) -> Topi Jaakola (downgrade)

Round 6) Tim Konsorada (F) -> Jeremy Swanson (no change)

Round 6) Jaroslav Balastik (F) -> Kevin Kantee (slight downgrade)

Round 7) Greg Mauldin (F) -> Fredrik Norrena (slight upgrade)

Round 8) Steve Goertzen (F) -> Vasily Koshechkin (slight downgrade)

Round 8) Jaroslav Kracik (F) -> Matt Violin (no change)

Round 9) Sergey Mozyakin (F) -> Matt Davis (no change)

While a downgrade in total, this is really just a shuffling of depth players that added up in favor of the actual Blue Jackets draft in aggregate. None of the players listed here had much of an impact, just a number of guys who played a handful of games in the NHL.

2003 Draft (Significant Upgrade)

Round 3) Dmitry Kosmachev (D) -> Mikhail Zhukov (no change)

Round 4) Kevin Jarman (F) -> Martin Lojek (slight upgrade)

Round 4) Phillippe Dupuis (F) -> Jan Hejda (significant upgrade)

Round 5) Arsi Piispanen (F) -> Tim Cook (no change)

Round 7) Alexander Guskov (D) -> Mike Brodeur (slight upgrade)

Round 8) Mathieu Gravel (F) -> Jeff Weber (no change)

Round 9) Trevor Hendrikx (D) -> Brian Elliott (significant upgrade)

The 2003 draft is legendary. It’s probably the best draft in NHL history (and arguably all sports history). The Blue Jackets got almost nothing out of the top of this draft. Even without changing that, they still could have had a very successful draft. Bringing Jan Hejda into the franchise from the beginning, as well as Brian Elliott would have been significant upgrades over players who did not contribute to the team at all.

2004 Draft (Very Significant Upgrade)

Round 2) Kyle Wharton (D) -> Brandon Dubinsky (significant upgrade)

Round 3) Dan Lacosta (G) -> Johan Franzen (significant upgrade)

Round 3) Andrey Plekhanov (D) -> Dustin Boyd (upgrade)

Round 5) Petr Pohl (F) -> Nikita Nikitin (significant upgrade)

Round 6) Lennart Petrell (F) -> Kevin Schaeffer (slight downgrade)

Round 7) Justin Vienneau (D) -> Gabriel Bouthillette (no change)

Round 8) Brian McGuirk (F) -> Martin Houle (slight upgrade)

Round 9) Grant Clitsome (D) -> Bjorn Bjurling (downgrade)

While Clitsome represents a loss, he is more than overcome by the additions of Dubinsky, Franzen, Boyd and Nikitin. Those are some very good NHL players (minus Boyd) that could have been added very, very easily. What makes this hurt even more is that the Jackets traded down from the 4th pick. In exchange they received the 8th overall pick and a 2nd rounder. The 4th overall pick ended up being Andrew Ladd. The 8th overall was Alexandre Picard, the 2nd was Kyle Wharton. Ugh. Picking Dubinsky with that 2nd would have saved the Jackets from giving up Ladd.

2005 Draft (Downgrade)

Round 3) Adam McQuaid (D) -> Marc-Andre Cliche (downgrade)

Round 3) Kris Russell (D) ->Evan Brophey (signficant downgrade)

Round 4) Jared Boll (F) -> Keith Yandle (significant upgrade)

Round 5) Tomas Popperle (G) -> Brennen Turner (slight downgrade)

Round 6) Kirill Starkov (F) -> Vyacheslav Buravchikov (no change)

Round 7) Trevor Hendrikx (D) -> Pat McGann (no change)

While in aggregate this draft was a downgrade, it wasn’t in reality. McQuaid was dealt by the Blue Jackets for a 5th round pick (I don’t the heart to tell you who the 5th rounder became) before he ever played a game for the organization. Russell to Brophey is a loss, but Boll to Yandle is a such a huge upgrade that it would have completely changed the past and future of this franchise. Yandle is the exact kind of player they want James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray to be, but aren’t (time will tell for Murray).

2006 Draft (Significant Downgrade)

Round 3) Steve Mason -> Robin Figren (significant downgrade)

Round 5) Robert Nyholm (F) -> Pavel Valentenko (no change)

Round 5) Nick Sucharski (F) -> Cody Wild (no change)

Round 7) Derek Dorsett -> Marc Cheverie (downgrade)

Round 7) Matt Marquardt (F) -> Billy Sauer (no change)

This year is probably the one that favors the actual Blue Jackets draft the most. Mason is a significant upgrade per these metrics, but most of his value is derived from his rookie season and the number of games he piled up with poor numbers over the last three years. He is basically the equivalent of a forward putting up an 80 point season followed by three 15 point years. I love Derek Dorsett almost as much as anyone, but 3rd/4th line grinder types can be found in free agency every year. Still, that’s a big improvement on an ECHL goaltender.

2007 Draft (Significant Upgrade)

Round 2) Will Weber (D) -> TJ Galiardi (upgrade)

Round 4) Maksim Mayorov (F) -> Alex Martinez (upgrade)

Round 6) Allen York (G) -> Alain Goulet (slight downgrade)

Not a lot of changes seen here. This is also where the methodology starts to get a little sketchy. Weber and York still may have an impact in the NHL. However, we know already that Galiardi and Martinez are useful NHLers, something we don’t know for York and Weber.

2008 Draft (Slight Downgrade)

Round 2) Cody Goloubef (D) -> Luke Adam (upgrade)

Round 5) Matt Calvert (F) -> Greg Pateryn (downgrade)

Round 5) Tomas Kubalik (F) -> Mark Borowiecki (slight downgrade)

Round 6) Cam Atkinson (F) -> Luke Witkowski (slight downgrade)

Round 7) Sean Collins (F) -> Morgan Clark (no change)

In reality, this is the draft where my method would have had the worst impact on the Blue Jackets. While Adam would be a very good addition, the loss of Atkinson, Calvert and Kubalik is significant. However, those three picks stand out to me as something I really like when drafting forwards late. All three are players with a solid amount of offensive skill, but just have a major flaw to overcome (size for Atkinson/Calvert, skating for Kubalik). I would much rather see a home run swing on a forward late than the selection of a player with solid size and skating, but not possessing much offensive upside.

2009 Draft (Slight Downgrade)

Round 1) John Moore -> Jordan Schroeder (slight downgrade)

Round 7) Kyle Neuber (F) -> Petteri Simila (no change)

Again, not much actual change here. At this point Moore has outperformed Schroeder in the NHL, but that could easily changed. Schroeder has been a solid contributor in the AHL and looks like he’ll have a shot at the NHL in the near future. Moore was still learning in the NHL this year and could easily end up back in the AHL again this year. Neither Simila or Neuber are prospects anymore.

Totals

Significant Players Gone: Klesla, Leclaire, Clitsome, Russell, Boll, Mason, Dorsett, Atkinson, Calvert, Kubalik, Moore

Significant Players Added: Torres, Ruutu, Zidlicky, Hejda, Elliott, Dubinsky, Franzen, Boyd, Nikitin, Yandle, Martinez, Adam

Those two lists aren’t even close. As much as I love Cam Atkinson, he’s likely the only guy on that list who will likely have a significant impact on the Blue Jackets moving forward (John Moore has a chance). Ruutu, Zidlicky, Hejda, Dubinsky, Franzen and Yandle would have significantly altered the franchise’s history. And while Brian Elliott may have been pretty bad in Ottawa and Colorado, he really found himself playing under Ken Hitchcock. It’s very possible he’d have made the same leap a couple years earlier under Hitch in Columbus. That would effectively negate the loss of Mason.

With this kind of analysis, I was able to add up the value of every draft pick from 2000-2009 for every team. In this way, we can figure out what teams were the best at drafting over that period of time. Top ten were Buffalo, San Jose, Montreal, Toronto, Colorado, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston and Detroit. Bottom ten were Columbus, St. Louis, Anaheim, Vancouver, Atlanta, Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. Just by following the method I laid out, the Blue Jackets would jump from the 21st best drafting team, to the 10th best drafting team over the period looked at.

So how does this make sense? When you break down how teams draft, how players develop and how they are scouted, it makes sense. Teams create one large list of all players they are considering. For most teams, they will almost always take the best player available on their list when it comes to their pick. This is why the second day of the draft goes so quickly. There is almost no discussion done by teams. They simply select the highest player left on their list. This means the creation of a list in which scouts must compare forwards to defensemen to goaltenders. That is a very difficult proposition. My method makes this much easier, as they could create three lists: one for forwards, to be used in rounds 1-3; one list for defensemen for round 4-6, and a list for goalies in the 7th round.

The second reason why is more instructive. A common adage is that defensemen and goaltenders take longer to develop. This has held pretty true as well, outside of players drafted at the very top of the draft. So by extension, forwards are more developed when they are drafted. How does this equate to drafting? Here’s an analogy: if I showed you 25% of a drawing and 75% of a drawing, could you tell me with any sort of confidence which drawing would be better when completed? With the 75% completed drawing, you could probably judge fairly accurately how it might come out. With the 25% finished one, you would have no idea. Now apply this principle to hockey players. The forwards are closer to being a completed picture, and therefore are much easier to tell how they will end up. Goalies and defensemen are rough sketches, that will take a lot more work before they reach their capacity.

The final reason why this makes sense to me is the skillsets that are being scouted. There are a number of skills that a forward needs to be successful. Of these, skating, shooting, passing and creativity are very easy to see, no matter what the competition is. Watching a player in junior hockey, you can see these skills. That is why most talented forwards go high in the draft. For defenseman and goaltenders, their abilities are difficult to judge, as a large portion of what they do on the ice is influenced by the forwards they are playing against. The play of goaltenders and defensemen is primarily reactive, while forwards are primarily proactive. A defenseman may look good shutting down 17 year old OHLers, but maybe his center of gravity isn’t low enough to win those battles in the NHL. A goalie may look solid stopping Junior player’s shots, but how will he fare on a Chara slapshot? These are difficult questions to answer, and are basically an educated guess. There are fewer educated guesses made when evaluating the skills of forwards, and those educated guesses made are not as integral to the skills needed to be a successful forward in the NHL.

Blue Jackets 2012 Draft

So with this knowledge in hand, let’s take a quick look at the latest draft by the Blue Jackets.

Round 1) Ryan Murray (D)

While I don’t hate the Murray pick, and he could solidify the Blue Jackets defense for the next decade, I personally would have draft Alex Galchenyuk with this pick. Solid all around defenders can be found later in the draft. Elite offensive ability is much more difficult to find.

Round 2) Oscar Dansk (G)

I didn’t hate this pick that much at the time, as the Blue Jackets cupboard is a little too bare in net. However, following my model, I would have taken Martin Frk or Pontus Aberg with this pick. Both players have elite level offensive ability, while having other question marks (skating for Frk, size for Aberg).

Round 3) Joonas Korpisalo (G)

I did not like this pick at all. Not with Tim Bozon and Scott Kosmachuk still on the board. I understand the desire to restock the goaltending cupboard, but goalies drafted in the 3rd round have actually fared worse historically than goalies drafted in the 7th round.

Round 4) Josh Anderson (F)

When watching this draft live, I wanted Andreas Athanasiou or Seth Griffith here, to at least add some offensive punch to the prospect pool. Instead they went with a different London Knight. The next defenseman drafted was Rhett Holland, but I had Mikko Vainonen and Calle Andersson as the highest rated defensemen left. As for the Anderson pick, this may be my least favorite one made by the Jackets this season. The London Knights had six players drafted in 2012, and had two other players who easily could have been (Michael Houser and Matt Rupert). They were possibly the most scouted amateur hockey team in the world this season. 6’1, 190 pound forwards who are good skaters do not fall to the 4th round when they are scouted that much unless they do not possess much offensive skill. Players at this section of the draft all have holes to their game, unless they are well-rounded and just not quite good enough. I would rather take a risk on a player with a hole and hope he fixes it (ala Atkinson, Calvert and Kubalik), then draft a player with no obvious hole, but probably not skilled enough to ever play a significant role (ala Anderson).

Round 6) Daniel Zaar (F)

To be fair, I know next to nothing about Zaar. By this point in the draft, even those who follow the draft for a living don’t know all the players being taken. So I can’t comment much on Zaar. However, by the model I layed out, this pick should be a defenseman. The next defenseman I had on my board is actually Gianluca Curcuruto.

Round 7) Gianluca Curcuruto (D)

I like Curcuruto, enough that I would have taken him an entire round earlier. This pick should be the best goalie left, and in this case a pretty highly ranked one was still on the board. Brandon Whitney, the 6’5, 2nd rank North American goalie was still on the board. Had the Blue Jackets not used two early picks on goalies, he would have been a great choice.

Alright, the Blue Jackets have had their say and I’ve had mine. Let’s sit and watch over the next decade and see if the Blue Jackets draft (Murray, Dansk, Korpisalo, Anderson, Zaar, and Curcuruto) outperforms my draft (Galchenyuk, Frk, Bozon, Vainonen, Curcuruto, and Whitney).

Note: I don’t necessarily think that the practice outlined above should be a hard and fast rule. What I do believe is that players should be drafted for their offensive skill in rounds 1-3 (usually forwards), then take hit or miss players in rounds 4-7, then a draft a goalie or two in rounds 4-7.

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