Through a series of poor life decisions, I recently found myself engaged in conversation with some Leafs fans. I had been lured to the bar under the false pretense of “Watching the Jays”, but upon my arrival, I realized I had stumbled into a trap and the gathering was actually a Mike Babcock Celebration Dinner.
“The one thing we know,” said one of my so-called friends, “is that if you give Mike Babcock good players, his systems are pretty much unbeatable. Just look at what he did in the Olympics.” The other Leafs fan nodded gravely. “Canada shut down Sweden in that Gold Medal Game. It wasn’t even close.”
“Yes,” I replied as I tried to resist the urge to carve out my own eyeballs with a spoon, “Only Mike Babcock was capable of making the hard decisions like ‘Do I start Carey Price or Roberto Luongo?’ or ‘How much ice time should I give Marty St. Louis?’. My dude scratched P.K. Subban. I bet he’s gonna love Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly.”
Undaunted, they continued: “He’s exactly the sort of coach I want coaching our young players. I think they want to draft Hanifin most, but they’ll take Marner if Hanifin’s not available.”
“Yeah, I bet Marner would be great in Toronto. I’m sure the famously forgiving Toronto media would not go out of their way to destroy the spirit of a Good Local Boy. By the way, how much alcohol do you think it would take for me to forget this conversation forever?”
Just as I was about to rush the bar and chug a bottle of tequila before anyone could stop me, a question was posed. “Hey Luke, where are the Senators drafting in the first round?”
I racked my brain. “Umm…something like 17th? I haven’t really been paying attention to draft position on account of having MADE THE PLAYOFFS.”
“So who would you like to take there?”
“I like the look of…Oliver Kylington?”, I said naming the most obscure Swedish prospect I could.
“Oh man, he’s dropped like a stone in the scouting rankings this season.”
So much for trying to impress by dropping names I heard on Twitter once. Turns out Leafs fans are pretty up on their draft minutiae. I guess that’s what happens when all you’ve had to look forward to for 8 months is that moment when you finally learn which teenagers will inevitably disappoint you. Being a Leafs fan is a lot like being an expecting parent of triplets in that way.
I’m not about that life. I’m not about to sit here and deliver blistering hot takes on a bunch of players I’ve barely watched. (Sample Hot Take: “I watched Lawson Crouse play in Kingston once. He impressed me, but not as much as Erik Gudbranson impressed me when I watched him a few years ago. Thx 4 reading.”) Amateur scouting is pretty difficult even if you’re a professional. You think I’m gonna buy what Craig Button has to say? He couldn’t even trade up to select a halfway decent pocket square.
Some teams who hire actual professionals can’t beat Central Scouting Services on average1, which is a little like going on Top Chef and losing to a guy with a frozen dinner and a microwave. Unless watching prospects is your life, your draft preview article should be exactly seven words long: “Your guess is as good as mine.”
Will that stop me from telling you exactly what I expect this weekend? Absolutely not! I’m gonna make like Balaam and start talking out of my ass!
Pierre Dorion or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Draft
Here’s something you rarely hear talked about: The Ottawa Senators are a hockey team which operates within fairly tight financial constraints. Normally these constraints manifest in the form of spending less money on hockey players, but the Sens also seem to have developed some guidelines to try to maximize drafting and development value as well. Based on what we’ve seen for the past seven or eight years, here’s what I expect to see this weekend:
1. The Senators will play it safe in the first round
Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar were Ottawa’s last two first round picks in 2012 and 2013 respectively (Ottawa selected Bobby Ryan in the first round last year), and they’re both notable for how “projectable” they were. Lazar in particular was noted for having the game that would “best translate to the NHL” even as flashier players such as Anthony Mantha, Frederik Gauthier, and Hunter Shinkaruk were still on the board. The Bryan et. al. have rightly concluded that a budget team like Ottawa can’t afford to whiff on too many first round picks, and looking at their track record, you’d have to say they’ve done a pretty good job at drafting NHL players. Since 2008, I’d say the closest thing to a bust Ottawa has drafted would be Jared Cowen or Matt Puempel. And by bust, I mean “Jared Cowen has played 200 NHL games, and Matt Puempel’s going to have a good chance to make the team out of camp this season.”
Whoever the Senators draft in the first round this year, I’m sure Bryan Murray will say he’s capable of being a real good player in this league, but more importantly, he’ll probably be right.
2. The Senators might not play it safe in the first round
On the other hand, sometimes the Senators look at what’s available and say “You know what? We’re going to trade up (!!!) for an undersized Swedish force of nature who has one goal in seven games against men.” or “Actually, we’re going to pass on the QMJHL All-Star in favour of the kid whose favourite hobby is also the first two letters of the team he plays for in Sweden.” Is a history of reaching for risky Swedes an argument in favour of Oliver Kylington? Your guess is as good as mine!
Speaking of Swedes…
3. The Senators will not draft any Europeans, unless they’re Swedish
Click this link and as you scroll down, take special note of the nationality column. Ottawa is drafting players from a selection of countries that even most NFL teams would find limited in scope. The one player not part of the Canada-United States-Sweden triumvirate is Jakub Culek
tha GAWD who was drafted out of the QMJHL. I think in light of the Senators’ limited resources, they don’t really bother scouting European players at all, preferring instead to maximize their return on investment in North America and Sweden. (This is also why I think the Senators were never going to take Vladimir Tarasenko with the draft pick they trade for David Rundblad, so we can nip that little bit of revisionist history in the bud.) Basically, unless your favourite Slovakian wunderkind happens to play in North America at the moment, I doubt he’s coming to Ottawa. Sorry, Europhiles.
4. The Senators will draft A Good Local Boy
The phrase “hometown discount” gets thrown around disparagingly from time to time, but you can’t tell me that Marc Methot or Jean-Gabriel Pageau didn’t take one. Kelly Summers, Vincent Dunn, Cody Ceci, Corey Cowick, and Mark Borowiecki are some other examples of Good Valley Boys who got drafted by the team they grew up watching on
the CBC The New RO. The reasoning goes that if you draft players who like the Ottawa area because they are from the Ottawa area, they’re going to be more likely to want to stay in the Ottawa area (regardless of how much some might want them to leave). Here’s the thing though: it works! Listen to Pageau talk about his new deal2. The first words out of his mouth are about how he’s from the area and how he’s thrilled to be able to stick around where he’s got his family and friends.
Get excited, Sens fans, because this weekend the Senators are gonna be drafting The Pride of Merrickville Ontario, whoever he is.
5. Watch for “upside” in the mid to late rounds
If you’re confident in your ability to draft solid NHLers in the first two rounds, it means you can afford to take a few more risks later on. Maybe that means drafting a guy with soft hands who can’t skate and was injured for most of his draft eligible year. Maybe that means taking a flyer on a guy who has high end skill, but also has concussion problems. Maybe it means taking a look at a guy who played for an off-brand US junior hockey league, but had more points per game than Johnny Gaudreau that year.
The good news is that you only need to hit on one of these guys every four or five years to make it worth your while. Who else is feeling lucky?!?! *blows on dice at craps table*
210 players are drafted into the NHL every year, but most will never see an NHL game because there’s less than 700 roster spots available in the league. If three or four of the seven players you draft see any amount of NHL time, you’re doing better than average. Without a Top 10 pick, it’s unlikely the Senators draft the next Erik Karlsson or Mark Stone this year, but that’s only because it’s unlikely that they could draft the next Erik Karlsson or Mark Stone any year. I bet they’ll draft the next Condra or Pageau or Wiercioch though, and while that may not be the most exciting thing in the world, that’s the type of basic hockey team building competency that stops the Senators from turning into the New Jersey Devils.
The Draft: Like a long-term savings bond for your hockey team. Who wouldn’t be excited for that?
1. This is a good read. Turns out Ottawa comes out pretty far ahead in terms of their drafting ability over the long term.↩
2. Not the FDR type of New Deal.↩