The NHL draft is a strange thing. There can be top-10 picks that never play a single game in the league, and there can be 6th round picks that turn into Hall of Fame players (hello, Daniel Alfredsson). The draft is so volatile, just because literally every year the majority of players don't even come close to playing in the NHL. The thing that annoys me about the draft is what happens years afterwards.
Teams fall into this trap all the time, and it's that they give way too long leashes on players that were picked in the first round. This happens to a degree for 2nd round picks as well, but not nearly to the same extent. Sadly the Ottawa Senators fall into this trap too often, much like most other organizations. I can understand why they get long leashes though.
From the minute these players are drafted, they will get to go up on stage and have the focus completely on them for a few minutes. On a Canadian team like Ottawa, the player will get interviewed on TSN and right away millions of people across the country have insanely high expectations for this player that is only 18 years old. When someone like Pierre Dorion is your Assistant GM, of course the fan base is going to have high expectations.
You will seldom here Dorion say anything bad about a prospect, and he consistently indicates that prospects will be Ottawa Senators. He said that about Nick Paul and Tobias Lindberg the other day, which isn't even a certainty even though they are close to being NHL players. My point is that these 18 year olds are expected to be quality players, especially by the organization.
I know that the Senators need to always have good public image, and giving up on a former first round pick does not look good. I think we can agree that the Bobby Ryan trade was in response to losing Alfredsson so that the fans would be happy with a "big move," and holding on to veterans Chris Phillips and Chris Neil was also in response to not losing other life-time Senators.
So Bryan Murray and the Senators make moves with the public perception in mind, and giving up on somebody who had lots of pedigree going into his draft year looks bad on the organization. Furthermore, it isn't the greatest look on the scouting department for drafting a bust in the first round.
I do understand why it's hard to admit your mistakes. Still though, Ottawa has very long leashes for their first round picks, and so do other teams. Two players immediately came to mind when I came up with this topic: Jared Cowen and Matt Puempel. While the team may finally be realizing that it's time to move on from Cowen, he has been given the longest rope imaginable for someone who has struggled as much as he has.
It'll be interesting to see if he continues to be scratched (presuming Patrick Wiercioch isn't out long-term), and if Murray is growing tired of his attitude. Even Bruce Garrioch was critical of Cowen last week, saying that "if Murray speaks, you might want to listen." You rarely hear Garrioch say something so negative about Cowen, which leads me to believe that perhaps others in the organization are starting to sour on him as well.
Still though, he has been given way too much time to figure things out. Let's consider a comparison: Mike Hoffman was a QMJHL MVP, and he lead the AHL in points with 67 in 51 games before getting called up. However, he was just a 5th round pick. So when he had only 3 goals and 3 assists in his first 29 games over the course of 3 NHL seasons, people were writing him off.
Granted, he was 24 at the time, but it's not like he hadn't been producing at all different levels. He was even placed on waivers in 2013, and now we thank god that nobody took him. I'm willing to bet that if he was a first round pick there would have been some team to take a chance on him. Cowen is now 24 years old, and he's turning 25 in a few months. You could give the argument that he's a late bloomer like Hoffman, but the thing is: he hasn't played well since his draft year in the WHL.
This is his fourth full NHL season, and he hasn't been able to get the job done. Yet somehow, he still is in the NHL and is making $3.7 million this year. Chris Wideman was drafted the year before Cowen, but because he was a 5th round pick who is listed at 5'10", he didn't have much rope at all. Now he is finally getting his chance.
The other player that has a long rope---comparatively at least---is Matt Puempel. It's not like he has been given a first line spot with power play minutes, but compared to Shane Prince he is getting better treatment. Prince was drafted just 40 spots after Puempel (in the 2nd round), and he has out-played him every single year since 2011. Prince had 90 points in 57 OHL games and 148 points in 206 AHL games, while Puempel had 80 points in 81 OHL games and 86 points in 142 AHL games. Prince averaged 59 points per 82 games in the minors, and Puempel averaged 50. But Prince has played fewer games this year.
Their NHL sample size isn't big enough just yet, but by my eyes Prince has been vastly superior. Personally, I think that Prince's game translates better to the NHL because of his skillset, his hands, and his speed. Puempel is known as a sniper, but he's almost useless if he has to play a bottom six role. Prince on the other hand, looks like he can adapt. It's strange to see that the organization has always talked up Puempel, but you rarely hear how good Prince was in the AHL last year.
Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci have a similarly long leash, in that they have been okay in their NHL careers, but not great. Everybody seems to love Lazar, and how can you not? But if Prince has 18 points after 83 games, he won't be in the lineup. Yet Lazar stays on that third line partially because he has a higher pedigree. I understand that he brings other elements to his game, but it's just interesting to note that.
Ceci as well hasn't been that great, and he was definitely rushed into the NHL. But because he's a first round pick, there's no way in hell that Ottawa will just give up on him yet. For a 7th rounder like Mikael Wikstrand or a 5th rounder like Fredrik Claesson though, they will have to truly earn it.
All NHL teams have this first round pick bias, so I'm not trying to single out Ottawa on this issue. But it is something that I wish would go away, because if a 5th round pick has outproduced another 1st rounder for 2-3 straight seasons after being drafted, there's no reason to believe that the 1st rounder is superior. Still the most obvious example of this massive leash is Cowen, and he is why I got thinking about this topic in the first place.
Teams like the Senators are still holding out hope that the dominant player they saw in Junior is the same NHL player, but sometimes it just does not happen. And in the case of Cowen, it's been evident for the past few seasons that it isn't going to happen.
First round picks get an insanely long leash of at least a few years in the NHL, whereas someone like Hoffman better hope that he has a good 20-game stretch or else he's in tough. How a player performs pre-draft should not dictate how long of a leash he gets in the NHL; rather it should be how well he performs post-draft. Just because you are a first round pick does not mean you are a good NHL player.