Happy draft week! We hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage on Silver Seven — if you’ve missed anything you can find it all at this link. Between 29 player profiles and four podcast episodes, there’s no shortage of content. We wrap it up today with Colin and Ary discussing various draft topics, from evaluation strategies to team needs. This seemed to be a hit last year, so we’re bringing it back!
Has anything changed this year in our prospect evaluation?
CC: Personally, I think it’s important when evaluating prospects to separate the instinctual, ingrained elements from traits that can be taught through coaching and physical training. Betting on the former is almost always the better bet, and I think every year my opinion on which traits fall into which categories varies slightly.
For taught elements, I think I placed less value on skating than I have on the past. It’s an area that’s become dissected so thoroughly, with specialized coaches available, that I think it’s become easier than ever for a prospect to improve their skating. That doesn’t mean that I think skating has no importance — it’s been a defining factor of some of the NHL’s most recent championship teams. But I look at someone like Alex Beaucage, for example, who has the vision and creativity to impact the game despite his skating. If he puts in the work to improve in that area, whichever team lands him could be in luck. It’s much, much more difficult to train a player to see transition lanes better, for example, or be more creative with the puck on their stick.
The crux, however, is that the player actually puts in the work. As much as I enjoy making fun of scouts who randomly toss around buzzwords like ‘character’ and ‘compete level’, there’s something to be said about prospects who are able to assess their game and put in the work to become an NHLer. I’m not around arenas and talking to coaches to know which prospects are/aren’t working harder than others, however, so that didn’t affect my prospect assessments.
The only other way my views on prospect analysis have changed is just further expanding my arsenal of data tools. Mitch Brown always does fantastic work, and NextGen Hockey’s charts were also invaluable. Prospect-Stats.com also helped out a lot with their CHL + USHL data. It’s amazing to see how much prospect data continues to progress — there’s still occasionally an over-reliance on goal stats, although it helps fill in a lot of blanks and point us toward some potential sleepers.
AM: I’m not sure how much this impacts you as readers, because it’s always nice to get different perspectives, but Colin and I are similar in this way. While I think it’s important to highlight each player’s strengths and weaknesses heading into the draft, knowing what can change is key. Sometimes I’ve harped on the Sens taking players who are the children of former NHLers, but some of those picks — like Brady Tkachuk and Jonathan Dahlen — have turned out to be some of the team’s better choices relative to their draft class. Knowing that a prospect has guidance from people who have been there before, akin to students who have family members who have attended post-secondary schooling before as compared to those who are first-in-their-family, can lead to an advantage. How much is the key question, but I think I’m a lot more open to that being brought up by the team publicly than I have been in the past. Take a player like Nicholas Robertson, a 5-foot-9 winger with a boatload of skill. That Dallas’ 6-foot-2 Jason Robertson is his brother helps me play down some of the size-related concerns about his game in terms of his potential to physically grow, and to make an impact on the ice regardless.
Like Colin, I’m more open to players with skating concerns as long as they have good hockey sense — the trait I value the most when forming an opinion on a particular player. As Sens fans, we were treated to the luxury of watching Mark Stone for much of the last decade, and he’s basically become a poster child for players who can still be effective despite their skating. In this draft class, two of my favourites are Antti Tuomisto and Jordan Spence, puck-moving defencemen who we profiled earlier this week. The fact that they’ve had the success they’ve had despite their skating tells me a lot about their ability to make smart plays on the ice.
Reading and following the work of innovators in the field — some of whom Colin has mentioned — has also helped my perspective evolve. Being open to other perspectives, feeling comfortable to readily admit when I make a mistake, and changing your mind in light of new information are all traits that are important to me. For example, I’ve often talked in this space about prospect birthdates and their importance in terms of development. Well, just today, an analyst named Dave MacPherson showcased some data that suggests that age-related variances in a forward’s point-per-game are caused moreso by calendar year, rather than years and months. This would mean that we need to age-adjust accordingly between a Brady Tkachuk (Sept/99) and a Luke Loheit (Jul/00), but not so much between a Colin White (Jan/97) and a Filip Chlapik (Jun/99). Previously, I would’ve held Chlapik to a potentially lower standard than White given the difference in development time, but maybe that shouldn’t be the case. Of course, there’s a lot more to this puzzle, but I hope this example demonstrates how with more information, the way we analyze and consider prospects is constantly changing and I hope that teams like the Senators continue to invest time and resources in this area to ensure that they’re able to take advantage of any trends.
Does the Sens being in a rebuild change anything about your draft strategy?
CC: No, I don’t think so. The Sens have some core pieces ready, and it seems likely that they’ll be adding another centrepiece in 2020 (assuming they finish near the bottom again). It’s unfortunate that they don’t have a really high pick after a last place finish, but that shouldn’t change their strategy. As long as they stay away from the mind games and just draft whoever’s highest on their list, they should come away happy.
AM: Nope. I get how some may be concerned about the 50-contract limit if the Sens make all their picks, but I fully believe that having too many prospects will be a wonderful problem to have, and easily solvable by flipping assets for areas of need. If the organization is able to evaluate their own players and make informed decisions on who should stay and who should go, they could take advantage of prospects whose reputation may exceed their ability and fetch good pieces in return.
Am I open to potentially moving some of the team’s draft surplus in a trade? Absolutely! But, I’m a lot more of a fan of potentially trading picks for other young players like Nikolaj Ehlers, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Jason Zucker, than using them as capital to move up in a draft.
What are the Sens’ biggest needs at the draft table?
CC: Besides an expanded scouting staff? Right-shot defencemen. Jacob Bernard-Docker is good, but he shouldn’t be relied upon as the only right-shot prospect with long-term NHL potential (depending how you view Christian Jaros). They’re filled up on left-shot players and centremen, and their crop of wingers isn’t half-bad either. But in general, I wouldn’t let that bother me at the draft table. Building positions of strength could turn the Sens into an attractive team to call for trades in the future, starting off negotiations from high ground.
AM: Besides people in management that value data-driven decisions? (Colin set that up for me). But yes, their lack of right-shot defencemen is something we’ve mentioned in both of our defencemen articles and our prospect tiers article. Heading into the 2019-20 season, the team only has two CHL prospects (Kevin Mandolese and Johnny Gruden)! Most of the Sens young talent are going to be in Ottawa or Belleville, and although that’s immensely exciting, it also means that drafting any high-end talent at the junior levels will help the team create a prospect pipeline like they’ve never had. The team had weak drafts from 2002 - 2007 that closed their first cup window, and a poor period from 2012 - 2014 that reduced the length of the last one (if you even want to call it that).
I’m more of a fan of drafting centres over wingers because of it being a harder position to play, and the ability to turn a centre into a winger when it’s harder to do the reverse. That being said, this draft is full of wingers — especially in the second round — and I wouldn’t be opposed to Sens taking a gamble on any high-end talent despite other flaws. With an extra seven picks (28 to 21) over the next three drafts, they can afford to take some risks.
Pierre Dorion has talked about the team possibly trading up at the draft. Do you think that’s a good or bad strategy?
AM: I alluded to this earlier, but I’m generally not a fan of this strategy. The team traded a third round pick in 2016 to get “their guy” in Logan Brown, and although I’m high on Brown, especially after his rookie pro season, Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Chychrun were still available. I think it’s more defensible when you’re close to a point where the talent drops off, and in 2016, it was well-known that there was a group of eight players — including Brown — after the top three of Matthews, Laine, and Puljujarvi. In this draft class, I’ve heard of three major tiers: 1-2; 3-8; 8-19. The Sens will be in that latter half, and I think they’ll get a comparable player where they’re at without needing to trade up a couple of spots.
CC: I completely agree that trading up is rarely going to net the better result, although I think I’m reading this year’s tiers a bit differently. After picks 1-2, there’s a group from around picks 3-13 that are pretty close on many scouts’ rankings. There’s another group of around 10 players afterwards that I’d be happy with the Sens taking at #19, and it’s nice to know there will be at least a couple of them available at that spot. So if Ottawa can get into that top 13 at a low price, then I’d see it as a reasonable move. Or maybe someone slips like Joe Veleno last year. Who knows what can happen on draft day.
How do you view this year’s draft class in comparison to others?
CC: My feel on this this draft class is that it’s pretty in-the-middle compared to recent years. It’ll be hard to beat the depth of 2015 and 2017, but I think it surpasses 2018. But it won’t even come close to the mind-boggling amount of talent we’re expected to see in 2020 — seriously, it looks to be shaping up as maybe the best draft in NHL history. Talking about draft strategy, it may be best to gear up for that draft, even at the cost of some 2019 picks. But regardless, I believe that with enough resources and a smart staff, it shouldn’t be difficult to get a good player with most picks, regardless of the class.
AM: I am all onboard the 2020 NHL Draft train, and it appears that Dorion and co. are as well, with the team stockpiling seven picks in the first three rounds in that draft compared to four in 2019. I think the team will be able to get three decent pieces at 19, 32, and 44, and I’d be fine swapping later-round picks for next year if there’s a team that really has a player they like on Saturday. In general, I’m of the opinion that there isn’t a significant difference between most draft classes, and it’s more up to the scouts and development staff to make the best choice given the talent available.
Has the way you evaluate prospects changed over the last year? Are there other areas of the Sens’ system that you’re concerned about? Do you have a different opinion as to whether the Sens should trade up or down? Let us know in the comments!
Finally, this marks the end of our 2019 NHL Draft preview. Thank you for reading and discussing with us. Any feedback would be extremely helpful in shaping our process for the future, and you can feel free to pass that on via the comments section or by Twitter. You can find us at @carteciel (Ary) or @CudmoreColin (Colin).
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