The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is less than a month away and the Canucks have some crucial decisions to make.
The Canucks need to finalize their draft list, hammering down exactly who they think will have the best career out of the legions of teenagers eligible for the draft. That means more than just figuring out which player they’ll pick 10th overall in the first round, but nitpicking the finer details of players available in the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds.
As they’ve done in the past, the Canucks released a video of their pre-draft scouting meetings, giving fans a little glimpse behind the scenes. Their 2018 video was particularly revealing.
In that video, Judd Brackett went through some of the details of their process as they started working through the centres on their list. They put three or four players up on the whiteboard at a time and rank them using a series of attributes: “Player type, future potential, hockey sense, character/compete, skating, skill.” Perhaps other attributes were included and edited out of the video, but even that list is intriguing.
The 2018 video also showed some extensive discussion about specific (unnamed) players, getting into how they view a player’s skating. They reveal that they come out of these meetings with a list of 45 players, then supplement that with positional lists for later rounds if their “45” has been depleted. They even reveal that there was a two-way centre that was outside their list, but jumped up to near the top of their list of centres, which might have been Tyler Madden, who they picked in the third round in 2018.
By comparison, the Canucks’ 2019 scouting meeting video is disappointingly vague, likely by design. It’s possible that fans and media extracted too much information from their 2018 video and they want to avoid that this year.
As an example of this vagueness, the first quote in the video comes from Scott Walker: “I love his skill, I think he could be a really special player, but if we’re going to worry about things, I would worry about that.”
What “that” is, who knows?
Walker was promoted to a full-time role as Director of Player Development last July after joining the Canucks as a consultant in 2015. His role is meant to be ferrying prospects from the junior ranks to professional hockey, but here he sounds more like a scout. He later chimes in on another prospect, saying, “He has to grow and he has to mature, but he did say, ‘This guy drives the bus, when he’s going, we’re going, if he’s not going, we’re not.’”
Clearly, Walker was going beyond just developing Canucks’ prospects and keeping an eye on other players and talking to teams to provide some additional insight for these scouting meetings.
The rest of the video echoes this initial vagueness, with no long discussions of any one player or real glimpses of their process. What we mainly get is short clips and quotes that could be about any player and provide little real insight into their process.
At one point, Brackett talks about some concerns he has with a smaller player, saying, “My only concern with him is how hard he competes at his size. He’s a little bit careless through the middle at times, ‘cuz he’s so good and so quick through there, but I think he can learn to protect himself and be safe. I think right now he’s significantly better than others and is comfortable going in and really hasn’t maybe paid that price yet, but I do think it’s something he’s going to have to adapt to.”
Is he talking about a guy at the top of the draft like the 5’7” Cole Caufield? Or is he referring to someone available a little later, like the 5’9” Nils Höglander or Nicholas Robertson, or much later like the 5’6” Xavier Simoneau? Or is he not referring to someone that small, but closer to 5’11”, who might still have some size concerns? We can’t really tell from this video.
What’s more interesting are the longer moments with Judd Brackett and John Weisbrod outside of the meetings themselves.
That’s where we get a little insight into last year’s draft, when Weisbrod reveals that they had Quinn Hughes a lot higher than 7th overall, when they picked him.
“I think when you’re drafting 5th, you go in with two players on your mind and you know you’re going to get one of them, based on whatever intelligence you can gather,” he says. “Maybe when you’re picking 7th, it’s three players. I think when you’re picking 10th, it could be five or six guys. Requires a bit more pre-planning in terms of how do we proceed once the chips fall in this manner or that manner.
“Sometimes you get real lucky and you get a guy at seven, like we did with Quinn, that we had rated three.”
That’s intriguing. That means the Canucks’ draft list in 2018 was likely Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, then Quinn Hughes. They had Hughes ranked above the four players picked from 3rd to 6th: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Brady Tkachuk, Barett Hayton, and Filip Zadina.
Zadina, in particular, was ranked third overall by the vast majority of publically-available draft rankings. Clearly, the Canucks weren’t the only team that had other players ranked ahead of Zadina, as he slid to the Detroit Red Wings at 6th overall.
Previously in the video, Brackett mentioned Hughes as well, when talking about draft strategy.
“I think we focus mostly on best available,” he says, “and at times maybe that intersects. When we look back at last year, for us Quinn was best available and also biggest need. When we can make those intersect, it’s great, but I think we’re focused on trying to find the best available at ten.”
Weisbrod echoes this emphasis on “best available” with a particular reasoning: given how few players from each draft class make the NHL, focusing on need gives you a lower chance of finding those few players.
“When you look at the big picture, there’s so few guys in any draft that are actually going to play,” says Weisbrod. “Not play games in the league, but if you do the analysis over any 10-year period and said, in this entire draft, how many guys end up playing 300 or more NHL games, which would be sort of the way you defined a significant career, you’d have 28 to 31 total players out of any one draft.
“I think once you get into drafting for need, when you look at the odds of how many players are actually going to play and be good players, I think that gets a little dangerous.”
It’s pretty sound reasoning for picking the best player available ahead of drafting for need, though you have to balance that with keeping your prospect pool stocked at every position. I am curious, however, if it’s true: do only 28 to 31 players from one draft go on to play 300 or more NHL games, on average?
I did what Weisbrod said: took any 10-year period (I picked 2001 to 2010) and checked to see how many players went on to a “significant career” of 300 or more NHL games.
Keep in mind that some of the later draft years in this list still have some active players under 300 games that will likely reach that threshold and also that the 300-game barrier keeps out quite a few goaltenders with significant careers — Jacob Markstrom is still sitting at just 229 career games, for example. Even with those caveats, we see that Weisbrod has undersold the success rate of players picked in the NHL draft.
From 2001 to 2010, a little over 44 players from each draft year played at least 300 NHL games, with a peak of 58 players in 2003, a famously-strong draft class. Even the lowest draft year in 2010, was 35, above Weisbrod’s “28 to 31” suggestion, and that doesn’t include a few good goaltenders, like Petr Mrazek and Philipp Grubauer, as well as several other players likely to reach 300 career games.
The reasoning is sound — pick the best player available, because you’re giving yourself longer odds to find an NHL player when you pick for need — but he’s an order of magnitude off in his estimation of how many players from each draft class go on to significant careers.
At the end of the video, both Brackett and Weisbrod make the point that they’re not necessarily looking for a player at tenth overall that can make the jump directly into the NHL.
“I don’t think we try to pigeonhole 17, 18-year-old players into systems as much as what makes them a successful player or what’s going to make them a successful player for us,” says Brackett. “Their coachability, what their tangible attributes are. It’s not so much a draft and plug-and-play into our system, as we look for them to grow in the next two, three years.”
“The fastest guys to the league are not always the best,” says Weisbrod. “You can look at a lot of drafts where there are guys that make it — there could be guys picked 25th, 26th that make it immediately and other guys take another year of junior or go to college or whatever the case may be, but when they arrive, they’re better players.
“Obviously, we’re a rebuilding group, we feel like we have good momentum, we’d love to get a guy that could contribute to our team sooner rather than later, but we don’t make decisions based on immediacy, or one year away, or two years away. We want to pick the guy that when he gets there, is going to be the best player.”
The Canucks can point to some of their best players as examples. Neither Elias Pettersson nor Brock Boeser made the NHL immediately after they were drafted — Pettersson played another year in Sweden, while Boeser spent two years at the University of North Dakota.
That said, Boeser isn’t necessarily better than any of the players that made the jump directly to the NHL from his draft class, because that list is Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin, and nine games for Mikko Rantanen. Maybe he’s better than Hanifin, but comparing forwards to defencemen is apples-and-oranges territory.
There’s a stronger argument for Pettersson, who is arguably the best player, period, from his draft. The only players that made the jump straight to the NHL from that draft were Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, with Casey Mittelstadt and Filip Chytil also playing a handful of games in their draft+1 year.
Pettersson probably could have jumped straight to the NHL, but the path he took obviously worked out very well for him. He dominated in the SHL, broke the SHL record for points from a junior-aged player, won an SHL championship while leading the playoffs in scoring, and took home an armful of individual hardware. Then, when he got to the NHL, he stepped directly into a first-line role, led the Canucks in scoring, broke franchise records, and will likely bring home the Calder as rookie of the year.
Yes, that worked out just fine.
So, expect the Canucks to focus on the best player available, particularly at tenth overall, but not necessarily a player that can jump into an NHL lineup immediately. Very little else can be gleaned from this video.