Friday, August 29, 2014

Combining Scouting And Stats 2.0 - The 2014 NHL Draft

I’ve spent the last few days and weeks digging into numbers at the junior level in hopes of finding a way to combine scouting reports with on-ice production numbers.  As someone who scouts the game at the junior level and someone who wants to one day work in the hockey operations department of an NHL team, this particular branch of the game is extremely interesting to me. 

After doing some early thinking and number crunching, I believe I started to come up with a system that helps categorize players quite accurately.  Those early results can be found in my first post on the topic here.

Essentially, that piece gives a brief summary of my process and seems to show that when you combine a number-form scouting report and a statistical rating in the correct fashion, you get an extremely accurate depth chart of the team at hand.

Following the work on the Blades roster in that first post, I started to think how the information might be applicable to the process of drafting players.  While the system seemed to quite accurately sum up how the players on Saskatoon’s 2013-14 roster played the game, would the system help predict their future growth and success? 

With that question in mind, I turned to the data I had compiled for Eastern Conference based WHL prospects ahead of the 2014 NHL Draft.  Given I am located in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, I really focused on these player’s only when it came to providing a draft ranking in 2014.  In years previous I had compiled FULL WHL draft rankings, Western Conference included, but I was extra busy with work this past season and that limited my tracking ability.

After converting the 2014 NHL Draft prospects scouting reports into numbers and combining them with on-ice production tallies, a few things started to stick out.  Before I get to those things, I might as well show you the data I came up with for ease of reference.

I guess for starters I will point out what these two images are showing.

As in my first post on this topic, the PR, SR and NR columns are visible.  The PR is a “Player Rating” or a number generated after converting a scouting report into a number out of 100.  The SR is the player’s “Stat Rating”, a number used to represent on-ice production.  The NR is the final result of those two numbers being combined in a specific fashion.

Along with that information, I have also included the NR Rank, My Draft Rank and Actual Draft Rank.  This stuff is fairly basic.  It shows the order in which these player’s are ranked in relation to their NR’s, where I personally had them ranked in my final ranking before the 2014 Draft and their actual spot taken in the 2014 Draft in relation to each other.  If they have an X present, it means they were either not ranked in that particular instance or were not selected in the 2014 NHL Draft.  Please keep in mind that I have once again kept the forwards and defencemen separate, for reasons outlined in my first post.  Also note that I have included all drafted Western Conference players in this example, even though I did not rank them in my final rankings (despite still feeling fairly comfortable enough to convert their games into a PR).


- The first thing that I noticed, being re-enforced from my first post, is that we really see just how heavily the NR is altered by a players on-ice production.  Despite taking some steps in my formula to limit this to some degree, it’s pretty clear that a player’s NR is HEAVILY tied into the figures they produce on the ice.  That becomes clear when looking at 4 forwards in particular in Brayden Point, Jaedon Descheneau, Rihards Bukarts and Luke Philp.  As I said in my first post, that might not be the end of the world considering some of the work that has been done on the process of drafting players with higher point-per-game averages.  But, it is still a bit of a concern to me considering I am a fan of the “eye test” in scouting and think in-game viewings must be the main basis of projecting players.  For the record, Philp and Bukarts weren’t drafted in 2014, despite, quite clearly, being very dangerous offensive players.

- The first observation also helps lead into the second.  That would be that the NR formula does not help distinguish between the size of players.  That’s not exactly ground-breaking information, but it is worth noting.  Moose Jaw’s Brayden Point is a perfect example of this notation in my ranking.  Despite coming in 4th overall on my NR ranking and being arguably a top 10 offensive player in the entire draft, he fell to the 3rd round before being selected by Tampa Bay.  Do teams these days put too much stock into size?  That’s up for debate, but the Lightning have had some success with undersized forwards (Marty St. Louis, Tyler Johnson, etc) and many people feel they got great value with Point.

- It’s also worth noting that while it doesn’t help distinguish between the size of players, it’s the same story for age or experience in the given league you are analyzing.  That can be altered some if you have the man-power and resources to track this year-to-year to see which players improve their NR’s as they get closer to their NHL Draft year.

- Similarly to the previous two points, this system also doesn’t include the personable side of drafting players. The interview process, finding out what makes the player tick, helping you decide if you want him on your team or not.  Without giving away too much information, I will say that there is some form of “character” being tabulated in my original scouting reports, but like with size and age, this will need to be a piece of the puzzle that gets plugged in later down the line when working on a team’s final list before the draft, or whatever the case may be.  When it comes to scouting, character and a player’s off-ice makeup plays a big part in how I would go about building my team, if in fact I had a team to build. 

- To echo the point made in the first observation and my post the other day, it’s clear that this system could be drastically improved with more metrics.  To me, some fairly one-dimensional players are a bit overrated with this system.  With that being said, it’s impossible to say that for sure because I can’t predict the future.  Either way, being able to include something like Corsi would help balance out the numbers part of my formula.  Unfortunately, this is junior hockey we’re talking about here and those numbers are not only unavailable publicly, they aren’t even being consistently tracked by teams or individuals.

- Another piece of information that pops out is in regard to league to league variance.  A top 20 scorer in the WHL might be the same quality of player as the leading scorer in the USHL, for example.  This type of a system also would have some issues in compiling accurate data for draftable prospects who are playing in Europe, putting up 5 points in 35 games in their draft year despite being skilled enough to lead a CHL team in scoring.  Is there a potential way to stick NHLE into this?  Possibly so.  (NHLE is an equivalency formula used to help compare players from league to league in relation to the NHL)  That’s an issue for another day, I guess.

- It continues to be extremely clear to me that transferring the information from a scouting report format to a number-based system needs to be done in a consistent and uniform way.  This would make it tough for this type of a system to be used by an entire team’s scouting staff, just due to the variance between scouts.  A 17 out of 20 rated skater might be a 14 to another scout, for example.

- It’s interesting that based on this formula forwards like Baddock, Lang, Graham, Hunt and Eller would essentially be deemed un-draftable.  Three of those guys weren’t drafted, with some people being surprised that Lang and Baddock were. 

- The same example can be used for the defencemen.  Players like Thomson, Andrlik, Lernout, Valentine, Stewart, Faith would all be guys who would be “borderline draftable”, yet three of them were, two in EXTREMELY surprising fashion. It wouldn’t be the case of NHL team’s valuing size, strength and mean too much would it?? Of course not.  NHL team’s don’t do that.  Never. 

- I’m still surprised a team didn’t decide to roll the dice on a guy like Luke Philp, who has great production numbers and isn’t actually that small at roughly 5’10.  Good for him for earning a spot at Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp.

- It’s actually quite debatable that Julius Honka was the WHL’s best draft-eligible defenceman, as is depicted on the blueliners chart.  But, to be the best by that much?  That’s interesting.  I guess there must be some reasoning to hear that Dallas wants to see him as much as possible before maybe sending him back to the Swift Current Broncos. 

- Rinat Valiev is a positive surprise to see that high on the list.  I like his game and he produced nicely in his rookie WHL season before being drafted by Toronto. I guess that production is why he was the first member of the entire 2014 Draft class to sign an entry-level contract with an NHL team. 

- On a bigger note, player-related, it’s very interesting to see the massive divide between the WHL’s Eastern and Western Conference for the 2014 NHL Draft.  For forward’s, the Eastern Conference had 17 drafted while the West only had 7.  The divide is greater on the blueline at a count of 12 to 1 in favour of the East.  Interesting stuff.  I’m sure this kind of thing is quite cyclical in nature, if not completely random.  Next year looks to be a bounce-back year for the West, with guys like Merkley, Bittner, Gropp, Barzal etc. all expected to be top 10 or 15 picks. 

- Finally, is this type of a breakdown any evidence that a player’s NR Rank can help predict a pro future? That’s one main question I am trying to answer with this work, obviously.  I think one thing it does do a good job of representing is a player's "future offensive potential".  If I had to take the above list, without the number metrics, and re-arrange it to show which players I felt had the highest offensive ceiling, the list would likely end up being quite similar to the final NR ranking that is shown above.  That might seem like a fairly basic discovery, but it might have some value.  Going forward, it might be a good tool to compile a list like this using scouting reports and numbers combined, then weigh that ranking against how a player interviews and how much their size will help or hinder their growth into a pro player.

- While I like to believe My Draft Rank is close to perfect, based on my own personal observations of the players, it’s not.  No single scout or team will have a perfect list.  To me, this is where the patience enters the equation.  Going forward I hope to use this new set of metrics on future NHL Drafts when it comes to ranking WHL prospects.  I will also be looking back further to 2012 and 2013 to see if that turns up anything more concrete.  I still feel that even if this model doesn’t quite fit scouting and drafting 100%, it still seems to be a good way to grade players from team to team, as a whole, as a way of forming a depth chart for trading purposes.  A value chart, essentially.

With how things stand now, I am inclined to think that maybe combining the My Draft Rank column and the NR Rank column and finding the middle ground could actually equal an extremely solid way to rank a prospect list ahead of an NHL Draft. That’s probably where my next step will be as some preliminary tests of that yielded some interesting looking rankings.  

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Combining Scouting And Stats

As hockey fans know, it’s been a big summer for analytics.  While some NHL teams have been using advanced stats behind closed doors for years, the scene was given greater exposure this off-season thanks to organizations plucking various bloggers from the internet and moving them into front offices around the league.

For the past 18 months or so I’ve taken an interest in the topic, looking to learn as much as I could in an effort to see the game from an another angle and expand my knowledge base.

Over that time one thing has become very clear to me.  Statistics are a great tool to have, but they are not the perfect solution.  The game of hockey is simply too fast, too random and too complex when compared to baseball, for example, to really be able to put too much stock purely into statistics (at least for the time being). 

With that in mind, it occurred to me that it would be ideal to come up with a metric to combine the statistical side of the game with the scouting part of the game.  This would end up being a number that would roll a player’s skillset and in-game production into one comfortable package.  If done thoroughly across the board, it can give you a ranking player-by-player and team-by-team to show you which players are the best combinations of production and style of play. 

After fiddling around some, I came up with something that accomplishes that at a base-level.  Just a fair warning, some parts of this won’t be explained in explicit detail.  I don’t quite feel like posting the full formula at this time.

Ok, to the process.  The first thing I needed to do was convert a scouting report into a numerical “Player Rating”.  This player rating is a metric out of 100 that outlines a player’s skillset, similar to the way a player is listed in an NHL video game.  This number includes 5 main “scouted” trait categories, each scored on a scale out of 20.  These 5 categories will give you an overall score, or “PR”, out of 100.   I won’t go into detail into which traits form the 5 categories I have selected for my formula, given the circumstances.  These final scouting numbers and metrics shouldn’t get plucked out of mid-air, either.  They need to come after watching live games and filing reports, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the players at hand. Actually watching the game yourself.  I must stress that.

The second part of the equation is where things can (if you choose to) get more complicated.  I won’t go into very much detail with this part of the equation in regards to what I have used to generate my “Stat Rating” or “SR”.  I said that you can get more complicated with this part of an equation, but when creating the basis of this model I was simply looking to apply it to junior hockey and/or prospects given the nature of my work as a scout.  Unfortunately, the statistics available for players at the junior level are quite basic.  Games played, wins, losses, goals, assists, points, plus-minus, but no shots on goal and definitely no minutes played, Corsi or Fenwick. 

This created a bit of an issue.  But, despite that challenge I am comfortable with the rating system devised here to capture, in essence, a player’s ability to contribute to his team’s success. 

So after coming up with my formula, I decided to give it a test on some well known junior hockey players.  My first tests of it showed me that players like Nikita Scherbak (a 1st round pick in 2014 by Montreal) and Nic Petan (a 2nd round pick in 2013 by Winnipeg) scored around the 95 overall mark.  Meanwhile, players with less skill and production ranged from the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s up into the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s. 

That’s a big range, but to me it sums up junior hockey pretty well.  You have a handful of elite players who light it up, get drafted, signed and jump to pro hockey.  You also have your mid-range guys who may have minor pro careers.  You have your guys who will top out as CIS players.  Then you have your group of guys who are in the league and happily earning money to use toward their education later down the road.  It’s not a simple 0 to 100 scale, as with my formula the best players in the given league will be able to crack the 100 overall mark.

As an example of how some of these early results have ended up looking, I took the time to breakdown the 2013-14 Saskatoon Blades.  As you can see below, I list the player’s “Player Rating”, “Stat Rating” and a category called “NR”.  The NR is essentially the player’s final and overall grade.  A metric of how they stack up against other players on their team and in the league when comparing their combination of on-ice skill and on-ice production.  Please note that the player’s “Stat Rating” only consists of regular season production, leaving out playoff or Memorial Cup results.

I watched every single one of the Blades games last year and used those viewings to rate the players on my scale.  Based on my knowledge of the players being discussed and the knowledge of how the team performed on the ice, I would say the above data does a great job breaking down the players in regards to their skill level, production and importance to the team.  It's essentially a very accurate depth chart of how I saw the games play out.  I was quite surprised by how accurate the results are.

As you can see from the data provided, it becomes clear just how much better Nikita Scherbak was than his teammates last season.  His basic stats back that up, as do his independently-tracked analytics from his rookie season.  Hat-tip to Bruce Peter for his work and insight in that area. 

So what can this information be used for exactly?  I think it could potentially be a great tool to analyze junior hockey.  It could be used by CHL teams to track the quality of each player on opposing rosters, as long as you have up-to-date and consistent scouting reports of those players.  It could also be used by CHL teams when looking at their own bantam or first-year player drafts.  The model I’ve created can definitely be transferred to bantam players for the WHL Draft, for example, as long as you have access to those player’s basic stats.  I also think it has some practicality for NHL teams who are looking to draft said CHL players.

So this all seems like a fun concept and a potentially valuable one, but what about the issues it comes with?

- The biggest potential issue I could foresee with this type of a concept is the fact that the scouting side of the equation carries some major variables.  Even if you have one scout, assistant GM or GM doing the number scale on all players, you will still have some slight variance from player to player and team to team.  That’s just the nature of the beast and why many teams look to do their best at avoiding a number system when rating players for a draft.  An 8 out of 10 for one scout is different than an 8 out of 10 for another, as an example.

- The number-based scouting reports also play a hand in another issue.  In order to track a players growth, you would need to have an updated “Player Rating” for each year of the players development.  For example, it would be ideal to be able to track a 16 year old’s rookie year in comparison to his draft season as a 17 year old, rather than just having a career figure represented.  Once again, to avoid this problem you would need to update each skaters “Player Rating” for each year they are in the given league.  This type of hurdle might be avoidable for an NHL team, but not so much for a junior team.

- Along with that, to REALLY see if this type of system works it would be nice to be able to look back at past NHL Drafts to judge if the system helped somewhat predict future NHL success.  You could do a rough example by reading old reports, but it’s not quite the same as doing it “in the moment” as I will be able to do from now on forward, if I choose to do so.

- The equation will likely tend to favour gifted offensive players.  Based on my formula, the more offensively productive a player is, the higher their NR will be.  Yes, if a player is a great scorer and gets bad Player Rating numbers, it will counteract that to some degree, but not to a 100% perfect level.  In the end this might not be the worst thing, as good offensive production is a pretty telltale sign of a productive pro.  A piece on Canucks Army from earlier in the summer proves that, as Sham Sharron out-picked the Vancouver Canucks scouting staff when basing his selections only on a player’s offensive production in his draft year.

- The equation could be beefed up immensely with more stats.  I did some rough examples of the formula on NHL players using more advanced stats and it really helped give a well-rounded picture of the player.  Adding Corsi to the mix could be a great benefit to this model and I will look to do a piece on that sometime in the future.

- The Player Rating scales are only viable when comparing players who are playing in the same league.  For example an elite skater at the junior level might not be able to step into the NHL and be considered an elite skater.  So, while Nikita Scherbak might be a 91 overall, that doesn’t mean he’s the same quality of player as Jamie Benn, who would likely be in that range on the NHL scale of things.  Apples to oranges.

- While computing junior hockey players SR’s, you only have so much data to use.  At most, these players can play in the league for 5 seasons so the numbers you can draw from are limited.  Along with that, most players don’t immediately step into the league and produce as rookies.  That obviously means that a player’s SR should change for the positive as they get more games and production under their belt.  This would be a great thing when ranking a team’s depth chart to show who is the most valuable, but does add some challenge when using this technique to try and find prospects for an NHL Draft.  Ideally you could from this point forward track all players and graph to see which players are trending up, and how fast, as they get older.

- The final issue that immediately became apparent is the difference between forwards and defencemen in this formula (it’s for skaters only, no goalies).  Given the nature of the position’s and offence produced while playing them, the defenders numbers are instantly lower than forwards.  It’s not the end of the world, as you can still compare the positions as separate entities.

Going forward, I hope to investigate this formula more.  I think there is some potential value with it, as long as it’s used the correct way and used consistently.  I think team’s are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t have a way to rank players league-wide on a numbers system.  Including stats and eventually advanced stats in that type of a system would only round out the process, give it more depth and essentially allow team’s and their hockey operations staff to make better decisions with their on-ice personnel.

To follow this piece up, I hope to use some of my past scouting reports to analyze NHL Draft selections over the past few years.  Hopefully that will turn up something new to look into.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

2014 Blades Training Camp Thoughts

I had the chance to check out the first two days of scrimmages at Saskatoon Blades 2014 training camp and figured I would get some thoughts out on what I saw.  Keep in mind, these are my own thoughts, nothing more.  What I say here has nothing to do with decisions that have and will be made as camp and exhibition season progresses. As expected, many of the games were a tad sloppy at times but several players took the opportunity to show what they had and stand out in one way or another.


Nikita Scherbak – RW – 95 – Not surprisingly Scherbak was one of the main standouts at camp.  He was involved all over the ice and made some slick offensive plays look very effortless.  I know he weighed in at a decent number in regards to last season, but those exact numbers haven’t been posted yet.  Either way he looks a tad bit bigger and stronger and should have a very solid second season in the WHL, whether it be in Saskatoon or elsewhere.

Nelson Nogier – D – 96 – The Winnipeg Jets draft pick is healthy after shoulder surgery and looks noticeably bigger and stronger than last season.  His skating is so smooth and his poise with the puck is a big attribute this team will need going forward.  I fully expect him to wear the ‘C’ for this club for the next couple of years before going pro.  Was paired with import Amil Krupic during the scrimmages and it’s no secret that Nogier will be logging 25+ minutes a night once the season starts.

Cameron Hebig – C – 97 – Definitely my top standout from camp.  He finished off the last third of 2013-14 as the team’s top centre and that worked wonders for him.  His shoulders look big, clearly he had a good offseason.  His hockey sense is through the roof and he won’t be outworked.  Scored a great goal on the backhand from in tight in the slot.  Ideally he’s your 2nd line centre and should double his point totals from last season.  It’s his draft year, so that will also be interesting to track, how scouts view him.  Skating stride still isn’t terribly pretty.

Ryan Graham – LW – 96 – Graham was a standout for the Blades in the second half of last season as he possesses a great combination of speed and size.  It looks like he’s ready to continue that climb upwards as he was involved on almost every shift in the scrimmages and clearly has more confidence than this time last year. He’ll also be attending Minnesota Wild training camp and should be a candidate to play on the Blades top line to start the year.

Austin Adamson – RW – 96 – The product of Vancouver was one of those guys that was no lock to return for a second year given some youngsters pushing for jobs.  But, it looks like he knew the situation and took it as a challenge this offseason.  He weighed in at nearly 200 pounds, up almost 20 from what he was last year.  During the scrimmages he looked like a veteran, showing off his great wheels.  He was involved offensively and looks more confident, even scoring a pair of goals on Friday.  I think he’ll make a great 10th (or so) forward on this year’s team and could be molded into a very solid penalty killer due to his hockey sense.

Troy Trombley – G – 94 – The big goaltender carries quite a bit of weight on his shoulders as the starting goalie this year as an overager.  He didn’t play a big amount of minutes in the scrimmages given the number of goalies at camp.  When he did play, he looked pretty solid.  I only noticed one bad rebound with him in the cage and when he let it out he responded with a nice save to bail himself out.  Looking ahead to the season, if Saskatoon wants to be a playoff team, Trombley needs to improve on his play from last year.

Tyler Dea – D – 95 – Started off pretty rough but really responded as the games went on.  Looks more confident than last year.  He’s one of a large number of defencemen looking to stay on the team, so this will be an interesting decision to watch.

Logan Harland – LW – 95 – Classic Harland at camp.  Like a buzzsaw, scoring a few goals and being involved.  As a ’95 I think he’s at a bit of a disadvantage when compared to his potential role on the team.  But, we’ll see what happens.  If he does end up sticking around I think he has the ability to score 15 goals and if not, he’ll surely be an above average junior A player if a different WHL team doesn’t give him a look.

Alex Forsberg – C – 95 – The former 1st overall pick was moving pretty well and clearly had some great chemistry with Blades leading scorer Nikita Scherbak.  Forsberg set him up for a pair of nice goals and these two could end up being a nice little duo throughout the year should Scherbak be in Saskatoon this coming season.


Amil Krupic – D – 95 – The big Swede looks to be 6’2 or 6’3 and moves well.  He has decent puck skills and appears to be a solid enough player to log top 4 or 5 minutes this coming season.  With the team currently having three import players with Nikita Scherbak being a first-rounder in the NHL Draft, there will be a decision to make on which two end up earning the right to call themselves a Saskatoon Blade.

Nikita Soshnin – LW – 97 – The small and dynamic Russian looked good at camp.  He’s got quick feet and good hands and spent time on a line with Alex Forsberg and Nikita Scherbak.  Like with Krupic, it’s going to be an interesting decision on what the team does with these players.  Soshnin has the skill to play, but a top 4 defenceman might be a bit more valuable than an undersized top 9 forward.


Cameron Hausinger – RW – 99 – Now I can see why some people called him a steal when the Blades drafted him in the 7th round in May.  Was looking very forward to seeing him and he didn’t disappoint.  He’s lightning quick, plays aggressive hockey and has good hands.  This kid would be a stud as a 16 year old in this league next year, so hopefully he ends up choosing the WHL route.  He’s a fun player to watch and has the tools to potentially develop into a very talented prospect for the NHL draft.

Alexander Buchanan – LW – 98 – I never knew what to expect out of Buchanan because he was hurt at last year’s camp and didn’t get to show his stuff.  Well one year later, he was impressive.  He’s quick and aggressive, dangling a few defencemen on day two.  He’ll definitely be a kid to watch for a potential roster spot next year.

Dakota Boutin – RW – 97 – I didn’t know what to expect from Boutin.  I had heard good things about him throughout last season and he was fairly impressive to me during the scrimmages.  He has decent size and good puck skills.  The Blades traded a conditional 4th round pick for him so that’s where the decision sits.  Is he going to stick on the roster and contribute or would you rather keep the draft selection?  I wouldn’t be shocked if he sticks.

Trevor Martin – G – 96 – The Blades decided to roll the dice on Martin earlier this summer, acquiring him from the Spokane Chiefs.  He looked pretty good at camp and might have the edge in the race for the backup position.  He made some athletic stops and as long as he can adapt well and avoid some soft goals the job may just be his to lose.

Alec Capstick – D – 99 – The Blades 2014 draft class looks to be a strong one and Capstick really embodies that.  The 4th round pick was a standout in my eyes at spring camp and continued that progression at training camp.  He’s got decent height and will need to continue to add weight to his frame.  He moves well, plays physical and has above average hockey sense.  This kid looks like he could develop into a very good prospect.

Josh Paterson – C – 99 – The Blades first pick in the 2014 draft definitely stood out.  He’s big, rangy and smart with a good skating stride and puck skills.  He scored a great goal on a breakaway where he pulled away from the chasing defender before going roof.  There’s surely a spot for him on this team next year.

Dean Stewart – D – 98 – Almost a mini version of Nelson Nogier.  A long powerful stride, a certain calmness and good instincts.  Don’t see him making the team, but he’s one guy that has to be a favourite to crack the club as a 17 year old rookie in 2015-16.

Brock Hamm – G – 97 – The Saskatoon kid looked focused when I talked to him at spring camp and he kept that up at this year’s training camp.  He’s not very big but moves well and makes some nice saves.  He’s a good insurance policy to have as a 3rd or 4th string goalie.

Turner Ottenbreit – D – 97 – I don’t envision a situation where Ottenbreit doesn’t make this year’s team, but I guess you never know.  Last year was a good one for him as he had the chance to play midget, see solid SJHL minutes and also spend time in the WHL with Saskatoon.  He’s big and physical and has the tools to really fill a role going forward.  He’s raw with the puck but practicing every day with a WHL team will accelerate that progression.

Schael Higson – D – 98 – After standing out at spring camp it was obvious that Saskatoon needed to get this prospect under contract.  After getting that deal done, things look full steam ahead for him.  He came into camp in great shape and showed off a nice toolbox during the scrimmages.  He has good size, skates very well, passes the puck hard and plays aggressively.  He might only end up as a #6 defenceman on the team to start the year off but he has a bright future if he continues to work, stay open minded with the coaching staff and accept his role as a young guy on the team.

Luke Gingras – LW – 98 – I’m a big fan of Luke’s game and I’m glad that he showed well at camp.  He’s not the tallest kid but he’s built like a brick house and has some nice hockey sense.  He made some nice plays with the puck during the scrimmages and has the body to bang and crash as a depth forward.  For me, there’s no question that he would be on my opening night roster as a 16 year old rookie.  Practicing and skating with a WHL club every day would do wonders for his puck skills and overall development.

Lukus MacKenzie – LW – 99 – Going forward his nickname might have to be Lucic MacKenzie because that’s a player he could end up resembling.  He’s a big and raw kid from Calgary who is still growing into his frame.  He’s already one of the bigger kids out there and you can tell he still doesn’t know how big and strong he is.  His puck skills in tight areas are very good and if he can ever increase his intensity a bit and learn to use his body more he might end up being an unstoppable force.  I can’t wait to see what one year of development does for his game.  He’s under contract and I think he’ll be hard to keep off the team at this time next year.

Tyler Stratechuk – D – 99 – I had the chance at being involved with the process of drafting Stratechuk after watching him in bantam last season and it’s nice to see how he’s developed so far since last spring.  He looks bigger and stronger already and looked pretty solid at camp.  He made some nice smart plays with the puck and had some very composed plays against the rush.

Wyatt Sloboshan – C – 97 – One of, if not the fastest, players at camp.  It’s nice to see that he’s committed to joining Saskatoon as he should be a solid fit in their top 9.  He’s coming off a great season in midget and is quick and strong.  There could be some transition time for him but once he figures it out at the WHL level he will be an impact player.

Dorrin Luding – G – 99 – It’s pretty clear to me that the 3rd round pick is the best goaltender in the Blades prospect pipeline.  He’s got great size and a cool demeanour.  If he has a solid season in midget he could be a candidate to be in Saskatoon as a 16 year old in 2015-16.

MacKenzie Dwyer – D – 97 – Dwyer is one of a fairly large number of defencemen looking to crack the team full-time this season.  He made some nice passes during the scrimmages and looks to have the upside to grow into a decent defenceman if he does earn a chance to play in the WHL.  He’ll need to continue to make smart plays and play well in pre-season to capitalize on his chance.

Jake Kustra – D – 99 – Kustra stood out pre-draft thanks to his aggressive style of play and grit.  It’s good to see that he’s maintained that as he plays a bit like a wild stallion out there and was very involved at camp.  He plays extremely physical but will need to develop and learn to pick his battles a bit more as he begins his climb to the Western Hockey League level of play.


Evan Walls – C – 99 – This undrafted prospect from North Vancouver showed very well at camp.  He’s very small and that’s clearly the reason for him not being selected by a WHL team in 2014.  He’s quick and was very involved all over the ice.  To me, he definitely looked like a player worth listing even if he is tiny. 

Cole Sears – G – 99 – The camp invite had great numbers in bantam in Red Deer last year and was a very positive surprise to me in camp.  For a team with a somewhat shallow goalie pipeline he might be worth keeping on the list.  Made some composed stops.

Garrett Armour – RW – 97 – Armour was an invited player from Winnipeg and I can tell why some people I’ve talked to thought he deserved to be there.  He’s a big and solid kid, was hitting everything and made some very slick plays.  Unfortunately he’s in a bit of a tough situation by being a 97 born.  Does he make the team this year?  No, probably not.  And that likely means you wouldn’t want him as an 18 year old rookie next season.  He’s a player, though. 

Just a few other notes:

- I liked the fact that there were fewer invites than in year’s past.  The players that were invited all looked good, but there is no need to have many more than the number that were invited.  Many of the guys who were invites were also a bit older and really helped keep the scrimmages up to a good pace and skill level. 

- I think there are realistically 10 defencemen in the running for 8 spots (I would imagine they want to have 8 D on their opening night roster).  I think those defenders are: Ross Hnidy, Nolan Reid, Tyler Dea, Turner Ottenbreit, Schael Higson, MacKenzie Dwyer, Nelson Nogier, Amil Krupic, Jordan Thomson, Ayrton Nikkel.

- If I had to guess, out of those 10, I think the “locks” are: Nogier, Thomson, Nikkel and Higson. Krupic is a likely bet, in my view, as would be Ottenbreit.  That means Hnidy, Reid, Dea and Dwyer are battling for the final two spots. An interesting battle.

- Overall I think the team should be ok.  The top-end talent isn’t quite the same as last year as Nathan Burns and Collin Valcourt were great players to have on the top line with Scherbak.  With that being said, the balance in the lineup is much, much better with a versatile, skilled and hard-working top 9.  Mix in a young 4th line and the forward group looks solid.  Defensively the team is comparable to last year, with some talented prospects looking to make the team.  Goaltending is the only question I have.  If they can get moderately good and consistent performances there, I see them definitely being a club that will challenge for a playoff spot.  Their division is fairly wide open, aside from a potential powerhouse in Brandon, so there are going to be attainable points up for grabs every night.  The exhibition season will be fun to track.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Colorado Avalanche Prospect Ranking - August 2014

It’s no secret that the Colorado Avalanche aren’t noted for having an extremely deep, or overly talented, group of prospects currently.  It’s not exactly anything for the club or the fans of the team to hang their heads in shame about, though.  It’s hard to avoid that reality based on how many young and freshly-drafted players the Avalanche have turned into proven NHL players shortly after plucking them up in their given draft year.

Names like Matt Duchene (3rd overall in 2009), Ryan O’Reilly (33rd overall in 2009), Gabriel Landeskog (2nd overall in 2011) and Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall in 2013) have all jumped straight into the NHL with a nearly seamless transition.  A player like Tyson Barrie (64th overall in 2009)  has also recently graduated from prospect status to becoming one of the NHL’s most bright young blueliners.

Those impressive jumps and graduations have left the Avalanche with a prospect pool that isn’t exactly stellar on either depth or high-end talent.  ESPN Insiders were recently treated to a piece by Corey Pronman that ranked Colorado dead-last, 30th among NHL teams when it comes to prospect pipelines.  Hockey’s Future Spring Rankings had the Avalanche 28th on their list, sitting ahead of only the Hurricanes and Blues (can’t say I agree with the St. Louis ranking, personally).  Once again, I have to emphasize that these rankings don’t indicate the end of days for Colorado.  The team still has some of the best young talent in the NHL, a core that helped them win their division last year in surprising fashion.

Along with those team ranking lists, the slow summer months have brought forward several pieces which rank individual organizations top-10 (or in some cases 25) prospects. I’ve read several based around the Avalanche and instead of criticizing those articles, I decided to come up with my own.  I didn’t think a top 10 would be enough, so instead I decided on a top 15 with some honourable mentions.

#1 Chris Bigras – LD
6’1 – 193
32nd overall in 2013

One of the tougher decisions of this list starts right at the top between Bigras, taken in the 2nd round of 2013, and 2014 1st round selection Conner Bleackley.  In the end, Bigras earns my number one spot as the top prospect in Colorado’s system.  Bigras is noted as having above-average skating ability with a smooth and powerful stride.  That ability allows him to patrol his own zone with efficiency, as he was named the best defensive defender in the OHL’s Western Conference this past season while also suiting up for Canada’s World Junior team.  He makes a good first pass, possesses good hockey sense and is learning to handle big minutes at the junior level while also being considered a candidate to crack the big-league roster sooner rather than later.  When it comes to his future, the Avalanche lack some high-end talent on their blueline, especially on their left side.  It’s almost as if the team is reserving a spot for him in their top 4 when looking ahead.  Expect Bigras to make a strong push for a spot in 2014-15, but don’t expect him to stick for good given the fact that the team already have 10 defencemen on one-way contracts (counting RFA Tyson Barrie as one of them).  We should see him in a bottom pairing role starting with the Avalanche in 2015-16.

#2 Conner Bleackley – RC
6’1 – 195
23rd overall in 2014

The 2013-14 season came to a fairytale ending for Conner Bleackley, culminating in the fact that he was drafted by his favourite NHL team at the 2014 Draft late in June in Philadelphia.  It was a pick that many Avalanche fans had predicted months in advance, with Bleackley’s style of game and personality fitting the club’s philosophies to a tee.  He’s got good size, great character (serving as captain of the Red Deer Rebels at age 17), is extremely versatile and has the offensive skill to round out the package.  Fast-foward a couple of years (I’m thinking there is a chance he cracks the Avalanche roster in 2015-16) and he will surely be able to step into the NHL in a bottom-six role as either the team’s future number 3 centre or as a big rugged winger in the top 9.  He grew his offensive numbers from 9 goals and 18 points in 2012-13 to 29 goals and 68 points in 2013-14.  Look for that trend to continue this coming year, while he’ll also hope earn a look from Canada’s World Junior team, despite not being invited to their summer camp.

#3 Duncan Siemens – LD
6’4 – 209
11th overall in 2011

Siemens had a turbulent first year as a professional in 2013-14, suffering through some knee trouble before finally getting healthy in the second half of the year.  By all accounts, the 21 year old looked fairly good once finally getting closer to 100% healthy.  The big blueliner is known for being a smooth and strong skater, taking care of his own zone while not taking any prisoners around his net or in the corners.  Once developed and ready to step into the NHL, I expect Siemens to resemble a player like the Blues’ Barret Jackman.  But when will that jump happen?  That is the question many fans have been asking since the team selected him 11th overall in 2011.  Personally, I think he needs to prove he can stay healthy, hopefully putting together a full AHL season in Lake Erie this coming year.  If he can do that this year, he may have the chance to earn a late-season call-up to the Avalanche.  Even if he doesn’t, I think there might be room for him with the big club in 2015-16, once a player like Jan Hejda has his contract expire.  Be patient fans, he’s the kind of player this team can really use and he’ll make a good impact once he’s ready to do so. 

#4 Joey Hishon – LC
5’10 – 175
17th overall in 2010

You had to feel good for Hishon this past season as he finally got healthy enough to put in 50 games at the AHL level.  Hopefully the head injuries are a thing of the past for the former 1st round pick out the Owen Sound Attack, as he missed the entire 2011-12 season due to concussion symptoms while also only appearing in 9 AHL games in 2012-13.  Once he was healthy, he showed his worth.  He ended this past year with 24 points, with his .48 PT/G being 4th on the Lake Erie Monsters for players who appeared in 50 or more games.  Hishon also earned a call-up to the Avalanche during their first round playoff series against Minnesota.  He made his NHL debut while appearing in 3 games, picking up an assist along the way and not looking out of place at all.  Despite his nice showing in the playoffs, there doesn’t appear to be a spot for him full-time in the NHL this coming season. But, if he can stay healthy and plug along in the AHL he’ll surely be one of the first forwards recalled once an injury or two take place.  If he can get to the NHL for good, he should be a guy who can slide around in your top 9 while also playing the powerplay.  He’s shifty and dynamic and would end up being a good compliment to the team’s already dynamic young core.

#5 Stefan Elliott – RD
6’1 – 191
49th overall in 2009

Fans have been waiting for Stefan Elliott to finally get his true chance to make the team and it looks like that time has arrived for the 23 year old from North Vancouver.  There are basically 5 locks on the Avalanche blueline currently in Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie (yes, still an RFA I know), Brad Stuart, Jan Hejda and Nick Holden.  The slick-skating puck mover appears to be battling for NHL ice with oft-injured Ryan Wilson, Nate Guenin and the newly-signed Zach Redmond and Maxim Noreau.  Roy seems to like carrying 8 defenders at the NHL level, meaning two of those second-tier guys will have to start the season with Lake Erie.  When it comes to the Monsters, Elliott has continued his growth.  He finished with 14 goals and 28 points in 2013-14, which was good enough for 3rd on the team in goals and 3rd among blueliner scoring.  His 158 shots on goal led all Monsters defencemen.  He also scored a goal in his lone NHL game in 2014-15. But bringing offence was never a problem for the Saskatoon Blades all-time leading defensive scorer.  It’s been his ability to defend.  That area of his game still needs to show improvement.  His skating style of game is a great fit for how the Avalanche look to play under Roy and if he can come in and have a good camp, defend even moderately well, there will be a role for him and some powerplay time, too.  Once fully established as an NHL regular, if he should get to that level, he has the skill to be a number 4 or 5 guy who can see time on the first powerplay unit. 

#6 Will Butcher – LD
5’11 – 175
123rd overall in 2013

Reading similar lists I always find it interesting to see the variance in where Butcher gets ranked.  He was once a very highly thought of prospect, only to slide a bit in his draft year before the Avalanche took him in the 5th round.  Since that time, he’s really proven to be a great value pick by their scouting staff.  What he lacks in size, standing only 5’11, he makes up for in skating ability.  He’s strong on his skates and that mobility allows him to play to his strengths, which is his play with the puck.  He moves the puck well and likes to be involved in the action with a fairly aggressive style of play.  By all accounts he had a solid rookie NCAA season at Denver in 2013-14, putting up 8 goals and 8 assists in 38 games with his 6 powerplay goals leading the Pioneers.  He also took part in the World Juniors with Team USA, putting up 5 points in 5 games before they were eliminated by Russia in the Quarters.  Looking ahead at his future development, it looks bright.  He will once again be a fixture at the World Juniors and should continue to refine his play away from the puck in his 2nd NCAA season.  As for his future with the Avalanche, that also looks like a potential good fit.  As noted previously, Colorado does seem to have a lack of depth and high-end quality on their current blueline.  Give him another few years of development and there will be a potential opportunity for him to step into the NHL and be a difference maker fairly early in his pro career.

#7 Troy Bourke – LW/C
5’10 – 175
72nd overall in 2012

Bourke continues to take big steps forward in his development and last year was definitely no exception.  Bourke was counted on as a leader of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars in 2013-14, finishing T-15th in the league with 85 points, the most on his team.  The versatile forward didn’t quite have enough to get his Cougars into the WHL playoffs, but his season didn’t stop there.  He joined the Lake Erie Monsters for their final 15 regular season games, putting up 3 points in his pro debut while tallying 3 goals and 7 points in total during his stint.  That success shouldn’t really come as a huge surprise to those who have followed him closely since Colorado drafted him in the 3rd round in 2012.  On the ice he’s known as a strong skater with high-end hockey sense and a great motor.  He has been known to move around the lineup, playing centre and the wing, the powerplay and the penalty kill, showing the versatility that the Avalanche scouting staff seem to desire.  He’s a guy that has been underrated by some when evaluating the team’s prospect depth chart, but I assure you the team itself isn’t sleeping on him.  Looking to this coming year, he will likely be counted on in a top 9 and powerplay role with the Monsters.  He might not be as NHL-ready as some of the other players on this list and I don’t expect him to start challenging for an NHL roster spot until the second half of the 2015-16 season. 

#8 Sami Aittokallio – G
6’1 – 181
107th overall in 2010

The Avalanche goaltending pool is definitely an interesting one.  The group is a fairly talented one, but one that doesn’t appear to possess many high-end talents.  Along with that, there usually seems to be a fairly even divide when it comes to ranking Colorado’s two AHL goalies from 2013-14 in Aittokallio and Calvin Pickard.  For me, I give the edge to Aittokallio and therefore have him placed in as Colorado’s top goaltending prospect.  He isn’t the biggest goalie but is extremely athletic with solid reflexes.  Along with those athletic tools, he’s also shown steady improvement in his first two seasons in North America.  Last year he went 15-15-4-3 with 4 shutouts, a .909 save percentage and 2.65 GAA.  Both his save percentage and GAA showed decent growth when compared to his rookie AHL season in 2012-13.  Things appear to be status quo for Aittokallio and Pickard in this coming season.  Despite the team bringing in Roman Will as a free agent, it appears as if the two goaltenders will be forced to share starts for the 3rd straight season.  Looking longer down the road, Semyon Varlamov is locked in long-term and NHL backup Reto Berra is signed for the next three years.  Aittokallio will be 25 years old by the time Berra’s deal is done and if all things go well either him or Pickard will be able to easily slide into that spot with little in the way of a transition period.

#9 Michael Sgarbossa – LC
5’11 – 180
Acquired from SJ

Colorado looked like they may have turned a steal into a total heist heading into last season when looking back at a deal they made with San Jose early in 2012.  The deal saw Colorado acquire talented power-forward Jamie McGinn, Mike Connolly and Sgarbossa from the Sharks in exchange for TJ Galiardi, Daniel Winnik and a 7th round pick.  Neither Winnik or Galiardi are still wearing teal, while McGinn has been a key cog for the Avalanche and Sgarbossa was fresh off an impressive rookie AHL season where he put up 19 goals and 44 points.  But he didn’t keep that progression going, following those numbers up with a somewhat deflating and injury-plagued 5 goal and 20 point campaign in 2013-14.  But, this isn’t the end of the road for the former OHL leading scorer.  He is in the final season of his ELC and will remain Avalanche property as an RFA next summer.  He’s a skilled player with a nose for the net and the ability to create opportunities for linemates with his vision.  That skill will be counted on once again with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2014-15 and he will also be one of a few forwards on a shortlist, ready to be called up once the Avalanche have some injuries.  With that being said, he’ll need to stay healthy and prove he’s worthy of that potential callup before it happens.  Looking deeper down the road, ideally he’s a player that can fill in as a top 9 forward at the NHL level due to his mix of skill, smarts and energy.  He may get that chance once older players like Alex Tanguay or Daniel Briere no longer occupy spots.

#10 Calvin Pickard – G
6’1 – 208
49th overall in 2010

Only a pair of goalies have been higher draft picks in the history of the Colorado Avalanche organization than Calvin Pickard.  And while Marc Denis (25th in 1995) and Philippe Sauve (38th in 1998) had mixed success in the NHL, Pickard continues to try and develop to at least reach that level in his career.  Last year was the 2nd full AHL season for the all-time saves leader in Seattle Thunderbirds history.  Unfortunately for Pickard, his numbers did the opposite of Aittokallio’s.  Both his save percentage and GAA went in the opposite direction from the year before, posting 16 wins with a 2.85 and .906.  The Monsters will be getting a nice influx of young talent for the 2014-15 season, but it will still be up to Pickard (considered the starter of the team) and Aittokallio to continue their development and be the anchors of the team.  When it comes to his play on the ice, Pickard doesn’t possess the size of an ideal future NHL goaltender.  But, what he lacks in size he makes up for in his positioning.  He’s not the most athletic guy, but reads the play extremely well and likes to challenge shooters.  While I may be a bit higher on Aittokallio than Pickard, there is still much to be decided when it comes to both of their futures.  There is room in the Avalanche crease when looking a few years down the road and Pickard is definitely in the mix to be the guy that proves he deserves it the most.

#11 Colin Smith – RC
5’10 – 178
192nd overall in 2012

There aren’t many Avalanche prospects with a higher offensive ceiling than that of Colin Smith.  He’s an extremely skilled and smart forward who is coming off an impressive first season in the AHL.  The former 106 point man in the WHL stepped straight into the Monsters lineup in 2013-14 and posted 34 points in 76 games.  That total was good enough for 3rd on the club, leading all rookies in scoring.  The thing that helps separate Smith from many of the other Avalanche prospects is his vision.  Both his ability to see the open man and hit that open man are second to none among the other prospects in Colorado’s pipeline.  He obviously isn’t the biggest player in the world and will need to continue to use the next few years to get bigger, stronger and faster.  But once he gets that development time under his belt he could be a versatile and talented player that the team can use on a variety of lines and in a variety of situations due to his smarts and hockey sense.

#12 Mason Geertsen – LD
6’4 – 212
93rd overall in 2013

Clocking in at 12th on this list is Mason Geertsen, a rugged defenceman from Alberta who plays for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.  Geertsen is mostly known as a big and physical defenceman who has really grown his responsibilities and ice-time over the past couple of seasons.  His skating is quite good for his size and he is capable of making decent decisions with the puck.  He will never be considered an offensive blueliner but the fact that he more than doubled his point totals in 2013-14 compared to the year before is an encouraging sign of his development.  I think Geertsen is fairly comparable to fellow Avalanche prospect Duncan Siemens in that they are nearly identical in size and playing style.  While Siemens is more polished in most aspects, having these two towers one day patrolling the team’s blueline could be fun to watch and hard for opponents to deal with, similar to that of Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell with the Los Angeles Kings.  Geertsen has one more year of junior left before being eligible to jump up to the AHL, so I fully expect that to be his route.  I think we should see him increase his point totals to around 35 this year with the Giants while once again clocking in at over 100 PIMs. 

#13 Spencer Martin – G
6’3 – 192
63rd overall in 2013

The 3rd and final goaltender to crack the top 15 on this list is 2013 draft pick Spencer Martin.  The Avalanche snagged the goaltender in the 3rd round in 2013 after he posted 17 wins, a 3.02 GAA and .906 save percentage in his draft year for the rebuilding Mississauga Steelheads. While Martin improved his win totals and minutes played this past season, his other numbers didn’t show improvement.  The Steelheads finished 8th in their conference while Martin posted a 3.54 GAA and a sub-.900 save percentage.  And while the numbers show regression, the Avalanche franchise still seem to remain high on the former Under-18 Gold medal winner.  He’s a very good combination of athleticism and size, with his quick movement in the net sometimes leading to holes. While he comes in 3rd on this list for goalies, he does seem to be in a good position going forward for his development.  He is entering his 19 year old season of junior this coming year and if he can earn a contract he will likely jump into the CHL or ECHL in 2015-16.  After that it will be up to Martin to force the team’s hand and prove he’s worthy of being an AHL backup, slowly working his way up the depth chart.

#14 Dennis Everberg – LW/C
6’4 – 209
Signed as free agent

The Avalanche did their best at improving their prospect pool this spring by reaching out and signing undrafted players, including a few from Europe.  The first one of those players to crack this list is big Swede Dennis Everberg.  He spent last season with Rögle in Sweden’s 2nd tier league, Allsvenskan. The 22 year old posted solid numbers, scoring 17 goals and adding 17 assists to go with 30 PIMs in 47 games.  Everberg is said to have solid hands and technical skills for his size.  Hockey sense is a noted strength while he also has a bit of jam in his game.  While jumping from a 2nd tier league in Europe to the NHL is a bit of a stretch, Everberg sounds as if he knows he may need to spend some time in the AHL before eventually earning his chance to play in Colorado.  He’s part of a good young influx of talent that will suit up for the Monsters this coming year and given the Avalanche’s lack of above-average forward depth, there could potentially be a spot for him in the bottom six after a year or two.

#15 Cody Corbett – LD
6’1 – 194
Signed as free agent

Just like with Everberg, Corbett is an example of Colorado looking to improve their prospect pool through free agency.  The team signed the 20 year old product of Minnesota in early March as he was in the middle of a dynamite season for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.  Corbett set Oil Kings franchise records for goals and points by a defenceman in a single season during 2013-14, putting up 17 goals and 61 points.  He followed that up by posting 13 points in the playoffs and eventually helped the Oil Kings win the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League Champions.  The 6’1 blueliner will now look to translate that game to the pro level as I would expect him to play as a number 5 or 6 guy on the Monsters blueline this coming season.  He’s not the smoothest looking skater in the world, but gets around ok.  He has solid one on one defensive skill and has really refined his decision making both with and without the puck over the last number of seasons.  He moves the puck well and possesses a great shot from the point.  I think there may be some bumps along the road for him in his adjustment to the pro speed in the AHL, but once he gets some experience I think he could end up being the type of guy that makes a living as one of that league’s better offensive blueliners. 

Honourable Mentions:

Kyle Wood – The big and raw defenceman was a 3rd round pick in 2014 by Colorado after having a good 2nd half of the season and a stellar postseason with North Bay of the Ontario Hockey League.  Wood is in a good spot going forward for his development as he has plenty of time to continue to refine all aspects of his game in junior.  The fact that he’s a right-handed blueliner also puts him in a good spot in regards to the organization’s depth chart for prospect defencemen.

Borna Rendulic – This 6’3 winger became the first player born and raised in Croatia to sign an NHL contract when the Avalanche inked him to a deal in May.  Just like with Everberg and Corbett, Rendulic is one of those guys further along in his development that the Avalanche decided to ink this season to round out the prospect group.  He’s got size and skill, having put up 11 goals and 32 points in 57 games for HPK in Finland’s Liiga last year.  Just like with Everberg and Corbett, Rendulic will require some seasoning before he gets a chance at making the jump to the NHL.

Nick Magyar – Magyar was Colorado’s 4th round pick in the latest NHL Entry Draft after putting up 20 goals and 46 points for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.  Those numbers were good enough to lead the team in scoring as he’s noted as a solid offensive threat with good hands, smarts, defensive ability and a great work ethic. I expect him to be a riser on this list when looking back in a year or two.

Andrew Agozzino – Has led the Monsters in scoring (T-1st in 2013-14) in each of the past two seasons.  He’s not the biggest guy in the world but has some good skill and a good work ethic.  Would be a guy that could earn an NHL callup at some point during his AHL career, but it’s hard to see him being a regular at hockey’s highest level. 

Just Missed:

Garrett Meurs
Paul Carey
Mitchell Heard
Samuel Henley

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Who Might The Avalanche Target In 2014

It's been raining for what feels like 3 weeks straight and my potential golf game for today got cancelled.  So now that I am locked indoors for the afternoon, I figured I would put some thought into an Avalanche-themed 2014 NHL Mock Draft.  

I was doing some digging the last few days about themes that the Avalanche have seemed to follow over the past 10 years or so at the NHL Draft.  Now, the scouting staff and management has changed a few times within that span, but it still was interesting to break down some of the tendencies.  I guess we'll start there.

The first thing I noticed is just how much the Avalanche have favoured the CHL over the last 6 years or so.  At the last 6 NHL Draft's the team has used 28 of their 40 selections to take players who played in the Canadian Hockey League.  That's 70% of their picks and I would imagine there aren't too many teams with a percentage higher than that.  It's even more predominant over the past 4 years, with the Avalanche using 20 of their 26 picks to take CHL players.  That's an astounding 76.9%.  

I really think that's been a strategy that has paid off, too.  

Looking back between 7 to 10 years ago, the team only used 8 of their 33 picks in those 4 drafts to take CHL players.  That's 24% and the remaining 76% of players taken from outside the CHL featured a ton of misses.  Included in those misses were top 3 round names like Victor Oreskovich (55th overall in '04), Ryan Stoa (34th overall in '05), Tom Fritsche (47th overall in '05), TJ Hensick (88th overall in '05), Nigel Williams (51st overall in '06) and some others.  Keep in mind that I'm fully aware drafting is not a perfect science, and the team also had some misses on CHL guys over the years, as well as some nice "hits" on guys outside the CHL, too.

To take that CHL note just a small step further, the Avalanche have also used their first pick to take a CHL-bred player in each of the past 6 NHL Drafts.  That strategy has also been true in 8 of their past 10 drafts overall.  Sure, that doesn't mean they'll stick to that in 2014, 2015 and beyond, but it is worth noting.

Another thing that I have noticed over the years is that the Avalanche tend to lean to forwards when talking about their first pick in a given draft.  They've taken a forward with their first pick in each of the past 5 NHL Drafts and in 8 of the past 10.  The last time they didn't take a forward with their first pick was in 2008 when they took Cameron Gaunce 50th overall.  Gaunce never got a great shot at making the big club in the subsequent years, eventually being dealt to Dallas for Tomas Vincour.  

Over the past 10 years the Avalanche have selected 36 forwards, 27 defencemen and 10 goaltenders.  Breaking that down, it obviously works out to roughly 4 forwards, 3 defenceman and 1 goalie per draft, give or take a bit.  

The team has also tended to select no more than one player per draft from outside of North America over the last number of years.  That trend should be interesting to track going forward, given some apparent changes to Colorado's European scouting since Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic have taken over.  The team always seemed to avoid Europeans for the most part, but the new regime has made a point to reach out this spring and sign a handful of them to entry level deals.  They've inked Borna Rendulic, Dennis Everberg and goaltender Roman Will. We'll see if that translates to a willingness to scour Europe more for the NHL Draft.

Along with forward Samuel Henley, who was signed to an ELC as well, the two European forwards signed (Rendulic and Everberg) also seem to fit another trend the Avalanche have confirmed they like to follow, and that is the addition of more size to the lineup and prospect pool.  It's no secret that the current roster has a bucket full of top end skill, but is lacking the size and depth you need to be a true contender.  That size factor is another trend that I'm sure we'll see maintained in 2014, given Roy's recent comments before the draft.

With all of these trends in mind, here is a (somewhat) educated guess on what the Avalanche might look to do come the 2014 NHL Draft.

2014 NHL Draft

Colorado Avalanche picks:  1st round (23rd overall), 3rd round (84th overall), 4th round (93rd overall - from Toronto), 4th round (114th overall), 5th round (144th overall), 6th round (174th overall), 7th round (204th overall)

23rd Overall Selection: Conner Bleackley - C - Red Deer Rebels

- The Avalanche check off a number of different boxes when taking Red Deer Rebels captain and centre Conner Bleackley.  He's got size, he's a forward, he plays in the CHL, he has character and leadership and he also provides skill with versatility.  For me, he's a perfect type of pick for how the Avalanche have drafted over the last number of years and also fits into the lineup nicely when looking ahead to the next few years.  I think he has the potential to be either the team's future number 3 centre in the mold of a Brandon Sutter (also a former Red Deer Rebel) or also would have the ability to transition to the right-wing to play in the team's top 6.  Oh yeah, plus he's an Avalanche fan.

Other options that fit the team's "trends" at this spot might include names like Alex Tuch (RW US NTDP), John Quenneville (C, Brandon), Brendan Lemieux (LW, Barrie).  Other options that don't fit the trends, but seem to be solid fits could be Nikita Scherbak (RW, Saskatoon), Travis Sanheim (LD, Calgary), Jakub Vrana (RW, Linkoping), David Pastrnak (LW, Sodertalje), Roland McKeown (RD, Kingston), Adrian Kempe (C, Modo), Ivan Barbashev (LW, Moncton).  I would bet a decent sum of money that Colorado walks away with one of the players mentioned above if they end up keeping their pick and selecting at 23rd overall.  

84th Overall Selection: Emil Johansson - LD - HV71 J20

- The Avalanche surprise a few of their fans by going to Europe earlier than in years past, taking Swedish blueliner Emil Johansson in the 3rd round.  Rated higher than this spot in the draft by some, the Avalanche are happy to take this poised and smooth-skating defenceman at this spot.  He's not overly physical but is calm and patient with the puck and fits what the Avalanche need in defencemen going forward.  

Other options that might also draw attention from Colorado with this pick might include Brandon Hickey (LD, Spruce Grove), Ben Thomas (RD, Calgary), Josh Jacobs (RD, Indiana, probably off the board by now)

93rd Overall Selection:  Jacob Middleton - LD - Ottawa 67's 

- The Avalanche opt for a CHL-trained defenceman with their third pick of the 2014 NHL Draft by taking 6'2 defender Jacob Middleton of the Ottawa 67's with the pick acquired from Toronto in the Ryan O'Byrne trade a couple years back.  Middleton has fairly solid mobility for his size, can move the puck well, but projects more as a defensive blueliner.  He has good gap control and does a good job playing physical along the walls and in front of his net.  He might not scream top pairing potential, but could end up being a guy that fits in nicely with how the Avalanche look to be apparently slowly building up their blueline depth overall through the draft.

Other options that might also draw attention from Colorado with this pick might include Nelson Nogier (RD, Saskatoon), Ben Thomas (RD, Calgary), Aaron Irving (RD, Edmonton)

114th Overall Selection: Dylan Sadowy - LW - Saginaw Spirit

- The Avalanche stick with their go-to theme of adding character players at the draft by taking winger Dylan Sadowy. He's got ok size at 6'1, but lots of room to get stronger as he's listed at only 180 pounds.  He's a guy that had a good second half of the season, moving up to 33rd on NHL Central Scouting's list from 89th at midterm.  He scored 4 goals in 5 playoff games for Saginaw after a 27 goal and 9 assist regular season.  He's good on the forecheck, pressures the puck and goes to the net.  

Other options that might also draw attention from Colorado with this pick might include Darby Llewellyn (LW, Kitchener), Dominic Turgeon (C, Portland), Clark Bishop (C, Cape Breton)

144th Overall Selection: Cody Donaghey - RD - Quebec Remparts

- The Avalanche take what will be their last defenceman of the day, getting offensive blueliner Cody Donaghey in the 5th round.  Donaghey plays for Roy's Quebec Remparts, so he's obviously  going to be familiar with his game, which has a puck-pushing lean to it.  He's a puck mover, skates well and can run a powerplay.  Colorado sees the value and takes a player who also has some decent size at 6'1.

Other options that might also draw attention from Colorado with this pick might include Alex Lintuniemi (LD, Ottawa), Brett Lernout (RD, Swift Current), Brandon Montour (RD, Waterloo)

174th Overall Selection: Keven Bouchard - G - Val d'Or Foreurs

- Colorado fills their familiar quota of one goalie per draft by taking 6'2 puckstopper Keven Bouchard.  The product of Quebec was a junior teammate of Avs prospect Sam Henley on the Foreurs.  While not being ranked by some scouting agencies, Bouchard comes in as the 10th ranked North American goalie on NHL Central Scouting's final rankings.  He offers good size and athletic ability.

Others options that might also draw attention from Colorado with this pick might include Ty Edmonds (G, Prince George), Matthew Mancina (G, Guelph), Jonas Johansson (G, Brynas J20)

204th Overall Selection: Henrik Tornqvist - LW - Linkoping J20

- The Avalanche finish off their 2014 NHL Draft by adding another Swede to the mix in Henrik Tornqvist.  He's known primarily as a defensive minded forward, coming in at 50th on the Central Scouting final rankings.  He's 6'1, is a fast skater, has some offensive tools and likes to play physical.  Had a decent season internationally, including putting up a pair of points at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this spring.

Others options that might also draw attention from Colorado with this pick might include David Kampf (C, Chomutov), Adam Brodecki (RW, Brynas), Luca Fazzini (LW, Lugano)