In nine short days the NHL draft will begin in Pittsburgh, and it promises to be a very interesting day or two for the Canucks and their General Manager Mike Gillis. As usual, the Canucks don’t have any high picks (they select 26th and 57th) and the 2011-12 draft class is not seen as particularly deep, but that hardly matters to Canucks fans, who are more interested to see what Gillis does on the trade market anyway!
Over the next week we’ll take some looks at the Canucks’ drafting record since Gillis took over the reigns (June 22nd will mark his fifth time at the draft table) and see if we can ferret out any trends in his approach to selecting players. Today’s topic concerns Gillis’ favorite draft prospect "Fishing Holes." This is a concept that was introduced to me by Scott Reynolds, but was originally coined by our pal Kent Wilson, who explained it as such:
Clubs [may] develop what I call "fishing holes", by which I mean they concentrate their scouting in certain amateur/developmental leagues (for the Flames, it’s the WHL/CHL) – they can become familiar with the relative degree and value of the competition and therefore can more capably gauge a prospects level of performance.
Read past the jump for more.
Over the past decade, the Canucks have selected an above average number of prospects from the WHL, QMJHL and from Sweden at the draft, while shirking players from the US National Development Team Program and the OHL. Under Gillis, those trends have changed somewhat. The Canucks continue to draft players from Sweden and the Q at a higher than average rate, however, in 25 picks, Gillis has only taken two players from the WHL and both of those players were picked in the late rounds of his very first draft as General Manager (2008). Those two picks were local winger Prab Rai, who is unlikely to remain in the system for much longer, and goaltender Morgan Clark who the team never signed.
It’s interesting that Gillis has avoided selecting players from the WHL, and has yet to dip into the BCHL with any picks considering his: "we’re going to try and stick with Western Canadian kids" comments in the summer of 2010. Those comments seem to have been hollow pandering, which, is a good thing really. There are voices in the Vancouver media who’d like to see Gillis refocus on selecting more local talent, but from my perspective, disregarding the regionalist, sea-to-sky maple boner sentiments of the Canucks fanbase is probably the right policy when evaluating talent. As Ryan Kesler might say: "If you can play, you can play."
The Canucks have continued to mostly ignore the US National Development Team under Gillis’ stewardship, however, they’ve picked significantly more players from the Ontario Hockey League than the club used to when Brian Burke and Dave Nonis were at the helm. Two of those picks have been first round selections (Nicklas Jensen and Cody Hodgson), while the other two (Alex Friesen and Frank Corrado) have been signed by the team, and look to have a promising future within the organization. While Gillis has reversed the trend of the Canucks largely ignoring OHL prospects, the team has still selected draft eligible prospects playing in the OHL at a rate below league average over the past four drafts.
I’ve broken down the rate at which Gillis has drafted prospects from various leagues, and compared it to the league average (past 6 years) to give you an idea of where the Canucks have seemingly focussed their scouting attention during Gillis’ tenure. Because Mike Gillis has only made 25 picks in his time in Vancouver (Gillis has never really valued mid-round picks), each Canucks pick is equal to 4% in the table below:
|Fishing Hole %||League %|
Obviously the above table isn’t scientific or necessarily predictive. It’s just as likely that Gillis will draft a player from the WHL with his first round pick as he is to take a prospect who spent this past season in the QMJHL or in the SEL. What’s interesting about analyzing Gillis’ drafting record in terms of "fishing holes," however, is what it suggests about where Canucks scouts direct the bulk of their attention.
For example, it’s pretty clear that Vancouver’s front-office invests a fair bit of time and resources into scouting prospects in Sweden, something that the club’s draft record, and the signings of undrafted free-agents Eddie Lack and Sebastian Erixon speaks to. This trend precedes Mike Gillis, but it looks as if it has continued under his watch. In all likelihood, the club believes that with Thomas Gradin scouring Scandanavia for undiscovered talent, they have an exploitable "knowledge edge" over other NHL teams (except for Detroit) in those leagues. As such, the Canucks tend to select a player out of one of the Swedish leagues a couple of times per draft, often in later rounds, and I’d expect that to continue.
It’s hard to imagine that the club’s recent record of ignoring prospects in the WHL, however, reflects a lack of attention being paid to that league. Gillis’ track record at the draft is still too small for us to infer a trend from the available data and it’s probably just a coincidence. I guess we’ll know more in 10 days!