Conventional wisdom dictates that Mike Gillis has a better record fishing than drafting.
Image via @GMMikeGillis.
Six days from now the NHL Draft will unfold in Newark, and for a variety of reasons it promises to be a memorable, fascinating and extraordinarily hectic day. The draft will take place, all seven rounds of it, on June 30th and most prospect writers, scouts and others in the industry agree that the talent level of the 2013 draft class is through the roof. Between the wash of talent available through the draft and the relative lack of quality free-agents coming to market on July 5th, the 2013 NHL entry draft has the potential to be an especially busy day for player transactions. Sounds fun, right?
Over the coming week we’ll be rolling out our draft preview coverage series. Some of our preview posts will evaluate the upcoming draft class while others will take a more detailed, analytical look at Mike Gillis’s drafting record and tendencies. Last year we did a post on Mike Gillis’s "fishing holes", and we’ll update that work there today. The concept of "fishing holes" was first introduced to me by Scott Reynolds, but the phrase was originally minted by our pal (and boss) Kent Wilson, who explained "fishing holes" 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.
In an interview Laurence Gilman recorded recently for Canucks TV, Vancouver’s Assistant General Manager vaguely broached how "regionalism" in scouting can impact the makeup of the club’s draft board (or the list of prospects that the team goes off of on draft day). Here are Gilman’s specific comments on the subject (transcription my own):
"It is extremely important to be as detailed as possible when we build a list of as many as 200 players. People would be surprised at the amount of detail and time and sweat and blood and tears goes into deciding whether a guy should be placed at number 68 or at 67. You have scouts from our Quebec region arguing with scouts from the Western region, arguing with the guys from Ontario and Europe as to why a player should be placed above a player in another region."
That’s kind of a fascinating quote. It might suggest to us, perhaps, that Vancouver’s regional scouts in Sweden and Quebec are better debaters than the club’s local, British Columbia based scouts…
During the Mike Gillis era the Canucks have rarely selected local talent at the NHL draft, despite the General Managers early boasts about trying "to stick with Western Canadian kids." On some level I think the club is wise to avoid using draft picks to pander to the "Moar Giants!" or the "Sea-to-Sky Boner" crowd, but it’s also admittedly pretty remarkable how few Western Hockey League players the Canucks have selected over the past five drafts – especially considering that the WHL is the second biggest source of NHL draft picks (behind only the Ontario Hockey League) since 2006.
This observation is nothing new, in fact the lack of Western Hockey League picks over the years is something of a sore spot for some of the local sports media bleeters and a wide swath of the team’s fans as well. It’s also a scouting issue to hear the Canucks tell it, and apparently one that they’ve have taken steps to try and remedy. As Laurence Gilman told Iain Macintyre this past winter:
"We felt we had been systemically undervaluing players in the western region. The moves that were made were not done specifically to draft more players from the west. It was done after an analysis of where players (to the NHL) were coming from and where we were devoting our resources. We felt we needed to improve our coverage in the west. It is our backyard, but it’s also a very big yard and we needed to scout it more efficiently.”
To that end, the Canucks re-assigned Harold Snepsts, who had been in charge of the Western Region, to work with Stan Smyl on scouting NCAA players. They replaced Snepsts with Ron Delorme who is still listed as the chief of amateur scouting (a position he’s held since 2000). The club insisted to Iain Macintyre that it wasn’t a demotion for the oft-criticized Delorme, but they summarily expanded the duties of director of player personnel Eric Crawford so yeah, we’ll take that with a heap of salt. Macintyre was also told that Thomas Gradin will be focussing more on Europe, which is good news, and that the club has further bolstered their scouting in Ontario (where in Hodgson, Corrado, Jensen and Gaunce, the club has been relatively successful in the recent past).
So far in the Mike Gillis era, the Canucks have eschewed Western Hockey League players while using nearly 45% of their thirty draft picks on players from the Quebec Major Junior Hoceky League or from Sweden. In fact the Canucks pick prospects from Sweden and from the Q at a rate double the league average over the past six drafts. With Mike Gillis as the club’s General Manager, the Canucks have also selected an above average number of NCAA players, and players from US high-schools bound for the NCAA. That’s particularly true in later rounds, as Mike Gillis explained after the 2012 draft in Pittsburgh.
Here’s how Mike Gillis’s "fishing holes" break down when compared with the rest of the league:
A couple of quick notes on the below table. Every draft since 2006 is reflected in the right-side of the table, with my piggybacking off of Scott Reynolds’ work from a 2011 NHL Draft preview. In addition to the picks featured under "% of Gillis picks" the Canucks have selected one player from the CJHL and another from the CCHA, two leagues that rarely produce NHL draft picks. Both of those prospects (Ben Hutton and Jeremy Price) were NCAA bound.
|Fishing Holes||% of Gillis Picks||% of League Picks since 06|
This years draft will mark the first such event since the Canucks decided to re-emphasize the Western region in terms of their amateur scouting apparatus. Has the club fixed the issues that led to their organization "systematically undervaluing" WHL talent? That’s a quesiton that we won’t have a good answer to for several years yet, though we’ll have more information to go off in a weeks time….
For now I’d just quickly point out that using a higher proportion of the teams draft picks to select draft eligible players from the Western Hockey League is well and good, but only if those players legitimately and objectively represent the best talent left on the board in Vancouver’s estimation. Picking a couple of additional Western Hockey League grinders might make some segments of the fanbase happy, but the truth is that the Canucks just don’t have a deep enough pool of quality prospects to go wasting draft picks on public relations.