Using pGPS: 2008 NHL Entry Draft

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A few weeks ago, I completed an exercise using pGPS to look at the UFA prospects then Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis signed during his tenure at the time of their signings.

Seeing the have and have nots in terms of NHL potential proved an interesting endeavour. Unsurprisingly, Chris Tanev checked out as one of the better-rated prospects of the group when viewed through the lens of pGPS (Prospect Graduation Probabilities System) at the time of his signing.

In the comment section, and on twitter, there were requests to do all of Mike Gillis’s draft classes. Well, ask and you shall receive. Today’s post will kick off a week-long series reviewing the 2008-13 draft classes with pGPS.

Before we dive in, let’s make it clear that this isn’t a comparison between the previous regime and the current one. This is simply an exercise of looking back to see how those draft classes would’ve looked using the tools we have available to us now.

Traded Picks

The Canucks entered the 2008 NHL Entry Draft possessing a first, second, fifth, sixth, and seventh round picks. The following transactions occurred that resulted in the Canucks lacking a third and fourth round pick:

  1. The Vancouver Canucks’ third-round pick went to the Anaheim Ducks as the result of a trade on July 25, 2005 where Anaheim transferred a third-round pick in 2006 and a second-round pick in 2007 to Vancouver in exchange for this pick. Vancouver received these picks as compensation for the Ducks signing of head coach Randy Carlyle.
  2. The Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-round pick went to the Buffalo Sabres as the result of a trade on June 21, 2008 that sent a third-round pick in 2008 (74th overall) to Los Angeles in exchange for the Rangers third-round pick in 2008 (81st overall) and this pick.Los Angeles previously acquired this pick as the result of a trade on February 25, 2007 that sent Brent Sopel to Vancouver in exchange for a conditional second-round pick in 2007 and this pick.
All trade information were taken from Wikipedia here.

10th overall – C Cody Hodgson

The first pick of the Gillis regime wound up the crown jewel of their organization for a while, and rightfully so. Hodgson had all the makings of an NHL player, and in spite of his unrefined skating still looked capable of developing into a bottom six player at the very least.

Unfortunately, his the development in his stride lagged behind the increasing speed of the NHL, and he was left behind as a result. Add a nagging back injury and resulting tension between himself and the team and it’s no surprise why Hodgson went off course. Using masterful deployment to put Hodgson in a position to artificially inflate his value, the Canucks eventually dealt Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for Zack Kassian. Hodgson fared reasonably well in the lockout-shortened season that followed and earned a long-term contract extension for the trouble. 

Everything went off the rails for the promising youngster the following season. His skating issues, long the glaring deficiency in his game, had become increasingly profound. Hodgson’s offence atrophied as a result and the Sabres bought him out at the end of the 2014-15 season. Last summer Hodgson signed a one-year deal with the Nashville Predators and appeared in 39 games before being placed on waivers and reassigned to the AHL upon clearing.

Needless to say, not the career that the Canucks hoped for when they selected Hodgson with the 10th overall pick.

Hodgson

When we use pGPS to look at Hodgson’s draft season, a very impressive 50% went onto becoming NHL regulars. That is a fairly good mark for a 10th overall pick, and given how unremarkable the 2008 draft class was (aside from the top two picks), it makes it even better.

But it’s important to mention that Hodgson passed the benchmark of being a successful draft pick. Speaking with scouts or general managers, the threshold for development success is 200 NHL games, with the important disclaimer that you hope for more games or a bigger impact from players selected higher. So given that Hodgson has played 328 NHL games, it is a successful selection. Just not as successful as everyone hoped.

Cody Hodgson is currently an unrestricted free agent.

41st overall – D Yann Sauve

With the 41st overall pick, the Canucks selected defenceman Yann Sauve from the St John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. Regarded as a hard-nosed two-way defenceman, Sauve had the makings of a bottom pairing defender who wouldn’t hurt you at either end of the ice. 

Sauve came with a solid pedigree as a former first overall pick in the QMJHL and having represented Canada at the 2007 U18 World Juniors — an especially impressive feat given that was his D-1 season. In Sauve’s draft year, he made himself known for fighting Steven Stamkos at the CHL Top Prospect Game.

Though Sauve’s stock fell slightly as he came closer to the draft, the Canucks took him more or less where he was expected to go. It was by no means a reach to take Sauve and altogether possible that the Montreal native would trend back upwards in his development. To the Canucks credit, that’s precisely what Sauve did. He took huge strides forward offensively from season to season and had a particularly impressive 2009-10 playoffs with the Sea Dogs, tallying 15 points in 21 games.

During the Canucks 2010 training camp, Sauve was hit by a car and suffered a concussion as a result. It took him two months to recover and work his way into the Victoria Salmon Kings lineup in the ECHL. He worked his way back up and appeared in five games for the Canucks that season, then another three the following year. For Sauve, that was all the NHL competition he’d ever play.

When Sauve’s ELC with the Canucks concluded at the end of the 2013-14 season, he went on to suit up for the St John’s IceCaps, Providence Bruins, Stockton Heat and Springfield Falcons in the OHL; he then went on to play for the Orlando Solar Bears and Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL. Currently, Sauve is playing for Zagreb in the KHL.

Simply put, the Canucks took a risk that Sauve suffered a sub-par draft year and would get back on track. He ultimately did, but circumstances and plateauing development prevented him from taking it far enough to break through to the NHL level. Teams take bets like these all the time. Sometimes they pay off, others they don’t.

Using pGPS, an extremely low 3.0% of Sauve’s matches went onto becoming NHL regulars at the time of his selection. Though the Canucks hoped they’d one day see returns on their investment in Sauve, the data suggests the odds were always stacked against them.

If he hadn’t been injured, he might’ve been able to make it but it appears the numbers were right here.

131st overall – RW Prabh Rai

The Canucks went to the WHL well in the fifth round, selecting speedy scorer Prabh Rai. The Surrey native had an impressive draft season scoring 20 goals and chipping in 45 assists for the Seattle Thunderbirds. Rai’s combination of speed and high-end offence made him a worthwhile selection, especially in the context of where he was taken.

The hope is that in later rounds you can find players with raw tools and innate physical traits that can be moulded with a little coaching to round out an otherwise promising game. Rai looked like one such player.

Rai continued to trend upwards, posting another 65 points in his D+1 season. During his D+2 season, he was relied on by the Thunderbirds to be a leader, a role he more than fulfilled, posting 41 goals. He signed his ELC with the Canucks and was looking to make an impact in professional hockey with hopes of making the NHL. 

However in the summer of 2010, his car was rear-ended on the Port Mann bridge, and he was never the same. Omar Rawji over at Vancitybuzz/Daily Hive sat down with Rai last summer and talked extensively about the injury and fallout from it.

With chronic pain, Rai was only able to suit up for 38 ECHL games over the duration of his ELC. Rai started his own clothing company, Joseph Chanan, in Vancouver.

Whether Rai’s results justified the Canucks faith isn’t particularly important in this context. We’re trying to determine whether the Canucks made a sound process bet here, and based on Rai’s 28.8% pGPS success rate, that’s absolutely the case. 

161st overall – F Mats Froshaug

Canucks fans didn’t know what to make of Mats Froshaug when the team selected him 161st overall. They didn’t get a chance to know him afterwards, either. Froshaug played at Development Camp, but never so much as played in a Canucks uniform.

Froshaug’s game was built on strong two-way play and intangible qualities. Froshaug was a relative long-shot based on where he was taken in the draft. Likely the Canucks envisioned Froshaug as a strong two-way player with the potential to develop into a bottom-six centre. 

Unfortunately, pGPS indicates the odds were always stacked against them. Only 2.2% of Froshaug’s matches went on to become NHL regulars.

Froshaug continues to ply his trade in Europe.

191st overall – G Morgan Clark

The son of goalie coach, Ian Clark, Morgan was selected in the seventh round of the draft. Seen as ‘a favour’, Clark was regarded as a bad pick the moment it happened. Clark posted a Sv% below 0.890% thought the majority of his WHL career, and then made an appearance in the QMJHL. He ended up at St Francis Xavier University, and hasn’t played any professional hockey.

If the Canucks wanted to select a goaltender, Anders Lindback and Joacim Eriksson, who the Canucks signed as a UFA a few years later, would’ve been better bets at the time and in hindsight. Although Lindback wasn’t very good at the NHL level.

At the moment, pGPS is unable to grade goalies – but it’s safe to assume the numbers would back up the undesirability of this selection.


Looking back at the 2008 NHL Entry draft for the Canucks, it’s not particularly impressive. But it’s important to keep in mind that there were a lot of mitigating factors. Hodgson, Sauve, and Rai all suffered injuries that derailed their development and career. 

The benchmark for a ‘successful’ NHL draft is getting two NHL players from your seven picks, the Canucks were close with one out of five selections.

Tomorrow, we will look at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

  • Canuck4Life20

    These posts always seem more than a little weird to me since (as far as I can tell from the intro) you’re using these players while building your pGPS and then using that same pGPS to evaluate the players.

    I’m assuming this kind of stuff happens behind the scenes and you just want to keep the mechanics of these tools slightly more mysterious, but I’d be curious to see how well this tool performs if you were to only use say years that aren’t divisible by four to build your pGPS model and then test it on the years that are divisible by four.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    What is with Canucks draft picks and motor vehicle accidents;Yann Sauve, Prabh Rai, and of course the tragic case of Luc Bourdon.

    Then you look at Anton Rodin having a career year derailed by a freak skate cut, and you begin to think the Canucks are a bit cursed.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    So, pGPS says two good selections, two shaky selections and one not applicable.

    Hindsight says five busts.

    Not a good looking draft for either Gillis or pGPS.

    And to think we could have had Karlsson. C’mon Sedins, stand up for your countryman next time!

    • Goon

      This is why CONTEXT is important. Two of those five picks suffered serious, career-affecting injuries, and a third suffered a career-ending injury, all within two years of being drafted. You can’t plan for that.

  • Goon

    “Froshaug’s game was built on strong two-way play and intangible qualities. And like Rai before him, Froshaug was a relative long-shot based on where he was taken in the draft.”

    I don’t understand – in the previous paragraph on Rai, you said he was an almost-29% pGPS player and “Rai’s combination of speed and high-end offence made him a worthwhile selection, especially in the context of where he was taken.”

    The 2008 draft is really illustrative of how much luck can be involved in drafting prospects. It’s reasonable to think that had Rai and Sauve not been in car accidents and had Hodgson not had his back injury, the Canucks could have had three of their five picks develop into regular NHLers. That’s pretty good. Instead they ended up with only one developing into an NHL regular, and that one being regarded as a borderline-bust regardless of his 300+ games played.

  • Cageyvet

    First, thanks for the column, responding to requests and putting the work in for an interesting read.

    Second, in line with the last comments, I find the pGPS Stat useful, but more in the context of overall ratings. If you went solely by this stat, you’d see players like Rai going in the first and second round, so it’s demonstrably flawed.

    What it does is provide another tie-breaker, or diamond-in-the-rough type of stat, where you look for it to stand about above others who may rank closely in other categories.

    Context is indeed the king, such as the league they played in, role, caliber of on-ice matchups, etc. That’s what pro scouts are for.