I Was Wrong, And How: Adam Gaudette

To say the Canucks selection of Adam Gaudette in the fifth-round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft wasn’t well received in this space would be an understatement.

Gaudette’s statistical profile suggested he was a reach, even as late as 149th. In the context of draft rankings, it wasn’t an especially curious move, but given his slight stature and tame counting numbers, it didn’t satisfy our qualitative proprieties anywhere near as much as we’d hoped from a player in that range.

Here we are two full seasons later, and Gaudette looks like an absolute steal. He’s contributing over a point per game for Northeastern in the NCAA and has the fourth highest shot rate among college skaters. This by no means guarantees Gaudette’s future as an NHL player, but it certainly vindicates Canucks General Manager Jim Benning’s investment.

At the very least, we’re at a point where I’m going to have to take the proverbial L on this one. With that in mind, I’ve reached out to Shane Malloy of Hockey Prospect Radio to fill in the gaps where my analysis fell short — because, clearly, it did. Malloy’s been scouting for well over a decade and is one of the most respected voices in the industry.

In a phone call with Canucks Army, Malloy raised questions about the role Gaudette played in his draft year for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Specifically, Malloy pondered the impact his deployment had on his ability to contribute offensively. “Gaudette was dominant in high school.” Malloy said. “I’d suggest role, linemates and even expectations made it difficult for Gaudette to produce in the USHL”.

Malloy was hesitant to answer a question regarding Gaudette’s likelihood of an NHL career at the time of his draft, but added “I’d give him a 25% [chance] of playing over 160 games in the NHL, which is good considering only 70% of first round picks play that many games.”

Even Malloy’s conservative estimate is 25x higher than the number that PCS (Prospect Cohort Success) gave Gaudette when the Canucks selected him. According to PCS, Gaudette’s cohort of similarly productive, sized and aged prospects made the NHL a daunting 1.4% of the time.

The question here, then, is what did our draft analytics not pick up? What was getting lost in translation when we conducted our analysis? So, I asked Malloy a question along those lines. I asked, specifically, what the Canucks might’ve seen in Gaudette that would dissuade them from placing too much stock in his shoddy boxcars.

I think it’s not fair to say his numbers were shoddy, as you should look at the context of the situation of the role he is asked to play, line mates and ice time — especially on the power play.  I think his work ethic, ability to play in traffic and willingness to take a hit to make a play are aspects of his game that would have been appealing to the Canucks Hockey Operations staff.

Over the course of our conversation, Malloy brought up the Trent Frederic situation from last year’s draft as a comparable selection — a high-rent one at that, perhaps. Pundits weren’t shy about lambasting the Boston Bruins for taking a player with as low a ceiling as Frederic’s unimposing point totals would indicate he had in the first round. Now he’s producing over a point per game for the University of Wisconsin. What a difference a player’s role can make.

That’s the kind of context that was missing when we commented on Gaudette in the early proceedings. It’s equal parts not knowing what to look for and not having the resources — be it time or money — to seek it out.

When asked to point out Gaudette’s strengths, Malloy said his “work ethic, good defensive awareness and willingness to go to the tough areas and pay the price” stuck out. Regarding what Gaudette will have to improve upon, Malloy thinks “playing at a higher pace with the puck, improving his two-to-three step quickness and reading developing plays in the neutral zone quicker” stick out as areas of need.

If Gaudette can work towards building around his solid foundation of skills and weeding out the bad habits, Malloy has high hopes for him. Certainly relative to where he was taken. Malloy thinks Gaudette can be a “very good AHL player that can be called up to play a role on his team’s bottom line. He is a safe player for a coach, as he makes smart, safe and simple plays.” That’s the reasonable ceiling Malloy envisions for Gaudette.

To Malloy’s chagrin, I asked the question most scouts are dread to answer. Speaking about Gaudette’s closest NHL comparable player, Malloy said:

To be honest, I am not keen on giving an NHL comparable on a prospect unless it is understood that I am referring to the similarity in playing styles. I would say he plays similar to Chris Higgins when he played for the Canucks.

For the Canucks to get a player close to Higgins — at least in playing style — from the fifth-round would be an absolute coup. Gaudette’s certainly on the right trajectory. His pGPS (prospect Graduation Probability System) is sitting pretty at 40%, and the successful players in that cohort averaged 50 points per 82 game season.

There are valuable lessons to be learned here regarding context. Malloy pointed out that even strength scoring, role and linemates are all things we should be paying considerably more attention. Given the success the Canucks are having with low-scoring USHL draft picks of late, it’s a fair point.

  • Locust

    “The question here, then, is what did our draft analytics not pick up?”

    As many of us have said (over and over), analytics is just a tool – nothing more. Character, size, desire, skating, skill, toughness, athleticism etc etc – all tools… none can be taken individually as more important than any other.

    Your Mea Culpa should be on analytics in general, not on how he allegedly “slipped through” as a singular incidence …

    • I am Ted

      Yes, many have said this. It also becomes annoying when a blogger here rants about what a gamble a play is or that he won’t pan out based on analytics numbers. Like I’ve said many times before, you’re not scouts/NHL execs/professionals etc. You look at one tool that helps project how good a player could be. It isn’t infallible. Not by a long shot. It’s always interesting to check out the numbers but, bloggers et al, please excuse us/me when we laugh in your face when you try and tell us a player/pick sucks based on analytics.

  • wojohowitz

    There`s a thirty second video I can`t watch without laughing of Gaudette`s grandmothers reaction to him getting drafted. You can sense how embarrassed everyone is by her screaming.

  • The analytics argument is like the blind men and the elephant. High Corsi vs. highlight reel hit. 5v5 ppt/60 vs. the breakaway deke for the win. Is this a good or bad player? But even when we sit and mull over the analytics, stats, video footage, player interviews, we still can’t say with certainty how a player will perform tomorrow or over the long-haul.

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    Nice to see the mea culpa. Gaudette is one of those something outta nothing picks that can hopefully contribute to this organization.

    By the way, I saw the comments on the article from the draft and people were actually defending Linden Vey ahahaha. Oy Vey some of these old comments get me rolling

  • Bud Poile

    Every draft Benning has conducted elicits a list of draft coups.

    If his picks don’t pan out he immediately moves them on for roster players.

    Boeser,Demko,Tryamkin,Lockwood,Brisebois,Neill and Forsling.

    Then there are players like Sbisa and Gudbranson that the analytics crowd hate but are essential roster players.

    Stetcher and Garteig,Baertshi and Granlund….the list goes on.

    Half the fans wanted Burrows bought out and Benning stuck by him.

    I just hope that Tanev and Hansen make their way back soon so the Canucks can remain competitive this season.

  • Whatthe...

    Start preparing another write up for Lockwood (and give Brisebois three more years and he will be another huge steal).

    Respect for admitting your analysis missed on this one.

  • jung gun

    So Malloy’s prediction is that Gaudette never makes it above a replacement level player.

    What does CA think, aside from their PGS application?

    I think he’s got a reasonable shot of making it as a third line center in three or four years.

  • Waffles

    Just wanted to point out that people are forgetting how useful Higgins was even a few short years ago. Don’t let his more recent slide affect how great of a coup it would be to get a Higgins-type player in his prime from the 5th round.

  • Rodeobill

    Analytics are a very valuable resource when evaluating, and it keeps getting better the more we figure out and adjust the variables, but we are still far from the day when the eye of an experienced judge of character, potential, and ability has lost it’s value in the role of selecting draft picks. good article JD.

  • Whackanuck

    Good follow up with Malloy, J.D.

    I still think pGPS is more like an axe than a scalpel when looking at draft age players, partly for the reasons you gave and partly for the human factor that isn’t measured by stats.

    There has to be a braking gateway for other factors like weight. Samuel Girard(D) pGPS rocks for age and scoring and his height at 5-10 isn’t bad for a new-age D but he’s still only 160 pounds. The kid has to put on at least 30 pounds to be a prospect, let alone justify being taken in the middle of the second round.

  • Cal Buttercluck

    Just as much as the points, I’m excited that Gaudette has such a high shot rate. I remember a few years ago on the prospects report that Ben Hutton was producing very high shot totals in the NCAA and the writers here pointing out that was a very good sign.

  • TrueBlue

    Good article re-visiting the Gaudette pick, very open-minded and inquisitive. Solid stuff.

    Regardless, I think you can be forgiven for being a little pessimistic about the pick… I think we were all pretty gun-shy regarding overage picks at the time.

    If we’re all being honest, I think most of us felt the same way at the time. In fact, I seem to remember slapping my forehead and grumbling about the Canucks missing out on Ryan Pilon by a couple of picks..

  • wojohowitz

    Benning, being an old school guy, probably relies on analytics for 25% of his decision making with another 25% based on intangibles and the final 50% based on the eye test. That means his scouts might be able to change his mind with a good argument. He probably attends over 100 junior games a year and that`s the eye test.

    I wonder what analytics would have said about Hansen`s probability of success after being picked 287 overall in the ninth round. Probably a 1% chance of success and yet here he is ten years and 500 games later.

  • Killer Marmot

    The trouble with analytics is that we are measuring a teenager’s performance in the juniors to assess how well he’ll do as an adult in the NHL. We are not, in other words, directly measuring what we want to measure, so it’s little wonder that it often goes off the rails.

    A good scout is not looking for performance today, he’s looking for the potential for performance in five years. He knows what areas of a player’s game can likely be improved to NHL caliber (e.g., strength), and what areas are likely to resist improvement (e.g., quickness).

    As an example, if he sees a player who skates and stick handles well, but has poor positional play which is hurting his statistics, the scout may think “We know how to coach that into him. This kid would make a fine late pick.”

  • Chungus

    Wow…you mean to say you have less information on a potential prospect even when you have full access to the players stats than someone who has a team and actually goes out and observes a player? Color me surprised.

    If you guys made a post every time you were wrong, that’s all canucksarmy would be.

      • Whackanuck

        Dirk, even with pGPS that says a player of characteristics x*y*z belongs in a cohort that succeeds 40% of the time still FAILS 60% of the time. Example Yakupov, Filatov, Griffin Reinhart?
        The intent of pGPS AFAIK is good by comparing players to like clusters and selecting the best one but it only somewhat improves the odds. The odds can also be improved by the eye test. I can see a draft meeting where scouts are comparing guys they see for Round 2 for an example and the analytics guy says ” I like player X that you guys all do but there’s this kid Z that produces as well in his cohort with similar size but he’s almost a year younger.” A nice unbiased check. Possibly then, Benning says “Inneresting. I saw ‘X’ twice though and his coach had him out in all the toughest situations defending a lead and he’s behind their #1 center who is going in the high first round. And X never complained once and just got better all year”

        Much like J.D’s example of Gaudette.

  • Killer Marmot

    Have most teams moved to analytics as the principle means to assess prospects?

    If so, then it might give more traditional managers like Benning — who says that analytics are at best an aid for him — an advantage, as he can exploit opportunities that quants tend to overlook.

    It’s a little like being an investor. If you choose stocks the same way that everyone else chooses stocks, you will not do any better than average. Only by taking a different approach do you stand a chance of superior returns.