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.