Photo Credit: NU Huskies Athletics

It’s too early to compare 2018 draft picks

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that one of the things I regularly do is update people on how Canucks prospects have done on any given night. They look something like this:

That specific update was used on purpose.

The Canucks 2018 3rd round pick, Tyler Madden is off to a great start to his collegiate career and fans should be excited about that.

But it seems that every update about Madden results in a discourse talking about Jake Wise, who was taken with the following pick by the Chicago Blackhawks. Many, myself included, thought that Wise would be a good pick in that spot but understand the attraction to Madden.

People who follow prospects regularly were completely understanding of the selection, even if they may have chosen someone different in that exact spot. It’s a conversation that would’ve happened among the Canucks amateur scouts prior to the draft when they were figuring out their list and they decided that Madden was higher on their list for the skillset that he presented.

The point isn’t that the Canucks made a wrong decision, it’s that we are two months into these prospects draft plus one season and to compare the two and handed the Canucks the W already is a weak venture for a variety of reasons.

Deployment & Luck

Jake Wise only has two assists in nine games with Boston University this season, while Madden has nine points in eleven games with Northeastern. The largest difference is their deployment.

Madden is playing first line minutes for the Huskies and is a mainstay on their first powerplay unit, while Wise is playing a third line role for Terriers and has been limited to second powerplay unit time. Northeastern is down a goal or protecting a lead, Madden is out there.

This in part is due to the depth of the program at Boston University and the fact that Northeastern lost a large group of players to graduation, including their entire first line from last season. This has given Madden a chance to produce and he has.

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This is always an overlooked to prospect evaluation. A large portion of the situation for a respective team and the coaches trust can dictate how much production a player can produce. So far in the first parts of their season, Madden has a noticeable advantage simply because of the opportunity in front of him.

Not to mention the fact that sometimes weird bounces go in or a unnoteworthy secondary assist leads to some points. There have been a couple of Madden points this season that weren’t exactly his doing. That’s fine, he is doing a lot of good things and hockey gods will reward that at times but Wise hasn’t been afforded that same luck thus far.

Focusing on the next player taken

It’s really easy to just compare player X to the player taken immediately after them and then breaking it down based on that. Madden went 68th overall to the Canucks, that means there were 148 players taken after him but yet Wise is the target.

If you expand the view past the next player, there are actually some players that were taken in the third round have been doing much better than Wise

  • The Blackhawks took Niklas Nordgren with the 74th selection – He has three goals and four assists in 12 Liiga games playing against men.
  • Florida traded their 2019 3rd round pick to take Logan Hutsko at 89th overall. He has one goal and seven assists in nine games with Boston College after posting 31 points in 37 games in the NCAA during his D+1 year.
  • Connor Dewar was selected by the Minnesota Wild at 92nd overall. He has eighteen goals and fourteen assists in 21 WHL games and represented WHL at the Canada/Russia series.
  • Goaltender Jakub Skarek has posted a 1.78 GAA and 0.931 SV% in 12 Liiga games this season. He was taken 72nd overall by the Islanders.

We haven’t even left the third round and I’ve only highlighted four standouts of the group but you get the idea. Just because Chicago opted to select Wise at 69th overall, he has been used as a comparison by Canucks fans when in reality the choice to have him go the very next pick was out of their control.

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Development is not linear

Canucks fans should be acutely aware of this last one.

Look at Adam Gaudette, he started his collegiate career extremely slowly but suddenly exploded in December of 2015 and never looked back. At the time of the draft, he had one of the lowest levels of statistical success in the entire draft but was able to overcome that.

Madden is similar in the way that he plays but he has hit the ground running to start the season, while someone like Wise hasn’t. Depending on when and if they turn pro, they’ve likely played around 5-10% of their collegiate career and that’s before they make the leap to the AHL and NHL.

For all we know, Madden could hit a wall and Wise explodes when given more opportunity in year two or three.

All of this isn’t to bury the Canucks prospect or how they have fared on the draft floor over the last few years. If anything, they have been doing well in this area and should keep doing what they are doing.

The point is looking at things in a larger scope.

Ideally, Madden continues an upwards trajectory and is able to carve out a career with the Canucks but not with the constant comparison of another prospect. There is still a long road to go and ultimately, most of these guys won’t make it.

  • Judging prospects outside the first round against other prospects taken outside the first round just seems like a fool’s errand generally. There are no guarantees outside the first round and so much randomness – if you get an NHLer in the 3rd round, that should be considered a success, regardless of whether a better player was taken later. If you get an impact player outside the first round, that should be considered a fantastic success.

    Even if Jake Wise ends up being the better player in the long run, if Tyler Madden has an NHL career, that’s a win for the Canucks’ scouting staff.

    Also, Ryan, I’ve noticed a real improvement in your writing over the past while and a significant drop in sentence fragments, but they’re still popping up here and there. For example, “Madden is playing first line minutes for the Huskies and is a mainstay on their first powerplay unit. While Wise is playing a third line role for Terriers and has been limited to second powerplay unit time.” These shouldn’t be separate sentences – “While Wise is playing…” is a fragment on its own.

    • Ryan Biech

      Thanks for pointing it out – it’s been fixed. Appreciate making the positive comment prior to it and showing the exact mistake.

      Completely agree with your point, just had seen a bunch of comments comparing these two specifically (got a ton of Glass/Pettersson, Lind/everyone else last season) and figured I’d write it out. At the very least, creates the conversation about Madden and how to look at things about prospects.

      • DJ_44

        I think the reason for specific comparison, as opposed to the broad, more balanced look you have provided is because many attached the “I can’t believe they drafted X, when player Y was available (only to have player Y go one spot later)….like Jackson MacDonald, specifically.

        Many (not saying CA staff) could not believe the stupidity demonstrated by Benning for taking Pettersson over Glass (…sup PQW?) or Valardi, etc.

        The exact same thing happen when the Canucks choose Lockwood.

        Good article.

    • I don’t think armchair GM’s appreciate how difficult it is to find legit players in the draft. Looking at the draft data I pulled last year from Eliteprospects, from 1998 to 2013, there were 475 team-draft-years. Using 200 games as the threshold for an “NHL player”, there were 100 (21%) instances where a team failed to draft a single NHL player in a draft. In 162 instances (34%), a team was only able to draft one player. In 213 instances (45%), a team was able to draft two or more NHL players. This was a quick-and-dirty analysis so I didn’t break it down into 1st vs. non-1st round picks (though I could with more time) but right off the hop, 55% of the time, GM’s drafted only one NHL player or struck out. This would drop off considerably when you eliminate the 1st round picks.

      • I’d put money on the majority of those 100 instances where a team failed to draft a single NHLer as being years where teams traded multiple picks or their first round pick away. I’d be interested to see how many teams completely whiffed when they had seven kicks at the can – I’d guess it’s fairly low.

        That being said I’d put the threshold of calling a draft “successful” at two or more regular NHLers.

        • Of the 100 instances, 60 teams (60%) failed to pull an NHL player when they had at least 7 draft picks. Remember that this list includes years where there were more than 7 rounds. For example, in 2000, Chicago failed to draft an NHL player when they had 15 draft picks (which included the #10 and #11 overall picks). There were 11 instances where a team failed despite having 10+ draft picks.

          For me, I consider any draft where you can pull at least one NHL player a “success”. If you can draft two or more players, that’s “exceptional”. This assumes you managed to successfully use your 1st round pick and then managed to find a second roster player in rounds 2-7 (which we know is statistically low). That’s why I am still considering 2016 to be an exceptional draft if Juolevi and Lockwood pan out. Benning only had a 1st, 3rd, and then four 5th-7th round picks – to score on his only two Top 100 picks is pretty damn good.

          • truthseeker

            Just further confirms what I already think. NHL drafting is almost entirely luck based. I’ll go even farther than Goon and say it applies to first rounders as well. Talent will show you groupings of players, but within each of those groupings, it’s going to be a lot of luck on which of them ends up a success.

            DogBreath’s post below is interesting and exactly the point. You simply cannot predict the actions, mental and physical, of human beings with any reasonable accuracy. And that’s before other factors. Add to that, their age, and the fact they get thrown into the public eye and the stress that goes with that, heaps of money, and of course the beer and girls and well…good luck with choosing.

            If I were scouting these kids I’d spend as much time investigating their work ethic on and even more importantly, off the ice. Investigate their maturity level and all that. Are they goofballs or do they keep their grades up? Do they hang out with their friends a lot or are they constantly working on their craft?

            I would do massive amounts of this kind of thing

            …My favourite NHL draft combine story goes like this: Years back Bryan Murray and his scouting staff were sitting across from a top draft prospect who was coming off a disappointing season. And rumours abounded that the prospect was an untamed party boy…

            The interview went forgettably, canned answers all the way, but it ended with a bang. Murray asked him about the town where he played in the CHL. The kid gave a perfunctory answer. “It’s a nice place,” the kid said or something like that.

            Murray closed it like a veteran detective. “I’m actually going out to that town of yours this summer for a golf tournament,” Murray said. “Do you know any good places to go out for a drink and a good time?”

            The prospect then rhymed off a bunch of watering holes, various waitresses names and the town’s one strip club. All this passed for irrefutable proof that he was old beyond his years in life experience, but as guileless as a toddler. Not surprisingly Murray’s team passed on the prospect at the draft. And equally not surprisingly the prospect had issues with drinking down the line that compromised his professional career…

            Yeah the way that story ends is a bit of a laugh, but I’d say Murray was right to walk away from the player regardless. It’s all about minimizing risk as much as you can.

  • Fred-65

    A factor in the debate IMO is who the player plays for ie who’s the coach. Many coaches for years had a reputation that freshman are to be seen and not heard from. They held their spot in the middle of the bench and kept quiet. Seniors and Juniors got the ice time. Some have chnaged especially with more andmore player opting out of university in their third year of school. Two prospects have broken with this mantra, Rathbone and Madden, good for them! However there needs to be a nod of the head given to their respective coaches who have had the jam. As we know Madden is a first line player as a freshman and Rathbone first pairing on defense as a freshman. Amateurs lining up schools in the NCAA will maybe have an understanding before they committ

    • Jimjamg

      Very good points. I think the fact that competitive college coaches in the U.S. are willing to give players like Rathbone and Madden key roles on their teams is an unambiguously positive sign for their future prospects. Of course some picks taken after ours will always turn out better in hindsight, that is the nature of the Draft. And sometimes we will get a Brock Boeser at 23 and a Petterson at 5 and lots of other teams will be kicking themselves. Just the way it works.

  • kermit

    It seems that for the later rounds, one of the main criteria the canuck’s management look for is what they refer to as a player’s compete level. They have used this term to describe what they saw in Gaudette, and Lockwood, and why they liked Madden. This may be something Benning learned in Boston. The individual scouts deserve a lot of credit for identifying the early round skill picks, but it’s upper management, meaning Benning, who sets out the criteria on what it takes to build a winner. Let’s hope he’s got it right, early indications are that he has.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Beyond the first round if a GM for any club was able to draft just one player step in and have a real impact on his team for, say, a 6 or 7 year stretch that would be truly outstanding. At the NHL level more now than ever scouting may constitute the most important aspect of hockey, not that it was ever unimportant. Every organization is chasing the same dream and you’d better hope and pray you get it right. Tough issue for sure.

  • DogBreath

    Good write-up and a good reminder for all of us about the imperfections of the selection process (and the growth projections of 18 year old males). Say what you want about him, but Brian Burke is probably more correct than we realize when he suggested that more NHL prospects careers are ruined by girls and beer. I’m sure they’re guided by some warning signs, but its probably far from a perfect process.

    • wjohn1925

      It is quite something how effective trolls can be at derailing an interesting and thoughtful discussion. They function like Trump and deflect the conversation because they irritate so much. BTW this was a thoughtful blog and post-blog comment section.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Thank you, gentlemen, for being gentlemen in this particular comment section. We don’t have to agree with each other certainly on everything but we can be respectful which seems to be a lost commodity in today’s world. This is hockey and it’s tons of fun sharing views. Don’t let the miscreants get you down. I don’t.