This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I am often wrong.
In the process of preparing for the NHL draft every year, we at CanucksArmy do our best to familiarize ourselves with as many eligible prospects as possible, balancing watching hours of tape with going to school, day jobs, family life, or whatever else may be going on in our lives at any given time.
Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in the day, so gaining an intimate knowledge of all 217 players selected each year is difficult. After the first round or two, most of us have to use the numbers available to us, whatever highlights are available on YouTube, and the opinions of contacts in the industry who are more plugged-in than us to make snap value judgments on a selection at the time it’s made. It’s not perfect, but it’s preferable to guessing or simply placing blind trust in the decision-making one of the league’s worst teams of the past half-decade or so.
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One instance where I was forced to make a quick judgment call on a player based on limited information was in the case of then-USHL Tri-City Storm centre Tyler Madden. I gave the selection an overall grade of C, citing his lack of production and limited NHL comparables as a concern while acknowledging the team’s prior success drafting similarly unheralded forwards out of the USHL:
“While the Canucks have had some success in the past selecting low-scoring forwards out of the USHL with the emergence of Adam Gaudette, I’m still a bit skeptical about this pick. They’ve gone to this well before, with varying results. While Gaudette has already greatly surpassed expectations for a fifth-round pick, I’m far less sold on Will Lockwood, the other Canucks pick that fits this mold. This feels a bit like a “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” situation. Some would say that Judd Brackett has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to these type of selections, but that feels like a lot of trust to place in the infallibility of an organization that’s made their fair share of mistakes in the past. Sometimes teams can get a little too high on their own supply and this feels more like an example of that than it does like a smart bet on a player who has more to give.”
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What can I say? Nobody bats 1.000.
Just over a year later, Madden has gone from a mid-round afterthought to a legitimate prospect who looks to be a better shot to eventually make the show than many of the players taken ahead of him in the 2018 draft. He clocks in at #8 on our preseason rankings.
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Qualifications

In keeping with past lists, we’re considering a prospect to be any player who is 25 years of age or younger and who has played less than 25 regular season games at the NHL level. This is a slightly modified and simplified version of the qualifications for the Calder Trophy.
As of the 2018/19 season, both Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette have graduated from prospect status.

By The Numbers

TEAM/LEAGUE
SEASON
GP
G
A
P
PIM
+/-
NORTHEASTER UNIV./NCAA
2018/19
36
12
16
28
8
5
Jeremy Davis’ prospect Graduation Probabilities System gives Madden an expected likelihood of success of 19.9%, a rather lofty total for a third-round pick. Some of the more well-known names in Madden’s cohort are Travis Zajac, Alex Kerfoot, and Carl Hagelin.
Madden’s XLS% took a huge jump up from last year, thanks to an impressive freshman year with the Northeastern University Huskies.
If Madden does indeed beat the odds and develop into an NHL player, it will most likely be as a bottom-of-the-lineup player, although a healthy number of players in Madden’s cohort did go on to become top-9 players.
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Scouting Report

Madden had a fairly unremarkable draft-eligible season with the Storm, scoring 20 points in 32 games, good for just 7th overall in team scoring. He showed flashes of promise and was named MVP of the USHL Top Prospects Game, but at the time of his selection, 68th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, he appeared to be little more than a mid-round gamble.
It didn’t take long for the hype to build around Madden, as he quickly adjusted to college hockey, earning a spot on Northeastern’s top line, scoring at nearly a point-per-game, and leading the Huskies to their second Beanpot win in as many years.
Stop me if this sounds familiar at all.
Yes, Madden’s earned his fair share of comparisons to Adam Gaudette, a former Canucks’ prospect who took a similar development path. The parallels are easy to draw: both players are centres who are comfortable at both ends of the ice, who played significant roles on both special teams for the Huskies; but Madden is shiftier and more creative with the puck. While he may share Gaudette’s tenacity, he doesn’t have his size and wasn’t able to impose his will physically at the NCAA level the way Gaudette did.
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Madden has a surprisingly diverse offensive toolkit for a player selected in the third round, possessing strong puck skills, great vision, and a nifty backhand, which he gets off in this clip of an OT goal against UMass from earlier this season:
Madden doesn’t have the hardest shot, but he does have excellent accuracy and timing, making him a threat to unleash a one-timer on the man advantage.
Madden is extremely slight, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with his willingness to engage physically and go to the dirty areas of the ice. There’s not a lot of power in his shot, but he can get it off accurately through traffic. When combined with his speed, stickhandling skill, and backhand, this makes him a multi-faceted offensive threat off the rush.
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There’s a story about Kevin Labanc and how he came to be drafted by the San Jose Sharks that goes something like this: one of the Sharks’ scouts happened to be at a Barrie Colts practice at some point during Labanc’s draft+1 year and noticed him working on his shot long after the rest of the team had hit the showers. When the scout asked a team staff member if this was just a one-off, he was informed that it was a regular occurrence. The Sharks would go on to take a flyer on him in the sixth round of the 2014 draft and have been reaping the benefits ever since.
Labanc serves as a reminder that no matter how far the numbers have come, there will always be a human element to scouting, and in the mid-to-late rounds, any piece of information teams can uncover about a player’s background or character can be just as much of a competitive advantage as using the latest analytical breakthrough.
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I don’t know how the Canucks keep unearthing diamonds in the rough out of the USHL, and if they want to keep doing it, I probably won’t find out for a long, long time. Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working, and they’d be advised to keep it up. Obviously, Madden has a long way to go before becoming a player like Labanc, and even with the strides he’s made, the odds are stacked against him, but he’s looking a lot closer to following in Adam Gaudette’s footsteps than he did a year ago, and that’s a big win for the Canucks’ scouting department.

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