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When NHL teams defy draft day conventions

Jul 19, 2010, 10:40 AM EDT

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Thumbnail image for fowlercam.jpgPicking players in a typical NHL Entry Draft is akin to choosing your child’s future college by throwing a dart at a globe blindfolded. Rarely are such important decisions made with such little genuine, quantifiable information.

I stumbled across some interesting reads on the subject of players falling in the draft this morning. As you may remember, a few seemingly “blue chip” defensemen fell considerably in the draft; Cam Fowler (pictured to the right) was thought to be a No. 3-quality player who dipped to No. 12 with Anaheim while Brandon Gormley fell to No. 13 with Phoenix. Elliotte Friedman wrote an interesting tidbit about players plummeting compared to their perceived statuses by Central Scouting this weekend. One big factor that doesn’t go into Central Scouting rankings is personal character, Friedman reports.

“(We) stop a bit short of investigating … the personality of the players that are before us,” says Central Scouting Director EJ McGuire. “Rather we err on the performance side. We are more of a talent identifier. I can sketch a depth chart of the Oilers and say that Edmonton should take a right-handed centreman in Tyler Seguin. It’s easy for me to say.”

“But I’m not privy to behind the scenes discussions. Maybe the Oilers have decided that two years down the road they are not going to re-sign someone, or they’re going to make a deal so that someone else is a better fit.”

“Maybe (a team is) looking at a player who is high on talent, short on maturity but it has a mature dressing room,” he added. “The team is thinking, ‘We can put him between this player and this player.’ Conversely, if the dressing room is in disarray the team could be looking for a more mature player.”

Tyler Dellow of the well-respected stats blog MC79 Hockey had an interesting take on the discussion.

I’ve read Gare Joyce’s book in which he talks about scouting at great length and a lot of it just seems like modern day phrenology to me. I sort of think that any reasonably competent scouting operation is able to generally sort guys into roughly where they should be but that it’s really a crap shoot beyond that. All of these things that they look for to differentiate players from one another – Brian Burke apparently liked Ryan Kesler because he put his arm around someone who was having a bad game – just strike me as so much skull reading.

If the NHL as a whole barred scouting, doubled the budget of Central Scouting and forced teams to pick from the CSB list, I’m not convinced that the league would be appreciably worse at identifying players. I don’t think you’d suddenly see Ales Hemsky’s getting drafted at 200 or something like that.

That’s certainly an interesting point and perhaps mostly true, but it would obviously also affect the competitive advantages certain “strong” drafting teams enjoy. What would become of the Detroit Red Wings’ vaunted late picks such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg? Would they simply have been drafted sooner … or not at all? Would a bigger budget have allowed Central Scouting to identify such non-drafted gems as Martin St. Louis?

With very little access to how NHL front offices make their draft day decisions, it’s certainly interesting fodder for a mid-July day dry on hockey news.

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