In a report published in the July edition of the Sports, Business and Management Journal, authors Peter Tingling, Kamal Masri, and Matt Martell found that NHL teams on average find just 2 successful players a year in the draft. With these odds in mind, it’s no wonder scouting departments across the NHL lean towards the “safe pick” when it’s their turn to make their selections every year in June. More often than not, these players are physically mature, rated highly across the league, have a history of success, and have traditional hockey backgrounds. Few teams choose to break this mould and when they do, they’re often met with criticism from fans and media.
A brief look at the Anaheim Ducks recent drafting history shows willingness on the team’s part to sway from these conventions. Whether it’s snagging a highly-touted player who’s slipping, going off the board with their selection, or drafting players from non-traditional hockey backgrounds, the Ducks have proven that they are not shy about going with their gut, and it appears as though it may be paying off.
Here’s a look at some of the more “unconventional” picks by the Ducks in recent years:
“Off the Board”
The Ducks turned some heads when they selected Swedish defenseman Hampus Lindholm 6th overall at the 2012 Entry Draft. Passing on highly regarded defensemen such as Matthew Dumba, Jacob Trouba, and Olli Maata, the Ducks instead selected Lindholm, who was ranked 19th overall by International Scouting Services and just 4th in European skaters by Central Scouting. The pick was considered by most to be at least a reach, if not completely off the board.
Today, Lindholm is sharpening his skills as a pro in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals. While his 5 points so far this season won’t blow anyone anyway, he is evolving into a highly dependable defenseman for the Admirals based on his quiet, mistake-free game. His skating is smooth as advertised, and he is positionally sound on the defensive end, rarely finding himself out of position or chasing the puck. Any Ducks fan should be happy with the way this 18-year-old is adjusting to the North American pro game and should be excited to see him play for Sweden in the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships.
A 2nd Chance
In 2012, Anaheim made Frederik Andersen the first Danish-born goaltender drafted to the NHL …for the second time. He was originally drafted in the 7th round by Carolina back in 2010, and after going unsigned, re-entered the draft in 2012 and was picked by the Ducks in the 3rd round. Not exactly a hot commodity heading into the draft, Andersen wasn’t even ranked in the top 10 European goalies despite setting a new regular season shutout record for Frolunda with eight and being nominated for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. However, Anaheim saw potential where others didn’t and it appears the choice may have been a good one.
Like Lindholm, Andersen is currently mastering his craft in the AHL with the Admirals. He’s posted good numbers in 13 games with a .923 save percentage, 2.52 goals against average and a 6-5 record. He’s a very big keeper standing 6’4 and weighing 220 lbs, covers a lot of net, and is difficult to beat when in the butterfly. With increased athleticism to go along with his frame, Andersen could be a solid NHL goaltender in the future.
A Small Man’s Game
There is precedent in selecting undersized defenseman in the NHL draft, even early in the 1st round. Ryan Ellis was picked 11th overall in 2009 by the Nashville Predators and stands just 5’10, 179 lbs. Just two years later, Ryan Murphy was selected in the 12th spot by Carolina at 5’11 and a slight 175 lbs. However, both were noticeably larger than Anaheim’s 4th round pick in the 2009 draft, Sami Vatanen, who stood just 5’9 and weighed a mere 160 lbs at the time of the draft. To put that in perspective, imagine Buffalo Sabres’ Tyler Ennis as a defenseman. This kind of pick is admittedly difficult for scouts to make. With speed and puck skills on par with any other defenseman in his year, Vatanen understandably slipped due to his size and questions about whether it would hinder his transition to a more physical North American game on smaller ice. Luckily for the Ducks, this wasn’t enough for them to let Vatanen pass by in the 4th round.
Today, Vatanen is playing pro for the Norfolk Admirals and is listed on the AHL website as 5’10, 185 lbs. He began the season very hot, posting 7 points in his first 6 games. He has since cooled off, but still owns some impressive numbers for an AHL rookie defenseman with 14 points in his first 20 games played in North America. Vatanen projects to be a speedy puck-mover and a dangerous weapon on the power play at the NHL level.
Slip and Fall
Selecting Cam Fowler 12th overall in 2009 certainly wasn’t an unconventional move by the Ducks, however the way in which he became available to them could definitely be seen that way. Ranked in the top 5 by virtually every major publication, Fowler had scouts raving all season long with regards to his fluid skating, high-end puck moving ability and elite hockey sense. Then on draft day something happened. The top 5 picks were made and Fowler’s name had not been called. Then 5 more players were selected and still no Fowler. Not until the 12th pick did Cam finally get to hear his name called and the Ducks couldn’t have been happier. In fact, Anaheim was so shocked he was available at that spot that they didn’t even have a nameplate made up for his jersey.
Today, Fowler’s accomplishments are well documented. He immediately made the jump to the NHL and proceeded to post 40 points in his rookie season. He followed that up with 29 points in his sophomore year with some definite improvement in his defensive game. It’s still unclear why Fowler slipped as far as he did on draft day, but the Ducks will happily move forward with Fowler as their long term solution for a mobile, puck moving defenseman.
Follow Anton on Twitter: @antontibaldi