The NHL Entry Draft is one of the most exciting times of the hockey calendar. Like at the beginning of each new season, hope springs eternal on draft day. Hope of the next franchise player being added. Hope of a difference making player to bolster the roster. Hope of a big trade to vault the team into contention.
If Free Agent Frenzy is seen as the day that General Managers make their biggest mistakes, draft day is probably the day where the fans get the biggest sense of false hope.
Leading up to the draft, fans are bombarded with scouting reports, NHL comparables, and the very dangerous term: upside. Today, it’s time to pump the brakes for one moment as the draft approaches. Most may seem obvious, but all are very common.
Upside =/= Expectation
The upside you hear being tossed around on draft day should not be what you count on your draftee to become. When scouts or media members write of a player’s upside, it means “if everything goes right and this player reaches his potential, this is what will happen.” This is the exception, not the rule. A high percentage of these players will not reach their “upside”.
There are plenty of things that can create a gap between this upside and where the player ends up: injuries, confidence issues, and the simple fact that some players don’t follow a linear path of progression. Some progress, but some plateau and some even take a step back.
Don’t Put Stock in NHL Comparables
As scouts and media try to help fans gain an understanding about these prospects that they have likely never watched, they use NHL comparables. This does not mean that the player is expected to be as good as that player. It is simply to make a comparison on playing style, on the type of player. Far too often people read that the draft eligible player is compared to Patrice Bergeron, then daydream about how great their team would be if Bergeron were added to the roster. The only thing to glean from that tidbit is that the prospect is a two way forward type.
Few Players Hit The Ground Running
It seems everyone has a very short memory when it comes to prospects. Sports is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ industry, and no matter the circumstances, if a player isn’t producing, they are brought into question and thrown under the microscope. After Jonathan Drouin had a season in and out of the lineup with the Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay Lightning, suddenly the shine has come off the former shiny top prospect. Somehow forgotten is the fact that the same questions were being raised about Steven Stamkos in that very same organization six years ago as he “struggled” to post 46 points in his rookie year.
Most players take two, three, or even four years to show what they are going to become. Counting on this weekend’s prospect to be a big part of adding ten wins onto your team’s total is a recipe for disappointment outside of maybe the top two picks.
Senators’ Recent Draft History Compared to Results
(2013 and 2014 are omitted because they are too recent to make any kind of real analysis)
2012- Cody Ceci: Just breaking into the NHL now; looks to be turning into a solid defenseman
Draft Day impression: “#2 defenseman potential; NHL comparable Brent Seabrook” – TSN’s draft coverage
2011- Mika Zibanejad: Two way forward; looking to break into the top six; 0.5 points/game
Draft Day impression: “A big, strong physical centre who also has some offensive ability.” – Bob McKenzie
2010– No first round pick
2009- Jared Cowen: Battled injuries past three seasons; still shows potential but needs to improve consistency
Draft day impression: Potential franchise defenseman; would have gone in top five if healthy coming into draft
2008- Erik Karlsson: One of the best defensemen in the league; elite offensively; Senators captain
Draft day impression: Relatively unknown player, seen as potentially too small and skinny
It’s a bit early to make definite judgement on Ceci and Zibanejad, but they look like they may become a top four defenseman and top six forward respectively. Cowen has not turned into the franchise defenseman many expected, and Karlsson has blown even the most optimistic projections out of the water. Going back farther into history, there are first rounder Jim O’Brien and top 10 pick Brian Lee to serve as reminders that even the first round is far from a sure thing.
It’s fun to get caught up in the mystery and potential that the draft brings. It is important; however, to recognize the false expectations that have been built over the past several weeks, realizing that what you may read and what the author may be trying to say could be two different things.