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You Have to Look a Little Deeper

June 19, 2018, 9:34 AM ET [1 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
Blogger •NHL Hall of Fame writer • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Mock drafts end after round one, which makes a mockery of the art of projection. The draft goes seven rounds, which still wasn’t long enough for Martin St. Louis to get taken, but we’re not here today to interrupt your obsessions with whether the Canadiens dare pass on Filip Zdina to move down, or how far Brady Tkachuk might drop but to add some depth to your considerations about what is supposedly a fairly deep 2018 pool.

Not to diminish the obvious importance of how one spends a premier pick when special players are within reach. But complete busts are rare in the first 15 choices and about 66 per cent of first-round picks make the NHL. The third that don’t are mostly in the bottom of the round, where the truest measure of drafting success begins and continues into the second and third rounds.

Do the math: If a team has only a successful first-round pick each year it will take 20 seasons to complete the roster of a Stanley Cup winner. Even Joe Thornton will be old at that point. Doing it brick-by-brick, pick-by-pick–the increasingly prudent way to go in a cap world-clubs need to find better than fourth liners or third pair defensemen once the obvious choices are made.

The percentages of success are a bit fluid depending upon how far back you want to track. But an accurate estimate is that 25 per cent of second rounders have more than token NHL careers and the number does not drop off appreciably – to 22 per cent – in the third round. Teams that hit these jackpots set themselves up for a long run of contention. And those that consistently whiff wind up making free agent buys, a lot of them dumb ones.

As the league has grown, the first-round really has become part of the second round. After a year earlier being rejected in his first attempt to make the Junior A Gatineau Olympiques, skinny little Claude Giroux improved so dramatically in his draft year that he was surprised to find himself rated a second-rounder in the mid-season Central Scouting rankings.

“When I saw that, I looked to see who was playing in the NHL after they got drafted in the second round and there were plenty of guys,” he recalls. “I was like, I have a chance!’ I became more motivated.”

Turned out the Flyers took him nine selections from the end of the first–a brilliant pick as it turned out, because analytical evidence is that the percentages chance of finding a marquee player in the late first round is closer to picking one in the third round than it is to nailing one in the top 10. And since scant clubs deal premium choices anymore -- just three of the first 25 picks to be made Friday night have been traded but five of the final six in the first round have changed hands –it is clear how teams realize that their chances of getting good are tied to mining a gem after the lottery selections. In this year’s draft, 10 second rounders and 11 third rounders have been traded and that is just so far.

For years, second and third round picks have been the predominant currency of deadline deals, but the value of the draft has been enhanced because the cap has made a necessity of having some entry-level contracts on your roster.

As your next pick is 31 away, hitting a jackpot with it has become practically essential to building a contender.

Of the last five Cup winners, none hit mother lodes in rounds two and three like the Bruins, who took Patrice Bergeron 45th, David Krejci 63rd, Brad Marchand 71sst and Milan Lucic, 50th. That represents the best scouting of this generation.

The Penguins got Kris Letang with the 62nd pick, Jake Guentzel with the 77th, Matt Murray with the 83rd. Chicago drafted Duncan Keith 54th, Bryan Bickell 41st, Corey Crawford 52nd, Brandon Saad 43rd, and Dave Boland 32nd.

The Kings took Jonathan Quick 72nd, Kyle Clifford 35th, Matt Greene 44th, Tyler Toffoli 32nd and Slava Voynov 32nd. The Capitals, who won with 11 first-round picks and only one mid-rounder–Braden Holtby, practically a No. 3 at 93 in 2008 even though that was at the beginning of the fourth round–are the exceptions.

The teams of this decade that heavily mortgaged their future by trading away top picks to take extended successful (Penguins) and ultimately unsuccessful (Rangers) runs at Cups reasoned that the late first rounders they dealt away were no better than second and third rounders. The logic was based on the evidence, but proof of the strategy is in the scouting. In New York’s case, good on Pavel Buchnevich, not so good on Boo Nieves.

Too late to save them from the next few seasons of losing, the Rangers traded for an additional No. 1 in 2017 and have three first rounders and two second rounders this weekend. They will be back with a vengeance, oh, about 2022 or so. Other teams clearly in rebuilding mode are loaded up, too. Montreal has three second rounders, and Detroit two.

So the show is not over Friday night. Dallas fans. Get your tickets for Saturday, when stars will be born, like they always have been in the second and third rounds.

The first sleeper – and arguably still the best-ever with Mark Messier even 49 years later -- was Bobby Clarke in 1969, the year sponsorship of junior clubs had ended and all the best juniors of minimum age 20 (now 18) were available for claim. But in a 12-team league, Clarke went 17th, which is the middle of the first round now.

So to demonstrate the depth of the quality of players that can be found soon after the round one–and to illustrate the potential value of these choices going forward–we present our All 32-to-93 Teams. As always here at Hockey Buzz, we bring this to you free of charge, including for the chips on these guys’ shoulders after not being picked in the first round, whatever the hell that ultimately proved to mean.

Some other time we will do the long list of the long shots – Rich Tocchet at 121, Henrik Lundqvist at 205, Kimmo Timonen at 250. This time we are giving you the guys that teams had scouted appreciably only to decide they liked somebody a little better. Or, felt a need to use the first-round choice for a certain position while guessing wrong that these prospects might slip to their next pick.

Going back many years, Europeans, considered lacking in desire to excel in the NHL, were too risky to take in the first round, Or players of clear first-round talent already were under contract to the WHA and were a smart second-round pick for down the road. Every late good pick has a unique story. But for 49 years, scouts have spotted flaws in 18 years old that were gone by the time they turned 20, thanks to the hard work that turned them into excellent NHL players

There are all kinds of reasons for 31 teams to wish they could do a draft do-over a year later. Too late, but hardly so for the following picks to have proven brilliant.

First, our All 32-to-93 Draft Teams of active players. We are not going on current value, but volume of work over their careers. The numbers are their place of selection in their draft year.

First Team

LW – Brad Marchand (71). C-Patrice Bergeron (45) RW-David Backes (62) D-Duncan Keith (54) Kris Letang (62) G-Jonathan Quick (72).

Second Team

LW – Patrick Sharp (93) C-David Krejci (63) RW – Jason Pominville (55) D – PK Subban (43) Mark-Edouard Vlassic (35).

And now our All-Time 32-to-63 selections:

First Team

LW – John LeClair (33) C–Mark Messier (49) RW – Mark Recchi (67) D –Nicklas Lidstrom (53), Chris Chelios (40) G-Patrick Roy (51)

Second Team

LW - Patrick Elias (51) C-Sergei Fedorov (74) RW – Jari Kurri (69) D - Zdeno Chara (56) Rob Blake (70) G – Billy Smith (57)

Third Team

LW Mats Naslund (37) C – Brad Richards (64) RW - Glenn Anderson (69
D – Rod Langway (36), Duncan Keith (54) G - Jonathan Quick (72)

And . . . .not forgotten, just a little bit further down on formidable lists:

LW --John Tonelli (33), Bob Bourne (38), Charlie Simmer (39) Esa Tikkanen (80).

C – Neal Broten (42), Guy Carbonneau (44) Thomas Gradin (45) Butch Goring (51), Bengt Gustafsson (58) Kent Nilsson (64), Chris Drury (72) Bernie Nicholls (73), Ray Ferraro (80) Peter McNab (88).

RW – Bob Nystrom (33) Pat Verbeek (43) Alex Mogilny (89)

D – Eric Desjardins (38) Jim Watson (39) Ulf Samuelsson (67)

G – Pelle Lindbergh (35) Denis Herron (40), Bill Ranford (52) Mike Vernon (56), Mike Liut (56) John Vanbiesbrouck (72).

Second and third rounders, do not despair. Mock drafters, lets see how good you really are.
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