The Entry Draft Crapshoot

Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009 10:58AM

Bernier

Most people agree that the San Jose Sharks know how to draft. They’ve been a good team for ages, and the current G.M (Doug Wilson) was promoted from within after a very successful tenure as the teams’ Director of Professional Development (1997-2003). Tim Burke, the Sharks’ Director of Scouting has held that position for 12 years and has been with the team since 1992-93. Prior to that, he worked in the New Jersey Devils organization in a number of roles. Here’s a brief list of players drafted under Burke leading into the 2003 Entry Draft:

  • Patrick Marleau – 2nd overall, 1997
  • Brad Stuart – 3rd overall, 1998
  • Jeff Jillson – 14th overall, 1999
  • Marcel Goc – 20th overall, 2001
  • Scott Hannan – 23rd overall, 1997
  • Jonathan Cheechoo – 29th overall, 1998
  • Rob Davison – 98th overall, 1998
  • Christian Ehrhoff – 106th overall, 2001
  • Kris Newbury – 139th overall, 2002
  • Mikael Samuelsson – 145th overall, 1998
  • Niko Dimitrakos – 155th overall, 1999
  • Ryan Clowe – 176th overall, 2001
  • Jim Fahey – 212th overall, 1998
  • Mark Smith – 219th overall, 1997
  • Doug Murray – 241st overall, 1999

That haul from the (mostly very weak) drafts from 1997-2002 is among the better groups taken in the league, especially given where the Sharks were picking and how many picks they had to work with. Remarkably, every player picked by San Jose in the 2001 Entry Draft went on to play in the NHL.

In any case, heading into the 2003 Draft, the Sharks held two picks in the first round – 6th and 21st overall. As Oilers’ fans are painfully aware, the 2003 draft was one of the deepest drafts ever; a very high volume of players went on to play in the NHL, many of them turning into stars.

The Sharks were rumoured to be targeting Austrian winger Thomas Vanek, but Buffalo snagged him with the 5th overall pick. This left the Sharks to pick Milan Michalek, ahead of players like Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf and Jeff Carter. Still, Michalek’s a useful player, though the pick could have been better.

The Sharks had targeted a player they felt was a budding power forward, but were concerned that he would be gone by the time the 21st overall pick came around. So they made a move, sending the 21st overall pick along with 2nd and 4th round picks to Boston for the 16th overall pick. With Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards still on the board, the Sharks grabbed Steve Bernier.

Bernier had just scored 100 points in the QMJHL as a 17-year old, including 49 goals; production levels that he never came close to reaching again in junior:

  • 2002-03: 71GP – 49G – 52A – 101PTS, +33
  • 2003-04: 66GP – 36G – 46A – 82PTS, +39
  • 2004-05: 68GP – 35G – 36A – 71PTS, +18

In his draft year, Bernier recorded very low conditioning marks at the NHL Draft Combine, and on top of that his skating was below average. The Sharks ignored those question marks when they grabbed him.

Of course, Bernier hasn’t been awful at the NHL level; he had one very nice half-season with San Jose as a rookie, although he’s fallen off since then. Here are his NHL numbers:

  • 2005-06: 39GP – 14G – 13A – 27PTS, +4
  • 2006-07: 62GP – 15G – 16A – 31PTS, +5
  • 2007-08: 76GP – 16G – 16A – 32PTS, -1
  • 2008-09: 71GP – 15G – 15A – 30PTS, +4

These sorts of whiffs happen, and generally the team takes a ton of flack for making the selection they did. They’re embarrassing to the scouting department in particular, and can lead to some job losses down the line.

The Bernier selection was a worse one than the Pouliot selection. Not only was he taken five picks earlier, but he’s been healthy all through his development period, while Pouliot has suffered multiple concussions as well as hip, abdominal and wrist injuries.

None of this likely makes Oilers’ fans feel good about the Pouliot selection. But it does show that even a very good scouting department can make a bad decision early on in a deep draft.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Archaeologuy
March 26 2009, 11:12AM
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I will not stand idly by as you make me hate the Oilers scouting department less. I prefer that my opinions stay firmly rooted. Now I have to ignore this article when I continue to believe that the same process that decides Oiler line combinations also governs our draft choices. My only question is: with all those camera's on draft day, how is it that no one catches MacLoweBellini pulling names out of the hat? It's wizardry.

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#2 Colin-FMNF
March 26 2009, 11:23AM
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Thanks for the insights JW. Interesting stuff to be sure.

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#3 Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009, 11:32AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

I will not stand idly by as you make me hate the Oilers scouting department less. I prefer that my opinions stay firmly rooted.

I'm sorry, it won't happen again ;)

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#4 Ender the Dragon
March 26 2009, 11:49AM
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You lead an interesting life, Willis. What is going on in your world that causes these particular wheels to spin in your head? I don't deny it's an interesting article, but how on Earth did this thought capture your attention enough to research it and write a piece?

Hockey to the core, Willis; that's what you are. If they bury you wearing anything but skates, it'll be a damn shame.

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#5 Kent
March 26 2009, 12:13PM
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What caused Bernier's outlying Junior season you think? "Just one of those years" where everything goes right or was he playing with superior players that inflated his totals?

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#6 Matt N
March 26 2009, 12:26PM
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Cool article here by the Contrarian Goaltender about drafting vs. player development.

http://brodeurisafraud.blogspot.com/

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#7 Librarian Mike
March 26 2009, 12:36PM
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In the spirit of the Oilers' scouting staff, I'm phoning this post in from Cabo.

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#8 Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009, 12:45PM
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@ Kent:

No idea - I haven't ever really looked at Steve Bernier in depth. the coach was the same all three years, and team offense was actually highest in the year after Bernier was drafted (though it fell off a cliff the following year).

I'm not sure what the answer is.

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#9 Zamboni Driver
March 26 2009, 01:06PM
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The problem for me with the Oilers scouting (which I'm sure Jon you'll do some high calculus to point out I'm wrong, but whatever)...

it's not even Pouliot vs. Parise (okay it is a little, but you're right lots of teams passed)...

The problem is in the 'brains' of the people making the calls. They have the Sather-need of being EXTRA, DOUBLEPLUS SMARTER than everyone else. Going out of their way to prove how brilliant they are. The useless finn, the dead russian guy, the luke Richardson-if-he's-lucky kid on the Calgary Hitmen.

And the sheep say, 'Ooooooh, they're risk takers.'

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#10 Jon K
March 26 2009, 01:07PM
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Stuart and Jillson are both questionable picks considering where they went.

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#11 the dude
March 26 2009, 01:45PM
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Come again? How is the Bernier pick worse than Pouliot? Big albeit abit erratic power forward with four NHL seasons under his belt, 60 goals and 100 points. AND you penalize him for being healthy? San Jose turned him into a package for Brian Campbell who addressed a core need and who they mistakenly thought they could parlay into a longterm signing.

Some Oiler fans will go to great lengths to justify the Pou and his pathetic performance on a mediocre hockey team. Meanwhile the crickets chirp waiting for Pouliot to show any signs of life at the NHL level.

San Jose skates circles aroung the Oil management staff. Even their 'misses' are better than our perennial hopefuls like Pouliot.

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#12 Chris
March 26 2009, 02:11PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Dear God....IF ONLY I HAD MORE TIME!!!!

*wincing as he returns back to work*

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#13 Peter Pan
March 26 2009, 02:19PM
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Nice try Willis. Just because their were "worse" picks than Pouliot doesn't hide the fact that Pouliot was a terrible 1st round selection! Your defence of Pouliot is ridiculous. For a 1st rounder, and with all of the players still available, Pouliot is a bust! I hope things turn around for him, but I dont think it will.

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#14 Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009, 04:07PM
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Jon K wrote:

Stuart and Jillson are both questionable picks considering where they went.

The drafts they were in were incredibly weak. Picked after Stuart, in order:

Bryan Allen Vitaly Vishnevski Rico Fata Manny Malhotra Mark Bell Mike Rupp Nik Antropov Jeff Heerema

I think Stuart was the right choice. Jillson isn't quite as clear cut, but the 1999 NHL Entry Draft was abysmal.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
March 26 2009, 04:08PM
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the dude wrote:

Come again? How is the Bernier pick worse than Pouliot? Big albeit abit erratic power forward with four NHL seasons under his belt, 60 goals and 100 points. AND you penalize him for being healthy?

How much impact do you suppose Pouliot's injuries have had on his NHL career? I don't know, either, but this season he's performing at pretty much the same rate as Bernier.

Bernier, however has no excuse because he hasn't had anything threaten to derail his development. He just isn't all that good.

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#16 Jon K
March 26 2009, 05:48PM
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Hmm, I'd rather have Malhotra, Antropov, or Allen over Stuart.

I followed Stuart fairly closely for a long time. He's essentially a less reliable Staios with more size and strength.

Still, my point is that I don't really hold up SJ's drafting as being particularly good. Their ability to draft and develop goalies is amazing however.

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#17 the dude
March 27 2009, 01:19AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Pouliot has been a bandaid with one ailment or another going back to pre-draft 17 year season in the Q. He's always been damaged goods.

Fragile, handle with care. Unfortunately that goes for his weak character too. A once vaunted attribute this goofy Oiler scouting staff once used to snake oil people into believing he was worthy of the pick. Yet, he failed repeatedly to make the NHL roster and has been passed over by Gagner and Cogliano. Add Brodziak into the mix.

A big miss for the 'Class' of 2003. You should try freelancing as the press agent for Pendergrast with grasping at straw stuff like this pablum.

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#18 Jon K
March 27 2009, 02:47AM
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@ the dude:

I think you missed the point of the article. Willis isn't sticking up for the drafting of Pouliot per se, nor is he pitching for the organization like you imply. Rather, his point is that the draft is always a bit of a crapshoot, even in deep draft years and even for teams who draft well. Look, the word "crapshoot" is even in the title of the post.

Pouliot being painted as a failure is the result of a mix of injuries, poor scouting by the Oiler staff, and just plain bad luck. Unfortunately there's no way to ever tell the proportion of each. I think your point is that we know with a fair bit of certainty that poor scouting was at the very least a significant factor. Maybe next time try making it without slandering the guy who provides the food for your thought.

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#19 Rick
March 27 2009, 08:43AM
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There is no question that Bernier was a bad pick for the Sharks so this isn't a defence of that.

However in comparing how bad the Bernier pick was vs how bad the Pouliot pick was, is there any relevance in looking at what Bernier has fetched in the two trades he was involved in?

San Jose flipped Bernier and a 1st (26th pick so not a great 1st rounder at that) for Cambell and a 7th.

Buffalo flipped him to Vancouver for a 3rd and a 2nd.

Could anyone honestly picture Pouliot fitting into either of those deals? I can't.

So although the Bernier pick was misplaced, he has atleast held enough value to help minimize the mistake by providing a return. I am not sure the Oilers will ever be able to say that about Pouliot.

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#20 Chris
March 27 2009, 01:03PM
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@ Rick:

I'm not going to say the Oilers have been drafting poorly under Predergast...

Hemsky, the Czecker aside, has a single Oiler draft pick under Predergast made much of a contribution to the roster? Gagner maybe? (Lowe could have signed a lot of guys who, given that TOI, would have produced more) Is there a single drafted Oiler defencemen in our top seven? (No). So we have Stortini, Brodziak, Pouliot, Coglino, maybe a few others... Bunch of middling players really... Had to move both Stoll and Green for a guy LA picked up in the fourth round...

Had Niinimaki worked out, or had Pouliot been Perry or Richards, or if Coglino could win a faceoff and have a future with this club I would concede that the Oilers draft well. The Hemsky pick is the only difference between the Oilers drafting as well as 10-12 other clubs, or being one of the worst drafting clubs in the entire NHL. I'll forgive the Pouliot debauchle because it cancells out the Hemsky success... But with other draft classes landing us guys like Mikhnov, Schremp, Niinimaki, and so on... It's time for an Oiler prospect to make a "big time" impact and soon. Nash and Plante aren't ever going to be Iggy and Phaneuf... The Oilers Drafting /Development Machine needs to furnish the big club with some real talent for a change...

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#21 Antony Ta
March 27 2009, 02:32PM
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Yes, Bernier's been healthy all along -- but doesn't that say more about Pouliot than Bernier? I mean, the Oilers picked a guy who is oft-injured. This can't be avoided, I suppose, unless the guy has a history of being easily hurt. Even without this prerequisite history looming in the background, having a guy in the system who is always hurt is still an important factor, I think. Look at Mathieu Roy. Look at J.F.Jaques. The Oilers pretty much gave up Zach Parise for Pouliot and Jacques, both guys who have questionable contributions to the team and questionable personal health. I think it is an important consideration and perhaps the Oilers need to look into their training methods because a lot of our guys end up hurt for long stretches (Moreau? Horcoff? Roy? Jacques?).

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