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.