The truth about character

With the draft coming up on Sunday there has been a lot of talk about the type of players the Oilers should draft. Rookie general manager Craig MacTavish has said he is very interested in acquiring more skill through the draft. I wonder if that is the best approach to build a winning team.

I can’t argue that the most important asset a hockey player can have is skill. Without it he will not be able to play at a high level even if he possesses all the other requirements of a NHL player.

In my opinion a very, very close second is character. Skill without character is useless. I would rather have a player with character and less skill then the other way around. I think there is misconception of what character means in a hockey player.

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Too often I hear that a team can "just pick a character player up on waivers when they need one". I love it. It makes it sounds like they are going down to the mall to pick up a black pair of shoes that will make a whole outfit work! Makes zero sense to me.

Yes there are players who are referred to as "character players". It seems to me that these are players that do some of the dirtier tasks for a team. Blocking shots, finishing checks, killing penalties and fighting are examples of what people who are "character players" do for teams.

These are important elements to have on a winning club. However, if a team is hoping that these types of players are enough character for a whole team they are kidding themselves.

Players with character vs. character players

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Photo: Resolute/Wikimedia Commons

Players with character are required throughout the line-up.

Unfortunately it is pretty hard to quantify character with stats. I guess you could look at blocked shots and hits but to me that just points at the types of players that are often referred to as "character players". How do you figure out if the rest of your players have character who aren’t big on those two stats?

We just saw a perfect example in this Stanley Cup Final. Jonathan Toews put on a clinic on what character is all about. The Hawks were having trouble getting to the net with the Bruins line-up of bigger defensemen and centers.

They were having trouble with it because they didn’t want to pay the price in the first few games of the series. Would you want to try and go to the net when a mountain of a nasty man is standing between you and the net? You could literally see the change in the Hawks mindset in the last few games of the series.

Toews led the charge by going right at the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara. No longer was Toews going to let Chara dictate how he or his team was going to play. How many times did you see the smaller Toews battling with the much bigger Chara for loose pucks in the corners and front of the net in the last two games of the series? All the time!

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He didn’t do it because he was trying to get on the stat sheet with hits, he did it because he knew that in order to win he had to battle the biggest and best the Bruins had to offer. He couldn’t avoid it. His character shined through.

He did what was needed to win even though he knew the effort and pain that were required.

That is character. He isn’t a "character player.” He is a player with character.

Skilled players go through highs and lows of scoring goals. No NHL players score every night. If a skilled player is having an off night or is struggling scoring what are they contributing to the team’s success?

Skilled players with character find ways of helping the team during the lows of a season. They are very solid defensively at those times. Skate and attack the net to create opportunities for others. They become a part of the team’s overall success even when they are not having individual success.

At the Draft

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Photo: Alexander Laney/Wikimedia Commons

It is clear to me that the Oilers need to add more players with character to their line-up this off season. The first chance they get is this weekend at the draft in New Jersey. Drafting players solely based on skill is not a recipe for success in my opinion.

It is not easy to identify character in draft eligible players. These guys are very young and their games are in full development mode but that is the challenge for scouting staffs across the NHL.

I know many teams look at players away from the rink. What is their lifestyle? How do they treat their billets (for junior-aged players) and teachers (for college players)? Do they put forth effort in off-ice training? Are they responsive to coaching? These are all questions that scouts try to get answered when they are pushing for their team to draft a specific player.

I think a great question to have answered would be this… what does the player do when no one is watching?

I want to know if he does extra after practice on the ice. Is he a guy that is working on his game without being asked? Is he a guy that watches video to improve? Is he a guy that goes to the gym without being asked or prodded?

These are the attributes I saw during my career in players that not only played in the NHL but contributed in a meaningful way to the success of a team on and off the ice.

Don’t ever underestimate the value of character in a player. It is a hair under skill in my opinion.

  • Smytty-Hemsky-Horc would be an interesting 3rd line… No doubt
    forward corps…

    Hall Nuge Ebs… …

    Player X(not mps) – gags – yak… …
    Smytty Horc Hemmer… …
    Jones ClutterBuck PlayerX

  • striatic

    there are plenty of statistical analytics derived reasons not to draft Nichushkin.

    like from Scott Reynolds’ statistical analytics driven comparables article on coppernblue ..

    “I understand that Valeri Nichushkin is a fine prospect, but I also think that a lot of his superior draft ranking is based on his projectible skills and stature rather than actual results.”

    • That’s primarily due to a small sample size in the KHL, however against his own age group he’s dominate, so much so Seth Jones had problems containing him.

      That’s just an objective opinion passed on Nichuskin pro stats.

      So while I agree to a point with Reynolds, he also leaves out the bigger sample size.

      • striatic

        against his own age group is *also* a small sample size.

        international tournaments are short.

        and where we do have a larger sample size against his own age when he played in russian junior league, he didn’t perform as well as, say, Grigorenko.

        i’m not saying he’s a bad player, but evaluating him using statistical analysis he actually looks much worse than the “saw him good” analysis.

        it makes him a high risk, high reward prospect but if you compare him to Monahan or Lindholm using pure statistical analysis, he falls short of both.

        • Correct me if I’m wrong but IIRC Grigorenko was older by a year or almost two?

          However, as a 17 year old as far as “saw him good” only Drouin was a better 17 year old player in the WJC, as far as pure game goes.

          I’m not saying he’s not a flight risk or even raw talent wise, but to suggest he’s an enigma an has attitude problems because one scout from the ISS didn’t like his interview is way off base.

          The exact same people tried screwing Yakupov last year as well.

          There’s is a reason top scouts and experts like MacKenzie and Button, CSS, and other use comparisons like Malkin, Ovenchkin.

          Speed, size, skill, offensive, plays RW/LW, if I’m a GM, even from the small sample size he’s a top prospect.

  • I know this is off topic but when adults can’t tell the difference between your and you’re or there, their and they’re it’s really sad. Grammar and even punctuation aren’t really that big of a deal on a site like this but have a little self respect.

    — Off Soap Box —

    Meanwhile, if the BPA isn’t up to your standard of “character” then trade down. I’d still rather them say “wow, that guy is awesome AND has great character, let’s move up to get him!”

  • Quicksilver ballet

    What business is it of ours (the fans), in regards to what these players do on their own personal time. All we should be concerned about is if they’re capable of contributing on the ice, add to the entertainment value. If they’re unable to contribute sufficiently on the ice. Who cares what kind of character they have off the ice.

    Maybe this is part of the problem. I’m sure that Oiler dressing room is chock full of players with “Good Character”, but we’re sick and tired of being a lottery team. Put the priority back on what the player can contribute on the ice, who the frigg cares about off it. Maybe this “truth about character” is where this management group falls short. Focusing on ship that shouldn’t matter.

    • Time Travelling Sean

      So you want a team of Shayne Corson’s and Avery’s? or guys like that Hernandez guy? Seriously?

      I’d rather have inferior players who work hard, represent the city well, and are respectful of themselves and others.

      Look at the Bengals or Trail Blazers, who have good athletes with awful characters and judgement off the field/court. They don’t do very well.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        This is professional sports, winning is all that matters. What players do off the ice isn’t any of the ticket buying publics business. Management believed in Corson so much, they named him captain. Where does the character issue weigh in on that?

        This Hernandez guy, can he skate?

        • Time Travelling Sean

          Winning is not all that matters.

          If the Oilers were a team full of gangsters who said “I don’t care about the fans, I just care about my paycheck and winning games” I wouldn’t even bother going to games or even watching them on TV.

          Corson was such an awful captain they took it off him and then let him walk.

  • The time between when the Oilers gloriously flame out and draft day.

    That’s the worst. It’s like a bunch of drunk guys arguing over the one hot chick in the bar.

    You just know the cops are going to show up right after last call.

  • We need something more important than just character and skill , we need the fans favorite characteristic above all the rest -PERSONALITY . Now that’s something we don’t have enough of , and all winning clubs do . The Hall of Fame is filled with Personalities !

  • Time Travelling Sean

    One has to wonder if MacT.’s strategy to put up or chastise Hemsky , Horcoff and several others he’s not too pleased to keep by the sounds of it . is keeping others away from wanting to sign here . Has his strategy blown up in his face ? I know if I was a player they were wanting i’d be dubvious of coming here not knowing what the rest of squad beyond top six might look like .

    I think if he had some signings he should have announced them by now , and thus alleviate that prospect from others contemplating a move here .

  • OilClog

    Should the Oilers go after Coburn as Stauffer projects they might ? Well if they like Nurse , then Coburns already developed and usable now . Nurse is projected to be no more better than Coburn down the line . Book it , and toss a coin to see if we draft Monohan or Risto .