I have no idea who made that chart, but it would be awesome if anyone came close to scoring 140 points in an NHL season. Maybe a supreme optimist made that chart, but regardless of what this chart was supposed to track most of us love looking at charts. They can give us a look into the past, present and often they try to project the future. The latter is extremely difficult, but this Friday, all 30 NHL teams will do their best to project which draft eligible players will become NHL players in the future.
It isn’t easy, in fact it is extremely difficult, especially once you get past the first round. Last week, I posted an article about the Columbus Blue Jackets and their draft pick value chart. Scott Howson was the GM in Columbus in 2009 when they came up with their chart, so I wanted to know if the Oilers have a similar chart.
Most NHL teams have their own draft value chart, but unfortunately they won’t show it publicly. Of course, I understand why they wouldn’t, but Howson was willing to share some aspects of the Oilers draft pick value chart and what role it will play this Friday.
Gregor: How does your value draft chart differ to the NFL one above?
Howson: The first value chart came out in
the NFL I think in 1990. I think that Dallas
came out with it, Jimmy Johnson I believe, but that was just based on what
picks had gotten in trades before that. And we had the idea in Columbus that we were going to try to look at
each pick and the cluster of players that were picked 12 or 3 or 44 and see
what the success rate was and then end up with a value chart.
Since I’ve come into Edmonton we’ve done our own work, and looked
at the different leagues and the histories of players coming out of those
leagues. The information we can get now to be quite frank, we get better
information out of the leagues like the Western Hockey League than we would say
the Swedish Junior League.
So you have to have more confidence maybe
with kids from the Canadian Hockey Leagues. So, it’s all based on predicting
what a pick is worth and that’s based on the history that we have on players
that have been picked that way, right in that specific spot.
The NFL is a different animal. They are drafting for today’s team. You find that they are drafting for need. If you have a great left offensive tackle signed for five years, no matter which left tackle is available in the draft, you will go by him because you don’t need him.
In the NHL, I remember going back to when I was the assistant GM here and we had some small centres in Mike Comrie and Todd Marchant, so we kind of shied away from small centres, but three of four years later we had no small centres anymore. It taught me a lesson, be careful of what you have here and try to analyze it, because the draft picks are so far away from playing and the NHL keeps changing.
When you are looking at what a pick is worth, do you also take into account
that other teams might not take him so you think that you can get him five
spots later. Does that factor in when you are contemplating moving down five
spots for example?
Howson: That factors into every draft. You
don’t need a value chart or an analytics analysis to do that. You’re always
playing your draft; you think you might have a guy that is hidden. You might
like him in second to third round, but you know that he’s probably going to be
a fourth or fifth round pick and you can wait. And that’s the gamble that
you’re going to take, you might lose him and you might end up with a really
good fourth or fifth round pick and your scouts are right.
Gregor: A few years I examined 10 years of drafts, 1996 to 2005, and under my rating
system there was a 23.7% chance of getting a good NHL player in the second
round, 15% in the third and the fourth to seventh rounds were pretty even
between 7-9%. Looking at those numbers, would that be similar with your chart
and the value of picks? Historically did you find the success rates after the 4th
round is pretty even?
Howson: Yeah, that’s probably right from
the information we get. It depends on who you talk to, but I think that the
difference between a 4th round pick and a 6th round pick is not as great as
people would think. And certainly the success rate of getting a good NHL player
is, there is not much difference between a fourth and sixth, or a five and
seven or five and six, so once you get past probably the third round, the rates
become very similar.
The first pick on the NFL chart had a value of 3000 and the last pick in the
seventh round had a value of two. What number do you start with at number one
and how do you come up with that number?
Howson: Yeah, I prefer not to get into that
but the number doesn’t matter, so long as it’s proportionate. The only thing
that I would say to you is that the picks, no matter what analysis you use, I
think that you’ll will find that picks, especially in the top three picks, are
really, really valuable. If you look at the history of the league there are not
a lot of misses in those picks and you are almost certainly going to get a good
NHL player. You may not get a star and career forward, but you’re almost 100%
going to get an NHL player. So that’s why those picks are so valuable.
So whichever rating system that you use,
whatever numbers you want to use, as long as they are proportionate I think
that it works. I think that the reason you have such high numbers at the top is
to make the low numbers work.
EVOLUTION OF SCOUTING
There is way more time, energy and money put into scouting and drafting in the
last five years than there was even ten years ago. So how far back do you go to
make it accurate to today’s draft?
Howson: I think you need to go back as far
as you can. And you’re right, it’s more sophisticated now and that may change
things, but the problem with that is that to look at a draft even three or four
or five years ago, well these players haven’t all established themselves and
you can’t predict what that player is going to be. Some of them you do know,
but most you don’t even four or five years later. We know where Taylor Hall is
and where he’s going, but the fifth round pick might still be playing in the
AHL and five years from now he might be an NHL player. So it’s hard to analyze
without going back. I think you need to go back and use all the data available
from previous drafts.
Once you draft players, then it’s all on
player development. When you guys were going over your chart, do you put a
value on certain organizations that have had more success with draft picks? Do
you think that they have a better development plan and then how do you portray
the development with scouting, how do you combine that or is that even part of the
Howson: No, but one thing that I was quite
excited about when I came here was the development department that we have
here. I think we’re going to see the fruits of that. It does take time because
as you know the players that we pick Friday, after the first round pick, are
probably not going to be here for another four or five years. So what’s
happening in between draft day and four or five years is really crucial. And
you know there are organizations that have done it very well, and everyone
points to Detroit and I think San Jose does a very good job as well; LA is
starting to do that too.
I tend to focus on what we’re doing and
what we can do better. I really think that we have a terrific development
coaching staff in Oklahoma City
and the players get lots of attention when they are in the CHL or College or
wherever they are. So I think that we have to just keep working at that, and
keep focusing on development.
It’s not always about winning every game in
You want to win, you want to have a good competitive environment for your
players down there, and you want a winning atmosphere, but the young guys have
to be given a chance to play and I think we’re making strides in that area.
I spoke to Joe McDonnell from the Dallas Stars, their new Director of Scouting who came over with Jim Nill after scouting for Detroit
since ’95. He admitted that the big advantage Detroit had regarding prospects was they
could be patient with them because they had a good NHL team. They could keep guys in the
minors for an extra 30 or 40 games or even an extra season and it really paid
Oilers haven’t had much success recently, but despite that is your organization
ready to say, ‘we just have to bite the bullet, find a few more fringe NHLers
if necessary so we can be patient with our young guys’?
Howson: Yeah I think that we’re trying to
do that more here. Once you get the top picks, I think that they are in a
category of their own because some of them would have great benefit to be up in
I think of a player like Ryan Johansen or
Ales Hemsky, Ryan Johansen we had in Columbus
and we took some criticism. I think we took some criticism here with Ales,
keeping him as a 19 year old, keeping Johansen in Columbus as a 19 year
old. But you know in retrospect as you look back a few years later, that was
probably the best thing for those players.
I think for the other kids, the picks after
the first round, we can keep them in the AHL and learning because it’s such a
big transition from junior hockey, or even College hockey to the AHL, not to
mention the lifestyle. People underestimate the transition off of the ice,
where you’re not responsible for taking care of yourself and it sounds easy to
us, but there can be transitions especially for Europeans.
So I think that we are trying to focus on
letting those players play and you know, you used the word ‘overripe’ which
Detroit has done with their prospects, they are almost overripe when they come
up. We’d like to get to that situation, a lot harder to do when your team is
not having success in the NHL.
I’m always interested in how teams are changing or evolving how they look at drafting or development. It is refreshing to hear that the Oilers plan on being more patient with prospects. In 2011, Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton and Ryan Martindale would have been better off staying in junior rather than playing limited minutes in the AHL and ECHL. The organization has to learn from that and ensure if they do send kids to the AHL, then they have to play them.
I’d love to see a copy of the Oilers value chart and see specific values on the 40th, 70th, 100th and 150th pick. How much different are they compared to the 50th, 80th, 110th and 160th. Every team will likely have a slightly different number, and that is why trades will be made.
The other factor is how much a team likes a specific player. Teams will overpay, and some will undervalue their pick and move down, often because of how they view the players still available. I think we will see a lot of that in this draft.
I’m sure we will see many players between the 20th-60th pick that will go well ahead or much later than many of the draft publications projected them to go. The aftermath of the draft will be awesome, because many will speculate who had a good or bad draft.
Only time will tell who was more accurate, and that is why the draft will always be intriguing to fans and media.
I can’t wait until Friday and Saturday to see how it unfolds.
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