Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Draft Week

Habs First Round Preview

The draft is upon us guys. For a brief window, we'll have actual hockey news.

To mark the occasion, as promised, I have put forward my suggestions for this year's first-round pick. I have made several assumptions:

a) That we will not trade the pick
b) That we will be drafting 18th
c) That teams will not suddenly go all wacky and leave us with a top 10 ranked player at 18

In the past the Canadiens have been guilty of saying they have picked the best player available, when what they really meant is that they picked the most reliable and safest pick. Higgins, Chipchura, McDonagh, Fischer. the list goes on. This year I'd like that to be different and I expressed that in my selection.


Not again: against "picking not to lose"

The biggest danger is that the Canadiens continue picking with their picking not to lose policy. This is the dump in of draft strategies. It is the best way to ensure you don't turn it over ad give up a breakaway (i.e., pick someone you'll never hear from again), but it's not the best way to score a goal.

If every other team in the draft was picking not to lose, it'd be fine, but it only takes a few with some of them hitting paydirt for the teams picking not to lose to, well, lose.

I think I've covered this in my other posts well, so you can have a look there if you want. But essentially what i'm saying here is that no GM in his right mind should find himself justifying picking a defensive defenceman or a defensive forward come the press conference Friday night. That coming away with Kyle Chipchura at 18, when it comes down to it is losing.

You lose the opportunity to attain something money and trades can't buy and invested in something that money and trades can buy very very easily.


So then, picking to win

Thanks to an alert on twitter, I found this great piece on Bird Watcher's Anonymous -- an Atlanta blog. What you see when you scroll down is a technique used to evaluate player worth.

The system is complex, but essentially what it relies on is a score that shows how much better said player would be if you replaced him with one from waivers or the minor leagues. Hence, defensive defencemen (like Mike Komisarek) are worth less than forwards who can score. His analysis of the 2001 draft shows that Komisarek by this method is worth 46% of a Hemsky. Surprisingly, it also shows Mike to be less valuable than Tuomo Ruutu, RJ Umberger and Chuck Kobasew (lesser scorers). What it shows is that defensive defencemen in Komisarek's league are not a good high pick -- simply because you can find a player via other means much easier than you could with a scorer, even a 20-goalscorer.

That was a long-winded way to show just what I've been getting at all along. Swing for the fences on a rare commodity -- you can fill those more boring holes via other means. This is especially true in the first round where the best are commodities are typically found. This is picking to win vs. picking not to lose.

So from my Draft Theory essay, let me revisit how I'd be drafting for the Canadiens in this first round then:
  1. Don't worry about organizational needs – worry about the players available
  2. Don't pick the player with the best chance of being an NHLer, pick the one with a chance at being a star
  3. Don't even bother picking the types of players you can easily pick up by other means (i.e., OK goalies, defensive defencemen and bottom line forwards)
  4. Trade the pick if the organization gets a better asset mix from the swap



And with the 18th overall selection in the 2009 draft...


I've had a look through all the lists, I've read my share of previews and I've had an eye on fantasy drafts. If you want to do the same, by all means. I'll point you to one that differs significantly from the CSS and other lists: Fantasy Hockey Scouts. I liked it because it was different, it didn't reference broken records like Pierre (smashmouth) McGuire and Bob McKenzie and because it was original.

After doing my due diligence, I've come to two conclusions:

1) This draft is deep
2) Even so, most of the true good scorers may be gone by the time 18th comes along.

As such, I want to present a realistic option for the Habs, based on the fact Tavares, Hedman, Kane and Pajarvi-Svensson will be gone. Here goes. The player I'd be taking for the Montreal Canadiens at #18 is:

Jeremy Morin


We haven't heard much about Jeremy on the whole, despite his French sounding name and his Canadian heritage). I find that strange.

More than one scout has said that Jeremy is the #2 goalscorer in this draft, after Mr. Tavares of course, and that he has incredible hands and shot. Despite that he has slipped down the rankings:

27th on the ISS
33rd on the CSB
25th on the TSN
21st on the THN

Why dredge the depths you say? Why pick what by consensus is lower than our selection? Especially when the re will be people from the top 15 of those lists to slip to our level.

Precisely because of the players ahead of Morin on those lists. Many of them are already being described as two-way forwards. Say Jere Lehtinen all you want, but if you're being called a two-way forward when you're 17, there's not much hope you'll be a top one-way scoring forward for my team. Scorers have attitude, scorers have swagger, scorers are driven by one thing only: scoring. If a player has lost that in favour of the maturity of defensive awareness by draft time, chances are he'll already be stationing the blue line on the dump ins by the time he makes the NHL debut. Thanks, but I've already had to watch Bulis play.

The Hockey Writer's blog has good things to say about Morin:
One word — Sniper! There are some issues with his attitude and certain aspects of his game (skating and physical fitness – although the latter seems fine as note by his scouting combine performance noted below), but he has tons of potential, and the kid simply knows how to fill the back of the net with his lethal shot.

As explained, he is fit (top half in every category at the combine) and his attitude is just what it should be: he's cocky!

With 33 goals this season in 55 games, to go with 20 at the same level last year in 28 games, we're looking at a consistent and effective scorer (stats).

Quote that clinched it (Sportsnet):
"Morin I really like because he has as good of hands as anyone in this draft," Giese said. "He is kind of a clunky skater. People question his skating but at the same time he's always on the puck, he's always winning the puck. I like Jeremy Morin..."

I have a hunch about this guy, and I like to think he has the highest potential star power of the people that will be hanging around at 18. And while I've been pretty adamant about not going the US College route for a first rounder till now, this American prospect is already slated to be playing for the Kitchener Rangers next year, barring that is, an NHL callup.


Next on my list would be Landon Ferraro

Landon's another can-miss pick. But he's a can-miss guy who got 37 goals in last year's WHL without the help of Brayden Schenn. He may be a hog, but again it's about time we had that problem with a prospect. What's more, his team's poor performance, his low assists, they're all minuses that don't bother me. Then consider the scouts who do care about that stuff still have him in first round contention.

17th on the ISS
18th NA on the CSB
26th on the TSN
28th on the THN

From what I've seen of the guy he has a shot that doesn't need an open net to score into (sorry Higgins) and he also seems to have the knack fro floating right into scoring position at the tright times. A good combination. Some scouts also say that goalscoring is not his main talent, but that it is speed. Not bad either.


Third, Louis Leblanc

I'd be as happy as anyone else if the Canadiens ended up selecting Louis Leblanc. For me he's a tier down from Jeremy Morin, and I feel he's already getting the overall player creeping into his rankings here -- that's to say, he may not be a great scoring prospect at the NHL level.

But for me, the clinching quote said it all (Sportsnet):
"He's about as gritty a player as you'll find," Giese said. "He skates well, he has a powerful stride, really good speed and he's also got a good stick."

As gritty as they come? That sounds pretty good for someone who looks small by today's NHL standards. To me it says he competes for his goals -- and that is a requisite for someone who doesn't have the best shot there is.

It's also hard to ignore the fact that young Louis won the Rookie of the Year in the junnior US ranks (USHL). He scored 28 goals on his Omaha Lancers team and led them in scoring. That would be 7 more goals than Max Pacioretty at that age and 6 more than Danny Kristo this year. Speaking of Kristo, the two were on the same team this season, which could make for some nice synergy for the Canadiens to think about. It also means that he has been scouted heavily by the Habs and they'll know for sure whether they want him or not. Lucky break, as trips to Omaha sans Kristo might have been rarer...

Ranks:

12th on the ISS
13th NA on the CSB
17th on the TSN
29th on the THN


Fourth, Richard Panik

Panik stands out as a bit of an omission in this year's draft. It's easy to see from any ranked list that scouts this year (fuelled by their love of Detroit and their capacity to process a single variable at a time) have decided that all things Swedish will fly this year, but as for everyone else in Europe -- forget them.

Well, the last time I checked, Sweden was good, but they were not out and out winning every game and trophy to be won by landslide margins. What am i saying? I'm saying that in 10 years there will be players that came from Russia, Finland, Czech and Slovakia who will be better than some of the 20 Swedes we've been regaled about. I think Panik is one of them.

Quote that clinched it (TSN):
"Consistency and ability to play the North American style of game are the two biggest question marks that come with Panik, but his offensive upside is extremely high. He has good outside speed and quick hands."

You're not kidding his offensive upside is high: he scored 35 goals in 39 games with his junior team last year. He socred 4 goals and ten points in 6 games at the WJC 2008 (something he didn't repeat this year though). Apart from stats, he's already big and apparently strong both on and off the ice. He's playing in the OHL next season, so any worries about his adjustment should either be put to rest or settled in the very near future.

He's ranked lower, so he's a risk.

35th on the ISS
13th EUR on the CSB
38th on the TSN
31st on the THN

Because I'm into risks here, I like his chances. Call this one a hunch.


And wildcard Toni Rajala

You want the big gamble, this guy is it. Earlier this spring, Toni played in the under 18 tournament against his peers. He was named the tournament's top forward. he scored 10 goals and added 9 assists in only 6 games. Apparently that eclipsed some record by a guy called Ovech-something. His stats in other play have been sporadic, but always in the realm of the first round prospect from Finalnd. He's been on the radar for ages and has been said to be dominant at every level he's played so far.

Quote that clinched it (Sportsnet):
"I don't question any of his finesse," Giese said. "He can skate, he's smart, he's creative, great skill."

31st on the ISS
11th EUR on the CSB
50th on the TSN
49th on the THN

If there's one player GMs might be kicking themselves for doubting in a decade, I feel it could be Rajala. He does have the skill and the skating -- those all important things you can no longer teach. And despite his so-called distaste for traffic, he finds ways to score. What's more if the bronze medal game of the U-18 showed anything, it's that he has another gear -- something we've come to admire in some Finns.


Finally, some to avoid please Bob

Jacob Josefson
-- already gaining spots for 2-way play. Get him in a trade in 3 years if you want him that badly

Simon Despres -- very iffy. It sounds to me like there are QMJHL defenders not that far behind him in talent to be had later. I wouldn't waste a first on him.

Peter Holland -- looks to be getting big points for size.

Ryan O'Reilly -- 16 goals in junior is 5th round material, I can't explain why he's on the rankings.


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