On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that Swedish defenseman Jesper Sellgren had been signed to a three-year entry-level contract.
Sellgren was the team’s 6th round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and has most recently impressed in the AHL playoffs playing on a tryout contract after the completion of his 2018-19 season in Sweden. What stood out to me watching him at the prospect camp last summer was that his skating is a strength and projects to the NHL level. He also gets high marks for his hockey IQ and two-way capabilities. Two things maybe offset some of the enthusiasm. First, he is a bit undersized at 5-10 and 170 pounds which is not ideal but is not a show stopper in today’s NHL. Second he will turn 21 in June, so he is not a typical 2018 draftee who is 18 or 19 years old with a full development schedule in front of him. He is two years older than most of his class and as such should be a bit more mature as a player and maybe with a bit less room to grow as a player.
Sellgren is now set to continue his development at the AHL level for the remainder of the 2019 playoffs and for the 2019-20 season.
More kudos to the European scouting team
The Hurricanes continue to win by finding under the radar European talent in the middle to later rounds. Sellgren has a way to go and there are no guarantees, but to spend a 6th-round draft pick on a player who is ready to jump the AHL level the next year is an early win the adds depth to the prospect pool.
Robert Kron and the European scouting team continue to do incredibly well. Martin Necas almost immediately rated higher than his #15 overall selection in 2017. Janne Kuokkanen similarly seemed to quickly outplay his second-round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft. Free agent signee Saku Maenalanen provided valuable depth in the 2019 NHL Playoffs. And the biggest prize of them all was stealing Sebastian Aho with a second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. In addition, the Hurricanes still have other prospects developing who could add to the success. In total, the Hurricanes are currently doing an incredible job scouting European players and finding good value in the draft.
Speculation on the Hurricanes draft strategy
To be clear, this is not reported by the team (they would never admit to it being such a direct strategy), but here is what I think is happening courtesy of Eric Tulsky. In the OHL there are somewhere between 6 and 7 billion (only a slight exaggeration) scouts, analysts and experts tracking a few hundred players. The numbers are less but still significant for other North American leagues including the WHL and QMJHL. One has to figure that there is a significant bias in the rankings and draft position for players who are seen by a higher number of scouts. In simple terms that would simply be because there will always be a bell curve-ish distribution for how a player is rated. The more NHL scouts see a player, the more likely at least a handful will rate him highly at least relatively speaking. All it really takes is a handful of teams to rate a player at a certain level to almost guarantee that one of them drafts him at that level. So in general, players who are scouted more should have a bias toward being drafted sooner.
Europe is the opposite. There are numerous leagues each of which have fewer players to scout. The result is sort of a reverse bias for some of these players who just are not scouted as heavily and therefore have fewer chances to impress someone enough to boost their draft ranking maybe higher than it should be on average. So on average, I think there could be a bias toward drafting European players either where they should be or possibly even a bit lower. And maybe more significantly, because there are so many fewer European scouts watching players across numerous leagues in multiple different countries, I think the opportunity to find players like Aho who are underrated is much greater.
After using 8 out of 20 draft picks (40.0%) on OHL players in the three years prior to Tulsky coming aboard, the Hurricanes have used only 4 out of 32 draft picks (12.5%) on OHL players. Even that is maybe a bit misleading because only Andrei Svechnikov who is a unique case was drafted out of the OHL in the past two years.
That is sort of the high level math. What would be even more interesting (and is possible) is if Tulsky and his team went a step further and actually put some more direct metrics to success ratings for players drafted out of European leagues versus North American players.
The Hurricanes’ defense prospect pool
Jesper Sellgren is a needed addition to the Hurricanes blue line prospect pool which is the team’s lightest group. Adam Fox would have been a great high-end addition had he signed, but at least the team was able to convert his rights into two more higher-end draft picks. But his departure does deplete an already small group of true defense prospects.
Jake Bean, who I wrote out as potential power play help in yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, has had a strong 2018-19 campaign in his first season at the AHL level and figures to see at least some NHL ice time in 2019-20. Haydn Fleury has become some weird combination of a waning prospect versus low-ceiling depth player who is at least capable depth at the NHL level. Roland McKeown is the other player who maybe has a fairly low ceiling but could provide help at the NHL level. The wild card with McKeown is that whenever given the chance to seize NHL consideration he has without fail excelled. He basically won the NHL slot in 2017-18 before the team thought better of it and went the waiver wire route so McKeown could develop at the AHL level. I do not see McKeown as a top 4 defenseman, but he has steadily played his way up to whatever the next level was such that he could project as depth help. Luke Martin is the other defenseman who is still on the radar as he develops at the University of Michigan.
And as far as defensemen who project to provide NHL help, that really might be it. Trevor Carrick is a good AHL defenseman but has never really garnered NHL attention from the organization. Josh Wesley has been unable to play his way up into a regular AHL role in three years and might (team has room) or might not (just has not really moved up the depth chart) be re-signed when his contract expires this summer. Recent draftees Brendan De Jong and Ville Rasanen have not earned NHL contracts and could both go the way of Noah Carroll who was not signed to an NHL contract before his draft rights expired. Daniel Renouf is the only other defenseman under contract, and he is more of a veteran AHLer than an NHL prospect at age 24.
So if one bumps Fleury out of the prospect group, I think it is reasonable to say that Sellgren immediately hops into the mix to be the team’s second best defense prospect behind Bean and in the group with McKeown and Martin.
Implications on building the NHL roster and the upcoming draft
The lack of potential top half of the roster players in the blue line prospect pool past Bean has implications for building the near-term NHL roster. On the one hand, the Hurricanes are incredibly deep at the NHL level already with six potential top 4 defensemen counting Trevor van Riemsdyk. On the other hand, there is not much available to back fill higher roster slots, so the team might need to keep its blue line depth. The long-term injuries to de Haan and van Riemsdyk coupled with the lack of NHL-ready depth with experience could also make a case for adding a depth defenseman with NHL experience this summer. “Best available” pretty much always makes the most sense when drafting players in middle rounds who will not likely have an impact at the NHL level for three of four years, but I do think the Hurricanes will enter the 2019 NHL draft with a bit of a bias toward restocking the defense prospect pool.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who has an early opinion on Jesper Sellgren and where he will rank on the team’s blue line prospect pool by midway through the 2019-20 season?
2) Which, if any, of the Hurricanes defense prospects past Jake Bean do you see as having the potential to become more than #6/#7 depth at the NHL level?
3) To what degree do you think the current status of the blue line prospect pool will affect NHL trade/roster decisions this off-season?