Today’s Daily Cup of Joe has already moved on to evaluating the Canes restricted free agent decisions yesterday, but I wanted to also loop back and recap the draft from this past weekend.
In case you were away from hockey for the weekend, the 2016 NHL draft took place on Friday and Saturday. Going into it, the weekend had the potential to be a wild one in terms of trades. When the dust settled, the ratio of noise to actual trades was huge.
The same can be said for the Carolina Hurricanes. Ron Francis and his team methodically clicked through all 9 draft picks in their possession and did not make a single trade. I will discuss the lack of trade activity in part 2.
Here are my thoughts on the individual players and the draft in total:
Like many others, I was surprised to see the Hurricanes take a defenseman with their first selection at #13.
My comment on Twitter after the pick was:
Like idea of taking best available and that Francis had guts to do it.
In my post on the morning before the draft, I also said:
Shorter version: Odds are that the Canes will select forwards at #13 and #21, but if Francis does select a defenseman, it would be a strong indication that they really really really like that player.
And that is exactly what happened.
I am not a big fan of drafting 18-year olds who might not see the NHL lineup for 2-3 years based on needs today. Things can change significantly in 2-3 years. A couple years ago when players like Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry and others were prospects on the brink of being NHL difference-makers, it would have made sense to draft lighter on forwards. Looking back now, the Canes could use a few more forwards in the mix.
From a Canes perspective, I think the closest draft year comparable is Ryan Murphy. Murphy was drafted a single slot earlier at #12 in the 2011 draft and was regarded as a tremendous skating offensive defenseman who was a bit undersized. The challenge for Murphy at the time and to some degree still today is learning how to translate his skating and skill to scoring at the NHL level and more significantly how to play well enough skating backward without the puck as a defenseman. At 6 feet 0 inches tall and 168 pounds, Bean does not project to be as undersized as Murphy at the same age, but he will still be slightly undersized as a defenseman by today’s NHL standards. I have not seen enough of him to comment on his level of development defensively, but reading suggests that like Murphy he was drafted for what he can do offensively and with the puck.
I consider players like Bean to be high risk/high reward. Some players never figure out the defense thing, and if a player like Bean does not, his ceiling is that of a #6 defenseman/power play specialist. But the positive is that in today’s NHL game, I continue to say that speed and skating (not exactly the same thing) trumps all else. In that regard, Bean’s natural skill set is a great starting point to become a good NHL player.
Francis would never say it and make Bean feel like a plan B, but I would be curious to see which, if any, of the 3 forwards (Tyson Jost, Logan Brown, Michael McLeod) might have been ranked above Bean on the Hurricanes list. With the list of players available, I would have figured the Canes selecting either Luke Kunin or Kieffer Bellows who are both forwards.
After a somewhat unexpected diversion, the Canes started the task of adding forwards to the prospect pool. With the #21 pick, the team did so in a big way. Gauthier is cut from a pure power forward mold at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 231 pounds at the young age of 18.
One would figure that a player like Gauthier will require some time to get up to NHL speed. That said, the fact that he fills a need for size in the form of player with enough skill to score in close, is perhaps the most intriguing follow on story for the 2016 draftees. He might be even a little bit bigger in a couple years, but he is obviously far from the category of draftee who needs time to grow and add strength before being able to compete or even survive at the NHL level.
When he arrives in Raleigh for the Summerfest/prospect camp, my first read on him will be how close he is to being able to play at NHL pace. If he passes that test, I think it could become interesting to see if his skill set helps him push for a roster spot.
The process of drafting 18-year olds and trying to project them as 22-23-year olds is obviously an imperfect one. There is definitely an element of randomness and/or luck for all but a handful of obvious elite players at the very top of each draft. That said, I still think there is an element of trying to play to the organization’s strengths in terms of developing players but also in terms of identifying talent. Last summer, 1 of the best picks in the entire draft (admittedly at this premature juncture for making a final judgement on that) was the Hurricanes selection of Sebastian Aho early in the second round. The pick was a bit off the board. He tended to rate as a third or even fourth round pick in most rankings. He was nothing short of phenomenal this season both in international play and in professional play in Finland. In the U18 tourney, he was every bit as good as line mates Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi who went second and fourth respectively in the 2016 draft. The hype around Aho was less only because he is 9-10 months older than the other 2 and is already drafted.
So getting back to Kuokkanen, I really like the idea of going back to the well that says the Canes scouts and management might have a better handle on Finnish players than the rest of the league. Kuokkanen was picked in a similar place as Aho and also brings a similar all-around skill set.
Here is hoping that the Kuokkanen’s 2016-17 season sees him rise up just like Aho last season.
Past the first couple rounds, it becomes even harder to grade players and project a couple years out, but at a more basic level, here are some thoughts.
Two goalies added to the mix
The current best practices for developing franchise goalies is an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the stats and analytics crowd is in nearly unanimous agreement that the goalie position is incredibly hard to project and that the risk of not getting value for early picks at the position is high. But at the same time, if you do not develop your own elite goalie it is some combination of incredibly expensive and darn near impossible to obtain one. The price of good free agent goalies which are rare is north of $5 million per year and the trade cost to acquire such a player is also high.
The result is that despite the fact that it incredibly hard to draft and develop 18-year old goalies to a level of success, it is important to do. The hit or miss nature and inability to accurately rank 18-year old goalies seems to offer an obvious mathematical solution which is rather than making occasional big investments to make more frequent small investments with the idea that some will pan out.
Despite having 2014 second-rounder Alex Nedeljkovic in the pipeline, Ron Francis selected Callum Booth in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. And in the 2016 draft, Francis added not 1 but 2 goalies in Jack LaFontaine using 1 of 3 picks in that round and then also added Jeremy Helvig in the fifth round. Both players are physically cut from the “big modern day NHL goalie” mold like Luongo, Bishop, Andersen and others which is a great starting point.
At a basic level, I like the idea of regularly spending a mid-round pick on a goalie with potential and playing the odds that volume will win out over trying to make fewer bets and instead pinpoint which of the top-end prospects will actually work out.
One of the challenges with goalies is managing their development in terms of ice time. For forwards or defensemen it is easier to shufle things around, drop a few older AHLers to make room or do whatever else to make sure they are getting the playing time that they need to develop. With only 1 goalie on the ice each game, the situation can be more challenging. For players who are not ready to be an NHL starter, an NHL team has 1 starter slot in the AHL and another in the ECHL at its disposal in the professional ranks. Because of that, there can be some value in balancing the type of players selected. Canadian juniors players generally have 2 years after being drafted with the possibility of adding more as an overage player. US college players on the other hand can play 4 years in college. European players also have the potential to stay overseas for multiple years before jumping to North America.
So if the goal is to have 4-5 goalies in the system at a single point in time and receiving ice time to develop, there needs to be a mix of different ages and different categories. Top priority is to draft the best available player, but with goalies there is an element of figuring out how to develop them all at once. In that regard, the Canes 2016 duo of LaFontaine who will be playing at Michigan this season and Helvy who is an overage Canadian junior player works fairly well together.
Speed on the wing
I continue to believe that speed is a prerequisite for any NHL player going forward. If a player cannot match the pace of the NHL game, everything is just becomes too hard and the player’s margin for error just becomes too small. Even players who have size as an advantage need to have averagish wheels and good anticipation to have a chance. I think Chris Terry is the case and point for the Hurricanes. He is a skilled offensive player. He thinks the game well. And he has worked hard to develop the defensive part of his game. But his below average mobility just makes it hard. If he is out of position even slightly defensively, it is challenging to recover like a faster player could. When he has the puck on his stick in his own end, he lacks the wheels to quickly carry into the neutral zone and back the defense up. Instead, players recognize, attack and more often than not force Terry to make the safe chip to center ice to relieve pressure but also give up possession of the puck in the process.
So in that vein, I like that the 2 wings that the Canes selected in the middle rounds (Matt Filipe and Max Zimmer) come with average to slightly above average size but also with decent speed to boot. That is the recipe for a player who at least has a chance physically if they can build a hockey game around their raw physical ability.
Another trip to the mid-round defenseman well: I would have liked to see the Canes take another shot at defense in the middle rounds for the same reason that I liked picking a Finnish player in the second round. After a recent run of mid-round blue line picks that included Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Trevor Carrick, I would have liked to see Francis try to go back to that well of correctly identifying mid-tier defenseman value. There is always the element of taking the best available player, so perhaps the Canes scouting staff just did not really like the blue line options in the third and fourth rounds. In addition, with Bean taken with the team’s first pick, the bias toward forwards was probably even greater for the Canes which makes sense. Even still,
Jake Bean selection likely to define this draft: At a time when the organization needs forward help quickly, using the #13 overall selection for a defenseman is clear vote for best available player. And if Bean turns out to be the best available player, it will work out fine. But if Bean is a miss and a couple of the forwards selected after him pan out and do so on the accelerated schedule that is possible for forwards, it would be a setback to Francis’ goal of building from within. Time will tell.
Canes prospect pool grew by significantly more than the NHL average: On average, each NHL team’s prospect pool will grow by 7 players split among each of the 7 rounds obviously. The Canes beat that average by 2 players but really more accurately 3. With their extra first and 2 extra third round picks (offset only by the seventh-rounder that was traded away) the Canes added more than the vast majority of the NHL’s 30 teams. Francis’ mantra of building a deeper system and a sustainable model for success from it took another step forward this weekend.