Monday, June 2, 2008

Draft hindsight five years later

The five-year retrospective on the draft that we do at HF every year is my favorite article on the schedule. It's both very useful to see what went wrong and right in a draft class, and it puts all of my otherwise rather esoteric knowledge to work. It provides closure on prospects who have left or are about to leave the system. It's also a bit of a trip down memory lane. In typing out Guillaume Desbiens' particulars, I had another chuckle over some of the funny things he's said, often accidentally, over the years.

That's not to say there's no research though. I had to consult the CBA for a minor point tonight. (Any day where I have to read lawyer language is a bad day.)

When I first started covering prospects, I noticed that people would call a draft year by the city it took place in -- "the Detroit draft" for example. Same with the World Juniors. That seemed to me hard to place it in time. But these days I find myself doing the same thing, because all of the drafts become such a blur over time. You need a city as a hook to hang everything on or it gets lost.

Well, 2003 was the Nashville draft, a short jaunt up I-75. I stayed at a hotel that had a bunch of draftees in it. I remember riding in the elevator with goaltender Jimmy Howard in the morning and him looking very nervous. Sure, he was going to be picked, but by whom? He didn't know. Nor did Braydon Coburn the day before. Another reporter and I were talking to him, I told him I thought Atlanta was very interested. He seemed glad to hear it from someone else.

(Speaking of Coburn, one thing I noticed but couldn't work into the article is that Coburn's penalty minute rate has gone way down in the pros. Physical play is not his preferred style. He'll do it if he needs to, but it's really not his nature.)

Before the lockout and the format change of the draft, agents always used to tell their players not to go to the draft in person unless they would be taken on the first day, meaning in the first three rounds. It was too agonizing to sit through two days of other people's names. These words of wisdom were generally followed. So on Day 2, guys who were still there, you knew they had fallen off of expectations. Well, in 2003, Jimmy Sharrow and Guillaume Desbiens were both taken in the fourth round -- meaning the second day -- and they were both there in Nashville. But their emotions after their selections couldn't have been more different. Desbiens was as happy as a clam, while Sharrow was clearly upset to have fallen. He didn't really endear himself as the years went on either, which was a story that never really got told. Once, pretty sure of the answer ahead of time, I asked a player I knew well if Sharrow was injured, and the player laughed. On another occasion, I saw a player roll his eyes at something Sharrow had just done. And coach Jeff Pyle didn't want Sharrow back in Gwinnett, period. When he was traded it was no surprise.

All in all, the Thrashers found two NHL players in the 2003 draft, which is the number that teams aim for. Add up the games played by them and divide by the number of picks, and 25.7 NHL games per pick for the year is a rather good number, especially when the team had no second or third rounder.

The Thrashers made no embarrassing picks, meaning guys who couldn't play pro hockey at all. All of them play, have played, or will play in the case of Kaip, pro hockey. Mike Vannelli has the talent to continue playing, but not enough desire to stomach playing in the lower minors.

The Thrashers found value at the end of the draft, which begs the question: If you were to reorder Atlanta's picks in 2003, how would you do it? The toughest call is Toby Enstrom vs. Coburn. This is such an interesting question that I've made a poll about it over in the right-hand column (final tally 55% said Enstrom had more potential, 45% Coburn).

Here's how I would reorder them, based on their NHL potential today. I've noted the round they were taken in beside their names.

Enstrom 8th
Coburn 1st
Sterling 5th
-------------(dropoff here)
Kaip 9th
Desbiens 4th
Vannelli 4th
Sharrow 4th
Hamilton 6th
Loginov 7th

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