Sam Happi’s NHL Draft Notebook

This is the first edition of what should become a weekly thing, where I share my notes from the last week.  Over the course of a week, I watch a game or two featuring 2018 NHL Draft eligible prospects, and I’ll share my notes from those games, as well as the latest prospect news and analysis here.

Joe Veleno

Veleno was traded from Saint John to Drummondville in the QMJHL Friday.  Veleno will hope to rebound with his new team after a tough first couple months that has seen him falling on draft boards.  He has started to regain his footing after a tough start, and is now at 31 points in 31 games on the year, exactly a point per game.  Veleno is -10 this season.  He’ll look to heat up with Drummondville as he tries to make up lost ground.

WJC

Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes and Rasmus Kupari headline the 2018 eligible draft talent that are expected to make WJC teams.  Adam Boqvist was the most surprising draft eligible snub.  Boqvist, ranked 3rd, was not named to Sweden’s preliminary WJC roster.  Oliver Wahlstrom and Jesper Kotkaniemi were also surprisingly left off WJC rosters.

Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov has returned from his hand injury and will play on Saturday against Oshawa, a game that will be shown on Sportsnet in Canada as a part of their CHL Saturday Showcase series.  Viewers with Sportsnet as a part of their television plans will be able to see Svechnikov multiple times this season, as the Barrie Colts are frequently involved in the Saturday Showcase on the channel.

Noah Dobson

Dobson continues to rise on draft boards, as his calm, puckmoving game continues to impress scouts.  Could be the Cale Makar of 2018, a dark horse top 5 pick.

Jack McBain

McBain has seen himself fall after a poor start to the season where he has had 38 points in 31 games in the OJHL, a Junior A league.  Those numbers appear to be good, but a potential first round pick should really stand out in a 2nd-tier junior league, and McBain has not done so this season.

2018 NHL Draft December Top 50

Holiday decorations are beginning to pop up, and that means that it’s time for my December draft rankings.  Big changes to the rankings since last time, I saw a lot of prospects play this month.  Those changes are detailed below.Edit

Risers and Fallers
First off, it’s important to note that these are only the most notable prospects that are listed here, and only the one’s that rose or fall by large amounts. If a guy rose or fell one or two spots, they aren’t listed.

Rising:

Brady Tkackuk

November: 11

December: 5

⬆️ 6

Oliver Wahlstrom

November: 14

December: 7

⬆️ 7

Noah Dobson

November: 20

December: 12

⬆️ 8

Adam Ginning

November: Not Ranked

December: 24

⬆️ 27+

Rasmus Sandin

November: Not Ranked

December: 25

⬆️ 26+

Ryan McLeod

November: 29

December: 23

⬆️6

With most of these prospects, the opportunity to see them play more allowed me to get an better idea of what their skill level is compared to the other prospects available in the draft. Dobson and McLeod both impressed me during the Canada-Russia juniors series, Dobson playing for the QMJHL and McLeod representing the OHL, while viewings of the other’s playing for their teams caused the rise for the others.

Falling:

Joe Veleno

November: 5

December: 13

⬇️8

Akil Thomas

November: 7

December: 14

⬇️7

Ryan Merkley

November: 10

December: 16

⬇️6

Jack McBain

November: 15

December: 39

⬇️24

The fallers fell for differing reasons, but they all mostly revolve around a poor start that has showcased their flaws. For Veleno, those flaws are his passing and defensive play. His passes have been off, and his defensive play hasn’t been two-way centre calibre. Akil Thomas just hasn’t really done that much this season, and he’s been outshone by others, while Merkley’s negative plus-minus this season shows that his offence doesn’t make up for his poor defence. And finally, Jack McBain, who has fallen all the way from 15th to 39th, hasn’t been producing in the second-tier junior league that he plays in, and a top prospect should be dominating.  

I’ve kept you waiting long enough, here’s the list.

1. Rasmus Dahlin, D
Scouts everywhere gush about Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, and for good reason. The defenceman is good at a lot of things, especially on offence. The defenceman possesses great speed, which he uses to generate opportunities off the rush. Dahlin’s speed and puck skills allows him to go end to end with the puck. That won’t work too well in the NHL, where the defence is considerably better, but Dahlin can still use his speed and passing to move the op ice quickly. The Swede is nearly as deadly when set up in the offensive zone as he is off the rush, as his shot and offensive instincts allow him to score from the point, set up teammates, and jump up into the high slot and finish from there.  Dahlin is exceptionally talented and has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson. They certainly share some similarities, but I believe that Dahlin will establish his own game, and in 10 years, top prospects will be compared to him. One similarity that the two Swedes do share? Franchise potential.

2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW

Svechnikov broken hand is unfortunate, but it won’t affect his draft position. He is way too good for that. As good as Dahlin is, Svechnikov is not far behind. The Russian winger doesn’t really fit into any of the groups that prospects are often sorted into, not because he can’t snipe it, or he can’t drive the net, but actually because he can do it all. He can be a sniper, but he isn’t solely a sniper. He can take the puck to the net, but he isn’t just a power forward. In fact, if I had to put him in a category, it would be two way player, not because Svechnikov is gonna be a shutdown player, but because he’s nearly just as good in his own zone as he is on offense, and that’s saying a lot when you look at his offensive talent. To give you a better idea of how good he truly is on offense, if Svechnikov was 2017 eligible, he would of been 1st overall by a landslide, and in 2016 he would of been 2nd or 3rd overall, not quite as good as Auston Matthews, but practically equal to Patrik Laine. To put this simply, he’s really good.

3. Adam Boqvist, D

Adam Boqvist might be one of the most NHL-ready players, not because he is physically dominant, in fact, he is slightly undersized, but because he already plays an NHL style game on the blue line. Many top defensive prospects take advantage of the poor competition in their respective junior leagues and go end to end quite often, using their superior speed and hands to make highlight-reel plays. Top prospect Rasmus Dahlin is guilty of this, but it’s not like it’s a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with doing that, if it’s possible, why not do it? The only downside is that it will take prospects that do this more time to adjust to NHL play, where the competition is just too strong to consistently go end to end like that. Boqvist plays like how I think Dahlin will once he adjusts to the NHL, instead of going end to end, he generates opportunities by skating the puck up and dishing the puck up to forwards, and then joining the rush that he created. Boqvist can also generate a lot of opportunities when set up offensively, using his vision or shot to set up teammates or to get a hard shot on net. I like Boqvist’s play on the defensive side of the puck as well. He holds his own in battles in front of the net and in the corners, as well as playing well positionally and in 1v1 situations. His play popped out to me right from the start (I actually had him #1 for a bit in September), and I’m looking forward to seeing him play as an elite puck-moving defenceman in the future.

4. Filip Zadina, LW

You know it’s a deep draft when a guy like Filip Zadina doesn’t even crack the top 3. In most drafts, a player that looks like a future 40 goal scorer would go first overall, second at the latest, but the depth of this draft has bumped him Zadina is a goal scorer with speed, puck skill and creativity, which he combines to become absolutely lethal in the o-zone. He has a knack for finding a way to the net, whether that is by dangling, speeding past a defender, or dishing it off to a teammate, moving into open space and getting a return feed. His creativity makes him difficult to defend, as he might try something new on every play. I mentioned before that he could be a consistent 40 goal scorer, and that isn’t as hard as you might think when you have as good as a release as Zadina. I would say that it nears Auston Matthews’ especially in terms of release. It is absolutely lethal. Some of his plays remind of Ovie in his prime, when #8 was a dynamic, dangling winger with a great shot, not 30 year old Ovie that relies on his one-timer from the top of the circle to score a lot of his goals. Could be a steal at #4, it’s not often that you get someone this good outside the top 3 picks.

5. Brady Tkachuk, C

Brady Tkackuk plays is a powerful two way centre with a real knack for finding a way to the net. He’s a really smart player, and he moves into open space really well. He plays a power game atypical of a bottom 6 player, going to the net, except hems got elite skill. Goes to the net a lot and he’s got the shot and he hands to finish. Tkackuk excels at the behind the net style of play, when he has the puck down behind the goal line he’s got the skill to have multiple lethal options. He can cut the net, he can hit a teammate with a really nice pass or he can continue to cycle it down low, and he does all of them with elite fashion. Solid defensively, good on the forecheck. Really combined the best qualities from his father and his brother, and he’s the better than both of them. Really good player, would of gone first overall in 2017 for sure.

6. Quinn Hughes, D

Quinn Hughes has done nothing but rise since the beginning of the year, thanks to his success on the NCAA level. Hughes is a fast puck-moving two-way defenceman capable of making a large mark on a game. He can rush the puck, he can make good, accurate breakout passes, he’s really good at quickly moving the puck up ice, making him a great transition defenceman and a great fit for today’s NHL. When I last saw Hughes play, the opposition was collapsing around their net, giving the two opposing defenseman a lot of room to work with on the point, and Hughes took advantage. He controlled the point, found open passing and shooting lanes, and generated a lot of opportunities. For me, a good sign of a defenseman with good offensive zone skills is the ability to walk the point to find an open lane. A lot of dmen will stay stationary, and either take a shot, pass it off or chip it in, but Hughes is able to walk the point and wait for things to open up. A top pairing defenseman if I’ve ever seen one.

7. Oliver Wahlstrom, C

Wahlstrom was a viral sensation as a kid thanks to his lacrosse-style goal in a shootout, and while a lot of the time those kids don’t end up making it to the show, it looks like Wahlstrom will. He’s got the best hands out of anybody in the draft class, and he uses them exceptionally well, creating countless opportunities. Great shot, deceptive release and he skates well with a powerful stride. Shows flashes of a power forward, can protect puck well and drove the net. Physical game needs some work. There isn’t much that’s bad about this player, he’s got elite skill and potential:

8. Ty Smith, D

Ty Smith, like Adam Boqvist, plays an offensive NHL-style game using speed and smarts to move the puck up ice quickly. As skilled as Smith is, the most impressive part of Smith’s game isn’t his skating or his hands, it’s his hockey IQ. Smith consistently makes smart plays with the puck, allowing his team to control possession. Another example of his smarts is how he shoots low, allowing his team to get tips and rebounds. His defense allows him to succeed as well, as he is solid in his own zone, winning battles in the corners and in front of the net, and his active stick closes passing lanes effectively. Will be an effective two-way top pairing defenseman.

9. Bode Wilde, D

Wilde is a big defenseman that moves the puck really well and generally plays an offensive style game without sacrificing much on the defensive side of the puck. His crisp, accurate passes appear effortless, and he uses them to breakout effectively and control the transition game. Wilde likes to jump up and make himself an option in the rush, and he can be a lethal high guy on the rush thanks to his deadly shot. He can really snipe the puck, I’ve seen him knock the water bottle off on numerous occasions. Plays an offensive NHL style game, doesn’t make many risky plays but still generate lots of offense. He’s so calm with the puck, he can have multiple players on him and wait until they are about to check him and then put a pass right on a teammate’s tape. Some of his passes are just amazing. One of the top passers in the draft. Puck moving defensemen like Wilde are all the rage in the NHL, and team’s will be eager to snap him up, especially since he’s already huge and essentially NHL ready physically. 

10. Rasmus Kupari, C

If Wahlstrom’s got the best hands in the draft, it isn’t by much, because Kupari is right behind him. The kid’s got hands like pillows. He can really dangle a player and he’s done that numerous times, but each to the finish just wasn’t there, and that could be Kupari’s biggest I said as he develops. Despite having fantastic hands and a great shot, he just seems to really struggle finishing in tight, and that could hold him back. There’s a point where he’s almost more dangerous from the hash marks that he is from right in front of the net, because at the hashes he has time to get that laser of a shot off, while he can’t do so in tight. That last sentence makes it sound like he needs a lot of time to take a shot, but the opposite is actually true. Kupari’s got a filthy release. It’s just that he seems to struggle with those open blade shots by the goalie. That’s really his only offensive weakness, because he can shoot, pass and dangle better than most. He’s a really exciting player to watch, might struggle a bit at first in the NHL as he has less space and time, but once he adjusts he could be a deadly threat.

11. Jett Woo, D

Jett Woo joins Adam Boqvist, Bode Wilde and Ty Smith as defencemen that play a two-way, NHL-style game, and while he is ranked later than the two of them in overall skill, he would ahead of both in terms of defensive skill, and maybe even first overall. Woo’s active stick allows him to keep opposing forwards to the perimeter, limiting scoring chances, and them important battles he wins in the corners and in front of the net lead to breakouts for his team. Not afraid to use his body, can separate the man from the puck. As Woo’s WHL experience has grown, so has his offensive impact, as Woo now joins the rush quite often, giving teammates another option. He’s also taken over a PP QB role for his team, and he’s good at it. He moves the puck around very well. A player of Woo’s skill-set will prove very valuable to his team, as he can be counted on as a shutdown defenceman as well as to create offence. Has the potential to become one of the league’s premier shutdown defensemen.

12. Noah Dobson, D

Dobson is a speedy puckmover that really impressed me in the Canada-Russia series for Team QMJHL, where he was paired with fellow draft eligible Jared McIsaac. Dobson shows a lot of patience and poise with the puck, and is very calm, waiting for an opportunity to make a good pass. He consistently makes good decisions with the puck, whether that is making a good pass, or finding a shooting lane. His NHL-style puck moving game should lead to top 20 draft position in June.

13. Joe Veleno, C

Veleno is a smart two way centre with a lot of skill. Veleno has dropped a lot since my last ranking, as he hasn’t really done much while other prospects are impressing me more. Veleno was overhyped, granted exceptional status as 15 year old, but he really isn’t on that “exceptional” level. He definitely has top 6 potential, and at this point I still think he could be a top line centre, but I’m not as sure as that as I used to be. At the start of the year, the question was whether or not Veleno could be an elite top line centre, now the debate for me is whether or not he can be a top line centre at all. Right now, the answer to that is yes, but if he doesn’t improve that could change. Veleno’s slow start has really magnified his flaws, particularly his offensive talent. He’s more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but his passes aren’t consistently on the tape, which is necessary to be an elite playmaker. His speed and hockey IQ allow him to make good offensive plays, but against better NHL defence, those two factors will become less dominant. Veleno is often regarded as a two way centre, and he is pretty good in his own zone, and that is exactly what I think he’ll become. The real question however is whether or not he can improve offensively and be a top line true 200 foot player, or if he will be more of a two way, shutdown 2nd like pivot. I still have high hopes that he can achieve option number one, but he needs to step it up.

14. Akil Thomas, C/RW

Akil Thomas is one of the player’s who’s draft position isn’t very consistent across rankings because scouts either love their style of game or hate it. I like it, I wouldn’t say that I love it per say, but I think it will lead to success on the NHL level. One thing that I do love about Thomas is how energetic he plays. He’s always moving around, making it hard to defend against him. This, when combined with his speed, shot, hockey IQ and hands make him a constant offensive threat. Thomas is more of a playmaker, mad he’s a good one. His passes are accurate, I’d say more so than Joe Veleno, and he makes the smart play every time, and doesn’t attempt super risky passes that he’s going to miss 9 times out of 10. His defense needs some work, when I’ve seen him he’s chased the puck a little too much, but that should improve as he matures. Definitive top 6 talent with high upside. 

15. Jared McIsaac, D

McIsaac, like Dobson, was very good during the Canada-Russia series for the QMJHL. He’s very calm with the puck, taking his time to make good plays. McIsaac isn’t afraid to circle back when he doesn’t have options when bringing the puck up-ice, nor does he shy away from jumping up into the play, both on the rush or when set up in the offensive zone, which he does quite often. A two way defenseman, McIsaac is hard to beat 1 on 1 and isn’t bad in the corners and in front of the net. He and Dobson are actually fairly similar, playing NHL-style, puckmoving games, and both will be top picks in the 2018 NHL Draft.

16. Ryan Merkley, D

Merkley can do it all on offense, creating countless opportunities for his team. He’s deadly off the rush, and is equally good when set up offensively. He can shoot, pass and dangle, but there is one thing that he cannot do, and it’s pretty significant. The defenceman simply cannot defend, and it’s going to cost him at the draft. Merkley gets beat way too often in the corners and in front of the net, and while this should improve as he gets stronger, I expect this to continue to the NHL. Positionally, he isn’t very good either. The one thing he isn’t terrible at is 1 on 1’s, where he uses his speed and agility to counter the opponent. When I’m ranking offensive defencemen like Merkley, I usually try to see if the offence makes up for the defence, and in Merkley’s case, it doesn’t. His plus-minus makes that clear. Despite all the points Merkley puts up, he still allows more goals than he scores. Merkley is dynamic offensively and I think he’ll be a solid NHL player, but I can’t envision a player as bad at defense as him as top pairing defender, although he could possibly succeed playing alongside a shutdown defender.

17. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C

Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a true 200 foot player, which is rare with draft eligibles. A lot of players develop that defensive responsibility later on, but Kotkaniemi’s got a head start. He’s responsible in his own end, he plays well positionally and wins battles. He goes in hard on the forecheck, and can strip the puck from an opponent with ease. Offensively, he’s a dangling, sniping centre (or at times, winger) that generates opportunities from high-danger areas. Controls play offensively. Top 6 potential with elite ceiling.

18. Nando Eggenberger, LW

Eggenberger has more than just a great name, he also has great speed, a deadly shot, and a knack for finding open space. Combine all the three, and you’ve got yourself a lethal offensive force, especially on the rush. Has silky hands too, has scored some nice goals, included a Bobby Orr-style diving across the net tally. The depth of this draft is impressive, as not always can you find a guy with this much potential in the mid-late first round. Could see him, as well as Kotkaniemi, on a top line some day.

19. Isac Lundeström, C

Lundeström has done nothing but impress with his slick passes and hockey IQ playing against men in the SHL this season. Really like how he’s played so far. Lundeström is a playmaking centre with fantastic offensive instincts, he seems to know where everybody is on the ice at all times and can make some beautiful passes accordingly. Passing is definitely his most refined skill, and he’s one of the best in this draft at it. Makes smart choices in the offensive zone, doesn’t overpass, knows when to get the puck to the net. He has pretty good hands, not as good as most others in the top 20 but it won’t hold him back offensively, still has the talent to finish. Slick playmaker has found success in the SHL, and that should translate to the NHL as well.

20. Calen Addison, D

Addison is undersized at 5’9 but that doesn’t hold him back at all. Addison can take over the games at times, generating a ton of offence from the blue line. Moves the puck up ice well, passes are hard and accurate, and is good in the offensive zone, controlling the blue line and keeping pucks in. Holds his own in defensive battles, has a good active stick that takes away passing lanes. In previous drafts Addison might have slid due to his size, but he came around at the right time to be selected in the first or early second round like he deserves to.

21. Anderson MacDonald, LW

Power forward plays a physical game and has natural finishing ability.

22. Evan Bouchard, D

Bouchard is a two way defender that can be very dangerous when he joins the rush, thanks to his skating and puck skills. Good at 1v1 defense, but struggles in the corners and in front of the net.

23. Ryan McLeod, C

Speedy way centre plays a power game and possesses a shoot first mentality. Good with his stick defensively, good on forecheck, using his speed to close in on opponents.

24. Adam Ginning, D

Big puck moving defender has a shoot first mentality in the offensive zone. Tends to panic a bit on the point, taking quick shots when he could walk in. 

25. Rasmus Sandin, D

Puckmoving defenseman likes to join the rush. Creates oppurtunities from the point with smart shots and passes.

26. Barrett Hayton, C

Hard working, two way centre that wins board battles and finishes well in tight.

27. Benoit-Oliver Groulx, F

Groulx is a fast and smart forward that plays a skilled, energetic game. Groulx is always hard in on the forecheck, and angles players out well, causing turnovers in the offensive zone. He’s also very smart, and always knows who is around him. I’d like to see him win some more puck battles, but overall his game is mostly positive.

28. Ty Dellandrea, C

Two way centre is great in his own zone, and works hard in the o-zone. Finishes well in tight, good hands.

29. Dennis Busby, D

Two way defender excels in the transition game and is a great skater and positional player.

30. Serron Noel, W

6’5 power forward moves well for a guy his size. Uses size and skating to be dominant when driving the net.

31. Allan McShane, C

McShane is a two way centre with playmaking ability. Patient in the offensive zone, waits for lanes to open up. Needs to improve his skating if he’s going to succeed as a playmaker in the NHL.

32. Nicolas Beaudin, D

33. Alexander Alexeyev, D

34. Xavier Bouchard, D

35. Joel Farabee, LW

36. Jakub Lauko, C/LW

37. David Levin, LW

38. Kevin Bahl, D

39. Jack McBain, C

40. Gleb Babintsev, D

41. Simon Appelquist, LW

42. Giovanni Vallati, D

43. Jacob Olofsson, C

44. Luka Burzan, C

45. Mattias Samuelsson, D

46. Jesse Ylönen, RW

47. Cole Fonstad, C/LW

48. Lukas Wernblom, C/LW

49. Vitali Kravstov, F

50. Alexander Khovanov, C

2018 NHL Draft November Top 50

It’s November, and I’ve updated, and added to, my draft rankings.  The list is now 50 players long, with a brief description for the top 15.  

There weren’t many huge changes, with the biggest probably being Ryan Merkley dropping to 10th.  Merkley has shown that his defense is just as bad as ever with his -12 start to the OHL season.  If he doesn’t pick it up, he may fall even more.

1. Rasmus Dahlin, D

Dominant offensively, and isn’t bad on defence either.

2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW

Got off to a hot start in the OHL before being sidelined with a broken hand.  Two way force, great on offense.

3. Adam Boqvist, D

NHL style defenseman that makes smart plays and decisions.  Great puckmover, PP QB and shooter.

4. Filip Zadina, LW

Elusive force on the wing, has all the skills to put up a ton of points.

5. Joe Veleno, C

Smart two way centre off to a tough start in the QMJHL.

6. Quinn Hughes, D

Fast puck mover, great offensively and pretty good defensively.

7. Akil Thomas, C/RW

Plays a very energetic game, always moving.  Puts himself in good spots to make plays.

8. Ty Smith, D

Dynamic two-way D makes smart plays and moves the puck up ice well.

9. Bode Wilde, D

Big defenseman plays an offensive game.

10. Ryan Merkley

Electric offensively, but poor defensively.  High risk, high reward.

11. Brady Tkachuk, C

Plays physical two-way game, could possibly be better than brother Matthew.

12. Rasmus Kupari, C

Dynamic centre uses speed, hands to make plays.

13. Jett Woo, D

Smart two way defwnseman, uses speed and puck moving skill to generate oppurtunities for his team.

14. Oliver Wahlstrom, C

Skilled player, creates a lot of oppurtunities

15. Jack McBain, C

Two way centre, good defensively.  Some concern about offense from others, but I don’t really see it.  Kind of like 2017 prospect Ryan Poehling.

16. Jared McIsaac

17. Jesper Kotkaniemi 

18. Calen Addison

19. Anderson MacDonald

20. Noah Dobson

21. Ty Dellandrea

22. Gleb Babintsev

23. Evan Bouchard

24. David Levin

25. Nicolas Beaudin

26. Ryan McLeod

27. Alexander Alexeyev

28. Xavier Bouchard

29. Joel Farabee

30. Giovanni Vallati

31. Benoit-Oliver Groulx

32. Jakub Lauko

33. Allan McShane

34. Simon Appelquist 

35. Jacob Olofsson

36. Luka Burzan

37. Isac Lundeström

38. Mattias Samuelsson

39. Jesse Ylönen

40. Barrett Hayton

41. Lukas Wernblom

42. Vitali Kravstov

43. Alexander Khovanov

44. Dennis Busby

45. Samuel Bitten

46. Ty Emberson

47. Grigori Denisenko

48. Axel Andersson

49. Filip Hallander

50. Kevin Bahl

Oilers start is an important reminder that statistics don’t tell the full story

Statistics are a mainstay in sports. After first being used to analyze players in baseball, statistical analysis has also found its way into many sports, most notably hockey, football and basketball.  In fact, #fancystats are now so common in the hockey world that you will rarely read a hockey article that neglects to mention them.

Analyzing hockey players without statistics is like only using one eye.  You can still see, but you don’t get the full picture.  

This can go both ways.  Analyzing a player just with statistics is like only using your other eye.

However, I don’t weight traditional and statistical analysis equally.  I believe that statistics should be used to formulate about 60-70% of one’s opinion of a certain player, leaving 30-40% for traditional analysis.

Not all people share this view with me, which has led to a quite unfortunate view that some people hold, where statistics are weighted at 100%, and are used independently.  Statistics can be an incredible resource, but the should not be used without the company of the “eye test”, or traditional analysis.  Only looking at the statistical aspect can lead to misleading conclusions, such as the conclusion that the Matthews is not the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs team, which I wrote about in a previous post, which can be found here, or that the Oilers are playing well so far in the 2017-18 season, the subject of this post.

Shot based statistics such as Corsi and Fenwick show that the Oilers are dominating, as they have 59% of all Corsi events and 60% of Fenwick events.  

These statistics tell a completely different story than anybody that has watched the games will tell.  The Oilers have looked disorganized and just plain bad so far, a view that many others share.

Jason Gregor, Oilersnation: “The Oilers aren’t losing due to a lack of talent.  They have enough skill to compete, but not enoug talent to overcome the hideous mistakes they’ve been making.

Bad reads
Ill-advised pinching
A porous penalty kill
Sub-par goaltending
Inability to score from in close.”
(Article)

Jason Gregor is a smart man, and this excerpt sums things up well.  There is a simple message in the pair of paragraphs; the Oilers are making too many costly mistakes. It’s as simple as that.  It doesn’t matter if they are vastly out shooting their opponents, if they can’t cut down on these mistakes, they will not even come close to making the playoffs.

There is no statistic that measures costly mistakes, which is exactly why statistics should not be the only factor taken into account when analyzing a player.  

If statistics cannot account for something that can have such a huge impact on a game as a mistake that leads to a goal, statistics should not be used exclusively to analyze a player.

A common and perfectly valid belief in the #fancystats community is that it is foolish to judge a player solely based on what you see.  This would be perfectly fine, but many statistical analysts exclusively use statistics to evaluate performance, which, in my opinion, is just as bad.

Both allow you to formulate valid opinions about a player’s skill and performance, but when combined, that opinion becomes more informed and more powerful than before.

You would never use just one eye to view something.  Do the same with this.

Remember:

Statistical Analysis = valid opinion

Traditional Analysis = valid opinion

Statistical Analysis + Traditional Analysis = Powerful, informed opinion

Don’t limit yourself to just one eye.

Use both.

Stop Complaining About WAR

A month or two ago, both DTM About Heart and MannyElk, two exceptionally talented hockey analytic experts, released their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) data. The two analysts calculate their statistic differently, but both use smart formulas that make a lot of sense, and show relatively similar results. For this post, we’ll be using MannyElk’s data, but simply because Sean Tierney was kind enough to put it in an easy to read graph, not because it is in any way better than DTM About Heart’s.  To put this simply, WAR is a statistic that measures a players contributions on both offence and defence in goals, somewhat like plus-minus, except using advanced statistics to measure offensive and defensive contributions, instead of just goals scored and against. These advanced statistics are a better representation of skill than goals scored and against while the player is on the ice, like in traditional plus-minus. The contributions of the player are then measured against those of a replacement level player, which is the player that would replace said player if that player was unable to play in any way. Essentially, a replacement level player is the 13th forward, the 7th defender, or the 3rd goalie. The goals are then translated to wins, to find how many wins a player is worth over a replacement level player.WAR is a complicated statistic that the average person will have difficulty calculating, including me, so I’m not going to go too far into depth on it here. 
After the data was released, there was a lot of anger and general dislike directed towards this statistic, largely in part due to how it put certain players ahead of others. As the following graph shows, this statistic places Ron Hainsey, a good defenceman, but by no means a top pairing player, ahead of Auston Matthews, who won the Calder, and looks like he will be the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs for quite some time.
Hockey fans didn’t like this very much, with plenty of Maple Leafs fans going on Twitter tirades defending their star forward. I, and most other people with an understanding of analytics that is above the level of “beginner”, didn’t see any issue with this.
Why?
Yes, Auston Matthews is better than Ron Hainsey, there is no question about that. But what is the point of statistical analysis of all that it tells us is what we already know? If that’s what we are looking to get out of it, why even use it all? Statistical analysis in hockey is in no way perfect, but neither is the “eye test”. Traditional and statistical analysis tell us two different things. The “eye test”, or traditional scouting, measures a player’s skill, and stats tell us the player’s contributions, and when the two are used together, they can tell us if a player is using his skill to it’s full extent, and if the situation the player is in is working out.  
A great example of the usefulness of statistics is Oilers defenceman Kris Russell, who is the subject of what is perhaps the biggest disagreement of traditional and statistical analysis in NHL history. On the surface, Russell appears to be a hardworking, shot-blocking blue liner that can be counted on in the defensive end. When you dive deeper, the statistics tell us that Russell has a negative impact on possession, and the production of his teammates, as well as being poor when defending leads, which is what a player considered to be a defensive defenceman like him is expected to be good at. For me, it’s the fact that he plays poorly when ahead in games that makes me believe that he isn’t a top 4 defenceman, as in my opinion, a top 4 defenceman shouldn’t need to be protected, and only be played in certain situations. A bottom pairing blueliner however, can be protected, making it the optimal role for Kris Russell to play in.
Using the eye test, I would say that Russell appears to be a middle pairing defenceman. When we dive into the stats, he looks like more of a bottom pairing defender. If we take both conclusions, and weight them equally, we can conclude that Kris Russell is a 4th or 5th defenceman, probably on the lower end of the scale for 4th defencemen, and the higher end for 5th defencemen. However, I’m more stats oriented, and I believe that stats tell us more than our eyes, but not to a huge margin. When I am making conclusions about a player, I weight statistics at about 65-70 percent, and traditional scouting at 30-35 percent. With statistics weighted higher, we can conclude that Russell is a bottom pairing defenceman, which is what I believe.
When only using statistics, the general opinion is usually nearly identical. However, statistics are not everything, and the eye test is also important while making conclusions, although in my opinion, not equally. However, others may believe that the eye test is equally, or more important that statistics when judging a player, and that’s okay, because at the end of the day, you are entitled to your opinion, and as long as you include both statistics and traditional scouting in your conclusion, your opinion will likely be an informed one, and therefore a legitimate one. It’s when one ignores one component, either stats or scouting, that that opinion is no longer an educated one, and in most cases, is no longer a fair one. Information is key to an opinion, so why limit yourself to only one kind of information, when you can have two? It doesn’t make sense.
WAR is an innovative and great statistic created by smart people, but the issue with it is not that it puts Ron Hainsey ahead of Auston Matthews, it is because it does not use traditional scouting. The fact that it does not use traditional scouting is actually why it puts Hainsey ahead of Matthews, as it only utilizes the stats, which don’t nearly tell the full story, especially in this situation. So please, stop criticizing WAR because it puts one player ahead of another. The real issue lies somewhere else, but that isn’t WAR’s fault, or the fault of the smart people that created it. The issue is the issue that lies in all statistics, that they don’t use scouting in their conclusions, but the reality is that that is impossible, because scouting is all opinions, and everyone has a different opinion, and opinion cannot be defined in a concrete number.  
You can use numbers in making a conclusion, but your conclusion should not be measured in numbers, as opinion cannot be defined in a number. In a perfect world, a conclusion should be defined in a paragraph, or multiple paragraphs that include numbers, but are still mostly words. All that I ask is that you don’t use just numbers, because that isn’t as accurate as it could be, and why not make it as accurate as possible? Please, use a mix of words and numbers. Do it for me.
Just to set things straight, I support the use of statistics. In fact, I encourage it. As I mentioned earlier, I weight statistics over scouting when judging players. If you follow my NHL draft coverage, you know that I use my spreadsheet a lot. It’s my main source of information on prospects, but that being said, it is not my sole source. I also watch games and highlights, as well as reading scouting reports from other scouts. I do all that, because I don’t see why I should share my opinion if I’m not going to do my best to make sure that it is as well informed as possible. Ryan Merkley, a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft, is number one on my draft spreadsheet. If I only used stats, Ryan Merkley would be #1 on my draft rankings, and guys like Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov, number 1 and 2 on my, and many other, draft lists, wouldn’t even be top 5. Anybody that follows the draft knows that Dahlin and Svechnikov are better prospects than Ryan Merkley, but if we only looked at stats, we wouldn’t know that. When we do mix in scouting, we realize that Dahlin and Svechnikov truly are better, and that Merkley, despite being incredibly talented, has far too many red flags to be #1.  
This can also go the other way, as Calen Addison, another 2018 prospect, is ranked late first, early second by many, but due to his statistics, I have him in the mid first round.
Statistics don’t mean much without scouting, and scouting doesn’t mean much without statistics. They go hand in hand, so use them hand in hand. Please.

2018 NHL Draft Preliminary Rankings

 The 2018 NHL Draft will be one of the deepest ones ever for blue liners, as 15 defenders could possibly be selected in the first round in June 2018.  Leading the group of defencemen is future superstar Rasmus Dahlin, a dynamic two way defenceman.  Andrei Svechnikov, a big winger, will challenge him for the honour of being picked first overall.  Dark horses Adam Boqvist and Filip Zadina could also try for first overall.  All that being said, it’s still early, and a lot can change between now and June.

    1. Rasmus Dahlin

LD, 6’2, 181 lbs

Dahlin, who is projected to go 1st overall, is a two way defenceman with enormous offensive upside. A fantastic skater, Dahlin has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson. Dahlin uses his exceptional vision and passing skill to make plays and move the puck up ice. He can singlehandedly create opportunities, using his skating and hands to get past defenders. Doesn’t have a cannon, but is shot is hard and accurate. Great hitter, punishes forwards in open ice. He’s pretty good in his own end, he will improve in the corners and in front of the net as he gets bigger. Needs to make the simpler play more often, as he often makes very risky plays that will not work in the NHL, but he has shown coachability, so I have no doubts that he will address that. A generational talent, looks like a future Norris winner.

    2. Andrei Svechnikov

LHD RW, 6’2, 187 lbs

Svechnikov is a big skilled power forward. He primarily creates opportunities by driving to the net, where he uses his hands to finish. A natural scorer, Svechnikov skates well and has a good shot. His combination of skills will likely lead to extreme NHL success. Svechnikov will look to add on to a wildly successful USHL season with an equally good year in the OHL.

    3. Adam Boqvist

RD, 5’11, 170 lbs

Adam Boqvist is a highly skilled offensive defenceman. He skates well and has good vision and passing. He scores a lot of goals from the top of the circle after walking in from the blue line. Boqvist is active in the offensive zone, he’s always moving around trying to get open to unleash his shot. The majority of his points come from his shooting and passing, which stands out in a draft class full of dangling defencemen. His style of play should translate well to the NHL.

    4. Filip Zadina

RHD LW, 6’0, 170 lbs

A scorer-playmaker combo, Zadina does a lot of things well. He skates well, has nice hands and a hard, accurate shot. Nice vision, makes good decisions while under pressure. Great passer, passes are hard and on the tape. Overall he’s a great player with no real flaws. He and Svechnikov are on another level compared to the other forwards in this draft. Really talented player, could be a surprise #1 on draft day.

    5. Quinn Hughes

LD, 5’11, 170 lbs

Quinn Hughes is a two way defenceman that can rush the puck very well. Good skater, he’s fast and good on his edges. Pass first mentality, doesn’t really take a lot of shots, likely because his shot isn’t too good. Slapshot is below average, low power on it. Wrist shot is okay. Can make some nice passes. Good on both sides of the puck. Safe with the puck, doesn’t make high risk plays but still generates offence at a high rate. Impressive player.

    6. Ryan Merkley

RD, 5’11, 179 lbs

An offensive defenceman capable of putting up a lot of points. Good skater, nice shot. Smart player, very patient, waits for space to open up. Good hands, has scored some highlight reel, end to end goals. Good PP QB. Most impressive part of his game for me is his vision, he always knows where everybody is on the ice. Good at disguising his passes. Has struggled with turnovers, largely due to poor decision making. Sometimes takes poor penalties when frustrated. Defence is an issue, needs to improve there. Struggles with consistency. Some concern about how well his game will translate to the NHL, as his end to end attempts won’t work as often in the NHL. Will likely become more of a playmaker, utilizing his vision. A talented player, Merkley has the offensive skill to go high in the draft, but he’ll need to improve his defence, consistency and attitude.

    7. Joe Veleno

C, 6’1, 190 lbs

A skilled two way centre, Veleno has elite skill. A playmaker, he uses his IQ and passing ability to create oppurtunities. Great skater, has a smooth skating stride, agile. Good puck skills, can get by players with ease. Needs to improve his shot, not very powerful at this point. Game changing skill, 1C potential.

    8. Akil Thomas

RC/W, 5’11, 170 lbs

An offensive centre (that can play some wing) with the skills to take over a game, Akil Thomas has impressed on a terrible Niagara IceDogs team. He does everything well in the offensive zone. He skates well, he has a great first step and impressive lateral movement. He’s an elite playmaker, utilizing his top end vision and hockey IQ. Good hands and shot. Needs to improve away from the puck and add strength. Lots of offensive potential, could be a future top line forward.

    9. Bode Wilde

RD, 6’2, 170 lbs

A big two way defenceman, difference maker on the blue line. Skates well, transitions are smooth. Good puck mover. Big slap shot from the point, a lot of power on it. Calm with the puck, rarely panics. Shuts opponents down physically. Solid two way defenceman with offensive upside, top pairing potential.

    10. Ty Smith

LD, 5’11, 174 lbs

Smart defenceman with skill. Great skater, great hockey sense, great puck mover. Drawn comparisons to Duncan Keith. Very sound defensively, smart in his own end, good positionally and one on one. Solid two way defenceman with offensive upside.

11. Brady Tkachuk

C/LW, 6’3, 196 lbs

12. Rasmus Kupari

C, 5’11, 163 lbs

13. Jett Woo

D, 6’0, 202 lbs

14. Oliver Wahlstrom

C, 6’1, 198 lbs

15. Jack McBain

C, 6’3, 183 lbs

16. Jared McIsaac

D, 6’3, 209 lbs

17. Simon Appelquist

LW, 6’0, 172 lbs

18. Jesper Kotkaniemi

RW, 6’1, 186 lbs

19. Calen Addison

D, 5’9, 180 lbs

20. Anderson MacDonald

LW, 6’2, 203 lbs

21. Ty Dellandrea

C, 6’1, 186 lbs

22. Gleb Babintsev

D, 6’0, 198 lbs

23. Evan Bouchard

D, 6’2, 178 lbs

24. David Levin

LW, 5’10, 170 lbs

25. Nicolas Beaudin

D, 5’10, 161 lbs

26. Alexander Alexeyev

D, 6’3, 190

27. Ryan McLeod

C, 6’1, 183 lbs

28. Xavier Bouchard

D, 6’2, 175 lbs

29. Joel Farabee

LW, 5’11, 160 lbs

30. Giovanni Vallati

D, 6’1, 179 lbs

31. Benoit-Oliver Groulx

C, 6’1, 176 lbs

2018 NHL Draft: 10 Players To Watch

The 2018 NHL Draft will be a deep one, and is full of impact talent, especially on the blue line.  More than 15 defencemen could hear their names called in the first round at the 2018 draft, compared to 8 in both 2016 and 2015, and just 5 in 2014, which saw a defenceman, Aaron Ekblad go 1st overall.

The consensus top 2 draft eligible prospects are Rasmus Dahlin, a two way defenceman, and Andrei Svechnikov, a big power winger.  After those two, it’s quite close when it comes to the 3rd overall pick, with at least 5 overall picks with a fair chance at being selected there.  All that being said, it’s still very early, and things will change a lot.  At this point last year, Timothy Liljegren was projected to go top 5 at the 2017 draft.  He ended up being selected 17th overall to the Leafs, after mono kept him out for the majority of his draft year.  A prospect’s draft year is what will ultimately decide his final draft decision.  A good draft year can lead to a dramatic rise in draft rankings, while a poor draft year can lead to a large drop.  These 10 players will hope for a good 2017-18 season as they fight to go as high as possible in the draft.

    1. Rasmus Dahlin

LD, 6’2, 181 lbs

Dahlin, who is projected to go 1st overall, is a two way defenceman with enormous offensive upside.  A fantastic skater, Dahlin has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson.  Dahlin uses his exceptional vision and passing skill to make plays and move the puck up ice.  He can singlehandedly create opportunities, using his skating and hands to get past defenders.  Doesn’t have a cannon, but is shot is hard and accurate.  Great hitter, punishes forwards in open ice.  He’s pretty good in his own end, he will improve in the corners and in front of the net as he gets bigger.  Needs to make the simpler play more often, as he often makes very risky plays that will not work in the NHL, but he has shown coachability, so I have no doubts that he will address that.  A generational talent, looks like a future Norris winner.

    2. Andrei Svechnikov

LHD RW, 6’2, 187 lbs

Svechnikov is a big skilled power forward. He primarily creates opportunities by driving to the net, where he uses his hands to finish. A natural scorer, Svechnikov skates well and has a good shot. His combination of skills will likely lead to extreme NHL success.  Svechnikov will look to add on to a wildly successful USHL season with an equally good year in the OHL.

    3. Adam Boqvist

RD, 5’11, 170 lbs

Adam Boqvist is a highly skilled offensive defenceman. He skates well and has good vision and passing. He scores a lot of goals from the top of the circle after walking in from the blue line. Boqvist is active in the offensive zone, he’s always moving around trying to get open to unleash his shot. The majority of his points come from his shooting and passing, which stands out in a draft class full of dangling defencemen. His style of play should translate well to the NHL.

    4. Filip Zadina

RHD LW, 6’0, 170 lbs

A scorer-playmaker combo, Zadina does a lot of things well. He skates well, has nice hands and a hard, accurate shot. Nice vision, makes good decisions while under pressure. Great passer, passes are hard and on the tape. Overall he’s a great player with no real flaws.  He and Svechnikov are on another level compared to the other forwards in this draft. Really talented player, could be a surprise #1 on draft day.

    5. Quinn Hughes

LD, 5’11, 170 lbs

Quinn Hughes is a two way defenceman that can rush the puck very well. Good skater, he’s fast and good on his edges. Pass first mentality, doesn’t really take a lot of shots, likely because his shot isn’t too good. Slapshot is below average, low power on it. Wrist shot is okay. Can make some nice passes. Good on both sides of the puck. Safe with the puck, doesn’t make high risk plays but still generates offence at a high rate. Impressive player.

    6. Ryan Merkley

RD, 5’11, 179 lbs

An offensive defenceman capable of putting up a lot of points. Good skater, nice shot. Smart player, very patient, waits for space to open up. Good hands, has scored some highlight reel, end to end goals. Good PP QB. Most impressive part of his game for me is his vision, he always knows where everybody is on the ice. Good at disguising his passes. Has struggled with turnovers, largely due to poor decision making. Sometimes takes poor penalties when frustrated. Defence is an issue, needs to improve there. Struggles with consistency. Some concern about how well his game will translate to the NHL, as his end to end attempts won’t work as often in the NHL. Will likely become more of a playmaker, utilizing his vision. A talented player, Merkley has the offensive skill to go high in the draft, but he’ll need to improve his defence, consistency and attitude.

    7.  Joe Veleno

A skilled two way centre, Veleno has elite skill.  A playmaker, he uses his IQ and passing ability to create oppurtunities.  Great skater,  has a smooth skating stride, agile. Good puck skills, can get by players with ease.  Needs to improve his shot, not very powerful at this point.  Game changing skill, 1C potential.

    8. Akil Thomas

RC/W, 5’11, 170 lbs

An offensive centre (that can play some wing) with the skills to take over a game, Akil Thomas has impressed on a terrible Niagara IceDogs team.  He does everything well in the offensive zone.  He skates well, he has a great first step and impressive lateral movement.  He’s an elite playmaker, utilizing his top end vision and hockey IQ.  Good hands and shot.  Needs to improve away from the puck and add strength.  Lots of offensive potential, could be a future top line forward.

    9. Bode Wilde

RD, 6’2, 170 lbs

A big two way defenceman, difference maker on the blue line.  Skates well, transitions are smooth.  Good puck mover.  Big slap shot from the point, a lot of power on it.  Calm with the puck, rarely panics.  Shuts opponents down physically.  Solid two way defenceman with offensive upside, top pairing potential.

    10. Ty Smith

LD, 5’11, 174 lbs

Smart defenceman with skill. Great skater, great hockey sense, great puck mover. Drawn comparisons to Duncan Keith. Very sound defensively, smart in his own end, good positionally and one on one. Solid two way defenceman.