What's a First Round Pick Worth in 2011?
Mark Seidel, the head of the independent scouting agency NACS, caused a bit of a stir this week when he said that he and his scouts viewed this as the worst draft class maybe since that abysmal class in 1996. This perception isn't new. The Hockey News ran an article prior to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft that stated some scouts were looking ahead to the 2011 draft with a yawn. If the Draft has this kind of advanced billing, what does that do to the potential for picks to be moved? And if they are moved, what could they possibly be worth?
Well, first, we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. First round picks are still first round picks and in the salary cap world, the ability to draft and develop players is still a necessary cog in order to compete. For teams near the top the draft, there will still be impact players. There will be the highly touted, much recited names whose favourite teams, players, even colours and movies draft junkies will have committed to memory in advance of the Draft's opening in Minnesota this June.
Consider this. Excepting trades made on Draft day in order to move up or down the draft order, and the Kessel deal which is almost by definition and outlier, only one first round pick moved in a pick-for-player swap has been higher than 20th Overall and that occurred last year when Calgary completed the Olli Jokinen deal by sending their 13th Overall pick (Brandon Gormley) to Phoenix.
So, any deal made involving first round picks at this year's NHL trade deadline will likely involve picks in the 20-30 range. Such picks are usually deemed expendable because once you're outside the Top Ten or Fifteen picks, the perception is that the player used with that pick has only a marginal chance of coming back to bite you in the butt.
Now, when reading the 2011 Central Scouting ratings. We need to understand that it's not a simple matter of superimposing the ranking of North American skaters on to the Draft order. Two European skaters (Adam Larsson and Joel Armia) are sure to be taken in the Top 20 while one of Mika Zibanejad or Victor Rask could both end up being first round picks if a team likes them.
So, in our scenario of a random first round pick being traded to a random team, we're realistically dealing with the North American skaters being ranked between 17 and 27. But Central Scouting's rankings are wildly inaccurate as a predictor of the final draft board. Last year, CSB had Jeff Skinner at 34th (he went 7th), Ryan Johansen ranked 10th (he went 4th) and Tyler Toffoli ranked 16th (he went 47th). So, to narrow our field of focus, we'll cross reference Players ranked 20-45 by Central Scouting with players ranked 17-30 by International Scouting Services (over November and December). If we do that, we come to the following list.
There are some good names on this list, but you're not dealing with anything resembling "can't miss" prospects. Recent years have seen Jordan Eberle, John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, Jordan Caron and Jordan Schroeder taken in the 20-30 range. There simply isn't a player like that in this group.
But the fact that there were only 7 players common to the suggested lists within the acceptable ranges, suggests another unique feature to this year's draft class that might make it more conducive to trades.
We're talking about arguably the most nebulous first round in a very long time. The first four players can be called. Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be the first four names called at this year's draft. But who comes next? Do you go with Ryan Murphy, the puckrushing defenseman? Or do you go with big Finnish winger Joel Armia? How do you sort out the three big defenders Duncan Siemens, Dougie Hamilton and Scott Mayfield?
Take a player like Ty Rattie. Central Scouting has Rattie in rather solid company as the 11th ranked North American skater. But ISS has had him all over the place. He was off their October Top 30, then ranked 25th in November before being slid down to 30th in December.
Rattie, like many other players in this draft lacks a true consensus as to his draft position. That lack of consensus opens up the potential for trades. If you're high on Rattie, you're more likely to trade up to try and get him because you don't have a general impression on where his stock is valued. Lack of consensus leads to trades but it also devalues the 20-30 picks as they exist because one becomes unable to attach a general sense of prospect quality to a 24th or 27th Overall pick in this draft.
For those asking whether a mediocre player can return a better draft pick at this year's trade deadline, all signs point to yes.