The best way to build a successful NHL team is through the draft. Astute scouting and drafting, especially in the later rounds of the draft, can make all the difference between success and failure for organizations.
However, with this being common knowledge, and every team initially receiving the same number of draft picks every year, what methods and strategies can teams and their scouting staffs deploy to gain an advantage over other clubs?
One common plan of action is recognizing and exploiting what are now sometimes referred to as “draft inefficiencies.” What those are, basically, are common trends or patterns that regularly lead to strong results, but ones that are still underutilized by most teams.
You could say that the Detroit Red Wings found a “draft inefficiency” from the late 1980s into the early 2000s, discovering elite talent in European leagues by scouting the continent more thoroughly than other teams did. The “Russian Factor,” a trend that emerged after the formation of the KHL that saw teams shy away from drafting Russian players, wound up being a lucrative draft inefficiency for some teams. The Washington Capitals (Evgeny Kuznetsov), St. Louis Blues (Vladimir Tarasenko) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Nikita Kucherov) all added elite Russian players who had fallen lower than they should have (at least a couple of spots) because of the country listed in their passports. Most recently, the draft inefficiency of undervaluing small players has been the trend, who are more likely to succeed in the NHL now than they were in the pre-lockout Dead Puck Era. The Calgary Flames nabbing Johnny Gaudreau in the fourth round, 104th overall, in the 2011 draft is the best recent example of this, but there are many others.
So, what draft inefficiencies (aside from undervaluing small players, which still subsists to a degree) exist that teams could take advantage of at the upcoming 2018 NHL Entry Draft?
One burgeoning possibility, which is being advanced through supporting data and research, is overage returning players.
You can read more about this idea at this link and at this link, but the general gist is that, in the later rounds of the draft, picking returning players (guys who have been passed over at least once before) produces better results than drafting players who are in their first year of eligibility.
There’s certainly rationality in the notion. Scouting is, at best, educated guessing. It’s incredibly hard to project how a 17-year-old is going to develop over the span of years and eventually handle hockey’s toughest leagues, so it is no surprise that some top prospects never pan out.
At the same time, however, the older a player is, the easier it often becomes to identify their NHL potential because more of their development has already occurred. While many players look good at 17 but then don’t take big steps forward at 18 or 19, it’s sometimes more straightforward to evaluate 19-year-olds because you’re seeing a more complete picture.
Now, the best prospects will still get recognized and drafted at 17 or 18, of course, because scouting has come a long way. You’ll never see a Sidney Crosby or a Connor McDavid getting passed over through seven rounds. But you can still find genuine impact players, or even just above-replacement-level depth guys, who have been passed over at least once.
Some NHLers who slipped through the draft (or multiple drafts) but were later selected include Viktor Arvidsson, Mike Hoffman, Mattias Janmark, Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Montour, and Connor Hellebuyck, but the full list is much longer than that.
Good players get passed over for a number of reasons. Some face injury troubles that limit scouting opportunities, while some play in areas and leagues that scouts don’t watch as closely. Some are considered too small but hit unexpected growth spurts, and some have a single flaw that acts as a red flag but which later gets corrected. Some get better than expected because of access to great development opportunities and, simply put, some guys are just late bloomers. Like was mentioned earlier, guessing how a 17-year-old prospect will develop over years is no easy feat.
With all of that being said, let’s now take a look at some of the overage returnees for the 2018 draft. Here’s a list of the top 20, as well as a longer list of honorable mentions.
Justin Almeida — Center — Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
What Almeida lacks in strength and separation speed, he more than makes up for in vision and playmaking ability. He scored 98 points in 72 games this season, many of them of the highlight-reel variety. Could be a dangerous offensive player if he can fill out his frame.
Marcus Bjork — Defense — IK Oskarshamn (Allsvenskan)
Bjork is still pretty raw for a 20-year-old, but he’s big and loves to shoot the puck. He led all Allsvenskan defensemen in scoring with 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points in 52 games. Definitely a worthy development project for a team willing to be patient and let him grow.
Justin Brazeau — Right Wing — North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Not only is Brazeau huge, at roughly 6’5” and 221 pounds, but he combines that size with a surprisingly soft touch around the net and acceptable skating. There isn’t much flash to his game, but he knows how to use his hulking frame to contribute offensively for his team.
Connor Dewar — Left Wing — Everett Silvertips (WHL)
A guy who plays with his heart on his sleeve, Dewar really made a name for himself this season. He has a great work ethic and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas, while also having the skill to create and finish plays. He was recently named Everett’s newest captain.
Sean Durzi — Defense — Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
An offensive defenseman with a ton of speed and skill, Durzi is a lot of fun to watch. He loves to shoot the puck, both from the point and while jumping deeper into the offensive zone. Fast and confident, he can both go end-to-end at even strength and manage a power play.
Logan Hutsko — Right Wing — Boston College (NCAA)
After an injury derailed his draft season Hutsko bounced back with a bang, leading Boston College with 31 points in 37 games and winning Hockey East’s rookie of the year honors. What rust? A smart, mature forward who plays with pace and possesses some decent skill.
Joey Keane — Defense — Barrie Colts (OHL)
In terms of skating ability, Keane isn’t too far behind the defensemen at the top of the draft. He possesses pretty good awareness in both ends of the rink. It’s hard to tell right now if his NHL upside is as a top four defender, but he seems like a guy who could have a long career.
Ivan Kosorenkov — Right Wing — Victoriaville Tigers (QMJHL)
Kosorenkov went to the Philadelphia Flyers’ development camp and training camp last year as an invitee and came very close to earning a contract from the team. He’s dynamite with the puck and thinks the game at a high level, but his size and skating are concerning.
Adam Mascherin — Left Wing — Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
The only player on this list to actually get drafted (and a pretty high pick too at 38th overall in 2016), Mascherin re-enters the draft after not signing with the Florida Panthers. The full details of the situation are pretty murky. He scored 100 points in the 2016-2017 OHL season.
Jeremy McKenna — Right Wing — Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
McKenna is like The Little Engine That Could. He’s not the biggest or the most skilled of forwards, but his attitude and work ethic are stellar. He led the QMJHL in shots (and scored on 36 of them) mostly through grit and determination. His character will take him far in hockey.
Scott Perunovich — Defense — University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
Not only did Perunovich make the U.S. World Junior roster as an unexpected addition, by the end of the tournament he was one of their top blueliners. He then led the Bulldogs in scoring en route to an NCAA title. A small puck-mover with great smarts and composure.
Ivan Prosvetov — Goaltender — Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Prosvetov has an awesome package of tools for a goalie: huge size (at 6’5”), quick reflexes, and a scrappy attitude that he uses to battle hard for his crease. He helped Youngstown reach the USHL finals this year. With the right goalie coach he could become an NHL starter.
Kristian Reichel — Center — Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
The son of former NHLer Robert Reichel, Kristian is a prospect who can make a big impact on the game. An explosive skater who plays with an edge and owns great shooting ability. Projects as a high-end third liner who can play tough minutes and also contribute on offense.
Brandon Saigeon — Center — Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
A former fourth overall pick in the OHL draft, Saigeon took some time to adapt to major junior, but he’s sure excelling now. A two-way center with size, he owns a missile of a wrist shot. Played a big role in helping Hamilton win the OHL title and advance to the Memorial Cup.
Radim Salda — Defense — Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Something of a do-it-all defender, Salda was thrown into a difficult situation this past season as a Czech import on the worst team in the QMJHL, but he did get to play a lot of minutes and grow his offensive game. He had a pretty respectable showing at the World Juniors, too.
Jesper Sellgren — Defense — MODO Hockey (Allsvenskan)
A similar story to Perunovich, Sellgren is a small puck-moving defender who was a surprise addition to Sweden’s World Junior team but wound up being one of their best blueliners. Playing in the Allsvenskan the past two years, he has shown he can handle pro hockey.
Shamil Shmakov — Goaltender — Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk (MHL)
Standing roughly 6’6”, Shamakov is a giant. He was one of the best goalies in Russia’s top junior league in 2017-2018, and posted a .932 save percentage in 51 games. His style needs a ton of work, but his rebound control is good. A long-term project with a potentially high reward.
Jack St. Ivany — Defense — Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
A classic late bloomer, St. Ivany offers a very intriguing package of size (at 6’3”), skating, and the ability to make plays with the puck. Still very much an unfinished product, his potential is incredibly appealing. Heading to Yale, he’ll get all the NCAA development time he needs.
Jerry Turkulainen — Left Wing — JYP (Liiga)
Turkulainen is a short, skinny player, even at 19 years old, so there’s risk here. But, simply put, he can make plays with the puck that others his age can’t. He also has high-end hockey IQ and works hard for his ice time. Looks like a Finnish Johnny Gaudreau on some shifts.
Veini Vehvilainen — Goaltender — Karpat (Liiga)
Passed over in three straight drafts, Vehvilainen did everything in his power this season to ensure it doesn’t happen a fourth time. The 21-year-old led Karpat to a league title and was named the Liiga’s top goalie. He’s only six feet tall, but he’s proven that he deserves a shot.
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