This weekend’s activities in Los Angeles passed by with the Flames doing very little. I’m not actually surprised that they didn’t move a body or two during the draft, largely because teams that have limited assets aren’t often able manufacture anything worthwhile. Making chicken salad usually does actually require the proper ingredients, if you catch my drift. That noted, even by Calgary’s standards, this weekend’s series of selections was straight vanilla, no chaser.
The shame of it all is that the Flames had a high-end talent staring them in the face when their turn to pick came around at #64. Kiril Kabanov, for whatever flaws as a human being may be present within him, is a proper talent. Ryan from Sports Opinionated asked a worthwhile question at M and G:
"Even if the guy was the 20th best talent in the draft, isn’t he worth a pick in the 60’s just on pure risk-reward?"
Well, that construction got me thinking. What are the odds someone drafted in the range of the 20th pick would turn into a serious player, like a top-six forward? What are the odds of a third round forward doing the same? With that in mind, here are the parameters I set:
First, I looked at every forward drafted in the third round between 2000 and 2006. 2000 is the year the league expanded to 30 teams, and I stopped at 2006 based on the premise that a CHL player would have been done with junior in the spring of ’08, then would have been able to have at least one full season in the AHL before cracking a NHL roster. Players drafted later were simply at too great a disadvantage in making that sort of leap.
Then, I looked at every forward drafted between 18-22 in the first round of the draft in the same seasons. The players I wanted to tag were guys that were proven top-sixers, or players that appear to be headed that way in fairly short order. Via HockeyDB, here’s what we have:
Third rounders: Total forwards drafted from 00-06: 131
The worthwhile players in that number are Plekanec, Sharp, Filppula, Lombardi*, Nielsen, Franzen, Regin. Of those 7 players, Plekanec, Sharp, and Franzen are established, no-doubt, top-six forwards. Nielsen is about one more year from being a no-doubter, IMO. Lombardi and Filppula are fringe top-six forwards, and Regin looks like a pretty nice player down the line. So from the drafted forwards in those seasons, 7/131, or a 5.3% chance of getting a top six forward. Lombo gets the asterisk because he was re-drafted. About double that number of players have played significant time in the league (200 games for the 00-04 draftees, 100 games for the 05 draftees, and 50 games for the 06ers)
Now, there’s been plenty of talk that Kabanov was a top-ten sort of player, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s presume that he’s really a player that should have been drafted around 20th on the merits. So, what do the numbers look like for players drafted in that range?
First rounders between 18th-22nd: Total forwards drafted from 00-06: 19
The worthwhile players are Frolov, Armstrong, Fehr, Getzlaf, Zajac, Wolski, Stewart and Giroux. Of those 8, Getzlaf is a franchise center, Wolski, Frolov and Zajac are proven commodities, Colby Armstrong has some pretty good pedigree against top-line talent, and Giroux, Stewart and Fehr will likely move up their respective teams’ depth charts over the next year or two. 8/19 is 42%. There are 3 more players that have played significant time, and a few others that have an ongoing career that suggests that they’ll play enough to get a pension if they stay healthy.
I don’t doubt for a second that there may issues with Kabanov’s attitude, or father, or whatever. With that accepted, maybe he’s all or nothing as a pick, but his odds still seem greater to me than Max Reinhart’s, presuming that Paul’s kid has been accurately assessed in terms of his talent (3rd rounder). I look at things this way; if we put 100 ping-pong balls in a lottery machine and marked them with each player’s likely career path, they might well look like this:
85-90 marked "non-NHL" 50 marked "non-NHL"
5 marked "top six" 40 marked "top six"
10 marked "depth player" 10 marked "depth player"
A player that was really a 20th pick as a forward would likely have about a 70% chance of being a viable NHLer of some sort, but Kabanov might well head to the KHL if he can’t be a high-end player. Even if you cut Kabanov’s chances down to 25% because you harbour mild suspicions he might be a sociopath, that still seems like the sort of gamble a team that could use a skilled forward or four should be taking.
If you’re only running a 10-15% chance of getting any sort of decent forward in the third round, why not take a shot?
That wouldn’t be the Flame way, though, because taking low-risk, low-impact players from a limited number of jurisdictions is what this franchise’s drafting strategy has been about. I understand the premise of thinking safety first in the first round or two because you really do need to get players from those rounds, but beyond that, a strategy of taking one forward after another seems like the best bet, and a team should always be willing to take a chance on skill.
I’ll say one last thing about "red flags". Phil Kessel took a pounding in his pre-draft interviews, but I’ll be damned if I can see how that stuff has related to his very good career on the ice. Patrick Kane went from 20 Cent to champion in the course of a season. Again, even if every last terrible thing said about Kiril Kabanov has at least some grounding in the facts, he’s 18, and I suspect that like most high-end kids, he’s been given a lot of rope in his life.
That doesn’t mean he can’t grow out of it, and even if he acts like a tool and then buggers off to the KHL, the worst case scenario is that you’ve lost a minimal chance of a real player. If he just needs to grow up, you’ve snuck a talent for cheap.
It’s an odd thing. Darryl Sutter took a significant risk when he acquired Steve Staios with considerable evidence available that the Steady One was cooked. That move will, at best, cost his ownership a nice pile of change if they bury Staios in the minors next year. With a low-risk/high reward scenario in Kabanov, the Flames couldn’t be bothered.
I do know Darryl Sutter would rather quit saying "to be quite honest" than draft a Russian, and I’m not arguing that this is some sort of fatal blow to the franchise, but the Flames haven’t drafted a forward that’s established themselves in any way since Lombardi, and you might have to go back to Cory Stillman in ’92 for the next one. Might be time for a new plan, don’t you think?