Each and every year, a great deal of organizations put together lists of prospects and rate them. These are all very extensive undertakings done either with the goal of informing the NHL clubs themselves (as is the case with NHL Central Scouting and others) or looking to inform hockey fans heading into the draft season.
The difficulty is that it’s very hard to conclude who did a good job after the draft. Sometimes NHL teams draft rather chaotically – looking to fill a specific positional need, for instance – and the lack of overlap between what the draft experts say will happen and what does happen is based more in happenstance than in poor preparation.
Want some examples? Look no further than the last three years of Calgary Flames drafting. Central Scouting’s final rankings are in parentheses.
In 2009, the club drafted six players:
- D Tim Erixon (#5 European skater), drafted 23 overall
- LW Ryan Howse (#37 North American skater), drafted 74 overall
- RW Henrik Bjorklund (#23 European skater), drafted 111 overall
- LW Spencer Bennett (#142 North American skater), drafted 141 overall
- G Joni Ortio (#7 European goalie), drafted 171 overall
- LW Gaelan Patterson (unranked), drafted 201 overall
In 2010, the club drafted another six players:
- C Max Reinhart (#79 North American skater), drafted 64 overall
- D Joey Leach (#120 North American skater) drafted 73 overall
- D John Ramage (#131 North American skater), drafted 103 overall
- LW Bill Arnold (#36 North American skater), drafted 108 overall
- RW Michael Ferland (#146 North American skater), drafted 133 overall
- LW Patrick Holland (#180 North American skater), drafted 193 overall
In 2011, the club drafted five players:
- LW Sven Baertschi (#7 North American skater), drafted 13 overall
- RW Markus Granlund (#9 European skater), drafted 45 overall
- D Tyler Wotherspoon (#40 North American skater), drafted 57 overall
- LW Johnny Gaudreau (#193 North American skater), drafted 104 overall
- G Laurent Brossoit (#7 North American goalie), drafted 164< overall
Now, if you went by Central Scouting ratings alone, you could easily conclude that the Flames drafted Howse and Gaudreau way too early, Reinhart and Leach a bit early, and were extremely lucky to have Arnold, Granlund and Baertschi fall to them.
Then again, a quick perusal around the Internet reveals that extremely credible sources such as Future Considerations, Hockey Prospectus, the Hockey News and others have rankings that vary significantly in some cases. It’s not that any of these outlets are in any way “wrong,” it’s just that they’re all looking at things in sometimes very different ways.
The same thing happens with the NHL scouting departments.
There are 30 clubs with head scouts and general managers assessing talent in sometimes radically different ways. Flames general manager Jay Feaster has noted that precisely analyzing the decision-making behind previous draft scouting (and improving it) was one of the reasons why head scout Tod Button was retained.
Sometimes teams are rating players entirely based on offensive ability. Sometimes it’s balanced more towards character or hockey sense. Sometimes scouting staff are instructed to replace an aging veteran via the draft.
In short: the NHL Entry Draft is one of the bizarre times of year when even the most prepared prospect experts are seemingly as “clueless” at times as the rest of the hockey onlookers. It’s not because they’re looking at things in the wrong way, it’s because sometimes NHL scouts are looking at things entirely differently than everybody else.