So, tomorrow is the end of the amateur hockey year. It’s the Memorial Cup Final, pitting the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League against the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.
The fun part? Hunter Smith, one of Calgary’s second round picks in last year’s draft, will be competing for junior hockey’s richest prize in perhaps his final junior game.
It’s Smith’s season that has gotten me thinking about something: How do we measure success in draft picks?
Now, obviously the main thing is that they become productive National Hockey League players, or at worst, useful assets so the organization can flip them for productive NHL players.
But until they mature into assets, how do you evaluate? There seem to be two main, although not entirely exclusive, manners of assessment – progression or excellence.
Progression is what it sounds like; the player progresses and matures through their life-cycle. For instance, Mark Jankowski? He’s not an excellent college player yet, but his NHLE has increased every season since he was drafted and he’s been progressed into more and more important roles and minutes by Providence’s coach Nate Leaman. Hunter Smith, too, has been been praised for his progression; Sportsnet’s panel called him perhaps the OHL’s most improved player during Memorial Cup coverage this week.
Jon Gillies? He won his team an NCAA championship. Johnny Gaudreau? Before going pro, he tore up the NCAA. Sven Baertschi’s final junior season involved him scoring at a torrid pace despite missing a big chunk of the season. Heck, Sam Bennett’s truncated final stretch in the OHL this year involved him being excellent. These guys may not have progressed that much, but it was because they were already at a level of excellence that precluded much upward mobility.
It’s a bit of a false dichotomy, granted, but I’m curious; which do you find a more useful evaluation metric? Or does it depend on what you’re looking for? (I would imagine that progression is more useful for role players, for which excellence may not be reachable yet.)
And on the flip side: under what metric can we declare a prospect a bust? A lack of excellence or a lack of progress?