Weekend Open Thread: Progression or Excellence?

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?

  • OKG

    “He’s not an excellent college player yet”

    You don’t make the All-NCAA Tournament team if you’re not excellent at that level. For all the credit you’re giving Gillies, he let in a ::very:: soft goal in the championship game, and Jankowski scored a goal in the same game while shutting down Jack Eichel.

    The metric best used to evaluate a prospect? Watch them and see how their game will or will not translate to the pro game. That’s why Sven’s great numbers were misleading and why Jankowski’s not-so-great numbers are just as misleading.

  • Nick24

    To me, progression and improvement is what you want to see from prospects and players no matter what level they’re at. Attention to individual growth is vital to becoming a better player. Often times its the players that no one expects to be excellent that turn out to be so.

    Growth is critical in hockey and no player should be comfortable with their skill level. It shouldn’t matter if you’re Sidney Crosby or Zac Rinaldo, you should always be progressing and moving your game forward.

    Excellence can lead to laziness if a player doesn’t want to progress they’ll be over taken by the guys that do.
    I think that Mark Giordano is a perfect example of someone who was never considered excellent, but got better every year until he was excellent.

  • The Last Big Bear

    You need a certain level of excellence to start and then progression from there leading to another certain level of excellence. From one minimum level (enough to get drafted) to another minimum level (making the NHL).

    Janko has certainly improved, but IMO, he will struggle in the minors let alone in the NHL. His beginning minimum was high enough to get drafted, though not in the 1st round IMO. He has progressed each year, but not enough to make the minimum of playing in the NHL. Again, just my opinion.

    Smith, overrated to begin with. Rightfully passed over in his first draft. Has he progressed? Sure, but when you consider his size and age vs his competition, the guy should dominate. Don’t see him ever making an impact in the NHL.

    Sven had the minimum talent. The question is not if he has progressed, but if he has progressed enough to make the second minimum of making it in the bigs. I believe he’s NHL ready for next season, though I know many disagree.

    Time will tell on all three.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Damn mobile devices. My apologies…….that should be from me.

    You need a certain level of excellence to start and then progression from there leading to another certain level of excellence. From one minimum level (enough to get drafted) to another minimum level (making the NHL).

    Janko has certainly improved, but IMO, he will struggle in the minors let alone in the NHL. His beginning minimum was high enough to get drafted, though not in the 1st round IMO. He has progressed each year, but not enough to make the minimum of playing in the NHL. Again, just my opinion.

    Smith, overrated to begin with. Rightfully passed over in his first draft. Has he progressed? Sure, but when you consider his size and age vs his competition, the guy should dominate. Don’t see him ever making an impact in the NHL.

    Sven had the minimum talent. The question is not if he has progressed, but if he has progressed enough to make the second minimum of making it in the bigs. I believe he’s NHL ready for next season, though I know many disagree.

    Time will tell on all three.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Not to be overly pedantic, but part of the discussion rests on a misconception of what an asset is.

    “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.”

    An asset is something someone else wants. It can be cap space, a pick, a prospect, a player and probably other things as well. Hunter Smith is an asset already.

    As such, part of the evaluation should be how desirable the asset is to others. If it has no value to others, like your cap space, it may be of relatively low current value. Problematically, you may not be able to properly value your own asset. You know what you think of it, but not what other teams think of it.

    Part of the asset valuation process may actually be assisted by the sports media and even bloggers. These types may not be assessing players qualitatively, but unless they are just making stuff up, they could be making a market, or reporting on a market that is being made.

    To answer your question; I measure it at least in part on utility to your own team, which is itself informed by progression, and on excellence at the position. Sven was made expendable by the excellence of Johnny Hockey and his own lack of progression. Hunter Smith could be critical if he turns out to be the huge body that can cycle down low at the NHL level.

    • The Last Big Bear

      “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.”

      I would refine your definition of an asset into “An asset is something someone wants.” The ‘owner’ also wants and needs assets and is normally the one who best knows the asset and their true value, to in this case, the team. In Sven’s case its truly only the Flames’ management that knows the inside, true story on Sven and everyone else is operating in various degrees of ignorance of the facts.

      We as fans, who watch most of the games and follow the team are likely better-informed than outsiders, and other teams so we can better judge the value, but not entirely because we tend to get too-focussed on the particular circumstances the player was in for our team and find it hard to judge how that player might work in a different system, under a different coach and etc.

      How others value the player is based on multiple things, not all related to the player’s talent/skill/value. These would include the team’s specific needs, circumstances, richness($s/Cap Room) and valuation of the player based on whatever information they have at the moment.

      In those terms the determined “values” can be all over the map. Sometimes a team’s perception and reality are way different because they lack full knowledge on injuries(damaged goods), practice habits, locker room attitudes and etc. This can be due to lack of due diligence, poor evaluation skills or just differing needs and circumstances.

      For the Flames we are a team with a teaching/demanding/inspiring coach, one in transition to the highest levels with plenty of opportunities if you can beat out someone already here. They are very few, if any untouchables and we have a team mantra of “Always Earned, Never Given” which the team has been pretty consistent with.

      We are also a team in a very rugged, tough Conference whose top teams are extremely skilled and tough at the same time, which means we need the same to beat them out, to get to the top, which lately has also meant the top of the whole league. This kind of defines the type of team needed, but with new, elite-level skill coming to the West it will be interesting to see if that changes much over the next several years….

      As far as Excellence goes, excellence is only a valuable term if you know what the STANDARD is you are judging things by. EVERY NHL player is already excellent by the standard of all hockey players, and likewise every hockey player probably already excellent relative to all people that ever put on skates. You get the point.

      In the Flames’ case we are talking about several levels or standards: Draft age/Junior, AHL player, NHL player and ultimately elite-level NHL Superstar. It should be/needs to be the goal of every player to continue to progress up that ladder every year till they reach their peak physically and mentally. Its like continuous, life-long learning with the caveat that physically our bodies peak out at some point in time.

      Becoming an NHL player should be the team’s minimum threshold for all its prospects. Hunter Smith is progressing nicely and next year will take another big step into, at least the AHL. He needs to continue to progress as does everyone else. If it turns out, for whatever reasons, that a player stalls out in their development or can’t make the cut with the Flames (e.g. Sven) a change of scenery/different circumstances and needs may be just the thing to make them successful elsewhere. The NHL thrives on that very potential, hence all the trades and dropping players for new ones. Time will tell on Sven, Hunter Smith, Poirier, JH, Ortio, Hickey, Morrison and every other player we’ve got…….

      Cheers!

  • The Last Big Bear

    Is there anyway we could have a discussion about the players ranked between 10-20th by the different scouting organizations as to who the Flames might draft. Pros and cons? Then again form say 45-60 for the 3 second round picks.

    Or discuss the UFA’s that fit the Flames needs?

    Or a comparison of the Flames and the two Stanley Cup finalists. How they were built and what work the Flames need to address to be a contender?

    Congratulations to the Hawks(as close to dynasty as we might see in the salary cap era) and to the Lightening(who might be the next great model). Hope we see 7 games

    • The Last Big Bear

      Agreed. This is a kind of goofy discussion because like anything, value will vary from team to team. Sorry to bring up Sven here but his value was no more than a mid 2nd round pick. That was the best deal out there & you know it was because if Washington & Vancouver both offered a mid round 2nd for him, he would have went to Wash, not Vanc. So why would Vanc part with a 2nd & no one else would? That particular organization may have been a little short on LW prospects might be a start, so perceived value to their team warranted the price.

      Sometimes prospects that have been devalued by one team end up becoming valuable to another team & the value rises with that success throughout the league ala Kyle Yurris & Ben Bishop for example. Moral of the story is 97% of new prospects that are not top 10 1st round picks have a ceiling value until they are able to increase NHL value & that happens when the player gets opportunity & NHL games. That opportunity varies from team to team as well. Really, think about TJ Brody as an asset. Would you give him up to Arizona for the #3 pick over all? Don’t think so. Would TJ have gotten that value 2 years ago, don’t think so. There is no magical formula for placing value on players other than good ole performance in NHL games. Now like Coachpotatoe said, we have a draft coming up in a less than a month, who is realistically going to be there for us & who should we lean toward, BPA or glaring team need?
      Watching these last two series, we have so far to go even though we aren’t that far away that 2-3 players could make the difference. Is this team ready to take that next step or should we set expectations back for next year & prepare accordingly that we will be one of the 14 teams not in the playoffs next spring? This is a big summer & draft for this team in my humbly honest opinion.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Smith needs to work on his skating, if he can improve that he has a shot. I like Jankowski, he plays well within their system, his stats might look better at the next level. Plays PK and gets 2 no unit PP time. Maybe he gets first unit next year.