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FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects: rankings roundtable

Our 2020 prospect rankings are complete and we’ve unveiled our individual lists. We received some questions in the comments about how we all came up with our lists, so we figured what better way to spend a Friday than with a philosophical discussion about player evaluation?

When we put together our rankings, we kept our instructions simple: rank the available players from 1 to 20. How everyone did so was left up to them. So we asked our panel: How did you come up with your rankings?

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Ryan: I put my list in order of “Who would I steal from the Flames prospects if I were starting a team?” So within that parameter, I tried to weigh things in terms of a player’s potential ceiling, the likelihood they’ll hit that ceiling, and what they would be if they didn’t hit that ceiling.

Effectively, it’s what are they doing well now at their current level of hockey?, how likely are they to do those things at the NHL level against grown men?, and if they can’t translate those key aspects of their game, what do they have left in their toolbox that could give them alternate paths to the big time?

Craig: Production, competition, age. The NHL is a temple on the mountaintop, and only the most promising sliver of disciples advances from each step to the next. So, in judging prospects, one valid way to weigh one against another entails identifying where they fit—dominant, middling, subpar, etc—on their respective stairstep, the proximity of their stairstep to NHL standards, and how many years they have left to prove themselves capable of the climb.

So, my rankings foremost favoured those players who shred the competition in reputable leagues at an age brimming with upward potential. Domination over stagnation over regression. The top third encompasses a pigpen of junior and college runts before opening the gates for seasoned AHL mainstays, albeit closer to NHL call-ups; those runts are stars in their leagues though, and some of the older professionals there barely scrape together half a point a game. Yes, there is less certainty surrounding whether someone like Dustin Wolf will successfully translate his elite play to the NHL than whether Glenn Gawdin will translate his decent play to the NHL. But the titillating possibility of elite play trumps the tested reality of decent play in my tarot cards while evaluating prospects.

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In short, my list tilts towards high ceilings. It notes the size of the fish, then the location of the pond, then how soon it seems the fish might die.

Mike G: My rankings were based on an amalgamation of three factors, weighted in decreasing order: a player’s ceiling, the height of their floor, and their NHL-readiness. A player like Juuso Valimaki, for instance, does extremely well in all three of these categories. But when I first created my list, I did so without the aid of a rubric, instead crafting a few tiers and making up a top-20 (and a top-35) based on those tiers, an ad hoc interpretation of my categories, and also draft position (which only really factored into the placement of a couple 2020 and 2019 picks).

Inspired by the feedback I received from some readers, I recently decided to test out my rankings in a new rubric of my own creation, scoring a player’s ceiling out of 10, their floor out of five, and their NHL-readiness out of three (for a maximum score of 18).

I found that my rankings didn’t change all that much—most of the changes were in the vein of “Gawdin down two spots” and “Pospisil up one spot”—but I think the one big mistake on my part was my massive underrating of Johannes Kinnvall. I think the rubric helped me assess him a little better, but he also shot up my rankings due to his extremely encouraging start to the 2020–21 SHL season and some rave reviews he’s received from scouts. I think that, when I first created my list, he might’ve been a bit too much of an unknown quantity for me to properly assess. Not anymore. I view him as one of the Flames’ most critical prospects. And I plan to use this rubric, potentially with some tweaks, going forward.

Mike W: Ranking prospects is always an inherently subjective task. Think about how hard it is to make the NHL…. it’s almost as equally hard to forecast this. There’s nothing groundbreaking or unique about my personal rubric for ranking this year’s group of Flames youngsters. Simply, my list was produced by examining where each player is on their unique developmental trajectory and combining probabilities of them becoming an everyday NHLer and becoming an impact NHLer. Each player was moved in a direction based on how their skillsets project to transfer to the NHL level. Qualify this with some ‘eye test’ bias (i.e. I have been able to more closely watch players like Phillips, Zary, Wolf, Poirier, et al. in live action over the years more so than someone like Kinnvall) and personal views on players and you have a list that reads as a qualitative ranking of current NHL potential.

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Prajeya: The biggest factors influencing my draft rankings were the ceiling of each prospect, how proven they are to date, and their age. The two latter-most points are the reason why I am the only panellist who put Jakob Pelletier ahead of Connor Zary, valuing Pelletier’s two 80+ point seasons more than Zary’s one. Age was also a big factor when comparing the two, as Pelletier is only 6 months older than Zary while being a whole draft class ahead of him. Age was also one of the biggest reasons why Connor Mackey was lower on my board than most of my fellow writers, and why I had Johannes Kinnvall way down at #14. With that being said, Kinnvall has been tearing it up since the rankings were submitted, so he would most certainly be a lot higher on mine (and the other FN writers) board if I were to rerank. Many readers have wondered why Alexander Yelesin has been ranked so low on our boards, despite being the #4 RD in the Calgary Flames system. While the Russian defencemen is certainly a known and proven commodity, my other two main areas of analysis, ceiling and age, were his downfall.