Sunday, June 07, 2009

Selection vs. Development

As much as some, myself included, love to criticize draft selections, I sometimes wonder if too little emphasis is placed on the development of the prospect after the draft. To what extent should teams factor the expected post-draft developmental environment into their draft selections? How do you weigh the importance of their league, their team, and potentially their age-19 AHL eligibility?

If I'm given a choice between four prospects, considered more or less equal in quality at the time of selection, is it wrong to choose between them based on which one appears to be in the best situation to develop over the next year or two? Here are 4 players that illustrate some of the different environments post-draft. I selected all forwards to help simplify matters, all of whom I've seen as possible selections for the Edmonton Oilers at 10 overall.

(1) Scott Glennie
(2) Jordan Schroeder
(3) Zach Kassian
(4) Jacob Josefson*

Glennie and Kassian are both Canadian CHL players, and at this point I don't think it would be unreasonable to suggest that both will be back in the CHL for the season after the draft. Ideally, you'd be looking for full seasons, making the WJHC (probably less likely for Kassian given his player type), improvements in production and +/- while rounding out the weaker parts of their games.

I'm not particularly well versed in the quality of each player's team, but my understanding is that Glennie's Brandon Wheat Kings are expected to be a much better team than Kassian's Peterborough Petes. Brandon is the Memorial Cup host next season and one generally sees the hosting team try to be competitive for their league title in the season they are hosting the event. Most importantly, it appears that both have a chance to be on their team's top line, presumably competing against the best the other team's have to offer.

The downside to playing in the CHL, post draft, is that instead of being the young player improving quickly by playing against older, bigger, stronger players, you are now the older, bigger, stronger player. It's probably true that as you get older you tend to be matched against lines with older, bigger players, but it is situational, coach dependent, and wouldn't be true for each and every shift.

With a college player like Schroeder you have the benefit of being the younger player, and getting to improve your skills against older more mature players than you would in the CHL. This is taken even a step further, perhaps too far, for a European like Josefson, who is playing in the Swedish Elite League against professional hockey players. If the prospect is good enough, and trusted enough by his coach, it might be preferable to have the player playing professionally in Europe instead of against 18-24 year olds in college. However, if the player is not good enough, something fairly common for Europeans drafted 10-20 overall, it has the potential of stunting the European player's growth since they may receive very little ice time in their elite league.

The player's progress will also depend on the team. If you're playing on a bad SEL team, maybe you get more ice time. If you're playing on a good team, maybe you learn a lot in practice but don't get as much game action as you would on a worse team. For college players, their conference is another consideration. You might be quite happy to have your player committed to Michigan or North Dakota, but not as happy with an Ivy League school since they don't play as many games in the Ivies, and when they do the competition isn't necessarily as strong as in other conferences.

For the age of 18, in my opinion, it is probably best for the prospect to play in the CHL or NCAA. They would likely have a better combination of ice time and quality of opposition than would the average European; more ice time than a European, and lesser quality opposition than the pro European would seem to allow the prospect more time to handle the puck and improve their game skills. The differences between the CHL and college seem more difficult to compare. The player would probably get more ice time in the CHL, but may not be challenged in the same way as a college player. Maybe there are no easy, sweeping generalities to be made with respect to college vs. CHL at age 18; perhaps the best we can say is that it depends on the player?

So now the post-draft season has passed, and the player is 19. We have a new potential problem with a CHL draftee which, oddly enough, occurs when things go as planned. If the prospect develops quickly, but not quickly enough to be completely ready for the NHL, a CHL player can be "stuck" in a non-ideal league. With the European or college player we have an easy answer: sign the player and play him in the AHL. To the European this is a chance to familiarize themselves with North America, the NA style and size of rinks, all while holding the calibre of hockey roughly equivalent to that which they are leaving back home. For the college player the AHL is a chance to play against professionals and experience the more intense schedule. With both college players and Europeans the year in the AHL at 19 does not count as one of the three years on their entry level contract provided they don't play more than 9 NHL games.

CHL players are stuck in the CHL at 19 if they can't crack the NHL due to an NHL/AHL/CHL agreement which doesn't allow CHL eligible players to play in the AHL unless they are 20 years old (with a few, rare exceptions). I don't know if it's fair to say this causes a player to stagnate, but I don't think it's unfair to suggest it has the potential to not challenge a player as much as the team would prefer if he were AHL eligible.

If the player isn't ready for the AHL at 19 there is no harm in staying in his respective league, but I think it's a significant developmental advantage to drafting a collegian or European in the middle stages of the first round, since those are the quality of players that would most probably benefit from playing in the AHL at 19, if they develop as hoped post-draft.

This is a long way to go to talk about this year's draft as it pertains to the Edmonton Oilers selection at #10. It's tough to say who Edmonton will pick, but there's some chance that all 4 of these players might be available to the Oilers at 10 overall. Given that choice, my guess would be that they end up choosing between Glennie and Schroeder. At this time I prefer Schroeder, Lowetide prefers Glennie, but I think both of us, and probably most draft observers, don't feel that either one would be a terrible pick at 10. One of the reasons I prefer Schroeder over Glennie is their respective developmental situations and the drafting team's control thereof. I think both will gain quality experience from their next season, Glennie in the CHL and Schroeder in the NCAA. The year after it is possible that neither,either, or both will be NHL ready, but failing that I would rather have Schroeder in the AHL (Springfield last year aside) than have Glennie playing a 4th year in the CHL. There is the additional advantage of being able to send Schroeder to the AHL until he's adjusted to the pro game. The decision must be made with Glennie before the season starts. If you send him back and he's getting his points, but not learning much, there's nothing you can do to improve the quality of his competition. With Schroeder you can start him in the AHL at age 19, play him there all year (again, without burning an ELC year as long as he plays 9 NHL games or less) or call him up whenever you want. If Schroeder plays between 10 and 39 NHL games, you burn an ELC year but it does NOT count as a year towards UFA status. Meaning that you could have him play over half the year in the AHL, check on his progress, and get him into some games down the playoff stretch drive without the cost of bringing him a year closer to unrestricted free agency.

Lacking a crystal ball, I can't definitively say that post-draft development will be better for Schroeder. That said, I do think it's reasonable to suggest there are advantages Schroeder will have in that regard over Glennie, Kassian, or Josefson. I also can't say those advantages in and of themselves are a reason to draft Schroeder, but I do think it's a factor that the Oilers should seriously consider as part of the decision at 10 overall.

* - You could accuse me, probably fairly, of cheating to include Josefson, in that I haven't specifically seen him slotted to the Oilers. I do think he could be, roughly, "in the range" at #10. Additionally, I needed him to include a prospect type.


Lowetide said...

Great post, speeds. I don't know how to approach it, but there's probably a bit of truth in the Oilers not getting the max. out of the 2002-04 drafts because of the lack of an AHL team.

What if the Oilers had drafted a college kid in the first round in 2003? Would that have made a difference? What about Deslauriers?

Interesting subject, I don't really know how we'd apply it to the AHL in a way similar to what you've done here. No way to measure.

speeds said...

It's just really tough to know how to balance selection vs. development.

People sometimes make fun of the Rangers for selecting Jessiman, but the reality is he wasn't way off the board at the time of the draft. 12 was early for him based on what I'd read, but he ws expected to go around 20, definitely in the first round. He simply didn't develop as projected after the draft, probably for a variety of reasons. Maybe that had something to do with playing for Dartmouth, it probably had more to do with his ankle injury as a junior.

I'm not really sure how you factor in post 20 development in the AHL, but I think that development is (a) less predictable at the time of the draft and (b) will sort itself out at the time, and is only something to really worry about with Europeans, since nearly all CHL players go to, at least, the AHL at age 20, as I would imagine do the majority of college players drafted around where EDM is picking this season.

It's an interesting question though, how do you compare the development between two potential players you could draft if you expect, post draft:

Player A CHL-18/CHL-19/AHL-20

Player B NCAA-18/NCAA-19/NCAA or AHL-20

Bruce said...

Outstanding work, Speeds. Happy to see you've got your own site, I will add you to my blogroll immediately. Did you really go 4 years between posts??

What if the Oilers had drafted a college kid in the first round in 2003? Would that have made a difference?

LT: It would have if the college kid was Zach Parise. ;)