Arguably the biggest storyline of the 2011 NHL draft was the blockbuster trade between the Minnesota Wild and the San Jose Sharks. And center Andrew Desjardins had nothing to do with this draft or that trade, but I’ll get to that later.
The type of trade which San Jose and Minnesota completed was the only form of news (outside of the Sharks trading up into the top-five of the first round which, in it’s own right, would have made little sense) that could have sparked this immense amount of hockey discussion that has gone in the Bay Area in recent days.
For better or for worse, the NHL draft is a crap-shoot. More or less, the amount of sure-fire selections from an NHL draft total about 1/3 of those from the NFL draft.
Why is that the case? Well, it’s really anybody’s guess. Perhaps it’s because college football players are typically drafted at age 22-24 while hockey players are less physically developed when drafted primarily at 18 years old.
Or maybe the simple answer is that NCAA football translates better to the NFL than the major junior hockey leagues translate to the NHL. Or perhaps there’s better chances to stick on a 53-man roster versus a 20-man roster.
Given research and time, I’m certain a case study could be put together defining why the NFL draft (specifically their first round) is much more conducive to producing quality players than the NHL draft’s first round. On second thought, just type “NHL draft vs NFL draft” into google and there’s a good chance you’ll find something that answers the question.
Without boring you with names, anybody who watches both the NFL and NHL knows that a 28th overall selection (which was where the Sharks were positioned to pick before trading the spot away) in hockey isn’t nearly as valuable as a 28th overall pick in football.
You’ll almost never see a 28th overall pick in hockey start right away in the NHL but in football that pick can quite often start and be a productive player.
So had the Sharks sat pat and simply drafted with the picks they had available, there wouldn’t be a tenth of the buzz around the fan base. That 28th overall pick which they sent to Minnesota as a part of Burns deal ended up being a center named Zack Phillips.
I’d be willing to venture a wild guess and say there aren’t many Sharks fans who even knew who Phillips was before the draft. And for that matter, I’m certain there are plenty of “die-hard” Sharks fans who wouldn’t recognize the name Matthew Nieto either. Currently playing at Boston University, Nieto was drafted by the Sharks in the second round, 47th overall in last week’s draft after some minor wheeling and dealing.
By trading the first round pick to Minnesota, Nieto is the highest of the Sharks draft picks in 2011 but for many different reasons, there is little to no talk about his future prospects with the Sharks.
The main reason is why you hear columnists so often say that covering the draft is one of the most difficult tasks they ever do: What is there to say?
After listing height, weight, position, where they currently play and their most recent statistics, there isn’t much opportunity to get creative. A pick that late in the draft (a second rounder!) means you cannot even attempt to project anything.
There is no “he’ll be in the NHL in two years time, will play third line left wing alongside Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell while using his skating and great vision to be a 25-30 point player with 50 point season potential in his prime.”
Another reason is that there are current players already in the Sharks organization, like the undrafted Andrew Desjardins, who could very well end up having a better NHL career than Nieto.
Certainly there are elite players in the NHL that went undrafted including San Jose’s Dan Boyle but for the sake of this comparison let’s look at the two unproven players in Nieto and Desjardins.
Now perhaps those in the Sharks organization who have watched tape on both players have an idea that Nieto will be the better player— and that may very well end up happening.
But the fact that a player like Dejardins, a gritty fourth line center who has taken a long and strange road to the NHL (as Tom Schreier of the Bleacher Report details here) has nearly the same chance of being a consistent player for the Sharks than one of San Jose’s second round picks illustrates quite perfectly the seeming randomness of the NHL draft.
There will always be pundits out there– with varying levels of expertise— attempting to “grade” the drafts for different NHL clubs. But anyone who grades a team’s draft below a “C” average is doing exactly what those who dismissed the likes of Boyle and Desjardins did.
The other draft choices San Jose made were Justin Sefton (third round, 89th overall), Sean Kuraly (fifth round, 133), Danil Sobchenko (sixth round, 166), Dylan Demelo (sixth round, 179) and Colin Blackwell (seventh round, 194).
However if the Sharks had instead took the player that went 10 spots higher or 10 spots lower than each of these selections, nobody would bat an eye.
Without question, grading drafts with the benefit of scouts’ input is hard enough, quite possibly the most difficult task NHL GMs must face. But evaluating it from the outside, as a journalist without regular access or opportunity to watch the various prospects – and perhaps most critically, those who fall outside the first round – is virtually impossible.