Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Development Is the Key, Not Drafting

There was an interesting passage from about a month ago at From the Rink that I have been meaning to comment on:

Whatever the predicted value, Waddell has an extra draft pick to work with. The problem with that is, well, he’s Don Waddell. No player drafted by Waddell in Rounds 2-5 has yet played 150 games in the NHL. None. Nada.

The Thrashers had 25 picks in Rounds 2-5 from 1999-04. On average, that should have yielded 4.4 NHL players based on the team’s draft position(s). Colin Stuart might still make it and so might Brett Sterling and Grant Lewis but at 23 years old they are longshots.

Does anyone really believe that Don Waddell is so clueless that he picked players who were much less talented than everyone else? Or that his scouting reports were completely different than that of every other team? Even if he just was picking random players he had never seen from Central Scouting's rankings, he would have been almost certain to have at least a couple of hits if the only factor in the equation was talent. Either Waddell is actively sabotaging his team's talent acquisition by completely misevaluating players, or his team does not do a very good job transitioning its picks from being prospects to being professionals. I guess it is possible that Waddell is incompetent, but I'll play the odds here. I highly doubt that talent evaluation is the primary cause of Atlanta's poor draft record.

My philosophy is that player development is more important than drafting for non-elite prospects, e.g. everyone taken after the first 10-15 picks in the draft. The same guy drafted by Atlanta will likely have a very different career than if he was drafted by Detroit. If he goes to Detroit, he will spend several seasons at the minor league level being painstakingly developed and taught to play a strong two-way game by top-level coaches before being eased into the NHL in a limited role as part of a team with a strong winning culture in Detroit. On the other hand if he becomes a Thrasher he might get little support from a barebones development staff, get rushed to the big leagues and thrown to the wolves in tough situations on a losing team that may or may not have strong internal leadership. When he inevitably struggles through some tough stretches, the team may downgrade him as a prospect or give up on him and ship him off somewhere else. Top prospects like Heatley and Kovalchuk are likely to succeed in Atlanta, as they most likely would in any city around the league, but for a lesser player environmental factors can have a big impact on whether they succeed or fail at the highest level of professional hockey.

There are certain teams that produce NHL goalies by the bucketful (Nashville and Montreal come to mind), while others have difficulty finding a top-flight goalie. Some of this is scouting, but all scouting staffs make mistakes and miss on draft picks. Pro coaching and pro development is the missing factor that is often overlooked, but is likely to be primarily responsible for organizations being especially strong or weak at a particular position.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I agree that the developmental aspect of bringing prospects to the NHL is more important than its usually given credit for, but I don't think you can give Waddell a pass for it either. When I read that at Mirtle's, I laughed out loud, and it really makes perfect sense. Waddell has proven himself to be completely incompetent, time and time again, in nearly every phase of the business, except maybe for saving money. I'm sure the Thrashers' developmental system bears some of the burden on not helping create talented players out of these prospects, but first of all, being the general manager, Waddell is in part responsible for how and how well the developmental system works, and secondly, you can only do so much with what you have.

Other teams find gems in later rounds, that might've been overlooked because they were in Europe, they got hurt last year, etc. etc. The point being, for every late round gem you see in the NHL, some of which are surely products of developmental programs, there are also several of those gems who could make it anyways, but they're not being picked by Waddell. Maybe I'm a spoiled Wings fan, and my perspective on the draft as a whole is completely skewed by that, but really, failing to get anything out of rounds 2-5 over 5 years ought to have you fired.