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.