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Assistant Coach Ivancic

Scouting and Drafting Star Hockey Players

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After having studied hundreds of players, I have developed a system that helps identify players who will play in the NHL and be productive (point-wise) players, and those who will fall short of expectations.

I wanted to see if players who went on to be good to great NHLers shared traits in their early statistical history that would mark them as being on a path for success. In addition, I wanted to see if those that never attained success at the NHL also shared common traits. My research indicates that players, just before and after their 18th birthdays, can show what level of success they will or won’t achieve in the NHL based on what they have accomplished statistically in their pre-professional careers.

There are several cases where a player seems to be a marginal or mediocre NHLer, only to blossom into a valuable player (Patrick Sharp and Daniel Cleary are two examples). This is also true in the reverse. If a player is drafted and immediately placed on a weak team, that does not have leaders and mentors in the dressing room and on the ice, and that player is expected by the front office, media and fans to be the offensive savior of the team, then this can permenantly damage a player (Michael Frolik is an example).

This system looks at statisical milestones that great players hit during their early careers. Missed milestones are a warning sign. Milestones vary in terms of importance. Some, like getting a point a game in major junior in their draft year, are very important. Others, like their pre-major junor career point totals, or how well the do in the World Cup international tournament, aren’t as important, but still have value.

[I][B]Players who miss milestones are at risk of the following once they get to the NHL:[/B][/I] inconsistent year to year point production, not reaching their potential, and not having long NHL careers (being a bust). Just because a player misses a minor milestone, doesn’t mean that they will be a bust, but it does show that the player will probably need a better environment once they get to the NHL (mentors, good players to play with, etc.). Generational talents llike Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby hit all of their milestones (and then some!) And only these types of players don’t need any special nuturing environment to succeed.

[B]The System[/B]

The following is the analytical system for scouting players. Milestones are defined in each section. Players should hit as many milestones as possible. If not, they are at risk of inconsistency or having short NHL careers. This system focuses on three main areas: regular season, playoffs, and international tournaments (WHC and WJC). Successful NHL players consistently perform well in all three areas.

[B]Note: [/B]This system mainly focuses on offensive forwards.

[I][B]A. Pre-junior career[/B][/I]

[B]i)[/B] A player should get around a point a game or better in their pre-junior career (AAA, provincial junior hockey leagues, US National Team Development Program, etc.). The player also needs to show steady improvement from year to year, and should have a strong playoff, around a point a game or better. Also, When a player goes from one level, say Junior B to Junior A, and then goes back to Junior B after a brief stay in Junior A, the player should start getting many more points in the lower level. After being challenged in a higher level, the player will then find the lower level ‘easy.’

[I][B]B. Junior Career[/B][/I]

[B]i) [/B]In his first year of major junior hockey, a player should get around 20+ goals and be around a point a game. They should also perform well in the playoffs and be around a point a game. A poor playoff perfomance is a warning sign. Ideally, a player should accomplish this as a 16-17 year old. The younger a player hits these milestones in major junior, the better the player. If a player’s first year in major junior is as a 17-18 year old, then his stats should be closer to 30 goals and a point a game. This should all be accomplished in around 65 games or less.

Having a bad first year in junior (around or under 20 goals and significantly below a point a game) is a warning sign of future problems, especially if the player’s first year is as a 17 year old ... Even if they ‘kill’ it the next year. Great players don’t struggle for a full season at any point. Goals are a key indicator. A player, even if he is a playmaker, needs to show that he can score goals. Low goal totals are a bad sign.

[B]ii) [/B]In their draft year, the player should get 30 goals or better and at or above a point a game.The player needs to show a solid point and goal total progression from the previous year. Star NHL scorers should get about 100 points or more in their draft year. Stagnation in points and goals is a warning sign. As usual, players need to score goals and points in the playoffs. At least to be in line with their scoring rate of the regular season. A poor playoff performance is a warning sign, especially if the player had a great regular season.

[B]iii)[/B] As a full 18 year old, and the year after they are drafted, the player needs to show major improvement in point and goal totals. They should also score over 100 points. Failure to show improvement and put up big numbers after they are drafted is a big warning sign. Again, the player should have a great playoff run. Ideally the player should have a dominant post-season. Failure to have a great playoffs is a warning sign, especially at this stage when the player should be dominant.

[B]iv) [/B]If a player plays a fourth year in major junior, they should have a monster season. Eclipsing their previous season’s totals, they should be far too good for the league at this point. A stagnation or regression in point toals in the fourth year is a warning sign.

[B]Notes: [/B]A player who gets 100+ points in each of his first three years in major junior is a golden sign of success. A player who can do this has talent to burn. Claude Giroux is an example of a a ‘Golden’ player like this.

While they still need to show point progression each year, and do great in the playoffs, they can still miss a milestone and be successful NHLers (due to their high talent level). Missing a milestone for this type of player usually means inconsistency from year to year. Vincent Lecavalier, Daniel Briere and Brad Richards are examples of ‘Golden’ players who missed a milestone but still went on to be stars, but with consistency issues.

[I][B]C. International Tournaments[/B][/I]

[B]i) [/B]True NHL point producers get around a point a game or better in every international tournament (WHC and WJC) they are in. Star NHLers get around double-digit point in each of their tournaments. Analysis has indicated that a player’s point totals should be a good mix of goals and assists, not all goals and not all assists (which has shown can be a bit of a bad sign).

A player who only scores goals or gets only assists could be a warning sign of future trouble. Also, a player who is having a great season in major junior, or is a big goal scorer, then goes to a tournament and gets almost no points is a big warning sign. This warning sign can be lessened if the player is young and is barely being played, on a terrible team, or is a ‘Golden’ player (100+ points in each major junior season). Still, having a bad (ie. 6 GP 1 G 1 A, 2 PTS) tournament is a warning sign of some future problem.

True star NHLers (Peter Forsberg and Jordan Eberle are two examples) dominate tournament scoring year after year.

Consistent NHL offensive defencemen always get more than zero or one points in international tournaments.

[B]Notes:[/B] If a player does not have international tournament experience, or playoff experience, then you are taking a risk in drafting that player. You need a well-rounded evaluation of many different seasons, playoffs and tournaments to get an accurate read on how a player will develop.

[I][B]** Special Note on Russian Forwards:[/B][/I]
- From my research, I would avoid at all costs, drafting Russian forwards. In the 10 NHL drafts (from 2000 to 2010), Only one Russian forward was drafted to become a star player who has been consistent in play and attitude: Evgeni Malkin. These are the other Russian forwards who have attained success, to some degree (and there aren’t many): Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Semin, and Radulov ... They ended being inconsistent, poor playoff performers and/or attitude problems (Asking for huge contracts or a KHL flight risk). The Russian forwards that I named are the only ones who have had NHL careers of any note! With such a poor success rate, I would avoid all Russian forwards. Russian defencemen and goaltenders are different, though.

[I][B]** Special Note on 17 year old and 18 year old European players playing in the Canadian Hockey League:[/B][/I]
- From my research, European (including Russians), who come over to play in the CHL as 17 and 18 year olds usually put up a point a game or better numbers right away. This, I found, is misleading. My hypothesis is that these players have often played in leagues where they face older players, including men, so they get a scoring boost bt playing younger, inexperienced juniors. It is more important to see what these players do in WJC tournaments to get a better gauage of their overall talent level. They usually need to post incredible numbers in the CHL (like Alex Radulov did in the QMJHL) to prove that they are elite talents, and not 50-70 point players, at best.

Updated 07-15-2012 at 06:33 by Assistant Coach Ivancic