Around this time of year many different media outlets, scouts, and bloggers offer up their mock drafts for how the NHL Entry Draft will likely go down. I’m not here to poo-poo their mock drafts because the purpose of them is not to predict exactly how it will go down, but to try to get inside a General Manager’s head for a moment and figure out what they want and what they need. For the most part, these mock drafts do a good job of laying out picks, especially in the first round. However, once one team does something different it sends the whole order into chaos.
Last year’s first round is a great example. Let’s take a look at the top-5 reasons to leave your expectations at the door.
1. “The NHL Ready” Factor: Jeff Skinner - Now the NHL’s 2010-11 Rookie of the Year after taking home the Calder Trophy, Skinner wasn’t ranked so high last summer. Most rankings had Skinner as a late 1st round, early 2nd round pick. If the Hurricanes chose not to go with their gut by picking Skinner, there would be another lucky team with a Bieber-esque rookie star. Most scouts do a great job, but they miss every once in a while.
2. “The Hometown Pick” Factor: Beau Bennett - A native of Gardena, California, many thought one of the Golden State’s teams might snatch the kid up. However, the great story of the hometown boy is more interesting to us as fans and writers than it is to the teams; Pittsburgh selected Bennett. Teams want the best player available, not the feel-good story. If it happens to work out that way, such as in the case of Emerson Etem getting picked by the Ducks, then great. Picking the hometown boy is pretty far down on a GM’s list of draft strategies.
3. “The What the Hell?!” Factor: Dylan McIlrath - The Rangers took McIlrath really early. I understand they felt they had plenty of skilled defensemen and wanted a physical, gritty guy, but how they could pass up certain guys on the board is beyond me. Who knows, maybe McIlrath will be the next Pronger. Probably not.
4. “The Unexpected Drop” Factor: Cam Fowler - The kid was expected to go between 3rd overall and 5th overall. He dropped all the way down to 12th. It was so stunning that a video of Cam’s reaction to the draft went viral. We all probably thought there was something on this kid that the GMs knew and we didn’t, but Fowler immediately shoved it in some faces by putting up a solid rookie season. The youngster posted 40 points, 23 on the powerplay (granted, with a minus-25, yikes!). The +/- will likely get better with maturity, but I can’t say the same for the sting felt by the teams that passed him up.
5. “The Russian Dissuasion” Factor: Any Russian Player - Leave it to the NHL to make it feel like we’re back in the 60′s. Of course, this time we’re not afraid of the Russians being spies or infecting our brains with communism. The fear is picking a player that will never come to the states to play. Teams really dig hard to find out if a Russian player, or any European player is serious about playing in North America. Alex Burmistrov proved he was ready and willing and made the Thrashers roster out of camp. Maxim Kitsyn, the Kings 158th overall pick last year, made his commitment to North American hockey by moving to Ontario to play with the St. Michael’s Majors. There is a much greater burden put on these young players to prove they want to play here now. So, don’t be surprised if a highly regarded European player gets passed down the line.
I would say, “Temper your expectations,” but isn’t that part of the fun? Enjoy the draft and enjoy being surprised.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney