What a weekend it was. At Laguardia Airport listening to music on my IPod on Thursday afternoon, I was watching the weather on one of the terminal radar screens and couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the flight to Montreal. As soon as I boarded the plane, I knew that this had the potential to be one of the greatest sports weekends ever. As I took my seat on the Air Canada jet, I noticed that the person sitting next to me looked a bit familiar. Where did I see this guy before? Could it be?....Could it…Yes, it was! It was Mark Messier, the former Oiler and Ranger, who made the “guarantee” and led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 1994, ending the fifty-four year drought. This was turning into the greatest flight and we hadn’t even begun to taxi away from the terminal.
I talked to Mark about his trip up to Montreal, while also checking out what was on the television panel attached to the back of the seat in front of me. Messier answered a few questions of mine, while looking over some papers. Before I knew it, the one hour flight from New York to Canada was ending and I hadn’t even gone through two episodes of Entourage and my once-in-a-lifetime conversation with Messier was ending. When I arrived at the Best Western Hotel Europa, which incidentally serves as the Embassy for Yemen too, I knew that this wouldn’t be an ordinary trip. Checking into the hotel, I bumped into a Carolina Hurricanes fan in full Hurricane attire with war paint on. I knew from that particular moment on Thursday night that this event might just beat out the aura of attending Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals at Madison Square Garden. Okay, it’s difficult to beat out that kind of atmosphere, but if that was a ten on the Greatness Scale, this was a nine.
Roughly thirty minutes later, I decided to text one of my fellow Puck Prospectus writers, Richard Pollock, to discuss some evening plans on the eve of the draft. I met up with Richard and one of his fellow Illegal Curve writers, Kyle, in front of the Hotel Europa to attend all of the pre-NHL draft festivities that Montreal had to offer. After a bite to eat at a sports bar, it was time to hit up Crescent Street, the Montreal headquarters for partying. Crescent Street, for those unfamiliar with the town, is a blend of the classiness of Boston’s Newberry Street with the wild side of New Orlean’s Bourbon Street. The best place of the night was at a club/restaurant called Seven. Seven was filled with scouts from every organization and media types from all over the place that were chatting up the place. After several hours out and about, I decided to call it a night. By the time I got back to my hotel room, the lobby was filled with rumors of deals involving the Bruins, Maple Leafs, Islanders and Rangers.
As soon as I woke up Friday Morning, I went right back into NHL draft mode. Who was getting traded? Who was getting drafted? What would be the next juicy rumor? Going into the draft, I had a hunch that Garth Snow would select John Tavares. I also had a feeling Tampa Bay would keep their second overall pick and select Victor Hedman, which would mean the two best players, according to both scouts and statisticians, were taken in order.
Upon getting to the draft, I could see how excited everyone was to get this long-awaited event started. Looking down at the draft floor, I could’ve sworn I was looking at the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. There were tables of scouts and front office executives, with someone getting up every fifteen seconds to make their way to other tables to negotiate draft day trades.
Then Gary Bettman introduced the crowd to the start of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Everyone was pumped up in their red and blue Canadien jersey’s and excited as Garth Snow came up to the stage with Islander Owner Charles Wang to call the first overall pick of the 2009 draft. At that point, I took out my very own Puck Prospectus list of the best prospects in the draft. The list included the names of players with several other variables that Iain has previously referenced in his Career Score formula for NHL success, along with the CSS rankings:
- Goals Per Point
- Assists Per Point
- Penalty Minutes
- Team Offense
- League Translations
- Central Scouting Services Rankings (for comparison sake)
When John Tavares was announced as the first pick, the crowd went wild…except for Brian Burke, who has had a man crush on John Tavares for at least the past year. Tavares profiles as a successful NHL forward who should manage to perform at elite levels throughout his career. The Ontario native has managed at least 1 point per game in his first draft-eligible, age 17 season (though because of a September birthday he was eligible at 18 years of age) a threshold that generally indicates NHL success for forwards. Even at the age of 14, he was playing against much older competition and still putting up greater than 1 PPG. Let’s take a look at his PPG totals since age 14:
League Age PPG
OHL 15 1.18
OHL 16 2.00
OHL 17 2.00
OHL 18 1.86
Though Tavares point per game total has dropped off slightly this past year, he has had a very impressive scoring career in the OHL. His goals per point and assists per point also imply that Tavares is more responsible for his standout numbers than his teammates are. Only once did his assists outweigh his goals, by a nearly 2 to 1 split during the 2007-2008 season. However, over the past season, both numbers have been more in line with his previous seasons. The southpaw Center’s Penalty minutes have also been relatively stable, with his time in the penalty box facing a general downward trend over the past four seasons. J.T. also has spent his junior years in the Ontario Hockey League, where the level of competition is not watered down like it is in some other leagues. The 287 goals for might seem a bit high, as this was the second best offense last year in the Ontario Hockey League with 53.65 goals above the league average offense of 233.35 goals. However, this is largely the product of Tavares himself over the production of his teammates, though having Nazem Kadri, Justin Taylor and Philip McRae on your team certainly helps. The six foot forward should have a good shot at contributing a +20.0 GVT to the New York Islanders in his prime. The CSS list also agreed with this assessment, having Tavares as the number one ranked North American skater in this year’s draft.
Once Tavares was taken, many at the Bell Centre thought the Lightning would keep the second overall selection with Victor Hedman still on the board and avoid any temptations that the Maple Leafs might send their way in a trade. Then again, with Tavares no longer on the board, the Maple Leafs might have stopped attempting to acquire a top three pick. The 6’6’’ defenseman is in a bit of a different situation than John Tavares. The Swedish Elite League is a significantly tougher league to excel in than the OHL due to the higher quality of competition, though not as difficult as the Russian Elite League or Czech Republic League. In his first draft-eligible season, Hedman has posted .49 points per game. For a defenseman to have enough offensive success in his pre-NHL career to be considered a well-rounded and successful defenseman in the National Hockey League, he generally needs to post roughly .50 PPG in his first draft-eligible season. Given that the SEL is one of the three most difficult, non-NHL leagues in the world, this is a very impressive feat by the Swede. There were twice as many assists per point as there were goals for Hedman, which could bring his numbers down slightly, but the defenseman has had a solid season nonetheless. The Modo offense wasn't greatly out of line with the 2008-2009 league average offense though, with Hedman's squad scoring 153 goals last year, only 4.5 goals above the league average of 148.5. His 52 Penalties in Minutes is also not tremendously high or low, so his numbers shouldn’t be expected to be adjusted either way. A + 12.0 GVT total, along with a + 6.0 to + 8.0 Defensive GVT is in the realm of possibilities for this year’s second overall pick. This is a smart draft selection that Lightning GM Brian Lawton and company won’t regret in their quest for a franchise defenseman.
The next few picks were not out of the ordinary given that the CSS rankings and our Puck Prospectus rankings agreed with the order in which the prospects were being selected.
However, there was one name that went too long without being drafted, even when Nashville selected him with the eleventh overall draft pick: Ryan Ellis. Ryan Ellis, who is only 5’9 (unusual for a defenseman), posted 63 points in 63 games played two years ago (1 PPG) and 89 points in 57 games in his first draft-eligible season (1.56 PPG). Yes, he is on the shorter side for a defenseman, but so was Brian Rafalski. The only downside to Ellis’s numbers are that a large portion of his point totals came from assists, which can be indicative of talented teammates. The Windsor Spitfires were first in Goals For this past season with 311 goals, 77.65 goals above the 23.35 league average. Though even with the assist totals and an inflated offense, his NHL projections based on the Career Score would only be trended slightly downward, which could mildy hurt expectations for a forward. For a defenseman, even if his numbers are scaled back a tad, you’re still looking at an overall elite-level player who could post a GVT between + 10.0 and + 12.0 annually because there is more upside to his Defensive GVT numbers than you would expect for a forward.
The other key moment was when the Canadiens chose local product Louis LeBlanc with the 18th overall selection in the first round. LeBlanc averaged nearly 1 point per game in his first draft-eligible year, but the USHL is not close to being as competitive as the OHL, AHL or European Elite Leagues are. The fans at the Bell Centre were so ecstatic with the selection that you would have thought they were trading up in a deal with the Islanders to grab John Tavares.
After this point, the four hour first round really slowed down and, without many trades being agreed to, ended up being rather disappointing.
Day two was a bit dry, with very few trades, except a few draft picks here and there being exchanged. Surprisingly, I was surrounded by a lot of prospects awaiting their turn to be drafted. Other than seeing these guys jumping for joy and hugging their parents after hearing their names called, it was a very quite day.
I left for the airport the next day, feeling like the Super Bowl just ended. “Now What?,” I was saying to myself. The extravagant parties were through and all the big juicy rumors were gone. Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmeester were moved along with several secondary names, but very few blockbusters went down that weekend. I learned some French, saw McGill and met some great people. In other words, I had the time of my life. The only question left I had on mind was, where is the 2010 NHL draft going to be? Denver? Anaheim? New York? Washington D.C.? San Jose? Phoenix? After such a great weekend of hockey, without even one hockey game being played, I can’t wait to find out the answer.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Andrew by clicking here or click here to see Andrew's other articles.