Let me get right to the point. Both my gut feeling and my analytic side think that the Thrashers had a strong draft here in Montreal. It is possible that I've simply gotten caught up in the excitement and positive emotions of this event--but don't believe that's the case. I came into this particular draft in an unusual position for a writer from located in Atlanta--I have actually watched a good number of these prospects in person at the 2009 Under-18 IIHF tournament or watched them on television at the 2009 World Junior Championship. Based upon my own observations (which could be wrong of course) I believe the Thrashers drafted three almost certain NHL players (Kane, Klingberg and Morin)--if my assessment is accurate that's an above average draft right there.
Another reason I'm positive about Atlanta's performance is that they did very well according to independent observers. Red Line Report (RLR) has been doing this for about a decade and has a solid reputation. ISS (International Scouting Service) is a newer outfit is probably trails RLR in quality according to scouts I talked to. If you trust Red Line Report, the Thrashers had a fantastic day landing 5 of the top 52 ranked players at this draft. Of the two organizations RLR ranking matched my own opinion more closely than did ISS. When I took my assigned seat in the press row, I was pleased to find the Red Line scouts were right next to my left elbow--and I was able to gauge their reaction to a number of Thrashers picks throughout the two days.
Now some comments on strategy. Before the draft I posted some suggestions on how the Thrashers could get the most out of the draft.
- I suggested a preference for scoring talent because it is expensive on the UFA and extremely hard to find later in the draft.
- I suggested a preference for young birthdays.
- I suggested being open to taking smaller skilled guys who typically fall lower than they should (based on analysis of past drafts).
So how did the Thrashers fare in terms of overall strategy?
Both Waddell and Marr commented that they didn't necessarily target big guys to the detriment of small players, but rather they stuck to their list and in this particular draft it seemed like their top rated player always had good size as part of his set of attributes (apparently they knew I had been up on the soapbox about not avoiding small players).
The Thrashers did land one of the young birth date guys in Evander Kane, he dominated that WHL as a 17 year old. He doesnt' turn 18 until August 2nd of this year. If he were just 44 days younger he would have been in the 2010 draft class. It is very exciting to think about the numbers Kane posted as one of they youngest guys.
For a revenue-challenged team like Atlanta, chasing goal scorers on the free agent market is a very expensive proposition. It is possible that the Thrashers found two guys who will put up big time goal totals in the NHL with the Kane and Morin. That alone would make 2009 a positive draft for Atlanta.
The Thrashers made two excellent gambles in the late rounds and took two players who could prove to be "steals" moving forward. The two WHL players Dubnick and Koper were both highly rated by RLR and they both scored 50+ points in 70+ games. That statistical profile suggests that they are unlikely to be scoring forwards at the NHL level, but it also suggests that they have NHL quality hands. Should they make the NHL as 3rd or 4th liners they will be able to pass and make plays with other elite players. Most NHL players--even defensive ones--put up decent scoring totals in junior hockey (Darren McCarty had 55 goals in juniors one year). Scoring points in juniors is often an indicator that a player has above average hands or puck skills compared to other players his age.
There were a few moments when the Thrashers went with physicality over skill. Let me preface this by saying I really like watching Carl Klingberg play hockey--he plays with great energy and enthusiasm. I've talke to Klingberg several times and he is funny and personable guy--he should be a great addition to any locker room--and I suspect Klingberg will be popular in the stands too. Klingberg seems highly likely to become a NHL regular--but in my opinion it will be as an above average 3rd line guy and not a top six forward (My guess is that the Thrashers have hope he could be 2nd line power forward in the NHL.) Every team needs quality 3rd line guys who can hit but also have the puck skills to cash in turnovers--but at that spot in the draft I would have preferred to see them go after a player with more pure offensive skill. Let me be more specific--with 34th pick I would have preferred to see the Thrashers take Morin (taken later at 45) Tatar or Roussel.
Another sub-optional choice in my opinion was taking Cody Sol in the 5th round. The odds of any 5th round pick making the NHL are very long--but if Sol beats those odds he probably reaches the majors as a fighter. Personally, I would never spend a draft pick on a fighting prospect because tough guys are not a scarce commodity. They can by signed for a reasonable price on the UFA market, found on waivers or acquired via trade. My guess is that the Thrashers project Sol as being more than just a one dimensional fighter, but those are some long odds. Every 5th round pick is like a lottery pick--I would prefer to gamble on a player with more upside. Who was left at that point? Jerry D'Amigo, Tomas Vincour, Phiip Varone, Erik Haula and Tommi Kivisto were all more attractive gambles in my opinion (as were Budnick and Koper whom the Thrashers took later).
Let's roll through the Thrashers picks:
#4 Evander Kane: projects to resemble his favorite player Jarome Iginla. Should score lots of goals. After he fills out his frame will be able to run over people at the NHL level. A great combination of skill and toughness. Off the ice, he seemed confident but not cocky--some kids were nearly bouncing off the ways after their selection--Kane was obviously pleased but displayed emotional maturity. Director of Scouting Dan Marr pointed to his February interview as a key moment in the scouting year. (Thrasher connection: former teammate of Spencer Machacek)
#34 Carl Klingberg: just plain loves to hit people--he reminds me of Vladimir Konstantinov in his rookie year. They used to say that Konstantinov didn't pay much attention to which opponent they played on a given night because his objective was always the same--put as many opposing forwards on their rear ends as possible. Worst case scenario Klingberg is a terrific energy guy who riles up the opposition and makes the home fans go wild. Best case scenario his offensive skills are good enough to make him a 2nd line power forward who helps his team both with points as well as toughness along the boards. Did I mention he's 6'3" 205 at age 18? (Thrashers connection: played 10 games in SEL with former Thrashers Tommi Kallio, Joe DiPenta, Andreas Karlsson and current Thrashers prospect Nicklas Lasu)
#45 Jeremy Morin: Perhaps the next Ray Sheppard. I grew up watching Ray Sheppard--the guy had AHL foot speed but elite NHL hands. I can't tell you how many times I watched Sheppard make a perfect deflection right around in front of the net or bat a fluttering rebound out of the air like a baseball player. Morin is not going to carry the puck end-to-end and score but he could be a power play monster. (Thrashers connection: hails from upstate New York also home to Zach Bogosian)
#117 Edward Pasquale: A big guy who knows it. He stays up and makes the shooter beat him. His style is comparable to Christobal Huet. In general it was a down year for goalies, but Pasquale was rated as one of the best by many scouts. More than any other position goalie development is extremely difficult to forecast. The Thrashers tend to take one every year which is a rational strategy given the nature of the position. (Thrasher connection: teammate Cody Sol was also chosen by Atlanta)
#120 Ben Chiarot: Might have been under-rated by many teams because he's not flashy but very effective (good defensive players are more likely to be under rated than good offensive players). He played in a very "disciplined" system according to Dan Marr and the Thrashers think he has more offensive upside than his numbers indicate. A close personal acquaintance watched him in the OHL and liked his steady game. He's also 6'2" 211 at age 18 and will add weight. He hits to intimidate.
#125 Cody Sol: OK so I don't endorse drafting fighters, but having said that if you're going to take one landing a 6'4" who guy who can also play some defense isn't all bad. He also seemed like a really nice guy (isn't that true of most tough guys off the ice?) and being a good locker presence matters if you're battling for a NHL roster spot as a specialist. (Thrasher connection: teammate Edward Pasquale was also chosen by Atlanta)
#155 Jimmy Bubnik: Another big kid (6'2") who slipped slid surprisingly far on draft day. His skating might have scared off some teams. Because of the skating, his strongest part of the ice is below the hash marks. Perhaps there is some potential as a Holmstrom-type Power Play specialist, if not his size and ability to work the puck low could lead to him becoming an effective checking winger. His style reminiscent of Trent Hunter
#185 Levko Koper: Skating is a plus skill for Koper. According to RLR when he's going hard he can be an outstanding forechecker. But the effort level was inconsistent which hurt him. Excellent on the PK because of his speed but also has a good ability to read and then steal outlet passes while shorthanded. RLR compares style to Todd Marchant, but Thrasher fans might want to remember Sean Donovan to get a sense of his game.
#203 Jordan Samuels-Thomas: went unselected in the 2008 draft but the Thrashers picked him after a strong season in the USHL. He will head to Bowling Green's college hockey program next season. He is the second player of African ancestry taken by Atlanta at this draft. Danny Picard wrote a terrific profile over at Hockey Journal in anticpation of the 2008 Draft in Ottawa. As a kid the Mighty Ducks movie spurred some of his interest in the sport and a local police officer was a mentor. He was destroying the local kids floor league at age 7 so they made him play with 12 year olds. Even after making the switch to ice hockey he played a year higher than his age. The Hartford Whalers "Lean-To-Skate" Program made it possible for him to get more ice time as a youth.
Conclusion: The Thrashers appear to have drafted three likely NHL players with their top picks. In the later rounds they took a chance on several players who have the good upside potential and could turn out to be "steal" picks if they beat the odds and make the NHL.
Coming up next: Post-pick interviews with six Thrashers draft picks from 2009.