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Atlanta Thrashers Scouting Analysis

I've been fairly critical of Thrasher players who have played poorly (see my posts on Zhitnik and Sutton). I've said that I thought the Thrashers had outgrown Bob Hartley before he was let go. Today I'm going to do some analysis of the scouting department. (This post was spurred by a recent debate on the Thrashers boards about the Thrashers drafting record.)

The NHL is a bottom line business. Players are judged by their performance, coaches by wins and losses, scouts should be judged on their performance record as well. I took at look at all Thrashers draft picks from 1999-2005 by league to see which area scouts had done well and which had done poorly.

I divided all the players into hits (usuable NHL players) busts (not useable NHL players) and maybes (unclear at this point). It simply two early to have to make judgments about the 2006 and 2007 draft picks other than Bryan Little who I think is clearly going to be a NHL player in my view--so I included Little into my study of picks from 1999-2005 but not the other '06 or '07 picks.

My list of prospects drafted between 1999-2005 who I think still have a solid chance of making the NHL without suing your imagination too much: Pavelec, Sterling, C. Stuart, Lewis, Zubarev, Kozek, Oystrick, Valabik, LaVallee and Nikulin (who I think has the talent to play in the NHL just not the interest). If you're playing in the ECHL right now you didn't make the cut (Denny, Turple for example).

NHLers and Maybes by Type of League
  1. 44% Europe: 4 NHLers (Kovalchuk, Lehtonen, Nurminen, Enstrom), 3 maybes (Nikulin, Zubarev, Pavelec) out of 16 picks. High Picks: Nikulin-maybe, Kovalchuk-hit, Lehtonen-hit, Pavelec-likely
  2. 42% US College: 2 NHLers (Heatley, Slater), 3 maybes (Lewis, Stuart, Sterling) out of 12 picks. High Picks: Heatley-hit, Slater-hit, Lewis-maybe
  3. 23% WHL: 3 NHLers (Exelby, Hordichuk, Coburn), 0 maybes, out of 13 picks. High Picks: Blatny-bust, Garnett-bust, Coburn-hit, Holzapfel-maybe, Machacek-maybe
  4. 22% TIER II: 0 NHLers, 2 maybes (Oystrick, Kozek), out of 9 picks. High Picks: Kozek-maybe, Forney-maybe.
  5. 18% OHL: 1 NHLers (Little), 1 maybe (Valabik), out of 11 picks. High Picks: Sellars-bust, Ustrnul-bust, Valabik-maybe, Lehman-bust, Little-likely
  6. 14% QMJHL: 0 NHLers, 1 maybe (LaVallee), out of 7 picks. High Picks: Bourret-bust (for the Thrashers at least), Denny-unlikely

Small Sample Size to make any conclusions.
100% IHL: 1 NHLer (Stefan) out of 1 pick. High Picks: Stefan-hit.
00% HS/PREP: 0 NHLers, 0 maybes, out of 2 picks

The College scouts get credit for Heatley and Slater but both were 1st rounders and so far no post-1st rounder have made the NHL. Colin Stuart is making a strong bid for a NHL job this year and Sterling and Lewis are both legitimate prospects with a shot to make the big show. Throw in the signing of undrafted collegian Brian Pothier who is having a nice NHL career and the NCAA scouts are looking pretty good.

The European scouts have seen their high picks pan out (Kovalchuk and Lehtonen) but also found some late round gems (Nurminen and Enstrom) as well as a likely NHLer (Pavelec) and a maybe NHLer (Zubarev).

Whoever is picking the Quebec League players might want to pay more attention to character as Bourret was dumped unceremoniously for well "lack of character" to put it nicely. Jimmy Sharrow did nothing to endear himself during his stint in the ECHL. Mallette was so obviously not NHL material the team didn't even bother to try and sign him. Denny a high pick (2nd round) couldn't crack the AHL roster. I like Desbiens but his skating and perhaps conditioning are not NHL caliber. Gamache worked very hard and I like his drive--he was a good last round flier. Out of the nine picks spent on players from the Q only LaVallee seems likely to crack the Thrashers roster someday--that's a pretty poor track record.

The OHL has been a veritable scouting wasteland until 1st rounder Little broke a string of failures. There have been no late round gems so far (although they deserve a nod for signing undrafted OHL Karl Stewart who almost became a NHL regular). Fellow OHL 1st rounder seems more like the second coming of Eric Cairns and was a tremendous waste of a pick in my opinion when you look at the talent available that high in that draft year (fans go on and on about taking Coburn over Phaneuf but at last Coburn turned into a NHL guy, while Valabik's upside is 3rd pairing defenseman). 3rd rounder Scott Lehman is just a mess even in the ECHL where he had far and away the worst plus minus on a decent team last season. Very high picks were used to take Sellars (30th overall) and Ustrnul (42nd overall) who were not that close to cracking the NHL. Considering that the OHL is in the hockey heartland of Ontario I'm not sure why the Thrashers keep bombing in this league. It is very easy to go see OHL players unlike guys who play in Waterloo Iowa or Slovenia. Whomever is watching the OHL is not making a very good list it seems to me.

Finally I think the Thrashers should think long and hard about using draft picks on Tier II junior guys who are going to play in the NCAA the following season. GM Don Waddell likes to take these sorts of guys because colleges develop them and the Thrashers have more time to decide if they want to sign them or not. But the data indicates that this strategy is just not working so far. Oystrick and Kozek are still viable prospects, but if I were a betting man I'd put money down that neither of them ever play more than 82 NHL games. They either need to find better players in Tier II or allocate those picks to scouts who have a track record of success.

If were an owner and GM I'd do some statistical analysis to evaluate each scouts individual ranking sheet from each and every draft. The Thrashers organization needs to figure out who has a better overall track record of evaluating talent. I have no idea if this is done internally or not, but an analysis of each scout's list ought to be the scouting worlds version of goals-assists-points or wins and losses. Every scout makes a ranking and those that make the best ranking ought to be retained or promoted, those with less accurate ranking should be replaced. That's the way it works in most businesses, you figure out who is effective and who is not. The Thrashers track record on draft is just average--the franchise could do better.