Hockey, Sports, The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke

The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke: Evaluating the 2008 NHL Draft

There is a rule of thumb in the hockey world that drafts should not be evaluated until about 5 years have passed.

So with that in mind, let’s look at (part of) the 2008 draft to see if we can learn anything about it. (I do this with the distant hope that one day my NHL team will draft a future star. Hopefully they have already done so, but I remain skeptical.)

For simplicity’s sake – and because drafting goalies is super difficult – we will only be looking at skaters.

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this post, I embedded a spreadsheet of the draft with data up through 2013. All comments are made based upon those numbers. It included the draft rankings of the scouting services. Please see current stats here.

I think there are two things immediately apparent:

  • Stamkos was absolutely the best forward in the draft, as was made clear at the time; if you remember he was compared to Tavares, not to anyone else in his draft class.
  • The GMs and team scouts did better than the polled scouts. With the exception of Stamkos, the scouting rankings look pretty off in a lot of cases:
    • Both CSB and ISS were pretty positive on Beach, who iss yet to play an NHL game and the same can be said for Petrov.
    • A couple of the players drafted above their rankings – Eberle, Karlsson, for examples – turned into legitimate NHL stars.

So I think this is very interesting because

  • there rarely is such a consensus #1 candidate from year to year – just look at all the MacKinnon-Jones seesawing this year – and
  • because I normally believe that “going off the board” – drafting well below the consensus ranking – is foolhardy, but a number of teams benefited from doing so.

So Stamkos, the #1 pick, was indeed the “best” player in the draft, at least to date. He has led the league twice in goals scored in only five years in the league. Though I personally think that history will prove another player from this draft to be superior in the long-term, I have nothing to support that except my gut feeling that Stamkos will – should – never win an MVP due to the kind of player he is. (I am not trying to put Stamkos down, merely noting that his numbers – .56 GPG to .48 APG – are those associated with players that don’t exactly make others better. Corey Perry’s Hart being a perfect example of why they don’t deserve it.)

So we know the #1 pick was in this case the best player, but who was the second best?

Who is the second best player from the 2008 draft?

  • John Carlson: Carlson should have won the Calder in his rookie year but because he is not as offensively inclined as others on this list he doesn’t quite get the recognition.
  • Drew Doughty: Doughty has played the most games of anyone other than Stamkos – in part because he also went straight into the NHL – and last year he was nominated – rightly or wrongly – for the Norris. But despite what many think, I have been somewhat underwhelmed by him at times – the few times I’ve seen him. Doughty strikes me as someone who has yet to round-out his game completely. He is incredibly talented and should be one of the Top 5 D in the league for the next decade, but he’s still one of those “risk / reward” guys.
  • Jordan Eberle: Though he has played far fewer games than Stamkos, Doughty, Schenn and Bailey, Eberle has emerged – at least to this point – as the second best forward in the draft, despite being ranked outside the Top 30.
  • Erik Karlsson: If we go by awards alone, Karlsson is the clear choice but he didn’t deserve his Norris trophy. He also hasn’t played as much as some of these other franchise defensemen.
  • Alex Pietrangelo: Probably because he plays for the Blues, Pietrangelo doesn’t get as much recognition as he deserves, despite being a legitimate Hart candidate – if we interpret the award as most valuable skater – in 2011-2012.

It’s a tough choice and it just goes to show us that this was quite a deep draft. The more interesting thing for me is that if we accept all five of these guys as legitimate “2nd best player from the 2008 Draft” candidates we see that not a single one of them was ranked 2nd by the scouts:

  • Carlson was ranked 17th North American skater or 21st overall respectively and was further under-valued by the GMs, going 27th;
  • Doughty’s potential was recognized by the Kings, who drafted him second, but the scouting consensus was that he was not as good as Bogosian or even Filatov;
  • Eberle was ranked as the 33rd North American skater or 30th overall, respectively, but the Oilers disagreed and drafted him 22nd, essentially going “off the board” for him;
  • Karlsson was ranked as the 4th best International skater but given that CSB doesn’t combine their rankings, it’s hard to know what that means – ISS had him 22nd – so the Sens went off the board for him too – at least according to ISS – drafting him 15th
  • Pietrangelo was considered the 6th best North American or the 5th overall skater and the Blues drafted him just slightly early.

It’s interesting because at least two risks paid off – Eberle and Karlsson – while the Blue Jackets – who followed scouting consensus – got wholly screwed over when they drafted Filatov 6th. I’m sure a survey of all modern drafts would show this to be an anomaly but it does indicate that just because there is a scouting consensus doesn’t mean GMs should listen to it. And that’s a dangerous message.

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