Draft Day Bargains: Turning Late Round Draft Picks Into Gold

It happens all the time:
you look back at the selections in an NHL draft from a few seasons ago, notice
someone with 400 NHL games under his resume amidst a sea of players with zero games
played, and think “How did this guy go in the 5th round?”

There are plenty of
reasons why hugely talented players slip in the draft. Injury issues, skating
problems, perceived character issues, slow development, or sometimes something
as seemingly correctable as poor defensive zone play are all causes. Players who’ve already
been passed over once or twice and are second- or third-time eligible are also
easy to be found later in the draft, even if they’ve put up big point totals. 18 and 19 year old prospects have been historically undervalued on the whole. Zac Urback, analytics coordinator for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, wrote
about this effect at Prospect Stats.

Probably one of the
bigger reasons we’ll see a falling player is size, or more specifically, lack
thereof. Megan Richardson (@ButYouCarlotta) researched the effects of height on
draft position, and found that small players typically suffer simply for being small, especially in the early rounds. Sometimes you will
see a player with one or more red flags in addition to being undersized, and
even though they’ve put some points up, it might not be enough to get their
name called on draft day.

But it’s hard to teach
offensive skill, elusiveness and awareness, and so we dig for players who may
be ranked low but have that ability to notch points in spite of any other potentially correctable
flaws.

For this piece, we’ll be focusing on a couple of
different categories. The primary one is the recently released Draft Expected Value (DEV) tool.
Created by @3Hayden2 and the aforementioned Urback, DEV picks up where Josh
Weissbock and Cam Lawrence (now of the Florida Panthers) left off with their
PCS (Prospect Cohort Success) system. DEV uses multiple valuations of a
prospect, including offensive output and size, to come up with comparables and
determine the likelihood of a prospect’s success at the NHL level. It’s
obviously not fool-proof, as intangibles, role, team effects and other factors are
not included, but it provides an interesting look at potential development
curves. When compared with scouting reports to fill in those blanks, it can create a useful companion tool.

We will also be using age-adjusted even strength points per
game, which can be found in the data sheets at ProspectStats.com. In addition,
the OHL and QMJHL both keep track of shots, “dangerous shots” (loosely
translating to “scoring chances”) and shot locations, so we can refine the
method to factor in the amount of scoring chances generated by a player. Unfortunately, the WHL does not publicly keep track of
dangerous shots/scoring chances, or even individual shots, so that’s not going to factor in to our selections for this league. Stephen Burtch wrote recently about OHL’ers and their expected NHL goals output, using
shot location data and heat maps for the league and creating comparisons to NHL
shot locations. As he put it:

“OHL shooters have a much higher tendency to shoot from longer
distances, largely because it’s easier to score from further out on the
inferior goaltending at the junior level. … Throwing anything and everything on
net in junior is a worthwhile exercise, and for some players this lends itself
to being productive despite rarely shooting from higher traffic areas.“

Identifying players who take the majority of their shots
from medium- or high-danger areas could yield some bargain picks late in the
draft, as they are showing a knack for getting themselves into the scoring
areas and creating or converting on chances.

Now bear in mind we are
not exclusively talking about NHL point-per-game, Jamie Benn-esque steals here. Sure, there may
be one or two in this draft, but from rounds 4-7, even hitting on a single
NHL-calibre player is considered a big win. That’s what we’ll be looking for:
players who could potentially develop into NHL regulars.

We will be looking at
three skaters from each of the WHL, OHL and QMJHL.

All shot location maps are courtesy of Stephen Burtch and are publicly viewable at his Tableau Public page.

WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE

Cameron Hebig
(Saskatoon Blades, WHL)

Cameron Hebig Pts

Cameron Hebig is a
second-time eligible centre who surged in scoring, from 18 goals and 40 points
in his draft year to 26 goals and 69 points in his draft+1 year. The scoresheet
wasn’t the only place his numbers grew, as he reportedly added about 20 pounds
to his 5’10” frame, giving him more strength and size, plus an increased
ability to both dish out and absorb hits. Saskatoon’s top centre, Hebig possesses
above average vision, and an accurate (but not overly-powerful) shot. He slots
in at 19th in age-adjusted even strength points per game among the
349 CHL draft eligibles, right between two potential top-40 picks in
Vancouver’s Tyler Benson and Sault Ste Marie’s Boris Katchouk. Scoring like
that, along with the improvement he’s shown in virtually every facet of the
game from his draft year, should have him ranked higher than a 6th/7th
round pick.

On the DEV front, Hebig
is given just under a 25% chance to make the NHL – that’s a pretty decent bet
for a late-round pick. Successful comparable players listed include Tyler Kennedy, who
put together a few good seasons for the Penguins. Per the DEV “fair value pick
range”, Cameron Hebig might be worth as much as a mid-2nd round pick
in 2016.

David Quenneville
(Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL)

David Quenneville Pts

David Quenneville was an
excellent offensive defenseman for the Tigers this year, and his 13 goals and
54 points resulted in a spot with Canada’s U18 World Championship squad. The
5’8”, 181 pound Quenneville was at home on the Medicine Hat powerplay, with 10
goals and 25 points coming on the man advantage. He also managed to put up 27
even strength points, a mark that sat him fifth in draft eligible CHL defenders
in even strength points per game, ahead of names like Sergachev, Chychrun, and
Juolevi. Defensively, Quenneville is positionally sound, playing stronger and
more physical than his size would indicate. During the U18s, he routinely
played against top competition, and came out looking very well-rounded at both
ends of the ice.

Quenneville is a player
who has no comparables on DEV, as there just aren’t any other defenders as
undersized as he who have been drafted. That alone is a big red flag for many
teams: he’s breaking the mould, and it’s incredibly difficult to succeed when
you’re 5’8”. His ranking of 144th would be quite reflective of that.
But besides Quenneville’s lofty point totals, his raw ability alone should have
him listed on par with other potential second rounders like Samuel Girard or
Cam Dineen.

Vladimir Bobylev
(Victoria Royals, WHL)

Vladimir Bobylev Pts

Bobylev has something
that some of our other listed players do not: size. The second-time eligible LW/C was
passed over in his draft year after putting up just nine points in 52 games
with the Vancouver Giants. He was slated to join Spartak of the KHL in 15/16,
however crossed the pond once again when Victoria selected him in the Import
Draft. It was a strong career move, as Bobylev really took to the Royals
system, producing 28 goals and 67 points (55 at evens) in 72 games, good for a
0.65 age-adjusted even strength points/game rate, 26th among CHL
draft eligibles. Bobylev plays top six minutes and second powerplay time for
the Royals. His willingness to return to the WHL after a less-than-stellar rookie
season where Vancouver cut ties with him indicates that the “Russian factor” is
not much of a concern. There are flaws in Bobylev’s game – skating, play away
from the puck – but he should be on the radar of any teams looking for a
project player who already has built-in skill.

DEV lists him with a minimal
chance of making the NHL (just under 17% based off of 125 comparables), but he
does have 21 successful comparables, including players as diverse as BJ
Crombeen, Trent Hunter and guys like Jay McClement. If Bobylev can develop his
defensive play and strengthen his skating enough, DEV’s “fair value pick range”
of a mid-3rd rounder would be quite apt.

ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE

Dmitry Sokolov (Sudbury Wolves, OHL)

Dmitry Sokolov Pts

Dmitry Sokolov came into the season as a player many had
pegged as a first rounder. The 5’11” winger never quite lived up to
expectations, coming into camp out of shape at around 225 pounds, but
eventually working off about 15 pounds during the season. Sokolov struggled on
a middling Wolves team, taking a bit of time to adjust to North American hockey.
Eventually, Sokolov was able to notch an OHL rookie-leading 30 goals, 20 of
which were at even strength. The bulky Russian finished a nice 69th
in age-adjusted even strength points/game, but what might be more impressive is
that he did it while battling a recurring shoulder dislocation throughout the
year, which sapped a lot of his strength and required off-season surgery.
Sokolov’s biggest asset is his powerful, accurate wristshot. The majority of
his 231 shots came from the medium or high-danger scoring areas, or streaking
down the wing and firing a laser through a defender’s legs. One of Sokolov’s habits is to streak in on the wing and fire a wrister immediately, looking to catch the goalie off-guard and creating a chance for a rebound. Sokolov finished top ten among
QMJHL/OHL eligibles in shots/game. Ranked at 129th, Sokolov has the
talent levels to be going much higher, and he fits the definition of a
high-risk, high-reward prospect.

Dmitry Sokolov Shots

(Dmitry Sokolov shot map)

DEV gives Sokolov about a 20% chance of NHL success. His
comparables include Vlad Namestnikov, who is a bit smaller but put up similar
goal numbers for the London Knights in his draft year, where he went 27th
to Tampa Bay. Sokolov also matches up with Drayson Bowman, a sniper out of the
WHL who eventually became a Carolina 3rd rounder in 2007. Sokolov
going anywhere after the 3rd round would be a tremendous bargain,
especially if he can build off of his 30 goal rookie season.

Dante Salituro (Ottawa 67’s, OHL)

Dante Salituro Pts

Dante Salituro is in his second year eligible, which
surprised some who had him pegged as a steal back in the 2015 draft. He came
into the season needing to improve on his skating and consistency, something
which he was moderately successful at. Salituro was the 67’s primary offensive
weapon all season, especially after 2015 Philadelphia 1st rounder
Travis Konecny was dealt to Sarnia in early January. He’s a shorter player, at
just 5’9” but is a stocky 175-190 pounds (depending on who you ask), and is
relatively strong, especially in the lower body. While his speed has improved
this season, it’s still only average, with his first two step acceleration lacking
the explosiveness that you’d hope to see out of a player with his skillset. He
is elusive in traffic, and has very good hockey sense, but can sometimes be
guilty of getting a bit too creative, resulting in turnovers. Salituro’s
offense took a bit of a jump this year – from 1.15 points per game in 2014/15 (78
points in 68 games) to 1.28 points per game (83 in 65) this season – which
becomes a bit more impressive when you factor in that no other 67’s player had
more than 56 points.

Dante Salituro Shots

(Dante Salituro shot map)

Salituro finished 36th in age-adjusted even
strength points per game, something which helps in his DEV rating. Their fair
value pick range has Salituro as worth a late 2nd round pick. Most
of his comparables are speedier forwards, guys like Tyler Johnson, Jean-Gabriel
Pageau, or Matt Calvert. But his offensive game can be compared to some of
them, so if he can improve his first-step quickness, a useful pro career with
potential NHL time is possible.

Matt Luff (Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL)

Matt Luff Pts

Luff is another player who was passed over in his first
go-around at eligibility. During his draft year, he was chided for not using
his size well, as he relies on skill more than being a big-bodied-banger. His
production – 9 goals and 31 points – was also disappointing. Luff has improved tremendously,
as he frequently uses a combination of speed and strength to drive back
defenders and crash the net. In fact, 87% of his 119 shots this season were
considered scoring chances by the league, and his heat map confirms that. Luff
has above average stick skills, and a plus shot, resulting in 27 goals and 57
points this season. While his shooting percentage was quite high, at nearly
23%, that would be the result of his consistent drives to the net. Of Luff’s 27
goals this season, 12 were scored from the high-danger area, and 11 more were
from the medium danger zone. Luff ranked 12th in age-adjusted goals
per game in the CHL, ahead of snipers like Dillon Dube, Alex Nylander, and about
even with Max Jones.

Matt Luff Shots

(Matt Luff shot map)

DEV compares Matt Luff to a player like Boone Jenner – who is
fresh off of potting 30 goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While that’s a bit
of a lofty comparison, one can see a bit of it in Luff’s offensive game. Jenner
is far more well-rounded and willing to crash and bang, but it’s something to
strive towards. In my opinion, if Luff were a year younger and put up a season
like this, he would be ranked way higher than a borderline pick.

QUEBEC MAJOR JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE 

Alex Dostie (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL)

Alex Dostie Pts

Alex Dostie finished second in scoring on Gatineau, just
behind fellow draft eligible and probable early 2nd round pick
Vitali Abramov. Dostie’s 73 points (including 25 goals) in 54 games were a
marked improvement on his already strong 54 point showing in his QMJHL rookie
season. The second-time eligible forward finished 14th in
age-adjusted even strength points per game, right in line with players like
Dillon Dube, Julien Gauthier and Michael McLeod. On top of that, 77% of Dostie’s shots were considered scoring chances, owing to his improved ability to get himself into the dangerous areas of the ice and create chances. Dostie has been compared to
Winnipeg Jets forward Mathieu Perreault in both style of play and career path
since he was drafted into the QMJHL. Unlike Perreault, who ended up going 177th
over-all to Washington, Dostie was passed over in his initial draft year.

Alex Dostie Shots

(Alex Dostie shot map)

DEV doesn’t list Perreault as a comparable for Dostie,
mostly because Dostie’s point production did not spike like Perreault’s in his
second year. That said, his production this year was a significant improvement
on his rookie season. Dostie will be a good option for scoring depth late in
the draft, as DEV has his fair value pick range in the mid-2nd
rounder area, and lists a 20.7% chance of NHL success based on his 91
comparable players.

Maxime Fortier (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)

Maxime Fortier Pts

The Halifax Mooseheads were not a strong team this year, but
Maxime Fortier was not a reason why. The 5’10” speedster notched 31 goals and 77
points in 68 games, 28 more than second place on his team. The Mooseheads
traded away quite a few of their top players, leaving Fortier to lead a crew of
lower-end top-sixers. Fortier is a volume shooter, averaging 3.4 shots per game
this season, not unexpected as he was the most dangerous weapon on his squad.
He is adept at getting to the scoring chance areas (145 chances in the regular
season), but is more prone to quantity over quality. Fortier has speed to burn
and goes full force into the offensive zone at every opportunity.

Maxime Fortier Shots

(Maxime Fortier shot map)

Fortier’s comparables in age adjusted point-production
include players like Boris Katchouk and Will Bitten. His top DEV comparable is
Brad Richardson, who has carved out a very respectable NHL career, most
recently putting up 31 points in 82 games with Arizona in 2015/16.

Alexis D’Aoust (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL)

Alexis Daoust Pts

D’Aoust is probably the most longshot of these nine to get
drafted. He will be in his third year of eligibility and despite his lofty
point totals – 98 in 68 games, ranked 25th in age-adjusted scoring –
he’s not even been ranked by Central Scouting. D’Aoust lead the Cataractes in
scoring, finishing with 19 more points than second place Anthony Beauvillier,
but was on a very strong team which, coupled with his age, may hold him back. The
speedy winger improved his goal output from 24 to 44 this season, and found
himself on the top line more often than not. Whether or not D’Aoust actually
hears his name called on draft day, he will almost certainly find himself in
rookie camps through the summer and potentially with a pro contract by the end
of it.

Alexis Daoust Shots

(Alexis D’Aoust shot map)

DEV suggests that D’Aoust may be worth as much as an an
early 2nd round choice, based on his current output and comparables.
Players like Chris Tierney are his top successful cohorts. One intriguing
cohort is Claude Giroux. That’s a tall, tall mountain to climb – Giroux was a
first time eligible when he lit up the league – but it’s certainly something to
mention.

When it comes to draft day, 210 players will hear their
names selected, but only a fraction of them will go on to be successful NHL
pros. Using more in-depth scoring numbers and comparables which adjust for age,
team, and playing time can help a team make a smarter selection on draft day,
and maximize a team’s potential of uncovering a diamond in the rough in the
later stages of the draft.