2008 NHL Re-draft Part II

This is Part II of the 2008 NHL Re-Draft, which theorizes what would happen if this draft were held today knowing what we know now. The 2008 draft was awesome, and the top four players – Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos, Alex Pietrangelo, and Erik Karlsson – are superstars who have garnered personal accolades and playoff success. They were discussed in Part I, which ran on Hockey Prospectus on September 7th.

After those four players, all of whom were chosen in the first round, it becomes very intriguing evaluating the large pool of talent that was eligible that year. Many of the best players from this draft were selected in the later rounds, and some extremely important top-four defensemen were unearthed. Offensively, only a few players made the top 16, but these individuals are top-six forwards who have demonstrated impressive scoring and two-way ability.

The rules used are borrowed from Mel Kiper of ESPN.

The rules:

  1. The order is based mainly on what players have accomplished but also considers what else they have left. Health matters.
  2. The need of the team at the time is not considered. This is now purely “best player available.”
  3. Positional value matters – so center is more important than a winger, for instance.

All advanced statistics used are from Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and behindthenet.ca.

 5.Toronto Maple Leafs: Jordan Eberle

2008 Selection: Luke Schenn

It is up for debate where the line of demarcation falls in the 2008 NHL Draft between the stars and the very good players, and Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle is a case in point. The Oilers are a perennial cellar dweller, get torched on defense, and seem to have difficulty establishing a unified identity. Eberle was not a first overall pick like his high-profile peers who, fairly or unfairly, get lumped into the category of underachievers; Edmonton’s young forwards are labeled offensive-centric scorers who cannot play the 200-foot game.

In 2013-14, Eberle had 28 goals and 37 assists, good possession stats relative to how bad his team was at driving play. When apart from his typical linemates, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, Eberle fared much better in Corsi for than they did when apart from him. Eberle also made a positive impact at even strength. (He finished second on the team in points per 60 minutes at five on five behind the electric Hall.)

In 2011-12, the last 82-game season before this previous one, Eberle was a tidal wave of offense, finishing second in the NHL in points per 60 minutes at five on five and with a 16.6 GVT, good for 34th among all NHL players. Eberle forces the defense to loosen because of his on-a-string puck-handling ability and awesome shot release. He is a consistent scoring threat for Edmonton – he finished 70th in GVT in 2013-14, one spot behind Hall – though he was sheltered last season in his usage, and needs to continue to concentrate on his three-zone game.

6.     Columbus Blue Jackets: Derek Stepan

2008 Selection: Nikita Filatov

Derek Stepan has neither the flash nor disruptive skill of many of the high caliber No. 1 centers spread across the NHL, but that understates his aptitude: The New York Rangers emerged from the Eastern Conference with him in the starring role down the middle. While playing big minutes, he is attuned to the subtle ebb and flow of his teammates and the larger dynamics of the game. Stepan’s fluent knowledge of his linemates’ strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when and how to distribute and advance the puck in the best way possible, make him very successful. He has strong possession metrics because he can make the difficult passes of the best playmakers and understands how to keep the puck in New York’s control.

Some playmakers need the puck on their stick for a few seconds before they can find an agreeable passing seam; Stepan can gracefully one-touch pass to his cutting teammate, but he can also be patient and wait until he sees a window he likes. Stepan finished just outside the top 100 NHL players in GVT, slotting in at 102nd

Stepan shouldered the heavy lifting in terms of competition and zone starts this season, and Alain Vigneault recognized that his versatility offensively – in terms of attacking off the rush or making the range of difficult passes on the cycle – made him a tremendous asset. The 51st overall pick might not possess the defensive acumen of the game’s best centers, but effort and positioning is a lot of the battle, and he has that nuance down pat. (Raising his meager faceoff win percentage would be a good start toward improving his defensive game.) Overall, Stepan is such an intelligent two-way player that he masks the fact that New York does not possess a cut-and-dry No. 1 center.

7.     Nashville Predators: Gustav Nyquist

2008 Selection: Colin Wilson

Among players with a minimum of 50 games, Red Wings’ forward Gustav Nyquist had the fifth best points per 60 minutes at five on five in the NHL. That won’t happen again. But Nyquist’s first NHL season of more than 22 games was like napalm; he incinerated the opposition with his impressive strength along the boards and in traffic, his guile and elusiveness, his balance despite a conspicuous size disadvantage, and his quick hands.

Nyquist recognizes the merit of two-way play, submitting strong possession statistics last season. When Detroit’s best players suffered injuries, it was this fourth-round pick (121st overall) who stepped to the forefront and carried the offensive burden. Watching him maintain possession in his puck-control radius while navigating the hostile defensive coverage made for phenomenal television last season. It should give Detroit fans reason to be bullish on his future.

After such a dynamic first full NHL season, expecting an encore of the torrid scoring pace Nyquist generated would be unfair and unrealistic (Nyquist outpaced the second best Wings player by six even-strength points.) However, Nyquist is part of the solution to surviving the decline of Detroit’s aging superstars; if he demonstrates visible top-six aptitude this season, Detroit will be a step further along in the organizational transition process. Nyquist was one of the “kids” who helped Detroit reach the playoffs, but he also exhibited the consistent ability to win puck battles and procure scoring chances out of nothing against opponents’ best players, which is something unique to him.

The Red Wings were second in the NHL in man-games lost to injury last season, and it would be beneficial to Nyquist’s development if players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk stayed healthy.

8.     Phoenix (Now Arizona) Coyotes: Roman Josi

2008 Selection: Mikkel Boedker

Roman Josi is a very good defenseman whose ascension has flown under the radar, a byproduct of playing for the Nashville Predators. Last season he was pitted against the toughest quality of competition for Nashville, yet he finished in the top 25 in points for defenseman. His possession metrics glimmer as well; he fared much better apart from Shea Weber in Corsi for (48.5) than Weber did apart from him (45.4). That is extremely impressive, especially considering that this season Weber was a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the third time

Josi moves the puck efficiently and effectively; he plays pragmatically, and has a very a heavy shot from long range. In the offensive zone and off the rush, he attacks well, and helped the Predators keep on the assault. He was one of the most valuable players for Nashville last season (with three less even-strength points than Weber), and finished second on the Predators in GVT, 128th among all NHL players.

9.     New York Islanders: Jared Spurgeon

2008 Selection: Josh Bailey

By the end of last season, Jared Spurgeon was Minnesota’s second best defenseman to Ryan Suter. While most assumed Jonas Brodin was the heir apparent to Suter for the Wild’s No. 1 defenseman, Spurgeon has shown that, despite his lack of size, he has crucial attributes for a successful 200-foot defenseman in today’s NHL – skills that the younger Brodin is still honing. Spurgeon’s possession metrics reveal how underrated his game is:  When he is apart from Suter, his Corsi for is 51.9, whereas when Suter is apart from Spurgeon, his Corsi for is 46.4. Also, when Spurgeon is apart from Marco Scandella, he has a 51.7 Corsi for, whereas when Scandella is apart from Spurgeon, his Corsi for is 47.8.

Spurgeon, who was a sixth-round pick (156th overall), accomplishes this with his varied toolkit, a puck-moving blueliner who can make a sharp first pass and understands how to find the release points in the defensive zone. Offensively, he has a decent shot and dishes the puck well. His defensive ability is good but not great; top-flight forwards can beat him one-on-one and sometimes he struggles to fend off opposing attackers when they charge into scoring areas. Still, he is not a liability in that department. Teams covet a defenseman who leads fluid breakouts and can achieve the carry-in when he sees space while still brandishing some defensive aptitude. Minnesota’s style of play has evolved into a speed and skill game, rather than physicality and defense, and Spurgeon has been instrumental in that transition.

10.Vancouver Canucks: Adam Henrique

2008 Selection: Cody Hodgson

After bursting onto the scene in his rookie season in 2011-12, and playing a large part in the New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup run, Adam Henrique has settled in as a good offensive threat on a poor scoring team. A third-round pick (82nd overall), Henrique has good but not exceptional speed or playmaking ability – but he can score, and makes it look easy.

In 2013-14, the 24-year-old notched over 20 goals for the first time in his career– 25 goals and 18 assists – while also giving a snapshot of what his future holds. Henrique is a fine possession player with very good hands and attacks the net well. On and off the puck, he was able to generate consistent scoring chances because of his stickhandling, strength, positioning, and natural finishing ability. His ability to fight through contact allowed him to draw 1.1 penalties per 60 minutes, the best among Devils players who played a minimum of 70 players for New Jersey.

Henrique turns 25 in February, but if he wants to be a No. 1 center for the Devils he will need to improve his substandard 44.3 faceoff win percentage. Henrique finished 97th overall in GVT and his ceiling is as a 25-30 goals, 60 points player.

11.Chicago Blackhawks: John Carlson

2008 Selection: Kyle Beach 

John Carlson is a top-pair defender for the Washington Capitals and was selected – and received ice time – by the United States for the Sochi roster. This demonstrates that he is highly regarded by smart people in the hockey community. After all, he is a stoutly built rearguard who has a blistering shot, undertakes the Capitals’ top competition, and finished in the top 30 for points among defensemen. Carlson also finished tied for eighth among defensemen in power play points.

But Washington was in the bottom third in the NHL in goals against, shots against, and 5 on 5 goals for/against. Carlson wasn’t exactly shepherding a good defensive group; in fact, the Capitals’ third pair was often abhorrent. On a game-to-game basis, Carlson leaves a lot to be desired. Carlson’s possession metrics are skimpy, and his game is wildly inconsistent. His decision-making can be poor, and he can be downright lazy in his defensive coverage and positioning. Too many times, he allows players to waltz into scoring areas uncontested, which is unacceptable considering his burly frame.

Carlson should be bullying players when they come into the defensive zone. While he shows flashes of defensive acumen, his game is as flawed as the Capitals are dysfunctional. The Wild’s Jared Spurgeon spent most of last season in a “second-pair role,” while he was capable of playing first pair. On a worse team, he surely would have. For Carlson, it may be the reverse:  He is managing first-pair duties while he is better suited for a second-pair position. If Carlson plays motivated, like he did for the U.S. in Sochi, he will raise his stock on this list.

12.Buffalo Sabres: T.J. Brodie

2008 Selection: Tyler Myers

Similar to John Carlson, T.J. Brodie may not be equipped for a top-pair role on a contending team, but because Calgary is one of the worst teams in the NHL, he was thrust into the position with defensive partner Mark Giordano and handled it as well as he could. His possession metrics were very good despite being on a team that was very bad at controlling the puck.

Brodie, a fourth-round pick (114th overall), has good vision and skating, and helped Calgary stay competitive on a night-to-night basis despite the Flames’ obvious lack of talent. In 2013-14, he finished tied for 129th in GVT.

13.Los Angeles Kings: Slava Voynov

2008 Selection: Colten Teubert

It should not be lost on the reader that all of the defensemen who made this top 16 have some mobility; by spreading out teams and attacking from different entry points, the opposition is forced to account for five skaters instead of three. This is a pivotal part of the modern offensive attack, and defensemen are part of it. It is also a surefire way to improve a team’s puck possession. Slava Voynov is a skilled, puck-moving defenseman with some offensive capability. He has a powerful shot and is an asset on the power play, where he can crush the puck from the point or find the skilled forwards with a sharp pass. Defensively, Voynov can recognize and hit his outlets when leading a breakout, and is solid at defending in the Kings’ own zone. Voynov finished tied for 191st in GVT and had solid possession numbers.

But Voynov can struggle with his decision-making, and his defensive game still needs polish. An area where he has difficulty is against speedy forwards on the transition. He is not an amazing skater, and can be beaten from the perimeter or up the gut by players with skill and acceleration. Still, Voynov provides a very good option as a second-pair defenseman, and was good enough in that position to be an important player on two Stanley Cup winning teams (and to appear in three consecutive Western Conference Finals). During last season’s playoffs, he saw his ice time rise to 23:08 per game. In this re-draft, it is good to see the Kings still get their man, only one round sooner.

14.Carolina Hurricanes: Jake Gardiner

2008 Selection: Zach Boychuk

There is a growing appreciation for Jake Gardiner’s game, and frankly, it is warranted. He is the Toronto Maple Leaf’s best puck-moving defenseman at the moment. He is still protected in his usage – he sees soft competition and favorable zone starts – but his offensive ability and knack for pushing the pace are a boon for the mobility-starved Maple Leafs. His possession metrics are good relative to Toronto’s inability to control the puck. With the Maple Leafs’ recent front office changes, Gardiner’s game should continue to blossom under hockey minds who value creativity and puck skills over grit.

15. Ottawa Senators: Jason Demers

2008 Selection: Erik Karlsson

Jason Demers finished with gaudy statistics for a defenseman in 2013-14, posting career highs in goals (five), assists (29), and points (34). He even finished 153rd in GVT among all players, and his OGVT and DGVT were both strong. So how did he fall to the seventh round of the 2008 NHL Draft? Well, his skills are subtler than many of his defensive 2008 graduates.

In 2013-14, San Jose blitzed opponents with shots, leading the regular season in shots per game. Demers does not drive the puck or set the tempo offensively – although he can lay a violent hit, so he does set the tone on occasion — but he does a good job recognizing where the pressure is on the forecheck and identifying when to activate. In all three zones, Demers makes an impact by consistently making good decisions, which helped him finish with 24 even-strength points during the regular season, tied for 20th among all NHL defensemen. He understands the Sharks’ transition game and their breakout, and his growth was heavily influenced by assistant coach Larry Robinson, the modern day defenseman doyen. By keeping things simple – pinch when he sees room, make the correct read, separate the opponent from the puck – Demers helped San Jose produce a top-six offense and defense.

16.Boston Bruins: Marco Scandella

2008 Selection: Joe Colborne

Marco Scandella does not possess the playmaking skills of a Ryan Suter, the raw talent of Jonas Brodin, or the grace of Jared Spurgeon. But Scandella operates in the Minnesota Wild’s strong top-four defensive group because he does a little bit of everything well. He can skate, pass, and shoot — well enough. He is comfortable in all three zones and capable of identifying time and space and exploiting it, something that was apparent in Corey Sznajder’s zone-tracking data, which showed Scandella’s puck-moving numbers to be very similar to Suter’s.

Scandella will never be a top-pair defenseman – he can be beaten by skilled forwards and isn’t quite as fluid on his pivots as the defensemen in front of him in this re-draft — but he is reliable, and can be a calming presence because he makes adequate plays on most sequences. His 7.0 GVT placed him inside the top 200, and even ahead of defensive partner and 2008 peer, Jared Spurgeon.

Honorable Mention: Mikkel Boedker, Cam Atkinson, Tommy Wingels, Matt Calvert, Colin Wilson, Travis Hamonic, Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Ben Smith, Zach Bogosian

 

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