Last year, our readers were rewarded with reports on prospects from all levels of the hockey world below the NHL. Between the regular reports throughout the season and the draft rankings during the season followed by the our summer-long top ten prospect series, the Hockey Prospectus Prospect Team strove to bring you all the best, most objective prospect information available online.
This year we want to do better. While our clarion call for additional keen observers with a passion for junior, college and minor pro hockey remains steadfast, we feel we can do more even if our team does not grow from its current five man outfit. We will begin publishing prospect reports in the coming weeks, but this year we have planned a tweak to our reports that should increase the level of objectivity we bring to our rankings at season’s end – both for the draft board as well as for organizational top tens.
Borrowing from the baseball world, Hockey Prospectus is introducing the 20-80 scale to hockey prospectus. The 20-80 scale is a traditional scoring system used by baseball scouts to quantify what they could see of a young player on the diamond. Current Atlanta Braves Assistant Director of Baseball Operations and former Fangraphs prospect team leader Kiley McDaniel wrote a detailed description of the scale and I recommend that everyone give that article a gander.
The Cole’s notes version of that text is that the scale runs the gamut of skill levels from men’s league grinder (20) to Sidney Crosby (80). An average NHL player, say Matt Martin or Patrick Wiercioch, would rate as a 50. There are far more 20s than 80s as both you and I qualify for the former ranking, while only a very small handful of the NHL’s top talent can hope to sniff the latter. Generally speaking, anyone with an aggregate score below 40 has no business seeing more than an emergency recall to the NHL.
To get to the aggregate total score, we take the time to rate each scoutable attribute of a player. For skaters, that includes skating, shooting, skills, smarts and physicality. For netminders, we look at athleticism, quickness/speed, vision/play reading, compete/temperament, technique/style/rebound control and puck handling. Not all attributes are rated equally, but all are essential in coming up with a final score. The overall number is referred to as an Overall Future Potential (OFP).
It should be noted – and this is important – that not all attributes carry equal weight. For example, the score given to a skater’s physicality pales in comparison to his skating, skills, shot and smarts. That does not mean it lacks significance, simply that it is less important. Further, I should mention that by physicality, we are referring solely to physicality with the gloves still on. We do not rate – nor do we care to rate – a player’s fighting ability. Physicality includes willingness to battle in the corners, or play in front of the net, the strength to win 50/50 pucks and the ability to disrupt opponents with brawn, as opposed to skill. We try to balance this by not giving credit for recklessness, but we believe in the inherent value of toughness as it can amplify the other attributes, while the lack thereof could prevent the other attributes from rising to the fore.
In a similar vein, not all attributes will carry the same weight across the positional spectrum. Going back to physicality, it carries more weight with blueliners than it does with wingers. Wingers will have more onus on their shoots, skill and speed while centers need the smarts in addition to skills as their primary assets. All that said, we take players as they are.
With goaltenders, we again value some skills more than others. Puck handling is a great skill, one that can raise a netminder’s value to his team. On the other hand, a goalie who scores highly on the other attributes but struggles to play the puck with his stick will still be a fantastic goalie. A team can strategize around that weakness in a way they cannot for a goalie who lacks quickness or vision.
Finally, like many pro scouts, we will embrace a measure of subjectivity – soft factors – into the mix and allow our evaluators the leeway to adjust a player’s OFP by up to three points on the basis of elements that they can see, or intelligence they gather, that does not fit neatly into our standard set of categories.
To demonstrate this system, let’s open report season with a pair of players I observed in recent weeks.
Scouting Report – Max Zimmer
Team: Chicago Steel (USHL) Draft Status: 2016 eligible
Stats to date: 16 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 Pts, 2 PIM
Height/Weight: 5-11”, 185
Zimmer is a solid skater as comfortable going East-West as he is North-South. He lacks the “burner” tag, but he can keep up. Grade: 55
More apt to utilize the wrister than to wind up, he can beat the goalie when he gets a clean look, but as his numbers indicate, he is not a sniper. Grade: 45
An area of concern. Have seen him take himself out of the play to make a retaliatory hit, putting his team at a disadvantage on the backcheck. There is also the issue of Chicago’s unadulterated dump-and-chase style, which prevents Zimmer and his teammates from making tough decisions, thereby making it difficult to truly gauge his hockey sense. Nonethless, I have seen enough to have reservations. Grade: 45
He is a strong puck carrier, one of the few on the Steel who is willing to move around the neutral zone in order to find a seam for a zone entry. Would like to see it more often, but again, the team’s regressive system keeps opportunities to work on his skills in game situations at a minimum. Grade: 55
Not really a big part of his game. While not undersized, he is no physical specimen either. Would need to bulk up to withstand the more physical game at higher levels. Grade: 40
The numbers do not jump off of the page, but Max Zimmer has done enough in his first full season outside of high school hockey to bear watching for the next few months. He has a skill set – between his above average hands and skating prowess – that is being underutilized by his coaches on Chicago, but the hope is that with additional comfort at the level, it will shine more often. Committed to the University of Wisconsin starting in 2017-18, Zimmer is currently showing enough to be worth a late-round flyer and the four-five years of development time his path will provide.
Scouting Report – Ryan Bednard
Team: Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) Draft Status: Florida Panthers, 206th overall, 2015
Stats to date: 8 GP, 5 W, 1 L, 1 OTL, 2.45 GAA, .917 SV%
Height/Weight: 6-4”, 179
Bednard truly impresses with his reflexes. He has fantastic legs and made a number of highlight reel worthy kick saves. The puck does not need to be fired into his body for him to prevent it from hitting twine. Grade: 60
The Panthers prospect gets post to post in solid time. His glove hand is also sharp, catching a numberof puck square in the pocket. Little wasted motion, but have not seen him challenged enough to grade him too highly. Grade: 55
Seems to see the play well and gets into position to make clean saves. Would like to see him faced with a team more comfortable in playing a cycle game in the offensive zone so as to challenge Bednard. One poor area is in reading the forecheck as he made a few subpar puck playing decisions that would have benefited from reading the opponents. Grade: 45
No real concern here. He telescopes as needed, when needed and never seemed fazed by the intermittent traffic in front of him. Grade: 50
Bednard is a butterfly goalie and it works for him as he has been able to put his limbs where they need to be when the puck is thrown towards a given corner of his net. Grade: 50
After his lower half agility, Bednard’s rebound control was his most impressive attribute. Every puck that reached the net was either held by the young netminder, or shunted harmlessly into a corner. Second chances will be at a premium against this goalie. Grade: 55
It’s not that he can’t handle the puck. It’s that he makes poor decisions when he takes it upon himself to do so. It does not seem to be an issue with cracking under the pressure of a forecheck, but rather not sensing where the forecheckers are or where they are going. Needs work. Grade: 35
Bednard was drafted mostly off the strength of his season in the NAHL with the Johnstown Tomahawks. Committed to attend Bowling Green State starting next year, he has impressed in his first extended taste of the USHL. More than the numbers, his play keeps his team in the game. Other than a dud in his seasonal debut, he has given the Phantoms a chance ever night. Between his agility and rebound control, he has two of the attributes I value most highly in goaltending prospects. So far, he looks like a great drafting find.