What to Expect When You’re Drafting – Atlantic Division

After the draft kicks off with the Pacific Division Edmonton Oilers, next on the clock will be the Buffalo Sabres, which leads to part two of What to Expect When You’re Drafting, The Atlantic Division.

Boston Bruins

GM: Don Sweeney

Director of Player Personnel: John Ferguson Jr.

Director of Amateur Scouting: Keith Gretzky

Here we have a real draft wild card. New GM Don Sweeney was an assistant general manager prior to his recent appointment as top dog. His previous role was (publically, at least) more about development than player acquisition, so it may not be fair to look at his track record to gauge what the Bruins might do this year. John Ferguson Jr. debuted in his role as director of player personnel last year. He was hired one day before the first round of last year’s draft, so his track record with Boston is similarly obfuscated. He can, however, learn about his proclivities from his time as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, which ran from 2003-08, covering four drafts. Similarly, Keith Gretzky was the director of amateur scouting for Boston at the table last year, which is a paltry track record, but he has four years with the same title for the Arizona Coyotes running from 2007-11 from which to glean hints.

Mildly interesting is the fact that last year’s draft, Gretzky’s first in New England, saw the team follow its recent historical trend of heavily mining for talent in the American high school/USHL ranks as well as Sweden. The early returns on that approach have been fantastic as first rounder David Pastrnak has already made an impact at the NHL level. Looking at John Ferguson Jr. we can see that he has never been shy about drafting goalies early, spending a first rounder on Tuukka Rask (some irony there), a third rounder on Justin Pogge and a fourth on James Reimer. He trusted his European scouts to a great extent while steering largely clear of the CHL. In his four drafts for Toronto, the Leafs selected only six CHL prospects, compared to 13 from the various leagues in Europe.

With Arizona, Keith Gretzky was the near opposite of Ferguson.   18 of the 27 players drafted under his watch were CHL prospects. On the other hand, he, too, spent a first round pick on a goalie (Mark Visentin, 2010). He would dip into Europe once per draft (perhaps to appease his European scouts) and was just as likely to select a prospect from the USHL, which generally referred to the USNTDP.

What to expect: Sweeney has already come out and said that he wants to get the Bruins back to playing a tougher brand of hockey, echoing former Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. The thinking may be that, in spite of Pastrnak’s early success, the Bruins want to get back to drafting bigger players. I will guess that the seven players the Bruins draft (assuming no draft floor trades) all measure in at least 6’ tall or have wide frames. Trading down, or reaching for Brock Boeser may be in the cards in the first round assuming that Zacha, Crouse and Meier are off the board.

Buffalo Sabres

GM: Tim Murray

Director of Player Personnel: Kevin Devine

Director of Amateur Scouting: Greg Royce

While Murray and Devine are both relatively new to Buffalo, director of player personnel Kevin Devine has been around for eight years, the first five of which were as director of amateur scouting.  Murray and Royce both come to Buffalo after years in the Ottawa front office. Royce also led Nashville’s draft efforts from 2003-05.

Starting off in-house, when Devine was Buffalo’s director of amateur scouting, the Sabres had seven first round picks in five years, with no selection higher than 12th overall. His seven first rounders, in chronological order, were Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Zack Kassian, Mark Pysyk, Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. A mixed bunch, to be sure. Big and little, hard and soft. Forwards and defensemen, Americans and Europeans. The only thing they all had in common was that none of them are goalies. In fact, in his five years, Devine never drafted a goalie before the sixth round.

Normally, I would not focus much on experience from 10+ years ago, but Royce’s three drafts for Nashville were franchise defining. In the first year, he famously drafted Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein and Shea Weber in the first two rounds. In 2004, he selected a backup netminder out of Finland in the eighth round. His name was Pekka Rinne. Devine also fingered Alexander Raduov and Mike Santorelli that year. His third draft was the weakest of the bunch, but he still drafted Cody Franson (third round) and Patrik Hornqvist (seventh).

Between 2008-13, Murray and Royce worked together in Ottawa, although neither held one of our big three draft positions. In any case, the Senators drafted well in those years, acquiring major contributors like Erik Karlsson, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Jakub Silfverburg, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and many others. They were very comfortable and very effective drafting players out of Sweden and the CHL, with only 12 players from other circuits taken in six seasons.

What to expect: Jack Eichel represents the first time any of these men will be using a first round pick on an NCAA player, or even a USHL graduate, since Devine selected Ryan Suter with the seventh pick in 2003. That turned out pretty well, too. They will have eight more chances to pluck players from their comfort zone. Looking at their shared history of drafting high end defenders in the first round, expect them to use the pick they received from the Islanders in the Thomas Vanek trade on a blueliner. Probably one from the CHL.

Detroit Red Wings

GM: Ken Holland

Director of Amateur Scouting: Tyler Wright

So Ken Holland has been the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings since forever. This will be Tyler Wright’s second draft as director of amateur scouting in the Motor City, an experience he preceded with two years running the scouts table at the draft for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Wright’s proclivities in Columbus were very similar to the Red Wings way. Essentially, that means players who can play with the puck out of Europe and the CHL. Wright had only one exception in his two years in Ohio, while the Red Wings have only drafted eight players from other leagues in the past five years. That said, two of those Detroit exceptions were first rounders in Riley Sheahan and Dylan Larkin, so we know they will go out of their primary comfort zone even at the top of the pile. Also of note is that the Wings under Holland have alternated years for drafting netminders. The last time they drafted goalies in consecutive years was in the 2002-03 drafts. Another noteworthy trend is that the Red Wings have only drafted forwards at the top since drafting Brendan Smith 27th overall in 2007. On the other hand, owning the second pick in Tyler Wright’s first year running the Columbus draft, he selected Ryan Murray.

What to expect: The Red Wings have not used any pick prior to 139 on a blueliner in the past three drafts. Whoever they select, we know that Detroit will not rush them, so they can trade some urgency for greater long term upside. Oliver Kyington and Danie Sprong would both fit the Detroit mold with likelihood of being available at their first pick at 19th overall.

Florida Panthers

GM: Dale Tallon

Director of Amateur Scouting: Erin Ginnell

GM Dale Tallon was the architect of the nucleus of the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty, having had a large role in their draft room from the 1999-2009 drafts. Erin Ginnell was promoted from area scout to director of amateur scouting with the Panthers in time for Tallon’s second draft in the sunshine state.

Tallon’s early drafts for the Blackhawks were underwhelming, with Tuomo Ruutu and Craig Anderson being the only real players of note in the first three years. Starting in 2002, he went on a run of success that saw his teams draft Duncan Keith, James Wisniewski, Adam Burish, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, and Troy Brouwer in three years.  2005 was a dud, as, although he drafted Niklas Hjalmarsson in the fourth round, he whiffed on seventh overall pick Jack Skille. Between 2006-08, Tallon drafted Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Ben Smith (don’t laugh), but received combined 12 NHL games combined from the other 20 players selected. He has already drafted five players with more experience in his five seasons as Panthers GM.

Focusing on his work for the Panthers, Tallon has drafted relatively heavily from the US amateur ranks, including five players from the USHL, three Minnesota high schoolers and one from the NAHL (AKA the Goalie League). He has mixed his European acquisitions relatively evenly between Finland, Sweden and Russia. His top picks have been split pretty evenly between forwards and defensemen. Size has not been his primary consideration but his first rounders have always at least had height, if not brawn.

What to expect: If either of Zach Werenski or Kyle Connor are available at pick 11, they will become property of the Florida Panthers. If they are both gone, Pavel Zacha or Timo Meier would also fit the Tallon MO.

Montreal Canadiens

GM: Marc Bergevin

Director of Player Personnel/Director of Amateur Scouting: Trevor Timmins

When Dale Tallon left Chicago, Marc Bergevin began a short reign as director of player personnel. In his two years in the Windy City, the Blackhawks drafted both frequently and well, and both Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad played critical roles on multiple Cup winners. Trevor Timmins, whose roles essentially span both critical directorships as they pertain to the draft, has been at the helm in Montreal since2002.

The Hawks selections in the two years with Bergevin’s input came from everywhere. CHL, USHL, all over Europe, American high schools, even the AJHL. On the other hand, Timmins, with 12years of drafting for Montreal, has some notable exclusionary trends. Most intriguing is that he tends to avoid Russia. Not Russian players, but players coming out of Russia. Only six have heard their names called in 12 years, none since 2009. What makes that disdain especially curious is that the first three, Andrei Kostitsyn, Alexei Emelin and Mikhail Grabovski, have all panned out. Half of his drafts have kicked off with a player from the USHL, USNTDP or a US high school, with mixed results. Only once – 2008, when they had only five total picks – did Timmins fail to draft a single player out of the QMJHL. In the last five Montreal drafts, another trend, wherein they draft a big player (at least above average size) in the first round and then balance that with a small scorer or two in the latter rounds has also held steady.

What to expect: We should anticipate the Canadiens using their first rounder on a large player once again, with WHL forwards Paul Bittner and Jansen Harkins two likely candidates. As they have drafted only three blueliners in the past three drafts, expect them paper that organizational gap in the middle and late rounds this year. Dennis Malgin would be a good fit for Montreal in the middle of the draft as would at least one or two players who are college bound.

Ottawa Senators

GM: Bryan Murray

Director of Player Personnel: Pierre Dorion

Director of Amateur Scouting: Bob Lowes

One of the more well-respected and well-travelled executives in the game today, Bryan Murray spent four years (90-94) as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, six seasons (94-00) as GM of the Florida Panthers, two seasons (02-04) as GM of the Anaheim Ducks and has been the man in charge of the Ottawa Senators’ fortunes since the middle of the 2007-08 season. Director of player personnel Pierre Dorion has been at his side since Murray took over the Ottawa Front Office. At that same time, current director of amateur scouting, Bob Lowes left the WHL for his first NHL position, working as an amateur scout for eight seasons before rising to the top this season.

As Dorion’s and Lowes’ roles as decision makers have both overlapped completely with that of their GM, we can focus solely on Murray to glean insight into the Ottawa draft room.

In four years as GM in Detroit, Murray’s draft successes included Martin Lapointe, Jamie Pushor, Chris Osgood, Mike Knuble, Darren McCarty, Dan McGillis, Anders Eriksson, Mathieu Dandenault and Tomas Holmstrom. In six years at the helm in Florida, he drafted Radek Dvorak, Filip Kuba, Marcus Nilson, Kristian Huselius, Jaroslav Spacek, and Niklas Hagman. It can only have been a coincidence that each of the players he drafted for Florida to have played at least 500 NHL games came out of Europe. Murray’s two drafts for Anaheim netted Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Drew Miller, Shane O’Brien, and Ladislav Smid. Hits with Ottawa include Erik Karlsson, Patrick Wiercioch, Zach Smith, Jared Cowan (debatable), Jakob Silfverberg, Robin Lehner, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Codi Ceci and Curtis Lazar.

We can say with confidence that Murray loves drafting Swedes and does it very well. Perhaps he picked up the taste for it during his years in Detroit, but anyone would be happy with drafting Karlsson, Silfverberg and Zibanejad in a four year span. He has never drafted goalie in the first round, but has not shied away from them as second and third rounders. He has also shown a proclivity for taking later round fliers on players from leagues with lower overall quality, such as American high schoolers, EJHL, CCHA and BCHL. It is also rather likely that his top few picks will come from Sweden or the CHL.

What to expect: It is almost too easy to pair the Senators with lightning-quick Swedish defenceman Oliver Kylington, as a kind of Karlsson protégé, but Thomas Chabot, Jeremy Roy or Joel Eriksson Ek would also fit nicely. While size has never been a huge concern for Murray’s teams, he has not been averse to gambling on physical specimens when the opportunity arises. They could be the landing spot for one of Adam Parcells or Nikita Pavlychev.

Tampa Bay Lightning

GM: Steve Yzerman

Director of Player Personnel: Pat Verbeek

Director of Amateur Scouting: Al Murray

GM Steve Yzerman and director of player personnel Pat Verbeek both Tampa together from Detroit where they had each spent four seasons as VP of Hockey Operations and professional scout, respectively. While neither role is seen as critical in the drafting process, more than enough can be captured through osmosis that the Detroit way has filtered down to Florida. Director of amateur scouting Al Murray has a more diverse portfolio attached to his name, as he held the same role with the Los Angeles Kings from 1994-2007. In other words, their head scout is the same man who drafted many of the key pieces that lifted the Stanley Cup twice this decade.

Notable (careers over 500 games for skaters, 300 games for goalies) players drafted by LA during Murray’s run include Aki Berg, Eric Belanger, Olli Jokinen, Joe Corvo, Frantisek Kaberle, Alex Frolov, Andreas Lilja, Lubomir Visnovsky, Mike Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, Brian Boyle, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and Wayne Simmonds among other, lesser contributors. Glorious history aside, we can focus on his work with Tampa, as he took over the chief amateur scout role as part of the front office turnover when Yzerman and Verbeek came to Tampa.

The first notable trend in Tampa’s recent draft history is the complete lack of Swedes drafted by this regime, which files in the face of the Detroit roots. That said, they have not avoided Russians, with five drafted in four years, plus one more Russia native who was playing his junior hockey in the OHL. Of those six, the early returns have been fantastic, with five already having appeared in the NHL, and four of those played critical roles in this year’s run to the Stanley Cup finals. The Lightning have also drafted heavily out of the CHL, with 15 players over the four seasons, although those players have generally been OHL or QMJHL prodigies, with only two drafted from the WHL. They have only rarely dipped into the USHL or other areas where players expect to feed into the NCAA ranks. Also notable is the general disregard for size, as three of their five first rounder measured at under 6’.

What to expect: The Lightning will take a portfolio approach to the draft. Their first rounder will be the highest upside player on the board. That might be Jeremy Bracco or Anthony Beauvillier or even Denis Gurianov. Upside will be less important with the later selections as they will instead draft a few players with higher floors and well-rounded games, similar to their pick of Cedric Paquette (4th round, 2012). Someone like Alexandre Carrier, Damien Riat or Deven Sideroff would fit that mold. This might also be the first year since the Lightning selected Victor Hedman with the second pick of the 2009 draft that they draft a Swede.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Director of Player Personnel: Mark Hunter

Director of Amateur Scouting: Dave Morrison

The only team without an acting General Manager, the Maple Leafs nonetheless have spent most of the past year building and expanding on its front office staffers, which included the hiring of Mark Hunter as director of player personnel, where he has been the general manager since 2000. Many of the others to join the Leafs also have deep ties to the OHL, including AGM Kyle Dubas, director of player evaluation Jim Paliafito, AHL head coach Sheldon Keefe and NHL assistant coach DJ Smith.

While we could look at each front office member’s draft history in the OHL, that would be of minimal utility, as the player pool in that league is naturally far more limited than what they can choose from in the NHL. We can examine the draft record under Dave Morrison, who has been the Leafs’ director of amateur scouting since the 2007 draft. Morrison was often hamstrung by the “go for it” nature of former GM Brian Burke, who traded away too many in the first round, famously including the picks that ended up turning into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. His successor was also in the habit of dealing away second rounders as part of bigger deals. Only once in his tenure has Morrison been able to plan picks for each of the first three rounds. He has had four top ten picks, and while none have flopped, it is fair to say that Luke Schenn and Nazem Kadri have underwhelmed at times. Morgan Rielly has looked like a great choice and last year’s selection of William Nylander may pay off at the NHL level starting next season. While many of his picks are still too young to judge, it is striking that he has not drafted anyone after of the second round who has played more than 31 NHL games since 2007. He has also not drafted a single netminder who has appeared in an NHL game. Under Morrison, the Leafs have drafted extensively from Sweden, with nine prospects drafted, but have put in scarce commitments to other European nations, with only three players in total. Also of not, I that the Leafs almost always take players from NCAA feeder leagues, with only two seasons when that was not the case.

What to expect: With the OHL brain power added to the organization, it feels as if the weight of Dave Morrison’s input has been diminished. The Maple Leafs are almost certain to draft an OHLer with the fourth pick of the draft, if they do not trade down, with both Mitchell Marner and Dylan Strome being credible options. Many talking heads have been tying the Leafs to Marner as the GM who drafted him into the OHL is now the Toronto director of player personnel. What they forget is that Hunter did not have Strome on his board when Marner was selected. Strome went second in the OHL draft while Marner lasted until the end of the round. Expect the Leafs to draft for upside with the second first rounder as well, with Daniel Sprong and Oliver Kylington both options. Finally, you could bet the mortgage on them picking up at least one Swedish name in the later rounds, even if they go to the Tre Kronor in the first.


3 thoughts on “What to Expect When You’re Drafting – Atlantic Division

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