What to Expect When You’re Drafting – Central Division

Not only was the Central Division home to (for the third time in six years) the Stanley Cup Champions, but, barring draft floor trades, they will be the final division to send a team to the microphone at the 2015 NHL draft when the Colorado Avalanche select tenth.

Chicago Blackhawks

GM: Stan Bowman

Director of Player Personnel: Pierre Gauthier

Director of Amateur Scouting: Mark Kelley

With so much recent success under their belts, one would almost think the Blackhawks head honchos must have had reams of front office experience. Sort of, but not really. GM Stan Bowman’s rookie season at the helm ended up with Chicago’s first Cup of this modern dynasty. He had spent only four years in the front office before assuming the crown. Then again, he is Scotty Bowman’s son which has to count for something. Director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley was an amateur scout for 20 years for the Quebec Nordiques, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Blackhawks before being promoted in 2008. His 12 year run with the Penguins was as a European scout, a period which included two seasons moonlighting as AGM with CSKA Moscow in the old International Hockey League. The graybeard in the room is director of player personnel Pierre Gauthier, who has been in the business since 1981, a stretch which included three years as GM in Ottawa, four in Anaheim and two and a half with Montreal.

While we can lump Bowman and Kelley together in terms of draft preferences considering their shared history, we should first look at some of Gauthier’s choices. He spent five years as director of amateur scouting with the Nordiques from 1989-93. In that time, he was able to pick first overall three times, and generally chose well. His highlight draft picks include Dave Karpa, Adam Deadmarsh, Jocelyn Thibault, Alexander Karpovtsev, Andrei Kovalenko, Anson Carter, Eric Lindros, Bill Lindsay, Adam Foote, Owen Nolan, and Mats Sundin. Many of those players were key contributors to subsequent Cup runs by the future Colorado Avalanche. As GM of Ottawa, six of his 25 draft picks went on to play more than 500 NHL games, including Andreas Dackell, Sami Salo, Chris Neil, Mike Fisher, Marian Hossa (it’s a small world) and Chris Phillips. Gauthier’s four drafts in charge of the Anaheim Ducks yielded Jordan Leopold, Joffrey Lupul, Niclas Havelid, Ilya Bryzgalov and P.A. Parenteau. Finally, his Montreal reign is still too recent to draw conclusions, but Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk are clearly on the plus side of the ledger.

As for Bowman and Kelley, the vast majority of their draft picks are still in development, but Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw each have hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug twice while Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Teravainen have each tasted glory once. Success aside, we can still look at their drafting habits. Despite always being in the hunt and acting as trade deadline buyers, by year’s end they have often been forced into the position of sellers for the sake of cap compliancy, ensuring a healthy number of draft picks. And perhaps due to having so many choices to play with, the Blackhawks have often taken the very long view at the expense of quicker gratification. This means drafting college bound players or European-based talent instead of CHL prospects. 2013 first rounder Ryan Hartman was their only CHL draftee in the past two drafts.  All told, only 12 of 46 draft picks in their joint rule have come from the CHL. In contrast, 22 picks were selected from NCAA eligible leagues across North America, leaving 12 picks from Europe. Most of their European selections have been from Sweden, but they have dabbled in other markets.

What to expect: Lacking a first round pick, much of the cream of the CHL crop will be gone by the time the Blackhawks are invited up to the podium with the 54th overall pick. That would leave several talented USHL players, such as Thomas Novak or Christian Fischer. It is hard to imagine another CHL shutout, but Canadian juniors will definitely be the minority among Blackhawks picks.

Colorado Avalanche

GM: Joe Sakic

Director of Player Personnel: Brad Smith

Director of Amateur Scouting: Alan Hepple

The entirety of the senior brain trust in Colorado is made up of individuals without any serious experience in any other organization. Brad Smith scouted for three years with Edmonton before joining the Avalanche in 1995. He was promoted to director of player personnel in 2005. Before Alan Hepple signed on as an amateur scout for Colorado in 2002, he held a similar post with Nashville for five seasons. Hepple became director of amateur scouting this past season after reports of disconnect between his predecessor Rick Pracey and GM Joe Sakic and coach Patrick Roy. Sakic went from figurehead to GM in short order, officially taking the helm this season.

With this lack of track record, the Avalanche may be a wild card team at the draft. If there is anything to go by, we could look at their draft record from the five seasons wherein Hepple acted as assistant director of amateur scouting. Of 33 players drafted in that time, a remarkable 25 were selected from CHL teams. Europe has not been a priority, with only five selected, three from Sweden. If anything, it may be safer to assume the Avalanche will draft players who fit Patrick Roy’s style of constant pressure and grit.

What to expect: Lawson Crouse may fit the Patrick Roy prototype to a ‘T’. Big, plays hard, talented enough to contribute on the second or third line. He also plays in the CHL. If they are more willing to draft European, a few big and talented bodies such as Alexander Dergachyov or Jonas Siegenthaler could make for good fits in the second round. I feel less confident about their tendencies than I do for almost any other club.

Dallas Stars

GM: Jim Nill

Director of Player Personnel: Les Jackson

Director of Amateur Scouting: Joe McDonnell

While director of player personnel Les Jackson has held high level positions with the organization since 1988 when they were still the Minnesota North Stars, GM Jim Nill and director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell both are recent newcomers from Detroit. McDonnell held the same role with the Wings for ten seasons, while Nill was a high level executive since 1994.In spite of Jackson’s rich drafting history, having a hand in the selections of Jarome Iginla, Jamie Langenbrunner, Derian Hatcher, and Brenden Morrow among many, many others, his current role is advertised as more connected to player development, which suggests a quieter role in the draft room.

As such, most hints about what the Stars will do this weekend will come from the Red Wings in the ten drafts between 2004-13.Their public reputation has been of a team that adores European prospects as it always seems that all of their top players are imports. A look at the numbers partially bears that out, with 23 of 72 players drafted by McDonnell for Detroit emerging from Europe, a number that does not include an additional handful of Europeans who were playing their junior hockey in North America like Martin Frk, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek and others. That latter trend was still in effect in McDonnell’s second draft with Dallas, as they selected Finnish blueliner Julius Honka who had been playing in the WHL.

While close to half of his picks were out of the CHL, two thirds of his picks in the top two rounds were from the Canadian-based amateurs. His remaining baker’s dozen draft picks were scattered among high schools, the USHL, NCAA and various Tier I leagues.

What to expect: Dallas seems to follow the Detroit model of building an organization full of players that are universally smart on the puck. Size and toughness are barely even afterthoughts. A great fit for their first round would be Nick Merkley or Zack Werenski, if the latter is still on the board. While the Dallas organizational weakness is along the blueline, McDonnell used seven of his top ten picks on forwards in Detroit. Besides, there will be plenty of time to pick up defencemen in the second round and later in a draft that is swimming in mobile rearguards.

Minnesota Wild

GM: Chuck Fletcher

Director of Player Personnel: Blair MacKasey

Director of Amateur Scouting: Guy Lapointe

With each of GM Chuck Fletcher, director of player personnel Blair MacKasey, and director of amateur scouting Guy Lapointe in their current positions since at least 2009, we can look at the longest tenured of the three in Lapointe, and see if anything has substantially changed since he was joined by MacKasey in 2006 or Fletcher in 2009. Bearing in mind that MacKasey was exclusively focused on the professional side until two years ago, we can exclusively focus on the split of Minnesota pre- and post-Fletcher. Lapointe has run the Wild drafts since the turn of the century, which is to say that he has run all of them.

Lapointe drafted 78 players before Chuck Fletcher was hired away from Pittsburgh. 40 of them, just over half, were drafted from the CHL. Another 23, just under one third, were from Europe. Somewhat noteworthy is that five of the six high schoolers drafted were local kids from the State of Hockey, but only one of those – Nick Leddy – was taken before the fourth round.

In five drafts under Fletcher, the Wild have drafted seven prepsters, five of whom were from Minnesota and two of whom were in the top three rounds. This out of 34 total picks. Considering that they only used 12 picks on CHL talent, the stress on high schoolers is more curious. When selecting from the CHL, the WHL is the most likely target and Fletcher’s Wild have only drafted two players from the OHL. They have drafted nine Europeans, but never any Russian based players. Two of their five first rounders, Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund, are counted among those European players. They have also drafted three players out of the USNTDP, but only one other player from the USHL. Finally, four out of five drafts saw the Wild select a netminder in the back half of the draft.

What to expect: The Wild have spread out the love in their first two rounds for the past half-decade, with no league providing more than three players. They have been more prone to taking forwards early, with eight of 11 from their first two rounds since 2010 listed as forwards. As there is a slight lean towards two-way players, they might be hoping that one of Evgeny Svechnikov or Jansen Harkins falls to their slot in the first round. At a later point, expect a Minnesota high schooler.

Nashville Predators

GM: David Poile

Director of Player Personnel: Paul Fenton

Director of Amateur Scouting: Jeff Kealty

The full suite of the Nashville Predators braintrust has been in Tennessee for so long that we need not look elsewhere for hints at what they might do on draft day. For fun, though, we will take a peek at some drafting highlights from GM David Poile’s 13 years (1983-95) as the head honcho with the Washington Capitals. In that time, he selected 20 players who ended their NHL with more than 500 games played. The top ten all made it to 800 games. Those ten are Dmitri Khristich, Michal Pivonka, Bill Houlder, Kris King, Brendan Witt, Ken Klee, Peter Bondra, Andrew Brunette, Kevin Hatcher, and Sergei Gonchar.

Poile has been the only general manager the Predators have ever known. To narrow down our search, this profile will focus only the team’s drafts since Jeff Kealty took over the role of director of amateur scouting for the 2008 draft. Focusing on the top of the draft, an interesting trend we can see is that the Predators under Kealty have almost always used their first round pick on a North American player, with Kevin Fiala last season being his first exception. However, five of nine second rounders were European. Also of note is that those 15 players were drafted out of 12 difference leagues.

Twice, Kealty has drafted a goalie in the first or second round. Another interesting note is that Nashville has often double dipped in junior organizations, even when spreading the wealth around to different circuits. In a pool of 56 players, eight different unique junior teams have seen the Predators draft repeatedly from their ranks.

What to expect: Not picking until the 55th position in the draft, we could see Nashville return to the USNTDP for a blueliner for the second year in a row. While it would be a mild reach as far as our master list goes, a very notable player who would likely be available at that slot is Caleb Jones, the kid brother of Nashville phenom Seth Jones. Other alternatives could be among two of the key members of this years’ Canadian U18 team in Mitchell Stephens or Graham Knott.

St. Louis Blues

GM: Doug Armstrong

Director of Player Personnel: Kevin McDonald

Director of Amateur Scouting: Bill Armstrong

As director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong was promoted from his prior role as amateur scout a few years in to GM Doug Armstrong’s (no relation) regime in St. Louis, we can lump their shared experience together. Director of player personnel Kevin McDonald has been in an upper management role for the Blues since 2003, but his role has more often than not been on the professional side of the ledger, making it less likely that he sways draft decisions beyond what the Armstrongs choose to pursue.

It may be helpful to look at Doug Armstrong’s prior record as GM of Dallas from 2002-2007, covering six drafts before he was let go. Among his successful selections, we can include Trevor Daley, Loui Eriksson, Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman, James Neal and Jamie Benn. On the other hand, two of his four first rounders, Ivan Vishnevskiy and Martin Vagner, were complete busts.

In the two St. Louis drafts under their incumbent GM with the previous director of amateur scouting, they drafted David Rundblad, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and 10 guys who have yet to appear in a single NHL game. While the four drafts with the united Armstrongs have also only seen three prospects make their NHL debuts, it is still far too early on most of them to make any reasonable assessment. As for where they scout from, there have also not been any patterns. They do scout the CHL heavily, with a lean on the WHL and the QMJHL, although are also very willing to use a high pick on an OHL talent, such as last year’s first rounder, Robby Fabbri. It is notable that they selected nine players in four years who were NCAA bound, only four of whom were USHL players, indicating that they leave no stone unturned in the hunt for future Blues. While they have not together drafted any players from Russia (although Ivan Barbashev was a Russian playing in Canada) the Tarasenko pick indicates that they do not use the “Russian Factor” as an excuse to knock a player. In their four years, the Blues have drafted six European players, four of whom were drafted out of Finland.

As for player style, the Armstrongs have shown a clear predilection for offensive players with their first two round picks. Of the ten players taken in that range, only one was not a clear offense-driven player.

What to expect: The Blues do not have picks in the first or third round, so any hopes of an impact add to the system will ride with their second rounder, the 56th pick of the draft. There are a few intriguing talents who could be good fits for St. Louis that might be available at their first pick. Finnish forward Aleksi Saarela would fit the Blues mold, as would one of OHL blueliners Rasmus Andersson or Travis Dermott, should they still be on the board.

Winnipeg Jets

GM: Kevin Cheveldayoff

Director of Amateur Scouting: Marcel Comeau

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff spent his formative hockey years as the GM of the Chicago Wolves IHL-cum-AHL franchise, suggesting a background on the professional rather than scouting side of the equation. The primary decision maker on draft day is more like to have been director of amateur scouting Marcel Comeau, who has held that title since 2003, when the Jets were still known as the Atlanta Thrashers.

Comeau has somewhat of a mixed record on draft day, with some successes leavened by some busts. Among his failures were first rounders Daultan Leveille, Boris Valabik and Alex Bourret, among whom only Valabik had an NHL career of any sort, and with only seven assist in 80 games, that career was unremarkable and imminently forgettable. Alexander Burmistrov is a bit of a wild card, but one that would not be fair to hold against the man who pulled the trigger on draft day. On the positive side, Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba are still young, but have already accomplished enough for their selections to have been justified. There is also some gray area with Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane, taken with consecutive top four picks in 2008-09. Both players are bona fide top-half-of-the-lineup players, but perhaps not the best possible choice in the scenario in which they were selected. Comeau passed on Alex Pietrangelo to select Bogosian in 2008 and Oliver Ekman-Larsson was on the board when Kane was picked fourth overall in 2009.

Comeau has notoriously stayed in Canada with his top picks, using nine of 11 first rounders on CHL players. Half of his second rounders were also culled from the CHL ranks. There is no clear player type preference at the top, as offensive talents like Kane and Nikolaj Ehlers are balanced by more well-rounded, or even defensive specialists like Valabik, Little, Bogosian or Sheifele.

The Jets have not avoided European players, but they have very much been a secondary consideration, with only 14 of 84 choices coming from overseas. Furthermore, only two of those choices have come in the top three rounds. 40 of their picks have come from the CHL, a total which includes three first rounders from the Barrie Colts and three or more players each from Lewiston, Saginaw, Saskatoon, and Spokane. More than most teams, Comeau has drafted NCAA eligible from a plethora of Tier I leagues across North America plus five selections from the USNTDP.

What to expect: Owning all of their own picks in the first four rounds, the Jets will likely take a portfolio approach to the draft. Thomas Chabot would make for a fitting pick in the first round, with a game not too dissimilar to that of 2013 first rounder Josh Morrissey. The Jets’ ties to Barrie could also see them as the likely landing spot for overaged, undersized scoring dynamo Andrew Mangiapane, who might still be around in the third round. It is also safe to expect at least one player from the USHL, in a strong draft for that circuit, as well as one late round European selection.

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