“I’ve been in this racket for 15 years and straight across the board this is the weakest draft. Straight across the board, without question.” – Canadian Hockey League scout.
Recent NHL drafts have been full of young bucks who are now leading the charge of a young stars revolution in a redefined league. Not only have the top-end guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin lived up to their hype, but guys picked a little further down like Mike Richards (24th in 2003) and Mike Green (29th in 2004) have quickly arrived to the big top.
It’s almost become expected by fans that first-rounders will be able to either step into the lineup right away or in two years time. It’s become very easy to lose sight of the fact overall draft talent varies from year to year and not every draft will produce Hart Trophy winners.
Though it’s far away still, it seems the 2012 NHL draft could be the next down year. While discussing draft classes for the 2009 crop of WHLers and '10 crop of QMJHLers and OHLers – who will largely form that 2012 NHL crew – scouts from St. John to Vancouver mentioned how this was an off-year.
“I just think it happens to be one of those years where it’s not as dominant at the top and you’ll say, ‘But we’ve got the depth,’ but I just don’t think we have the depth to offset the lack of the bona fide top identifiable player,” one CHL scout said.
One of the weakest NHL drafts of recent memory occurred in 1999 where, aside from the Sedin twins selected No. 2 and 3 and Martin Havlat at No. 26, the first round was devoid of game-breaking NHL players. So no matter how shallow the 2012 pool might seem when it comes to the first-line guys, there will always be a few who will develop swimmingly.
“I tell my scouts, ‘We’re all in the same pool and somebody in that pool is going to come on and we still have to find them, we can’t just walk away,’ ” one CHL scout said. “There’s going to be players who two years from now are going to make up the 18 years olds in our league.”
Relative to the perception of ’09 and '10 being soft CHL drafts overall, it’s a strong crop of defensemen at the top end. But as a scout, you have to put it all in proper context before making a commitment.
“We’ve been spoiled with good drafts all in a row, but I don’t see the skill in this one up front,” said a CHL scout. “That’s why I wonder, ‘Well, are these defensemen that good, or is it that there’s just no one to go up against them?’ ”
The initial reaction to all this might be that the 2012 NHL draft could be swarmed with European players coming from areas having normal production years. However, when it was mentioned to one scout how each CHL league had at least one representative from the scouting clergy mention how it was an off-year, he explained how it could stretch beyond Canada’s borders.
“It’s funny you say that,” the scout said. “We were somewhere watching a game and there was a Russian scout there and he said, ‘You know what, in Russia it’s the same thing.’ That shocked me. I figured, ‘Holy, is this worldwide? Do we have bad water or something?’ ”
It just happens to be one of those years. This, of course, doesn’t mean the 2012 draft should be ignored; a lot of hockey will be played before these kids start to be slotted on NHL draft lists. Right now though, CHL scouts across the land are going back and looking at everything again before making any hard decisions on what their game plan is heading into their league drafts.
“It really is a strange year,” one scout said. “We’re all re-adjusting. A player we had pegged in the third round we now wonder, ‘Well, hey, he’s probably going to go in the second.’ That’s the way it is right now.”
A Scout's Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.