Jake Gardiner won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championship.(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
In acquiring Jake Gardiner from Anaheim this week, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a prospect who was selected in the first round (17th overall) in 2008, but who probably wouldn’t carry first-round pedigree if that year’s draft were to be re-held today.
I use the passive word “probably” because all it takes is one team out there to like a player better than anyone else and that makes him a first-rounder.
We make the bold proclamation that Gardiner wouldn’t be a 2008 first-rounder today based on research we’ve been compiling the past five weeks for our annual Future Watch issue, which is due out in early March.
Future Watch polls scouts from around the league – 18 of them this year, no more than one from each team – and has them rate the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects based on long-term (five to 10 years) NHL upside. Gardiner didn’t finish among the final top 75 and received just two votes as a top 50 prospect.
That’s not to say Gardiner won’t develop into the top four NHL defenseman Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke projects him to be. It’s just that a wide panel of scouts don’t think he’s capable of that.
Looking back at the 2008 draft in which Gardiner went 17th overall, 24 players are now playing in the NHL, led by the likes of Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn. Of the 24 prospects drafted in 2008 now in the NHL, 10 of them were selected before Gardiner, 13 of them after Gardiner, including Jordan Eberle (22nd), John Carlson (27th) and Derek Stepan (51st).
That, in itself, is not an indictment on Gardiner as a prospect. Teenagers develop at different rates. Some spend four full years in college, others need apprenticing in the American League. Long-term impact in the NHL is surely more important than immediacy.
Why we don’t think Gardiner would be a first-rounder in a 2008 re-draft is the number of that year’s draftees who have surpassed him in the eyes of our scouting panel. Twenty prospects from the 2008 draft now rank ahead of Gardiner in terms of long-term NHL upside. They include (in the order they were drafted):
Nikita Filatov, LW, Columbus, drafted 6th overall.
Mikkel Boedker, RW, Phoenix, drafted 8th overall.
Cody Hodgson, C, Vancouver, drafted 10th overall.
Kyle Beach, LW, Chicago, drafted 11th overall.
Joe Colborne, C, Boston, drafted 16th overall.
Greg Nemisz, C, Calgary, drafted 25th overall.
Jacob Markstrom, G, Florida, drafted 31st overall.
Vyacheslav Voynov, D, Los Angeles, drafted 32nd overall.
Jake Allen, G, St. Louis, drafted 34th overall.
Patrick Wiercioch, D, Ottawa, drafted 42nd overall.
Justin Schultz, D, Anaheim, drafted 43rd overall.
Luke Adam, C, Buffalo, drafted 44th overall.
Zac Dalpe, C, Carolina, drafted 45th overall.
Patrice Cormier, C, Atlanta, drafted 54th overall.
Marco Scandella, D, Minnesota, drafted 55th overall.
Danny Kristo, RW, Montreal, drafted 56th overall.
Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey, drafted 82nd overall.
Braden Holtby, G, Washington, drafted 93rd overall.
T.J. Brodie, D, Calgary, drafted 114th overall.
Andrei Loktionov, C, Los Angeles, drafted 123rd overall.
These 20 players have completely shifted positions in Future Watch 2011 based on the scouting feedback. But a 2008 re-draft would see Gardiner selected in the middle of the second round at the highest because 24 players from that draft are in the NHL now and another 20 are rated higher than the Wisconsin defenseman.
We report this not to intentionally temper the Toronto enthusiasm on gaining a first-round prospect, only to pass along an unbiased progress report on Gardiner’s status in the scouting community.
Check out Future Watch in early March. Our scouting panel determined the following players among the top five, listed here in alphabetical order:
Erik Gudbranson, D, Florida (Kingston, OHL)
Ryan Johansen, C, Columbus (Portland, WHL)
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington (Chelyabinsk, Rus.)
Brayden Schenn, C, Los Angeles (Saskatoon, WHL)
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis (Novosibirsk, Rus.)
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.