Monday, May 21, 2012

NHL Entry Draft Rankings: On Biases and Ranking Discrepancies

With the Leafs out of the playoffs and the draft still a little over a month away, content has been a little sparse here at BCP.  I've already given a glimpse into my draft day targets for the first two rounds and we'll definitely be providing more Entry Draft opinion as June 22nd draws near so be sure to stop by.

Today, I thought that I'd take the opportunity to talk about Entry Draft rankings and why some of the pre-draft prospect rankings that you'll see have such disparate views on where certain players fall in the pecking order.

Last week, TSN Analyst Craig Button released his list of the top-60 draft eligible players and there were a few surprises.  Button gets knocked around a fair bit as an 'expert' due in large part to some pretty bad decisions while GM of the Flames most notably, waiving Martin St.Louis.  Prior to his time as GM of the Flames, Button was the Director of Scouting for the Stars organisation from 1992-1998 and his draft record may surprise some of you.

- No first rounder. 
- 2nd: Jarkko Varvio while Peca and McCarty were still on the board. 
- 4th: Jere Lehtinen

- 1st (9 overall): took Todd Harvey while Deadmarsh, Koivu, and Bertuzzi were still available
- 2nd: Jamie Langenbrunner

- 1st (20 overall): Jason Botterill.  Doesn't sound good but there wasn't much else available. Dan Cloutier at 26th may have been the best option (yikes)
- 2nd: Lee Jinman with Elias going a few picks later
- 5th: Marty Turco

- 1st (11 overall): Jarome Iginla
- 2nd Patrick Cote

- 1st (5 overall) Rick Jackman with Sturm, Briere, and Zubrus available
- No second rounder

- 1st (25 overall) Brendan Morrow
- 2nd: Roman Lyashenko

- No first rounder
- 2nd: John Erskine

When you look at the sum of Button's work during this period, it's safe to say that he did a very good job.  Not a lot of misses, a few very good first round selections, and he's had some success outside of the first round.

A lot of his picks (especially his most successful ones) were high character guys.  As much as the word 'intangibles' annoys people such as myself who are statistically-minded, it seems like Button has had very tangible success by pursuing this type of player.

Understanding that this is likely to be one of Button's biases, we might be a little less surprised by some of his rankings.  On first blush, seeing Grigorenko as low as 20 seems indefensible given the talent he possesses.  Having said that, his work ethic has come into question and he has had consistency issues.  Also, the Russian-Effect comes into play.  No, I don't mean the enigma narrative but rather the possibility that he may, at some point in his career, decide to move home and play in the KHL.  Do I think there's any chance that Grigorenko falls this far?  Nope.  Am I surprised that a guy like Button is bearish on him?  No.

What's really interesting to me about Button's list is that Ryan Murray landed as low as 12th.  Murray has impressed me every time I've seen him play and is about as safe a pick as a defensive prospect can be.  Again, I find it all but impossible to believe that Murray falls outside the top-10.

One of our favourite draft analysts here at BCP is Hockey Prospectus' Corey Pronman.  Pronman has been releasing his detailed list gradually over the last few weeks but the basic top-100 is available

Pronman likes to use possession as a way to judge a prospect's value and that's one of the reasons that he's so popular around these parts.  Coupling traditional scouting with advanced stat theory, Pronman is a guy who's worth a read -- especially this time of year.  He has confessed that he's less likely to take defensemen early in the draft than a lot of other people might.

For this reason, it's a little less surprising to see that his top-5 doesn't include a single defenseman.  He's also the kind of guy who tends to prefer ceiling-over-safety as a draft strategy.  This is likely why Murray finds himself behind both Dumba and Rielly in Pronman's ranking as Murray's ranking is often predicated on how projectable he is. 

Grigorenko, who was 20th on Button's list, is 2nd on Pronman's.  He's an enormously skilled player and it seems clear that Pronman is less concerned than Button about the supposed character issues.  Again, this is an example of Pronman's preference to swing for the fences rather than to take the safe route.

With the Entry Draft coming up, the hardcore Leaf fan is sure to be pouring over a lot of material in the next few weeks.  When you're reading someone's draft rankings, I'd urge you to be aware of the author's biases and predispositions. A bias isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just gives an indication of why someone may lean one way rather than another.  Try and find a respectable source that has the same philosophical position that you do and see what they have to say about this year's crop of talent.  

The draft is a great time of year and it's even more fun if you've chosen a horse in the race.

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