Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ranking Prospects

If you were to take the internauts' word for it, the Canadiens don't have a very bright future at all.

Today, Hockey Prospectus published their rationale for placing the Canadiens 24th on the list of 30 NHL teams (behind the Toronto Maple Leafs!).

Add this to the already sad ranking of #20 at Hockey's Future, and what's a Habs fan to think?


Think is the key word.

Detroit is the first ranked team on the Hockey Prospectus page in terms of prospects. This might be your first flag that methods need investigating.

Is Detroit the only team in the NHL without worthwhile player to make the NHL from drafts 2005-2010? They very well might be. Shawn Matthis, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader highlight the NHL leaders from the 30-odd players Detroit has selected in that time. Compare this to Carey Price (Hart trophy votes), Yannick Weber, Guillaume Latendresse, Sergei Kostitsyn (team's leading scorer), PK Subban to name but a few.

You can see the issue here. Part of it is that Montreal has promoted players to the NHL level -- thereby taking them out of the "prospect" ranking formulae. Part of the issue is that Detroit gives their players more time (partly because they can due to NHL roster depth).

Let's take the example of Brendan Smith. He was drafted #27 overall in the 2007 entry draft and played some god years in the NCAA since. Last year he put up decent numbers in the AHL as rookie. He projects as a good-looking top prospect for the Wings.

But now consider that he was taken only a few picks ahead of PK Subban, is older than PK and actually got less points as an AHL rookie than PK did as an NHL rookie. Detroit's ranking is being helped by a player much less exciting a prospect than PK, even though PK probably has many more productive NHL years ahead of him than Brendan will. And it doesn't stop there. Yannick Weber was also drafted that year and turned the AHL rookie success earlier than Smith. He has since made an NHL case and was scoring important NHL playoff goals against the Stanley Cup champions while Smith was watching the AHL playoffs.

So you see it's a bit of nonsense already, and I didn't even have to delve very far, or mention Carey Price.

The reason people came up with the saying "Hindsight is 20/20" is because predicting and foretelling very much isn't. The lesson here is to take these rankings with the appropriate amount of salt. While the player profiles provide an interesting read, the ranking process is tenuous. When one could make a case that #24 Montreal has better young prospects (NHL and AHL) than #1 Detroit, you can see my point.

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