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PPP Roundtable: Our thoughts on today's draft selections

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Here's our discussion on the possible strategies behind the Maple Leafs' selections in the draft.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NHL draft is over! What a weekend. Yesterday, the Maple Leafs selected Auston Matthews with the first selection of the draft. They did not have a second selection in the first round, 30th overall, because it was traded earlier in the week to Anaheim to acquire goaltender Frederik Andersen.

Today, the NHL draft swiftly moved through the second to seventh rounds. The Leafs had 10 selections in those rounds. Right from their very first choice, the 31st overall, they went "off the board" and have generated a lot of chatter.

Dan Saraceni ‏@cultureoflosing 6h6 hours ago
"Off the board" is the greatest euphemism in sports. It's basically a very nice way of saying "What the **** are these ******** doing?"

The Leafs selected Yegor Korshkov. The 6-foot-4 Russian winger is an overager, soon to turn 20 years old. You can read more about him here. He was the first of many overagers and off the board draft selections made by the Maple Leafs as the day went on.

Why did they pick they players they did? What exactly was their strategy? What's next for the Marlies?

Our staff had a round-table debate with some quite differing points of view. Here are the highlights!


What's with all the overagers?

JP Nikota: OK, I'll get the ball rolling. I can appreciate trying to identify market inefficiencies, and thinking outside the box, but this overager strategy looks dumb from the outside. It'd be fascinating to see the research that went into it.

Fulemin: I hate to fall back on appeal to authority, but it's so clearly deliberate. We've picked four at time of writing, now that we picked up Jonathan Walker. It's hard to avoid thinking the Leafs believe they've seen an inefficiency. They may be wrong, but without seeing the inefficiency, I'm hesitant to call it a mistake

Arvind: My thinking on the overagers is that these players often develop in such a way that their age 19 (or 20) season is legitimately impressive. For example, if Jeremy Bracco puts up the numbers that Adam Brooks did this year, we'd be pretty happy, no? So there's a real chance that these guys have developed into a player who's development path mirrors that of a drafted player, but because of the timing of it, they weren't drafted and people are anchored to that idea.

Emily: I'm willing to be convinced that targeting overagers is exploiting an inefficiency, but I want to see data to back that up.

Fulemin: Emily's right, I want to see that it's really there, not just in theory.

Arvind: I mean that if a player has 2 years of data that suggests they're not great, and 1 overage year that is good, obviously, there's some concern you're paying for the outlier. But, it's worth a shot, especially late.

Species: What about the packaging angle? Is it better to swing for the fences, give them 8 months on the Marlies, figure out who you don't want, and then package off what you can? Does that have a higher expected return than going with BPA on the board after round 2?

Arvind: If you have a lot of picks you should always have waves of players coming into your AHL squad, so it doesn't preclude those packaging trades.

Fulemin: Does the Leafs' accelerating timeline bear on the packaging argument? With the Matthews pick and the Andersen move is the thinking that guys who are closer to professional-ready have more utility in exploiting the Leafs' window? I wouldn't get carried away with that, since it doesn't mean we should just take any old guy, but the Leafs are getting more "five-year-plan-in-four!" lately.

Katya: There are two issues that I think are key. One, the first two guys after Matthews could, if they wanted them to, go into the AHL right now. Second, the overall thrust of the list is guys who will move up the pipeline faster. This says to me their feelings about the current prospects are not very positive. It also says to me, they plan to make trades and clear that prospect pool out.

JP Nikota:A thought occurs: Matthews is about as close to an overager as you can get. LOL.

Arvind: It could also mean that they simply think there's an advantage to being able to integrate guys into your system immediately as opposed to sending them back to junior and hoping their coaches do a good job. I disagree that it necessarily means we're bearish on our current prospects.

Do the Marlies need a 'Winning Team'?

Achariya: So, my thoughts on overagers stem from watching how Yzerman handled last season's draft. He took a turn away from drafting smaller, skilled guys. The reason ended up being that he was restocking the farm. Yzerman had a focus on development in Syracuse, but not just to bring guys to Tampa. He was trying to keep Syracuse competitive in its own field. I wonder if the Leafs are trying to do the same: keep the Marlies competitive by drafting people just for the Marlies; overaged guys who could transition to the Marlies in a year?

Arvind: That would be shortsighted of the Leafs, IMO.

Emily: Yeah, I agree.

Achariya: It might be, but they are thinking of the Marlies as a team that needs to win "to get used to winning"

Emily: That sounds a lot like Burke and Nonis signing AAAA guys and putting wins over development.

Achariya: Orlando proved that you can't drop 10 guys straight from junior onto a team and expect them to win without having guys that can also compete in their league.

Emily: I don't think winning should be the goal for the Marlies.

JP Nikota: I hope that 'getting their prospects used to winning' is not the reason they want to pick overagers.

Arvind: The Marlies have been a pretty strong team the last few years and are presumably adding high-end reinforcements, even without this draft. I agree with Emily.

Achariya: I'm quoting Lou, JP. Speaking to the Marlies' long playoff run, Lou said that it taught the players that more things were important than just pure ability, like all the "tangible and intangible things you have to go through." He also said, "One thing you can't buy in life is experience, and playoff experience especially." In the same interview, he said that the Marlies were getting prospects used to winning.

Arvind: "Getting used to winning" is a cliche. Get good players. They're used to winning. Like, if your goal when you make a draft selection is to beef up your AHL team, that seems odd to me, especially for a team like the Leafs who don't need their AHL team to run a profit.

Fulemin: Is there some value though in development of the guys we DO expect have a shot at high-end players to have them surrounded with better-prepared guys? I know Katya's remarked on this with the Marlies. It would also be consistent with Babcock's line usages to protect/expose.

JP Nikota: I don't see the point in using draft picks to stock the farm team.

Arvind: I think we need to make a distinction between players being integrated into the Marlies and restocking their system, and 'drafting people just for the Marlies,' The former is fine. Desirable, even.

JP Nikota: They can do that with youngish UFAs from Europe if need be. Why use draft picks?

Arvind: I'm going to have lunch now. Be right back. [Presumably he went to buy a hot dog]

Emily: If you draft BPA every year, in every slot, you should not have to worry about whether you'll have enough bodies for the AHL assuming your scouting is good.

JP Nikota: I'm not sold on that idea. This way uses up draft picks. The other way doesn't cost any. I'm not sure this intangible "getting used to winning" is a good enough payoff.

Achariya: What's the percentage of lower draft picks who end up playing in the NHL?

Katya: Very, very, very, very small. The assumptions that big =/= skilled or that overaged is bad are not proven to me. A guy is 19, doesn't mean he's terrible, people develop at different rates, and just because a guy has a 6 in his height doesn't make him Tyler Biggs.

Fulemin: I'm nowhere close to having this drawn out properly, but there has to be some point where the tiny marginal increase in a guy turning into Pavel Datsyuk is outweighed by the greater number of professional games you expect a player to play.

Emily: Drafting for upside vs. floor, right?

Fulemin: Yes. I know we all believe on principle to go for upside, but there has to be SOME point at which a higher floor is worth something.

JP Nikota: I don't really think so. If you need a guy with a known floor, just get a cheap UFA for your team.

Emily: Yes. I'm with JP here.

Fulemin: The fact that they have a higher floor doesn't mean they have no ceiling, though. These guys are 19 or 20 and still likely to get better. Cheap UFAs are good, but you're picking these guys up in their late 20s or early 30s when their ceilings are set.

JP Nikota: If what you're looking for is a guarantee that a guy can play NHL games for you, then get a cheap NHLer. If you want one with upside, draft a good guy who is young. The "middle way" approach seems like it achieves neither. There's still no guarantee the guy can play those NHL games, and he's got a full year (or in some cases two) less of growth time to make that transition.

Fulemin: I'm not necessarily looking for a guarantee. There's a couple of variables. A higher floor is better than a lower floor; a higher ceiling is better than a lower ceiling. While ceiling is more important than floor, it's not SO much more important that ANY increase in ceiling outweighs ANY increase in floor. There's a point at which it makes sense to make the trade-off.

JP Nikota: But why wouldn't you want a guarantee? If you saying "I don't need Pavel Datsyuk, I just need a guy who can make the NHL and be a serviceable player" then get one. Those guys are a dime a dozen.

Fulemin: No one would say "I don't need Pavel Datsyuk." It's that at some point the expected value of a guy is higher if he's got a higher floor. I'm not saying you draft guys on a dream that one day they can aspire to be late-stage David Booth, I'm saying the fact that his lower-end scenarios still end with a useful player is worthwhile. I'm extrapolating that some of the value of the overagers is probably a higher floor.

Who will even make it to the Marlies anyway?

Arvind: Between foreigners and overagers, how many of our draft picks can move directly to the Marlies?

Emily: Grundstrom, Brooks, and Walker. If you want to get technical, Woll and Greenway.

Fulemin: Korshkov, he's overseas, but he's also under contract? Coming over from the KHL to Marlie it up seems unlikely.

Emily: Yes. He's committed to KHL for two more years.

Katya: Almost all KHL contracts have NHL out clauses. Don't assume he's bound to his team. Don't assume he's not either.

Fulemin: That's what i was wondering. An NHL out is one thing, but is he going to come over for the AHL?

Katya: It depends on the guy. Soshnikov certainly didn't complain. In a general sense, the KHL is a much better league than the AHL, and Lokomotiv is a good team. But the chance to work with the team that might get you in the NHL is a big motivating factor.

Arvind: I think as Katya said, the core theme is that a lot of them can come to the Marlies.

Katya: Swedes don't like the AHL. They think it's a comedown, and it is for them too, but every guy thinks for himself.

Arvind: I guess we need to figure out what that says about the organization and their strategy.

Katya: There's another thing I explore in my post on the subject. If these guys don't come over now, the top two, that's 0 SPCs out of the four guys after Matthews that you sign this year. I agree with Fulemin on the weighting of variables. There is no binary good/bad skilled/grit labeling that's valid. And, yes, I think in later rounds you should think more broadly about what best means and then take the best player available.


That pick we really don't like...

JP Nikota: Having said that, we all hate the Middleton pick, right?

Katya: How does he play? What's he good at? Aside from his boxcars, I haven't got a clue. His boxcars are not encouraging though.

JP Nikota: Hitting people, according to the two scouting reports I've read.

Fulemin: I really want to see someone make the case for the Middleton pick. His primary trait is "tall."

JP Nikota: He's 233. He's all-around HUGE.

Arvind: I'm very hesitant to say anything definitive about any prospect, because I'm no scout, but I don't think this guy has a productive hockey future ahead of him.

Achariya: I want to clarify about my comments above that I raised the issue of the minors because I feel like maybe the Leafs are actually taking Dubas's words (to invest in a farm system) very seriously. Maybe our discussion was not taking the entire system into account. Sometimes. The AHL is a rougher league, for the most part, and sometimes BPA doesn't address the kind of players that can succeed in the league because BPA is defined from the perspective of what works in the NHL.

JP Nikota: A few years ago, when advanced stats were still getting off the ground, the people at PPP were among the first to realize that we actually could make better decisions than people normally revered as 'experts' or 'hockey people'. That was a fundamental shift in the way we looked at hockey decisions in that we suddenly felt a lot more comfortable looking trades or draft picks and saying "this is stupid, and I don't really feel like I have to wait and see". So even though the Leafs now have some smart people working for them, it's important to remember that they'll sometimes do stupid things, too.

Fulemin: For sure. Absolutely I don't think we should feel constrained from calling a spade a spade. I'm just trying to follow the front office's thought process, and there are glimmers of something that makes a certain amount of sense to me

JP Nikota: I'll go on record as saying that I don't think this is a good way to "invest" in minor league teams.

Achariya: Hehe, I'm glad that JP is disagreeing with me. I'm hoping this is not what the Leafs are doing too, but I'm wondering if this IS what they are doing.

Katya: There are no advanced stats for most draft picks unless they played in Finland, so, really, we are looking at very old-fashioned stats and guessing.

Arvind: I think 'players who can succeed' in the AHL is basically a meme.

Achariya: Like a photo of John Scott ?

Arvind: It's a narrative that's gotten repeated, and I'm not sure how much validity there is to it. To my recollection the list of players who were good enough for the NHL, but somehow struggle in the AHL, is small.

Achariya: Drouin.

JP Nikota: Yeah, I hear you Ach. I think you're right to suggest it as a possibility, because quite frankly, right now, it's kind of a mystery what the hell the Leafs were thinking. There are no bad guesses at this point.

Arvind: I think you should do everything you can to maximize the utility to your organization, which, more often than not, means maximizing the chance of getting a NHLer.

Achariya: Arvind, I agree with you for the most part. I just wonder if this is one explanation for what's happening that we had not been considering. Because the selected players seemed to have an upside more suited for the lower leagues.


It's not all that bad!

Katya: Let's not start talking like every guy is the big D guy. There are two little snipers in this list.

Arvind: Oh yeah, I should clarify: I'm not damning the leafs draft at all.

Katya: Most of these guys are smaller than Matthews.

Arvind: I think it's odd. I don't know what to make of it, really. But I don't think it's unequivocally bad.

Fulemin: I'm with Arvind. One abjectly bad pick, a couple of good ones, and a bunch of ones that evidence a particular strategy. I want some data to evaluate!

So, where did we end up?

Fulemin:

1. This will be, win or lose, the Overager Draft. The Leafs committed big to a particular strategy.
2. They also drafted for more size than previously, including one and arguably two picks that seem incomprehensible from any other angle.
3. The Leafs virtually never did what we would have expected, like Katya's article said. They went their own way and they went all-in.

Achariya: What questions do we have?

1. Why did they do this thing?

Fulemin: 2. Seriously what the fuck is the deal with Middleton

Arvind: This is a harder draft to assess than last year. Last year, the Leafs hit on all the low-hanging fruit in terms of draft picks, picking skill basically throughout their draft.

Achariya: 3. How many of these prospects ever see NHL time?

JP Nikota: 4. Did the Leafs' strategy of trying to capitalize on undervalued overagers blind them to available talent? They passed on some good potential prospects.

Katya: OK, I'm all talked out.