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2017 Top 25 Under 25: No love for the bottom half of the draw

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The names at the bottom of the list, who received no votes from any of our rankers, are mostly who you’re expecting. Mostly.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Does it mean there’s no hope for him?
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Every year when we do the Top 25 list, there is a group of players who get no votes from anyone. There’s usually a large group that get one or a few votes. They’re the edge cases, and some of them make the list at the bottom, and some of them almost do.

This year there are 17 players with no votes. So just over a third of the players, we all agreed on — just not in a positive way.

To help make sense of how these prospects are faring against where you should expect them to be on the list, given their draft position, I used Scott Cullen’s draft pick value. He’s been working on this for years, and he uses a mixture of assigned values to actual picks, estimated values for more recent players and some subjective opinion. He puts all that together and comes up with several values. I used “percentage chance of playing 100 NHL games” as the one for us to look at today, as that’s the most direct results-oriented value he has.

The list

Top 25 Under 25 with no votes

Name Draft year Draft number League Contract Cullen's % chance of 100 GP
Name Draft year Draft number League Contract Cullen's % chance of 100 GP
Frederik Gauthier 2013 21 AHL ELC 62.5
Fredor Gordeev 2017 141 OHL 13.6
Ian Scott 2017 110 WHL 18.8
JD Greenway 2016 72 NCAA 27.1
Jesper Lindgren 2015 95 Liiga 23.8
Kasmir Kaskisuo 2016 Free Agent AHL ELC
Keaton Middleton 2016 101 OHL 18.8
Martins Dzierkals 2015 68 OHL 32.2
Nicolas Mattinen 2016 179 OHL 14.7
Nikolai Chebykin 2016 182 ?? 9.5
Nolan Vesey 2014 158 NCAA 15.6
Pierre Engvall 2014 188 SHL 9.5
Ryan McGregor 2017 172 OHL 14.7
Ryan O’Connell 2017 203 BCHL 8.3
Tobias Lindberg 2013 102 AHL ELC (Ottawa) 18.8
Vladimir Boblyev 2016 122 WHL 15.6
Vladislav Kara 2017 124 MHL 15.6

The first thing that jumps out is Frederik Gauthier. I'll get to him in a minute. The second thing is that most of them are fourth round or later picks, with only two players taken in the third round. You should expect to see more of those later-round picks in this list than in the edge cases list, or in the top 25 itself. If anything, this is a sign that the Leafs are drafting well.

The other thing about these guys is that a lot of them are new. This is our ignorance of who they are showing up. You'll see that in the edge cases too, players who got some votes, but ended up ranked low. As much as we cast a wide net with voters and as much as we all are interested in the prospects ... well, put it this way, if you claim to know anything about Vladislav Kara, I'll ask you how long you've lived in Kazan, Russia.

We saw this effect last year with the really low rankings and low total votes given to Yegor Korshkov and Carl Grundström. Grundström has rocketed up the rankings this year (that’s not really a spoiler is it?), and maybe next year it will be someone who we vote low this year who does the same thing. But at the bottom end of the 46 eligible players that we vote on, most of the no votes are really obvious and the players very unlikely to make the NHL.

Bust is the wrong word to use

Not every seventh round pick is on this list, but most of them are, and that's okay.

For most of these players, we aren't saying that they were failed picks or that they are failed players. We are saying we don't think these players will ever play in the NHL. That's not failure.

Teams have AHL clubs for a reason. The draft is seven rounds for a reason. You need more than just your 20 dressed players and three guys to sit in the press box. You need a whole other team to develop your future players on, and some of those developing players won't ever make it. You still need them. You want them to be the best you can get because playing with good players is how your eventual NHLers get better.

You pick deeper than the second round each year, not because there's a great chance of finding a future player, but because there is a very small chance of finding a future NHLer and a very large chance of finding really good AHLers.

Did the Leafs end up with a lot of draft picks in the AHL? Good! That's what you want to see.

Some of these players, in particular guys for whom a European career means staying at home, will never set foot in the NHL. That's fine. You don't hit on every pick. But until I see a lot of first or second round picks not making the cut to the NHL or a lot of third and fourth round picks not being good enough for the AHL, I'm not calling any draft a failure.

I don't think any of these players are either. Some of them will be valuable to the Marlies. Some of them will be valuable to teams in Sweden or Russia. Some might make a mint in Switzerland.

If you are disappointed that there are so many prospects not making the cut, then you have unreasonable expectations in the first place. Out of nearly 50 players, this small group we didn't vote into the top half are all worthy draft picks playing up to their expected potential.

Well, all but one. And now I've stretched my minute out, and I have to talk about Freddie Gauthier.

The one first-round pick on the list

I assume this is going to be contentious issue. I do know that there are fans who were impressed by Gauthier's NHL trial and think he's the Leafs' next 4C. I also think that if he wasn't hurt, there would have been consternation at Dominic Moore's signing.

So, here's how the voting happened: we all voted and then changed our minds about players several times. We paid some attention to other votes, and this isn't a secret ballot, but there's a lot of strong personalities here — this is no group of conformists.

A lot of people had Gauthier on their list and then found someone they felt should be ahead of him to the point that no one voted for him. He is more properly in a class with the edge cases, the nearly voted ins, but he didn't actually win any of those internal arguments with voters, and here we are.

I don't want to speak for others, although I think some voters feel more strongly negatively than I do on Gauthier, and some who came much closer to ranking him. Here's my take: He's not an NHLer.

It's an interesting co-incidence that the seventh rounder who was taken the same year the Leafs chose Gauthier in the first round is sitting way up this list, the exception to the rule on where late round picks usually end up. Andreas Johnsson and Frederik Gauthier should have been drafted in opposite spots is almost what our votes are saying. In truth, we're saying Gauthier likely should have been a mid second rounder. Someone with a chance at an NHL career, but not a strong one, and Johnsson should have been in the low first round/high second area.

Both Gauthier and Johnsson improved remarkably last season.

They were the two players that I noticed on the Marlies over and over as exceeding my expectations. Johnsson had put in two good years in the SHL where he lived off of power play points and faded really hard in the playoffs. That can't be overstated, he was a net negative on his team in the most recent SHL playoffs he was in.

He became, over the course of the most recent AHL season, one of the best offensive wingers on the team, a playoff stud, a genuine offensive force in tight to the net, and he developed a physical side to his game that had been totally absent. He already had passing and puck moving skills, speed through the neutral zone and the basics of positioning that make a good hockey player.

For Gauthier, the most notable change was his skating speed. But also his overall engagement in the game changed. He wasn't playing with Rich Clune on the fourth line and just there for the mayhem anymore. He was playing as a centre with the best scoring winger on the team most of the time.

So for both of these players I found it difficult to sort out how much of what I thought of them now was their advancement versus themselves of a year earlier, and how much was their performance versus the rest of the Marlies, and therefore the rest of the Leafs prospects.

For Gauthier, the first place I looked for help in sorting that out was his NHL time this past season. He wasn't good. His results were poor, and it this is not the time you get to "yabut" and say his linemates were bad. If his destiny is as a 4C, that's part of the bargain.

Gauthier was given a light ride by Babcock as 4C. He was kept away from top pairing defenders more than Ben Smith, was largely up against the other teams’ third pair, and in general, Smith had tougher forward competition too.

Gauthier's shot locations were okay, but Smith's, yes Ben Smith, were much much better. Ben Smith did not just dump the puck in at the blue line. Gauthier did that way too much. He also fired off shots from the circles, whereas Smith seemed to understand his own limitations and only shoot when he saw the whites of the goalie's eyes.

Defensively, Gauthier allowed less frequency of shots against, but not by a lot, and his overall Corsi For percentage was very poor. He rates out as dull rather than bad on the HockeyViz team shot chart, but given his usage, that’s not a sign of superiority.

The heatmap of shots allowed shows the Leafs leaking shots from all over the slot when he was on the ice, but with Smith the bad zone was very tight to the goalie. Neither is great defensively. Smith, however, is better on the PK by all measures.

The one area where Gauthier looks good is points. And his own shooting percentage was top five on the team while his on-ice shooting percentage was top ten. So a lot of his point rate was made of spun sugar.

Gauthier played 21 NHL games, but at less than ten minutes per game, that is not enough time to get any sort of hard answer about his ability, particularly not as a rookie, but there are few if any good signs here. Against the easiest competition Babcock could get for him, he was worse than Ben Smith in many ways.

Beyond that epitaph, looking at his play on the Marlies, I keep asking where the growth is in hockey terms? He might have decided at 21 to finally get serious about his conditioning and improve physically, but he played a lot with Kapanen and never scored. Kapanen also outmatched him in PK ability very quickly. He isn't a top line player in the AHL, can easily be replaced by Colin Greening without anyone noticing, and comparing him to Byron Froese's goal scoring in the NHL does not make Gauthier look like he should even be an AHL player of high standing.

Justin Holl is the only regular Marlies defender who did not outdo Gauthier’s points per game.

So he's slow, not an offensive asset, not good at shot suppression and not all that hot on the PK either. He'd need to be really, really good at faceoffs to make the NHL.

If I'm right, and the other 11 voters as well, and Gauthier never makes the NHL, is that a big disaster?

Not really. A 62.5 per cent chance of making the NHL carries with it a 37.5 per cent chance of failure. Guessing wrong is not an outrage or a huge failure of scouting or drafting, and it's not going to just happen once.

I'd say what's important is that the team learn from the mistakes they made, but no one who drafted Gauthier is even around any more. So, the question the Leafs should be asking themselves is if they failed at the development stage in ways they can rectify. Twenty-one is way too old in today's NHL to decide to be fit. Were the new regime culpable in that, or was it the opposite, and they've been the impetus he's needed to make the most of his chance?

You might be thinking that 22 is too young to be written off as a prospect. It is, and we're not writing him off. We're saying that without major improvement beyond what you usually see from 22 to 23, he's not an NHL player.

But who knows, we might all be collectively wrong, so go ahead and tell us how wrong we are. Why do you think any of these players have what it takes to make the more likely to succeed part of this list than the section we ended up putting them on?