Yesterday I examined the basic components of an NHL farm system—scouting, developmental teams and coaching. Today I’ll delve into the true lifeblood of any hockey team…the players.
They say all men are created equal. I’m sorry to tell you, fellow Pens fans, that does not apply on a hockey rink. Men are not all equal in hockey ability.
The NHL created a system called the Entry Draft whereby the best and most talented players are taken first and then in a descending order, usually based on hockey talent. Usually the top five drafted players are special and have unique qualities that set them apart from the other players. They become stars overnight in most cases.
The next 6 to 20 players drafted usually take a year or two to fully develop and then have very productive NHL careers. Some are late bloomers, take a growth spurt and put on 25 pounds of muscle and become very different players than when they were first drafted. We all can name several players like that. The top 20 taken usually go on to be leaders and big contributors on any team.
The 21st to the 62nd player taken in a given draft will develop most of the time into NHL players. How good they will be depends on a lot of factors. If they get drafted by a progressive organization with great coaching, lots of money and a ton of patience, they will become top-six NHL forwards or top-four d-men in most cases. However, just as many of this group get drafted by organisations that don’t take the time or invest the money to properly train these players. They never make it to the NHL. Lost opportunities.
Once you get to the third round (63rd pick and beyond) anything can happen. Less than 20 percent of players drafted in these slots ever play in the NHL. Unless you have spent a lot of money and time on your worldwide scouting system you simply are flying blind. Teams like Detroit have often been able to find good NHL players in the third and fourth rounds because they had superior scouting operations.
Do the simple math, my fellow Pens fans. Thirty-one NHL teams times 23 players on a regular season roster. That’s 713 available NHL positions! Most NHL players are playing at least 10 years or more it seems. Sixty-two new players come in every year to the NHL. The 63rd to the last player drafted at 217th do not have much of a chance to ever see the big league. There are exceptions to every rule but that is what they are…exceptions!
For some strange reason goaltenders are often taken in the third round or later. That distorts the averages even further against you if you are a forward or defenseman.
I am going to list the 31 NHL teams as reported by The Hockey Writers in terms of their minor-league systems. It will definitely surprise you.
I will also attempt to list the number of first- and second-round picks in each organization at the development level. As mentioned above, third- to seventh-round picks are really only AHL-caliber talent in the majority of the situations. Teams that have more first- and second-round picks generally have a superior talent pool of future NHL-caliber talent.
When doing the research for this article, I spent 11 hours examining all the first-and second-round draft picks for all 31 NHL franchises. I would not advise you to do so unless you really want to be fully discouraged.
|The Hockey Writers 2017-18 Rankings of NHL Teams Farm Systems|
|5 first-round picks in their development system;
7 second-round picks in their development system
|2.||Tampa Bay||3 first round; 10 second round|
|3.||Carolina||4 first round; 7 second round|
|4.||Winnipeg||5 first round; 5 second round|
|5.||Arizona||6 first round; 5 second round|
|6.||New Jersey||4 first round; 5 second round|
|7.||Vancouver||5 first round; 4 second round|
|8.||Calgary||5 first round; 5 second round|
|9.||Toronto||3 first round; 5 second round|
|10.||Detroit||4 first round; 5 second round|
|11.||Dallas||7 first round; 3 second round|
|12.||Boston||7 first round; 3 second round|
|13.||Columbus||3 first round; 3 second round|
|14.||Vegas||4 first round; 2 second round|
|15.||NY Islanders||5 first round; 2 second round|
|16.||St. Louis||5 first round; 4 second round|
|17.||Nashville||3 first round; 6 second round|
|18.||Colorado||3 first round; 4 second round|
|19.||Minnesota||2 first round; 3 second round|
|20.||Buffalo||2 first round; 6 second round|
|21.||Edmonton||2 first round; 4 second round|
|22.||Florida||2 first round; 4 second round|
|23.||NY Rangers||2 first round; 3 second round|
|24.||Los Angeles||2 first round; 3 second round|
|25.||Washington||3 first round; 2 second round|
|26.||Anaheim||3 first round; 5 second round|
|27.||Ottawa||4 first round; 3 second round|
|28.||Montreal||4 first round; 2 second round|
|29.||Chicago||3 first round; 5 second round|
|0 first round (Yes ZERO! We are the only team in this situation in the NHL!); 5 second round (Jarry 44th, Sprong 46th, Gustavsson 55th, Bjorkqvist 61st, Lauzon 51st)|
|31.||San Jose||2 first round; 3 second round|
That, my friends, is the state of the NHL according to The Hockey Writers as of July 21, 2017.
We have a real problem in Pittsburgh! The cupboard is bare compared to almost every other NHL team!
Why is it that we are the only NHL organization to have no first-round picks in our minor league system? Three of our second-round picks, 51, 55, and 61 were all in the lower third of the second round. A weak talent pool at this level.
Filip Gustavsson is a goalie and he was our first pick in his draft year at 55th, so that offsets a bit. It certainly doesn’t cover the glaring shortcomings of our farm system.
When is a Farm not Really a Farm?
At Wilkes-Barrie/Scranton, our Baby Pens have a winning tradition. They always do very well in the first round or two of the Calder Cup playoffs and seem to be a model of consistency. Upon closer examination, you find that the Baby Pens win because the parent club hires older former NHL players, or career minor-leaguers to keep the team competitive.
According to one of The Hockey Writers, “The Baby Pens are stacked with players that are not good enough to play regularly in the NHL but are too good to play against 20- to 22-year-old AHL kids trying to learn the pro hockey game. The Penguins simply do not have enough talent in their draft system to field a 20-man roster with NHL prospects. It is a self-inflicted wound.”
For me, this exercise pointed to the fact that the Pens’ management simply doesn’t want to wait for first or second round draft picks to develop. That costs money and time.
The Pens do not want to wait. The Pens want to trade and buy their way to another Cup!
I have heard the same story year after year. We must win now while we have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. Do you know how crazy that sounds? Chicago has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Washington has Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and the others. They still build for the future.
There are 30 other teams in the NHL and they all want to win, but they will not sacrifice the future for the present. That is just good business sense. It is ridiculous that we have no talent to fill the needs for 2017. We need two centers, two defensemen and at least two wingers if we hope to repeat in 2018 and we have no available talent.
Brian Dumoulin will make $4.1 million for the next six years. A very big pay increase that will set off a chain reaction that will enable Conor Sheary to also get a big pay increase. That could cost us between $7 and $8 million when the dust all settles. That will change everything!
It could cost us another Cup in 2018.
Every other team in the NHL have first round picks that can play on the third line or the second defense pairing and it only costs less than a million dollars for each player. We, because of past foolishness, now have to pay top dollar for the same talent level. As much as three to four times as much as if we had proper first-round picks to secure our future. Poor planning.
My final point? When the New York Islanders lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Cup Final over 30 years ago, the Islanders never recovered. It turned into a complete financial disaster for them because they didn’t have the talent in their farm system to quickly rebuild. Ironically, the Oilers had the same thing occur to them about 15 years ago. They are just starting to recover now.
Look at the state of the farm system in Pittsburgh today. If we fail to win the Cup this year, we are in for a lot of trouble for many years to come. We simply will not be able to buy cheap talent anymore, and the trade value of thirtysomething players with big salaries will diminish greatly.
Our college kids are not Hobey Baker winners. One is a finalist. But most of them are below average talent when compared to the first-round draft picks from all over the world.
A lot of our kids’ productivity stems from playing on a team with veteran stars like Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Phil Kessel.
They would not fare so well if they had to compete with other first-round draft picks with elite talent on an average team. If we had a real farm system like other NHL teams with five first-round and three high second-round draft picks, many of our college kids would never crack our lineup.
To the point: Can you imagine having 6-foot-5-inch Patrik Laine and his 105 miles-per-hour slap shot playing along Crosby. Or would you rather have Jake Guentzel?
How about big Leon Draisaitl as a right winger for Malkin, instead of Bryan Rust these past two years?
Always said life on a farm can be pretty tough!
Thanks for reading. I hope we still can be friends…