NHL Draft: The bias of scouting
I have spoken many times about how teams make mistakes at the draft by taking a player who plays at an inferior level because they haven’t done their complete homework to make sure the player they are selecting is as good as they think.
As I have been preparing for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, I have come across an interesting situation that may be the reverse of what I was talking about.
In fact, I’m starting to become more convinced that there is a systematic prejudice against players who forego the CHL and choose to play at a lower level in order to pursue their goals of going to the United States on an NCAA scholarship.
The reason for my investigation into this bias began when I went through my records — which I do every year — to go back and evaluate the top players in the draft year’s age group in their bantam and midget years. I do this to make sure that a player who was at the top of his class all the way up from minor hockey doesn’t slip through the cracks because of injury or a decision to play in a path less-travelled or can’t get ice time on a deep and talented team.
Plenty of NHL-calibre talent outside CHL
This method has helped me identify players such as Wayne Simmonds, Torrey Mitchell, Joe Pavelski, Jared Boll and Ian White. This year, the player in question is Zach Hyman of the Hamilton Red Wings in the Ontario Provincial Tier 2 Junior League. Hyman played there last year and will play there again this year because he has decided to pursue his hockey and academic dreams at Princeton.
Normally a young man would be commended for working so diligently at both the game of hockey and his studies to enable him the opportunity to be recruited by Princeton.
Unfortunately, when I go back in my records, it would seem that from Peewee hockey all the way up to Minor Midget, Hyman was right on par with Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Tyler Toffoli and just a notch behind John McFarland.
However, when I look at our rankings for this year’s NHL Draft, everyone but Hyman is slotted as a first-round choice. Hyman is listed as a third or fourth-round selection.
Now, one could argue that the two years since Minor Midget have been huge in the development of these players and by foregoing the CHL, Hyman wasn’t able to take advantage of being a part of the CHL hockey development machine. At one point he was neck and neck with these kids, so have they developed to the point where they are 70 spots better in the draft?
Hyman left off the list
To further illustrate the point, NHL Central Scouting had Hyman on their midterm list but chose to eliminate him from the year-end list, which lists 210 skaters from North America.
Surely his development was slowed a bit by not playing in the CHL, but to have a kid who was right there with Seguin, Skinner and Toffoli 20 months ago and now is separated by at least 200-plus spots seems a little outrageous. The only other rationale is that we, as scouts, consciously or sub-consciously hold a bias against a kid who pursues his dream of a degree from a U.S. college and for my money, that doesn’t seem right. This kid is the youngest captain in the league and put up 75 points as a sophomore and has coaches and teammates raving about his character and commitment but none of that seems to matter because he is playing at a lower level.
We will have to see where they are all selected in three weeks in Los Angeles, but more importantly we will have to see in eight years where their careers go to determine whether this bias was deserved or not.
In my opinion, we will see two kids in the NHL that should have been rated much closer to each other on draft day and hopefully in the future, we will be more interested in how a prospect plays and not where he plays.
Mark Seidel is the chief scout for North American Central Scouting. He can be reached by email email@example.com