Five Questions Bonus – 2013 NHL Entry Draft: Judging European Talent

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Since you enjoyed the first five segments our our Five Questions series regarding the upcoming NHL Draft, the staff here at Flyers Faithful wanted to reward our loyal readers and followers with an additional bonus question.

So for one last question Flyers Faithful is pleased to have  Adam Kimelman from NHL.com, Mark    Edwards from HockeyProspect.com, Chris Shafer from Hockey’s Future,  Todd Cordell from The Hockey Guys and HockeyBuzz and our  very own Jared Abbott participate in the current iteration of Five Questions.

It’s difficult to predict the European talent pool in any draft, but this draft in particular there seems to be a number of Swedes (Lindholm, Burakovsky, Haag, Wennberg, De la Rose) who are ranked as first round talent. Why are some Europeans slated to be first round talented when history shows us this may not be case? For example Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were selected 210th and 171st overall respectively.

Adam Kimelman:  Scouting is like throwing darts blindfolded — sometimes you hit the target, others you miss. It’s a thankless, difficult job, made even harder when you’re looking at a 17- or 18-year-old and trying to predict what kind of player and person he’ll be at 22 or 23. The job becomes that much harder when it’s European players who are playing up or down a level of competition, or playing in leagues where the skill level is higher or lower than North American leagues, or in leagues where the coaches will put an emphasis on winning ahead of developing young players.

And there’s also the thing where some players blossom later than others. People point to Pavel Datsyuk as a steal, but remember — he went undrafted in his first year, and then even the Red Wings passed him over five times before drafting him in the sixth round. Drafting is equal parts skill and luck.

Mark Edwards:  I think I’ll just say that I’ll be shocked if either Lindholm or Wennberg end up being busts. We have ranked Lindholm very high going all the way back to February 15th, 2012 when we did an early top 30 for this draft. We had Elias ranked 5th. I won’t be surprised if Elias is gone by the 8th or 9th pick and Wennberg by the 14th or 15th.

Chris Shafer: Development in North America is much different than that overseas. You tend to see a lot longer of a process when dealing with European prospects. A longer process is beneficial for a lot of late-bloomers and long-shot talents who really need time to fine-tune their game. What you end up seeing in later rounds is a number of European players with high-end skill who are rough around the edges being taken in between a number of North American role players and/or goaltending prospects. It is an interesting phenomenon, but in reality you get quite a few North Americans in later rounds that become gems as well. It really is just a roll of the dice.

The Europeans that are considered 1st round talents are usually either playing adult level hockey already overseas or are playing in the CHL. Of course this is not always the case, but you find that these kind of points start to add up. I was not covering prospects when Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk came through the draft, but there was obviously sticking points that turned other teams off at the time.

Todd Cordell:  That to me shows how the time has changed. There are more scouts based around the world than ever before and because of current technology, scouts have the ability to watch games, highlights and tape of players in Europe without even traveling there, should they desire. If you’re playing good hockey, you’re going to get noticed no matter where you play. Scouts have more access to European players than ever before. The European players are getting a lot of exposure these days which sort of decreases the chance of stealing a top end European talent in the late rounds. Everyone knows about who’s doing what in Europe so there aren’t as many hidden gems as there were 10-15 years ago.

Jared Abbott:  Drafting European players is always a gamble given their different style of play compared to that of the NHL and lesser exposure against top-rated talent. This may be why Philadelphia tends to shy away from European prospects early in the draft. I think this is a comfort issue. It is obvious that North American prospects are easier to scout based on location and availability. It is more costly and difficult to view European players, especially ones that haven’t reached the top league in their country come their draft-eligible year. It is safer to take a player an organization is more comfortable with early in the draft and take a chance on a more risky selection later when the stakes aren’t as high.

The two NHL stars mentioned above were late-round selections, but exceeded their potential. When taking an overseas talent early in rounds one or two the team must be certain that player will be willing to come to North America and also have the skill level to compete in the NHL. Everyone is looking for the next Bure, Forsberg, or Sundin, but the truth is there are not duplicates of those stars. Spending a top selection on a young Euro in hopes they will develop into one of those stars is a risky strategy on draft day.

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Adam Kimelman

Mark Edwards

Chris Shafer

Todd Cordell

Jared Abbott