Thursday, June 12, 2008


Ten Years On

Jean Lefebvre writes:
Hi Matt,
We're doing a retrospective look at the 1998 draft in next week's paper. In conjunction with that, there'll be some blog material including a revisionist look at who should have gone where according to several different people. If you're inclined to do so, could you have a look at this list of 1998 draftees (listed in alphabetical order) who were regulars or semi-regulars in the NHL this past season? What would your first-round draft order look like (remembering that there were 27 teams that season)?...

In fact, I AM so inclined, and I'll do it here, because it seems like a fun discussion to have, and also because I'm going to get it WRONG, and I expect some sound arguments in the comments explaining why.

As you can see, Mr. Lefebvre has left open the method by which to re-rank the '98 draft, so here's my rough criteria:
Clear enough? Here we go.

(1) Pavel Datsyuk. There is nothing bad you can say about this guy. You could drop him onto any team in the league, with any coach running any scheme, and he would promptly make that team much better. He is (IMO) the best defensive forward in the league; probably the best two-way forward in the league, and maybe even the 2nd-best forward in the league, period. Leads his draft class in career Pts/Gm (0.96) and has two Stanleys. My only reluctance in putting him here is that he didn't start in the NHL until 3 years after he was drafted, but when I looked at the impact #2 had in his first 3 years...

(2) Vincent Lecavalier. The good is that he came straight into the league; he has the most GP, goals, and points of his class; and he has won a Rocket Richard Trophy and a Stanley Cup. The bad is that he is a weak two-way player, both by nature and by design. The other: he's actually 4th in career Pts/Gm for his class -- it would be incorrect to say that he is clearly the best offensive player in his class. Probably, yes; clearly, no.

(3) Alex Tanguay. You knew this was coming, didn't you... came in as a 19-year-old and was good right away, including scoring 2 goals in G7 of the SCF as a rookie. Is a career +144 -- has been an outstanding EV player his entire career. 2nd in points, T-2nd in pts/gm for his class. The biggest misconception about Tanguay is that he has piggybacked on better players to achieve his numbers; as I noted once before, in his last season with Colorado, he was 8th in the NHL in EVPts/60 playing primarily with Brett Maclean and Ian Laperriere.

(4) Scott Gomez. 2nd in career GP, 3rd in points. Won the Calder Trophy as a 19-year-old, and has been a relatively consistent producer (if not scorer) ever since. Two Stanleys as well.

(5) Brad Richards. Not a favourite of mine (career -37), but a nice player. T-2nd with Tanguay in career pts/gm. Has a Stanley, and the Conn Smythe to go with it.

(6) Simon Gagne. A bit overlooked these days because of injury, but he was a terrific player right off the hop. 47 & 41 goals in his two healthy seasons since the lockout. Genuine sniper, and a career +123 to boot (led the league in EV goals in 05/06).

(7) Robin Regehr. A genuine shutdown defenseman, and has been for 5+ seasons. Minus: no 'O'. Plus: kind of a bastard.

(8) Shawn Horcoff. Moves ahead of a few guys with more points, more GP, and/or more flair because he is an extremely complete player and generally plays (and plays well) against the other team's best forwards. Translation: I've seen him good.

(9) David Legwand. For a centreman drafted #2 overall, he's had a very underwhelming career offensively, though part of that can be attributed to injury problems. Today, he's a very good 5v5 player even against strong competition, and moves up to this spot on my board under the "5 year contract" criteria noted above.

(10) Andrei Markov. Has been a nice sound D-man for quite a while and is now one of the premier PP point men in the league.

(11) Jonathan Cheechoo. 56-37-23 goals in the three post-lockout seasons. If you sign him to a 5-year contract today, any idea what you're getting? Me neither.

(12) Eric Cole. Nice EV player who I would have on my team any day.

(13) Mike Ribeiro. Dude's track record is a bit too spotty for me to get really excited -- and no, he'll never shoot 25% again -- but a nice enough player.

(14) Brian Gionta. Don't really know anything about him, except (a) he's a circus midget, and (b) he scored 48 goals a couple of seasons ago.

Hey, look at the time... here's the rest. Yes, I generally favoured forwards over defensemen, it's a bias that's somewhat indefensible. And re: defensemen, I definitely favoured ones with more career GP, which I think is defensible.

(15) Jaroslav Spacek
(16) Mike Fisher
(17) Brad Stuart
(18) Karlis Skrastins
(19) Martin Skoula (2nd in career GP behind Vinny)
(20) Mike Van Ryn
(21) Trent Hunter
(22) Nik Antropov
(23) Michael Ryder
(24) Mikael Samuelsson
(25) Francois Beauchemin
(26) Tyler Arnason
(27) Chris Neil

Notable (?) omissions: Antero Niittymaki, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Andrew Raycroft, Jarko Ruuttu, Manny Malhotra, Ales Kotalik, Mark Bell, Bryan Allen, Blair Betts


Where would Jiri Fischer fit on your list if it weren't for his health problems?

Thanks for the excellent post. It would have been nice to have the original draft position as well as which team they would have been drafted by to see how history would have changed.

Were there any players taken in subsequent years who were undrafted in 98.

Good question about Jiri Fischer... I was working off a list of guys who played this past season. Probably somewhere in the high teens with those other D-men? It's been a while and it's hard to say how good he'd be today, and what he would have accomplished over the past couple seasons.

And Peter: just looking at the '99 draft, it appears that the best players taken who would have been eligible in '98 are Jordan Leopold, Niklas Hagman, and Ryan Malone. No real late round overage gems.

More: Bryzgalov was drafted in 2000 but eligible in '98 -- he would crack Rd1 in retrospect. And, Lubo Visnovsky was born in Aug. 1976, never drafted until 2000, his age 24 year. There are probably other Europeans who you could look at similarly.

Thanks very much to Matt for taking the time to do this. The original '98 draft order and a couple other versions of the redo are on the blog now.

Don't overrate Beauchemin. My basic scouting line on this guy would read: "Looks great when Niedermayer has his back. Not so much when he's got a defense partner of near-average footspeed."

aaargh rico fata!!1
still kills me...

I think Matt does a good job. My only slight tweaks would be to slot Tanguay, Regehr, and Horcoff a little lower, and squeeze Markov, Ribeiro and Fisher a little higher, but Matt made his method and biases known so nothing really outrages me about the list. The talk of Trevor Linden for the HHOF out here in Vancouver however..

Okay- two things:

1) Mike Van Ryn is way too high for a guy who has had what, two good seasons?

2) Bryan Allen deserves to be in the first round somewhere. I'd certainly take him over Chris Neil, both career-wise and right now.

Aside from that, minor quibbles only. This is a good list.

Loubardias? LOUBARDIAS?? Okay, now they're just fuckin' with me.

Don't OVERRATE Beauchemin? After all the smoke broadcasters blew up our asses about that guy, I was already laughing at how far down the list he was.

I'd move Cole higher (gnashing my teeth as I did it) but I have a weakness for that type of player.

Imagine the draft actually went along those lines... we'd still be talking about the most fruitful first round ever.

I think I'd still take Lecavalier first, warts and all.

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