Contrasts: Drafting Philosophy and Impact Players from Late Rounds

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEHXyhY5R6I&w=560&h=315]

Today, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish held a press availability in Philly on the eve of the first round of the 2014 NHL entry draft. You can watch the what-have-you here.

Most folks will be interested to hear his thoughts on free agency and the draft. Outside of his unprompted, somewhat casual name-dropping of Mikhail Grabovski, the presser left me pretty nonplussed.

And then… right at the end something interesting happened. He got asked this question:

Q: Do you want to see more forwards coming up through your development system?

This pried MacTavish out of his narrowly focused obfuscation (which he’s getting better at, but still has a long way to go), and led to some real revelations as MacTavish ran through a series of topics.

What Did the Man Say?

MacT: We want to see more of everything coming up through our own development system. Goaltenders, defensemen and forwards.

It’s possible to read this as a dodge, i.e., “I’m not going to lay out our weaknesses in public, like all the other teams we want to improve everywhere.”

But, it seems fairly obvious to me that MacTavish sincerely believes he needs to address a lot of areas throughout the system. I think that is a good sign and the right evaluation (though there are some nice things down in the basement.

We’ve gone to great strides the last couple years, or three or four years, to try and do much more diligence in terms of the people we are drafting. And, I think we’re gonna see that over the next little while.

Hmmm. That’s pretty interesting.

A couple of thoughts. I think MacTavish is fudging on his timeline here. Three to four years would put MacTavish back outside the organization. But, I have a feeling he was reaching back further in time to pick at one of the great organizational blunders, which I can only imagine is a huge sour point for all involved.

The 2009 draft year included a pair of truly bizarre 3rd round draft picks, defenseman Troy Hesketh and forward Cam Abney. Lowetide has kept track down through the years of who said what and how Abney found his way to the Oilers. Read up here and see also this Jonathan willis piece here.

Bob Brown… the man still has a job. Unreal.

Ok. So let’s say around 2010 the Oilers started to re-vamp their drafting philosophy. I think you can make a case that something like this took place.

But, I’d argue last year, MacTavish’s first year on the job as GM a real sea-change took place.

Just prior to the draft last year, Stu MacGregor outlined the new direction he had been pushed in by his new boss. You can see him talk about it here (you can also see him discuss the matter with Jason Gregor here). The word you hear over and over is SKILL:

“It’s certainly no secret,” MacGregor said, “Craig has talked a lot about skill and the need to add more raw talent to the organization. We’ve put great emphasis on scouting these players this season and have assembled a list based on that philosophy.

“Craig has some ideas on how he wants to proceed with our organization. Drafting skilled players with the ability to make plays under pressure is a big part of that.”

This was, mind you, the same draft year in which MacTavish cited analytics in trading down twice to acquire more kicks at the can. These moves are of a piece with MacTavish’s keen interest in employing a modern, evidence-based drafting philosophy.

[You’ll find Lowetide and Scott Reynolds reviewing the 2013 draft here and here (right after the proceedings) and here’s a very recent piece by Bruce McCurdy covering the same ground].

Now, let’s return to MacTavish from today:

We’ve reshaped what our drafting philosophy is and worked extensively with Stu to identify the types of players we’re after in the later rounds. We’re after impact players.

Dreamy! That doesn’t sound like Cam Abney. Not at all.

And, this isn’t new. Lowetide transcribed MacTavish from last year discussing his draft philosophy:

MacT: “There’s the amateur side, through the course of this year I spent a lot of time with them I have a great degree of comfort in their ability. There are things we can do as a group that will benefit our drafting from a strategic standpoint, from a philosophical standpoint. We can hit better and more impact players in the later rounds, we’ve talked about it a lot on the amateur side, trying to get more impact players with our later picks. I’m happy with that group.”

Impact players! Delightful!

Returning to today, MacTavish elaborated on what a late round impact player might look like:

For every player that we draft in those mid to later rounds, we want to be able to make a case of why this guy has the potential to be really a top 7 forward, anyone of the 3 top center positions and the four top wing positions, or a top 4 defenseman.

If that player doesn’t look like he has the potential to develop into that, then we’re gonna pass and try to find somebody that fits that need.

Yep. It’s like I thought. No more Cam Abneys.

And all the villagers rejoiced!

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