Ten days before the NHL draft, where the CH will pick first, it’s good to remember where the Colorado Avalanche were in the 2017 draft.
A few weeks before training camp for the 2016-2017 season, Patrick Roy abruptly left the Avalanche due to a philosophical dispute with general manager Joe Sakic. Jared Bednar, who ran the Cleveland high school club in the AHL, had found himself and the team in charge at the last minute, by default.
And the Avalanche, which fielded youngster Nathan MacKinnon (21), Mikko Rantanen (19) and Gabriel Landeskog (23), followed with a 22-56-4 record (48 points), which remains the worst performance by a team of the NHL since the beginning of the new millennium.
And since misfortune never comes alone, the Avalanche had once again been cheated on the night of the lottery. Joe Sakic, Gros-Jean up front, thus found himself with the fourth pick.
On draft night, the New Jersey Devils selected Nico Hischier as the first pick. The Flyers bet on forward Nolan Patrick, who by all accounts would have been the No. 1 pick if he hadn’t been injured in his draft season. Then the Dallas Stars continued with the excellent Finnish defenseman Miro Hiskanen.
When Joe Sakic stepped up to the microphone, he surprised many observers by announcing the selection of Cale Makar, a defender who wore the colors of the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior A League.
Makar was ranked ninth in the North American NHL Powerhouse rankings. Behind him was Nick Suzuki in 10th and Ryan Poehling in 13th.
Makar’s case illustrated the complexity surrounding the selection process for professional hockey prospects.
The top 18-year-olds come from various amateur programs and leagues (in North America and Europe) and various professional leagues (in Europe) whose levels of play vary greatly. Not to mention the fact that hopefuls who play in the European leagues are often underutilized by their coach because they play with men.
Furthermore, applicants are selected long before they reach their physical and technical peak. Under these conditions, predicting human development is an extremely laborious exercise. The margin of error is usually huge.
As proof: during the first 19 play-offs of the 2000s, the first player selected was without a doubt the best of his cohort only eight times (that is, in 42.1% of the cases). And the talent of these eight players (Crosby, Ovechkin, McDavid, Matthews, etc.) was so evident that almost anyone would have chosen them.
Makar had produced impressive stats (21-54-75 in 54 games) in the Alberta Junior A League. But what was the value of these numbers compared to Canadian junior hockey? What was the value of his skill at the World Junior A Championship compared to the World Junior Championship?
To this day, NHL teams still hope to use artificial intelligence and big data analytics to weigh the value of each developmental league against the others. We wish you good luck. In the meantime, you have to rely on the recruiters’ style, experience, and confidence level.
Makar’s case was unorthodox. It stood to reason that many teams (and NHL scouts) would be wary of him. Also, when your job is on the line, you think twice before putting your head on the line to bet on a young man who has taken a path less traveled.
However, in the 2017 draft, Avalanche head scout Alan Hepple was convinced that Makar was the best player available at No. 4. And he didn’t hesitate to put his guts on the table.
Hepple, who now works for the Arizona Coyotes, even once said the Avalanche would have contradicted all the pundits and gone with Makar if the organization had the No. 1 pick that year. We will never know if he was telling the truth.
Still, on Sunday night, Cale Makar (23 years, 239 days) became the youngest defenseman since Bobby Orr (in 1970, at the age of 22 years, 51 days) to receive this Conn-Smythe trophy and be proclaimed MVP of the playoffs. . He went 8-21-28 and played more than 27 minutes per game to help the Avalanche record their third victory in their history.
Last week, Makar also won the Norris Trophy, awarded to the quintessential NHL defenseman. He thus became the third player in NHL history to win these two prestigious trophies in the same year.
Five years after the 2017 draft, although Nico Hischier and Miro Heiskanen have very good careers, it is clear that Cale Makar is the best player of this generation. It wouldn’t even be surprising if he won the Norris Trophy six, seven or eight times like Bobby Orr did.
The Avalanche’s Stanley Cup win, therefore, began on a beautiful afternoon in June 2017, on the floor of the United Center in Chicago, because Alan Hepple and his team of recruiters had exceptional style. Hopefully, Joe Sakic will send his former scout a Stanley Cup ring.
Meanwhile, all of this puts into perspective the sibylline debates that animate the sports stands, namely whether the HC should choose Shane Wright, Logan Cooley or Juraj Slafkovsky.
When no prospect stands out too clearly from the rest, having the top pick in an NHL Draft is a real poisonous gift. The experience of several decades and the extraordinary skill of Cale Makar remind us of this.
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