Monday, November 4, 2013

Jeremy White's "auto-pick" leaves much to be desired

The WGR sports jocks are there to entertain, and with the backdrop of a really poor professional sports scene in Buffalo right now, they need to come up with ideas to keep people interested. Even if the only real interest in their ideas is from themselves.

The latest came from WGR's morning guy, Jeremy White, last week.

White is the same guy who, after watching years of futility at under center for the Bills, believed that the team should select a quarterback in every round of the NFL Draft this past year. That's how bad he wanted his "franchise" quarterback.

Just take the best quarterback available in every round and the odds are one of them will work out was his basic philosophy (no real mention of the offensive co-ordinator, or head coach, and how they fit into the development and success of an NFL qb.)

Extreme? Yes. Practical? No. Fodder for the airwaves? Absolutely--for hours, days and weeks on-end.

Now he's bringing that same co-host draft ingenuity to the NHL.

White's premise is that anyone can draft players, therefore, instead of the GM and his amateur scouts watching and deliberating, they will simply use his "auto-draft" formula.

Auto-draft would simply have the team draft whomever is slotted in a particluar spot as determined by the Central Scouting or ISS lists or whatever list that's available. For instance, if Joe Hockey is rated #2, then you simply pick him at #2.

Simple and easy. accountability either. Perfect for a talk show co-host.

He does qualify it somewhat by directing his theory to the top half of the draft or so, but somehow I think he would take it further.

I guess he's forgotten that the Sabres used the "Video-scout 3000" for their drafting needs under former owner Tom Golisano. Golisano's directive was to cut the scouting staff to a bare minumum and use video to save money. Couldn't hurt, could it?

White's theory is convienient, albeit flawed, but he does have a point, especially when you're at the top of the draft. It doesn't take a "hockey genius" to figure out that Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones, or Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin are top players that will be picked #1 or #2.

Even at #3 there's a good chance that a monkey could pick the right player.

But it's assessing talent in the top-15 to 20 and also what surrounds the year or years of the top pick(s) that can make a difference in the fortunes of a franchise. Not to mention assessing team needs at the time of the draft.

Case in point would be the Edmonton Oilers.

Not that anyone can blame them for the choices they've made the past few years, nor have they been bad draft picks, but with three consecutive #1 overall picks (2010-2012) they should be better than 29th in the league this year, three points ahead of the Sabres.

White calls them an aberration. Or you could just say that they're still too young. Or, considering that the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup with one of the youngest teams in recent memory, you could say that something just isn't right.

Prior to Edmonton picking Hall (#1, 2010,) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (#1, 2011) and Nail Yakupov (#1, 2012,) the Oilers were in a similar situation as Buffalo--a middling team on the down-side who had tasted recent success.

In the five years prior to Hall, Edmonton never had a pick higher than 6th-overall (Sam Gagner, 2007.) They had, the 25th pick in 2005, the 22nd in 2008 and the 10th in 2009. In 2006 they did not have a first round pick.

They also had multiple first rounders during their rebuild as well:  three in 2007, and two in 2011.

Yet, with all of those first-rounders and three #1 overall picks, they're still near the bottom of the league.

From 2005 to 2012, they mostly "Jeremy White auto-picked" and followed the scouting bureaus by drafting the best player available.

An auto-draft pick from the 2007 season would have had Gagner right in that #6 overall range. Not that he's a bad pick, but Logan Couture who was rated in the low-teens was picked 9th San Jose' and is considered one of the top up and coming centers in the league.

An auto pick at 3rd-overall from that same year would have had Phoenix taking Alex Cherepanov. He went #17 to the NY Rangers, played in the KHL, and suffered an untimely death while on the bench during a game.

In fact, 2007 is a definitive case-study against an "auto-draft."

Had the previously mentioned 2010 Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks followed Central Scouting's draft list and auto-picked, they would have passed on Patrick Kane in favor of Kyle Turris. Kane scored the 'Hawks Cup-winning goal in 2010. Turris spent that season in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage.

TSN's Bob McKenzie, who's pretty good when it comes to rankings, nailed the first three picks of the draft, but after that everything was scatter-shot.

Then there's the 2009 draft where the top-10 were pretty close to projections, including the Oilers pick at #10.

In that draft McKenzie had Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson going 10th, and that's who the Oilers drafted.

Two spots later the Nashville Predators selected defenseman, Ryan Ellis.

Auto-pick would have had Paajarvi-Svensson or any number of forwards going at #10, yet it would have failed to take into consideration that the Oilers had not selected a defenseman in the first round since 1996.

The ramifications of neglecting defensemen in the upper portion of the draft is starting to bite Edmonton. And they had the opportunity to address it three years later.

After picking forwards for years in the first round, as well as using the previous two #1 overall picks on forwards, the Oilers auto-picked Nail Yakupov in 2012. Which isn't a bad thing as the RW was considered the consensus top overall pick.

Sitting right behind him, though, was highly touted defenseman Ryan Murray, who was picked by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Had the Oilers selected Ellis and Murray instead of Paajarvi-Svensson (who's no longer with the team) and Yakupov (who was in the doghouse this season) one would think that they would be climbing up instead of being stuck in neutral or regressing.

Edmonton and Buffalo have many parallels as hockey cities right now. Both are small markets, both cannot attract elite-level free agents and both are relying on the draft to change the fortunes of their franchises.

This season, the Sabres are heading down to the level of where the Oilers were at the close of 2010 and they're looking at a top pick in the upcoming draft.

Buffalo began accumulating draft picks two years ago trading veterans for picks.

Beginning with the 2012 draft, here's what the auto-picks would have been for Buffalo: 
  • 2012, 12th pick--D, Derrick Pouliot, (CSS) C, Mikhail Grigorenko TSN (rated #3 by CSS)
  • 2012, 14th pick--C, Colton Sissons (CSS) D, Cody Ceci (TSN)
  • 2013, 8th pick--C, Fredrick Gauthier, (CSS) D, Rasmus Ristolainen (TSN)
  • 2013, 16th pick--RW, Ryan Hartman (CSS) D, Mirco Mueller (TSN)
The Sabres picked Grigorenko and C, Zemgus Girgensons in 2012 then selected Ristolainen and D, Nikita Zadarov in 2013.

As young as they are, both Girgensons and Zadorov are the types of players that the Sabres have been lacking during "the core years," and they're fast becoming fan-favorites as well.

Within the next few years, Buffalo will be looking for them to be part of a foundation for the top picks they look to be getting over the next couple of years.

How they pan out will be another story, but I'd rather have their scouting staff assess need and worth as opposed to Jeremy White's "auto-draft."

Would "auto-draft" have asked Owner Terry Pegula and GM Darcy Regier if they wanted to get "tougher to play against" before picking Zadorov like AGM Kevin Devine did?