Welcome to the second edition of Hockey Prospectus' Top 100 NHL Draft-Eligible Prospects
but this year we extended the rankings portion to 125!
In this feature, you will find my personal rankings of what I feel are the top prospects in the 2012 draft class, along with detailed reports for the top 100 prospects, as well as explanations for key rankings.
Before you dive right into the rankings, I would like to briefly explain the process that went into the rankings, the reports, and re-introduce several key statistical and scouting analysis techniques used in the rankings.
I need to note off the top, that these reports are not based on the work of an independent scouting service. While the reports are based somewhat on my personal viewings of most of the prospects profiled of whom I have seen most play at least once, predominantly though video scouting, a significant portion of my notes come from talking to scouts and NHL execs and accumulating a lot of information from different sources throughout the year. The way I feel I can do my job at its peak is to accumulate as much information as I can, and then use that information to independently assess the value of players. The information I use to assess players does come from sources aside from my own eyes, but the ranking process has zero influence from others.
I am a fan of something I've borrowed from the baseball scouting world and have adapted to hockey scouting called the 20-80 scale. In short, it is a distinct scouting language, derived originally from using standard deviations to assess talent distributions. To avoid confusing readers, I do not use number grades at all due to the lack of popularity of the scale in hockey circles, however the language I use throughout my reports have a rhyme and reason to which you should be informed about. Here is how I use the 20-80 scale with certain words that you will see in all of my reports:
40 is fringe/replacement level
45 is below average
50 grade is NHL average/average/pro-level/decent
55 is above average
60 is plus/top tier
70 is amongst the NHL's elite/plus-plus
80 is a generational talent but it is never used in this draft preview
Anytime I say well below-average or well above-average, that refers to beyond the 40 grade or 60 range. Solid or solid-average means between 50 and 55, and fringe-average means between 45 and 50. The purpose of the 20-80 scale is not to try and quantify scouting, but rather it illustrates a clear and distinguishable language to the reader of exactly how much I value a particular attribute. It also allows me to keep my sanity when evaluating and ranking the prospects.
The tools referenced throughout commonly are skating, puck skills, shot, physical game, and hockey sense. Skating, puck skills, and shot are self-explanatory. Physical game refers to physical assets, but with an emphasis on actual effectiveness in the physical game as opposed to just relying on size/weight projections. Hockey sense is the entire mental aspect of the game and is differentiated in the profiles amongst the many aspects if needed such as defensive positioning, offensive vision, etc.
The ranking process starts by finding out exactly how valuable certain skills are in today's NHL market. Gabe Desjardins explained this pretty clearly here,
" Together, Fenwick/Corsi and Luck account for around 3/4 of team winning percentage. What's the remainder? Goaltending talent - which Tom Awad estimates at about 5% - and special teams, along with a very small sliver that's due to shooting talent and the oft-mentioned "shot quality." So I don't think there's a false dichotomy here - there are five factors in this model, all of which are given credence in proportion to their predictive power."
To those unfamiliar with Corsi/Fenwick, they are basically indicators of possession skill, as Vic Ferrari has shown at his blog, on top of showing the overwhelming importance of possession.
These insights into the modern day NHL and the valuations of certain skills played a huge part in my rankings. Possession skills are the primary factor used in my rankings by a significant margin. While players' shooting percentage drives results, the persistence of shooting percentage is low due to the high degree of luck in shooting percentage in a single season. Thereby players who make their mark by beating the percentages shooting-wise through mid-distance shooting were debited due to uncertainty of the skill due to luck.
Tom Awad has estimated goaltending is worth about 5% of winning percentage, and has done several good columns on the goaltending market and talent distribution here and here to help illustrate the goaltending situation. Combine that with how long goalies take to develop and the development uncertainty, goalies are given very low value in my rankings.
With the possession skill in mind as to what I primarily wanted to focus on, I polled several NHL executives who also put a focus on possession in their drafting and pulled on my own experience to figure out which tools I wanted to emphasize. In defensemen, the answer was always to put hockey IQ high up there along with puck-moving ability while for forwards it was puck skills, along with hockey IQ. Other factors obviously come into play, as skating, physical game, and other areas are important. Skating tends to be a little more important for forwards and physical game more so for defenders and this is all scaled accordingly. Everything plays into the possession game, but those aforementioned abilities are qualities that are of a higher importance to that skill and this plays a larger part in the formation of these rankings.
When I refer to "possession skills" in write ups, it usually means a combination of a player's puck skills, hockey sense, and puck-moving skills.
There has been one major change to my ranking process from last year. Based on talks I've had with Hockey Prospectus writers Tom Awad, Jonathan Willis, and Kent Wilson, I have made a significant systematic change to how I approach defensemen in the draft. While very valuable when you truly hit on them, defensemen tend to have much more uncertainty in their projections coming out of the draft. As Tom Awad said to me in an e-mail exchange: "It doesn't help you to know that there may be a Duncan Keith somewhere in the draft class if you can't identify him before he's 22."I have decided to approach defensemen with much more caution. Due to their value in the NHL, and persistent production of good defensemen, I have not decided to knock down defense prospects like I have goalie prospects, but if I think it's close especially in the first round, I will tend to lean the direction of the forward even if I feel the defense prospect in the discussion has a slightly higher talent level. Forward production out of the draft tends to just be so much more linear than defensemen and the development time is less as well.
Signability factors were not accounted for as they can be case by case, so for Russian players with transfer questions for example I kept the rankings talent-based and not where I would pick them if I was a GM.
The stats-based projections Iain Fyffe produced last year will be available in a later post.
As this is usually a popular request via Twitter, I will also outline how I see the draft class:
I have gotten several questions or comments referring to the 2012 draft class being weak. If you had asked me about that back in December I would been inclined to say the class is indeed weak. Which is why I don't like to make judgments on a draft class until the spring because players like Radek Faksa, Teuvo Teravainen, Ludvig Bystrom, Hampus Lindholm, Tim Bozon, Matt Finn, and Ville Pokka amongst many others have had good years emerge throughout the course of a year and make the draft class look better. I think the draft class in 2012 is fine talent-wise, however based on the fact a lot of the top talents are defensemen, I feel a first round pick has slightly less value than usual not because the talent level is worse, but because there is more average risk on a first round pick this year due to the variance on drafted defensemen.
This is a defense-heavy top of the class, but I do not think any defensemen have #1 D potential. So while I did make a systematic change to ranking defense, due to this class the change was not that dramatic at the top. The top two between Yakupov and Grigorenko are an established top tier with superstar talent levels. Alex Galchenyuk is the third and last legit star talent in this draft class as well. In my opinion, there is a talent draft off in my rankings after Ryan Murray and another slight drop after Zemgus Girgensons after whom, the slow marginal decrease in talent level begins towards the end of the draft.
With all of that being said, we now present you our Top 100 Draft Eligible Prospects . We hope you enjoy it and while I have explained everything here in as much detail as possible, if you have any questions about anything in these rankings you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at my Twitter account @coreypronman.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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