Alex Galchenyuk is the biggest risk/reward pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and could arguably be the biggest risk period considering the range he will likely be selected come draft day and the players he will go ahead of. When people normally think of risk, the immediate reaction is that something is wrong with the player. He may be too small, have a hitch in his skating stride, he's out of shape, has bad character or some really concerning injury issues. Galchenyuk certainly has the latter, after an ACL injury kept him out all season, although when he returned, he looked fine and had no lingering effects on his skating from the injury.
To me, though, Galchenyuk's major draft risk does not come from any of that, but it in fact comes from a lack of information about Alex Galchenyuk. Now many in the scouting community have gotten a large amount of looks at Galchenyuk. That didn't really happen this season, as he only played eight OHL games at the end of the season, and a handful at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer, but the previous season he played a full 68 OHL games. I remember talking to scouts who would come from Sarnia games not sure who was better, Galchenyuk or Nail Yakupov.
I should say that I am a huge fan of Galchenyuk, to those who have read my Top 100 Draft Prospects, I ranked him third. I ranked him that high despite the risks I am outlining in this column, for the reasons of which I'll explain below.
The value of draft year information is extremely vital. It's why scouts spend an entire season watching players on a nightly basis. Players can and usually do change in some form or fashion during a season, for better or worse. This happens before they get drafted and afterwards, which is why players' prospect value is a very fluid process that could go way up or down depending on the information scouts continuously collect over each season. Let us take this draft class as an example. If the 2012 draft would have been held back in August, prospects like Nick Ebert and Matia Marcantuoni could very likely have been top-10 picks based on what the industry thought of them then. However, a full draft season later, if they went in the top 60 I would be surprised after disappointing scouts for most of this season. It's unfortunate they dropped so much, but for a player like Nick Ebert should he have gotten injured in the summer, where would he be projected to be drafted? If people were going based on just information gathered last season and maybe a handful of games this year, I'd say it would certainly be in the top 30.
Good examples from prior drafts would be a guy like John McFarland, a player drafted 1st overall in the 2008 OHL draft. While he didn't blow the doors off in his first OHL season, he was still highly touted and in the summer of 2009 thought of as a sure fire top-10 if not top-five pick in the 2010 draft. He went 33rd after several issues about his game rose. Angelo Esposito generated a mega hype machine after scoring 39 goals and 98 points in 57 QMJHL games in his first major junior season on a Memorial Cup team. He was seen as a potential candidate for first overall in the 2007 draft. The next year his numbers fell off, scouts were concerned with some issues, and he went 20th. His first ELC just expired and through his three AHL seasons in 132 games his point per game pace has been 0.32. Had Esposito been injured for most of the 2007 draft season, where would he have been drafted?
Now I'm not trying to pick on Ebert, McFarland, or Esposito; what I am trying to say is these are just a few examples of a big issue. The lack of playing a full year leaves a gaping hole in a team's draft homework and makes it a very big risk that you could be that player who had the great pre-draft year and would have fallen off in your draft season. We will never know, though, because Galchenyuk never played it. He's a very talented player who has great character and most likely he would not have played poorly, but we don't know that for sure and that creates the risk.
So if this is such a big risk, why do I have Galchenyuk ranked third? As I explained in the first five write-ups I posted, I felt there was a very large gap between him and my #4 prospect Filip Forsberg. If that gap was close at all talent-wise, I actually would have ranked Galchenyuk ninth because of the uncertainty risk and the relative closeness of talent level between my #4 and #8 prospects. However as I stated in that column, Galchenyuk is one of the three legitimate star-level talents in the draft and is much more gifted than Forsberg or Teravainen and therefore I'm willing to swallow the risk for the significant difference in upside. I don't think it is likely Galchenyuk would have fallen off so that's why I don't drop him out of the top 10, as he is an immensely talented all-around player who works his tail off, but the risk is the very real chance it could have happened.
Another question I'm sure people will have is about Morgan Rielly, who played 23 CHL games this year on top of the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer. While 23 games is not a whole lot, it surely is better than eight. Rielly didn't play much this year, but based on scouts I talked to, there was certainly notable progression to his game at the beginning of the year that they felt they could get a moderate feel for him this season. The sample is still small, but being able to get 15-20 extra viewings in terms of significance means a lot more on a scouting level than it does on a statistical level.
I do know scouts that simply wouldn't consider Galchenyuk in the top five if they were picking there, and while I don't agree with that, I understand and wouldn't really argue with that rationale. They feel if they can't get 20-25 viewings at a minimum of a player, they simply don't have enough information to use a top-five pick on him. Each team will approach this issue differently depending on how risk-adverse they are towards injuries and lack of draft year information around the range Galchenyuk could be selected. On the flip side, I know of a head scout who would look at him in the top three.
Alex Galchenyuk is a near certainty to go in the top 10, and despite all I've written, may even go in the top five, however the team that makes that pick will be taking on a massive amount of risk, with the potential for the kind of reward that could elevate a franchise.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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