Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sometimes Numbers Hide Things

Since Prospect Park tends to evaluate Rangers prospects a bit differently from others, the one question that gets asked the most is how do we grade out a prospect's performance. Since the season is starting to get closer and closer then now is the best time to answer this question.

Grading a prospect may not look all that hard but as we have learned one area that gets too much credit is a prospects numbers. The less one focuses on the kind of numbers a prospect produces then the clearer a picture you can form on a prospect.

Great numbers always stand out but at the same time it is very possible for a prospect to have a great season in terms of numbers and still not progress in terms of development. Sometimes taking one step back could actually mean a huge leap in a prospect's development.

Bobby Sanguinetti is a great example as the 2006 1st round pick is looked at as huge offensive weapon. However until last season Sanguinetti was looked at as a defensive liability and so many were sure Sanguinetti would be just one way player.

What told us to forget about Sanguinetti as a defensively was his performance at the World Under-20 Championships for Team USA. The offensive weapon was asked by Team USA to play the role of defensive defender and Sanguinetti wound up going against some of the better offensive players of his age group.

Sanguinetti more than held his own and did not embarrass himself when used on the penalty kill. At the same time though, Sanguinetti also did put up great numbers on the offensive end in the OHL which hid his defensive growth.

So what happened to cause this turn around? Simple very few knew that Sanguinetti had spent his 2007 off-season working on his defensive game. Unless you talked with Sanguinetti or saw his play before (with Owen Sound) or after (with Brampton) then you never would have seen the difference if you looked only at numbers.

You can also see in how Sanguinetti played for Hartford after his season ended with Brampton that he had a confidence in his defensive game that he did not have the year before. Numbers will not always show those things.

Then we have the opposite as one of our own mistakes which taught us not to rely on numbers anymore was Kenny Roche who we thought was going to become a breakout star during his senior season for Boston University during 2006-07.

We were so sure that Roche was going to have a monster season as we saw a 17-14-31 season as a junior. We saw his first step, his clutch goal scoring and thought that here was a prospect who was going to breakout. Boy were we wrong.

Roche went 12-17-29 in his senior season and only 3 games with Hartford as he was just overmatched. We were left trying to figure why we were so wrong about Roche and the answer was simple: we saw just numbers and missed areas that had we paid attention would have told us otherwise.

So what did we miss then? That answer has formed the core of how we now grade Ranger prospects as we took how we saw Dubinsky, Dawes, Callahan and Staal would make it like they did and measured it against those who did not.

1-What did the prospect work on during his off-season

Dubinsky is the best example as every off-season after being drafted he went out and worked on the areas that the Rangers said were his weak points. They said get stronger, so Dubi added weight but added it according to the Ranger plan for him (unlike Alex Bourett who we saw just did what he wanted).

Then Dubi worked on his skating by attending a skating skills camp, worked on his stick handling but the most important part was that Dubi took what the Rangers said not as criticism but as a guide to build a career.

Last season was proof enough

2-Look at their heart

Nigel Dawes was our teacher here as everywhere we went people kept saying Dawes was too small that he would never survive in the NHL. All Dawes did was keep his feelings to himself and just go out and work harder than the next guy.

We knew that Dawes would make it because only one other person we knew gave back of himself more than Dawes did and that was Adam Graves. From that famous hair cut to visiting kids in hospitals or schools, Dawes has the heart of a giant.

The day Dawes did the interview for the Blueshirt Bulletin was another Dawes special, traveled all night coming back from the WJC, sick to his stomach with food poisoning and flat out exhausted. Only we never knew any of this until after the game.

When we told Dawes that he could have skipped the interview as we would have done it another time the answer was simple: Dawes did not want to let down Ranger fans because he wanted to be a Ranger.

People say that the changes in the NHL is why Dawes made it to the NHL but we totally disagree as Dawes would have survived even in the old NHL. Dawes has the heart of a warrior.

3- The Wake Up Call

During the 2006-07 season Marc Staal was not dominating as one thought he should have. Staal was one of the last cuts from the Ranger training camp so by rights should have stood the OHL on it's ear.

Staal did not and to us looked as if he was playing on cruise control as Staal did not score a goal after November 25th (30 regular season games but he did have 16 assists in that period). Yes while he was a key part of Team Canada's WJC gold medal team but this was a man playing among boys and should have done better.

However Staal suffered some sort of knee injury (Sudbury would never discuss it in typical playoff thinking) and missed 12 days in March of that season. We believe it was the first serious injury that Staal had suffered.

When you are young, you think you are indestructible that nothing can hurt you. So that first injury you suffer scares the heck out of you. that first injury is the "Wake Up Call" as you either no longer take for granted the gifts that you have so you go out and work for it or they play scared afraid they will get hurt again and never measure up to their talent.

When he came back, Staal was exactly who we had been expecting. The best player period in the OHL during the 2006-07 playoffs, Staal almost carried Sudbury on his back to one of the biggest upsets in OHL history.

20 points in 21 games, playing in one game almost 2 entire overtime periods (we are not kidding) and doing everything at every part of the ice. It got to the point where if you said "Staal", you was also saying "big play".

4- I want to be a Ranger

We always ask each prospect the same question during one of the Blueshirt Bulletin interviews: Tell us how you would score the Cup winning goal for the Rangers. It sounds crazy but each of the 4 we mentioned that played for the Rangers last season did something different.

When a Callahan for example a look came over them as they were going back to their childhood to the days when they dreamed of becoming the NHL. It was a play that they have lived out over and over in their minds so when they answered we got a detailed response.

If we got something like:

"I pick the pick up along the boards, I cut across center ice breaking down the right side, deke the goalie and beat him glove side high"

then compare it to:

"I come in shoot the puck and it goes in"

Want to guess which one we give more weight to? The look as if they are in this far away place says to us a lot about how much they want to play in the NHL. They live it, they dream it, they are so one minded that it is what fuels them.

These 4 form the core of how we grade out Ranger prospects and while we have a few more that we like to keep to ourselves, if you look at what a Ranger prospects says or read about what he does during his off-season then you will also be able to get a good idea on which prospects are for real and which are not.

After all the numbers can be made to lie you know.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

There is absolutely more to judging prospects than looking at numbers. Your article very nicely lists some of the ingredients that are necessary beyond numbers. But that isn't to say numbers are meaningless.

The mistake most fans make is to assume good numbers guarantee good prospects. They don't. But the converse does hold some truth in it.

That is, good prospects need to produce adequate numbers for their level of development & then show steady improvement if they're ever going to be NHL caliber players.

The "steady improvement" factor is probably more critical than the pure numbers themselves. It usually indicates that a player is working to improve his game. Pavel Brendl was an example of a player with great numbers, but who didn't improve.

However, players that don't put up numbers in their earliest years, and then suddenly produce when they mature (like a Ken Roche as a junior), usually don't make it to the NHL either (with the exception of some role players). An NHL caliber prospect must have enough talent to put up at least moderate numbers in junior or in college at age 18 or 19 almost by accident. By the time he's 20, he might start to dominate younger players in his league by virtue of maturity, but this won't get him to the NHL if he doesn't have the talent. And chances are, that if he had such talent, he would've showed some signs of it at a younger age through his numbers.

In summary, numbers won't tell you who the good prospects are, but they might help weed out some of the bad ones.