Monday, June 10, 2013

The Annual Why Grading Prospects Makes No Sense

In many ways this is the more frustrating time of the year when it comes to New York Ranger prospects as everyone and their mother comes out with some sort of grading system to try to rank the Ranger prospects. And every year at this time I wind up explaining how silly it is to try to grade prospects. It is silly because in all reality the only person who you can ever grade a prospect with is himself.

Yes I know that there are websites, bloggers and writers who will swear that they know better than even the Rangers do at are where their prospects are at in their development. Those are the folks that you need to take with a grain of salt, if they want to charge you for that information then I would suggest you remember this old saying "A fool and his money are soon parted."

If you don't believe me then let's take 3 names and allow me to show you what I mean. Dylan McIlrath (2010 1st), Samuel Noreau (2011 5th) and Brady Skjei (2013 1st) who are all defensemen in the Ranger system. Now go right ahead and try to rank these 3 and then ask yourself which guy had the best season of the 3? Which one would you say had the worst and why?

Wait not done yet because we need to toss some more into the equation and let's start by asking how one could compare these 3 with each other to rank them? McIlrath played in the AHL, Noreau in the QMJHL and Skjei was playing in the NCAAs so how exactly can any say one of these prospects deserves to be ranked higher based on pro potential?

Dylan McIlrath plays against adults in the AHL, he is being taught by Jeff Beukeboom and has the advantage of being a drive away from the Ranger's state of the art practice facility. Should he suffer another injury then he can be treated by the Ranger medical staff. By all rights Dylan McIlrath should be grading out way higher than either Noreau or Skjei.

Brady Skjei plays for Minnesota in the NCAAs, Minnesota is a hockey power among the college hockey programs. But Minnesota isn't training Brady Skjei to become a Ranger but rather to help the Golden Gophers try to win an NCAA championship. Because of NCAA rules the Rangers have limited contact with Skjei and the only way that Skjei can take advantage of the Ranger off-season workouts is to pay his own way.

Skjei plays against young men closer to his own age but he also lives the life of a college student and only plays in half the number of games that either McIlrath or Noreau could possibly get to play. So really how anyone try to rank Skjei against either defender?

I left Samuel Noreau for last because of all the New York Ranger prospects not just defenders, I thought he was the one prospect who was the most improved. That he did so without getting to attend the Ranger's training camp or play for Traverse City made his accomplishments that much more impressive. Noreau improved in every area of his game and why he has a Ranger contract can be chalked up to two words "forward progress."

Now if you want to talk about the Ranger prospects and how they have done over the year then look at where he was the year before and then measure him against that. If you did then really McIlrath is hard to grade considering his transition to the pro ranks was interrupted by a nasty dislocated patella (kneecap) which cost McIlrath his off-season workouts and then with the NHL lockout either the Ranger or CT Whale training camps.

To be honest I was surprised that McIlrath made it back to get in 45 games with the Whale but it gives him high marks for determination and the will to play. Overall though you still have to say it was an incomplete for the year and I believe you will see why when McIlrath reports for the Rookie/Prospect Camp in July.

Brady Skjei was playing on the USA Under-18 team and jumps up to Division 1 NCAA hockey so yes he had growing pains but he also had some good points that people never saw because they weren't goals or assists. Let us see how he does as a sophomore before labeling him anything.

Without mentioning names, there is a website that once ranked Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Carl Hagelin as not having what it takes to play in the NHL. I mention it because the greatest failure of these prospect grades or ranking is that they never take the time to measure a prospect's heart, their will to win and their willingness to work that much harder to earn the spot on the Ranger roster.

I can tell you that the first time then Guelph Storm coach Dave Barr told me that Ryan Callahan was NHL material I too thought he was nuts. Ryan Callahan was so skinny a toothpick could be used as a body double but Callahan was a "take no prisoners" player, not afraid to do anything if it helped his team win. And don't think about running a teammate either.

Way too often these kinds of places give the wrong idea about what a prospect's potential is. Trust me there isn't a person alive who can accurately measure which prospects will make it and which won't. I speak from experience as there have been prospects whom I swore were going to make it and they didn't even close.

Why some prospects wind up failing while others go on to have NHL career's is just as much a mystery as whether or not there is life in outer space. If you really want to try to find keys to focus on then may I offer a few suggestions?

Start with where the prospect is going to play whether it is in the NCAAs or CHL. Check to see who his coach is and if you don't think that it isn't important then think again. A coach in his 1st season might not like the prospect since he isn't one of his players. Sometimes a new coach plays a system that isn't suited for the prospect and that hurts his development.

Then there is the coach who is trying to keep his job and won't play a younger player because of that. I have seen what the effects of a good coach can have but I have also seen what happens when you have a bad coach too. I won't lie as there have been times I have prayed that a coach got fired (no not Tortorella) because I have seen how his performance was hurting the chances of a prospect.

Same for franchises as when you are watching one meltdown with players demanding trades and the atmosphere is just a mess. Help can't get there fast enough and a Ranger prospect is helpless because the events that are happening all around him.

Don't blame the Rangers either because in many cases their hands are tied too and as much as they wish they could do something they can't. In other words after reading all this I just hope you realize one thing; covering prospects isn't easy but trying to grade them against other prospects is a joke.

Just make sure you keep your wallet in your pocket.

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