This weekend PK Subban signed an 8 year, $72 million contract. He is the highest paid defenseman in the league and already has a Norris trophy at age 25. He was drafted 43rd overall by the Montreal in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
The Philadelphia Flyers owned the 41st overall pick in that draft. They picked a defenseman as well, Kevin Marshall.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and it would be easy to go back and bash the Flyers for passing up on Subban (he went 43rd, which means every team passed on him at least once). So instead of being negative, let’s take a look at a few things that can be learned about drafting from this scenario. These principles hold true in many situations, but they can be clearly seen when comparing Marshall and Subban.
1. Always draft skill over safety
Take a look at scouting reports for both Marshall and Subban prior to the 2007 draft. Keep in mind that NHL Central Scouting had Marshall ranked 47th, but they had Subban ranked 102nd. Therefore, there is much less information in regards to Subban pre-draft.
From Central Scouting:
From a Flyers prospect profile:
From a USA Today scouting article:
he is one nasty, scrappy junkyard dog who’ll fight tooth and nail every shift, and for every inch of real estate all over the ice. Though only a middleweight, Marshall will drop the gloves with anyone, and he’s one of those supreme agitators who gets under the opponents’ skin with regularity. He’s also got decent puck skills and improving hockey sense. He won’t run your power play or play in the top pairing, but he’s the type of guy who helps good teams win.
NHL Central Scouting:
NHL Draft Buzz scouting web site:
Subban is a phenomenal puckmover, rusher, and shooting threat from the backend with undeniable hands and skating ability. He is a confident player with the puck on his stick and is able to make highly skilled plays. He can be unstoppable at times on the powerplay with a heavy wrister and slap shot. Stunningly, as well as Subban can shoot the puck, he can dish it just as well with quick thinking, surveillance, and ability to hit open teammates most point men cannot.
You get the gist. Marshall had all of the “intangibles” and was a “safe pick.” He was a leader, he was a hard worker, he was competitive, and he got under the opponents skin. What did he need to work on? Puck skills. Hockey sense. Offensive decision making. To put it simply, he needed to be a better hockey player!
Subban, however, was a highly skilled hockey player who just needed to be tamed. The skills were there, it was a matter of being properly coached and using those skills to become a complete player.
The lesson to be learned here is that it is much easier to take a good hockey player and help him round out his game than it is to turn a bad hockey player into a good one.
2. Embrace the luck of the draw
Ultimately, prospect evaluation and drafting have an element of luck. As mentioned earlier, Subban was ranked as the 102nd best North American skater by a group of experts!
Scouts follow these prospects all the time. They watch the games, study the abilities of teenagers and project what they will be in five years. If we could go back now and redo the 2007 NHL Draft, PK Subban would be in the #1 overall conversation with Patrick Kane. Nobody would have expected Subban to far surpass Marshall on June 22-23, 2007.
As much as Montreal did a great job of scouting Subban and recognizing his talent (they had a spectacular 2007 draft by the way, drafting Ryan McDonagh and Max Pacioretty before drafting Subban), they were also lucky that he fell to them. He could have been picked up long before the 43rd pick or he could have conceivably dropped another round or two.
Right now, the Flyers have a lot of quality defense prospects. Which ones pan out and which ones are busts may have less to do with the Flyers scouting/development, and more to do with the luck of the draw. It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is the truth.
Bill Meltzer talked about bad luck with prospects recently, I’d reccomend his article.
3. Be patient
This point has little to do with Marshall/Subban. The Flyers were patient with Marshall, but even with multiple seasons in the AHL, he only played 10 NHL games. They cannot be faulted for rushing Marshall to the NHL. Patience does not guarantee success.
It is still helpful to look at Subban’s development path. When drafting a player, especially a defenseman, patience is key. Subban went back to the OHL for two seasons after being drafted, and then he spent a full year in the AHL. In his first season back in the OHL, he did not look to be improving very much. It was over the next two seasons, one in the OHL and his full season in the AHL, that Subban took off.
No matter how hyped any prospect is on draft day, every player drafted has played the same amount of NHL games at that point: 0.
To bring this discussion home, lets take a look at Sam Morin. He may be one of the last 1st rounders of the 2013 draft class to make the NHL, but that is fine. A few of the defensemen from that class (Seth Jones, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov)have already tasted the NHL. And even if Josh Morrissey, Ryan Pulock, Darnell Nurse and Mirco Mueller hit the NHL in the next season or two while Morin plays in the QMJHL and/or the AHL, that should not discourage Flyers fans.
For example, both Keaton Ellerby and Karl Alzner were hyped up prior to the 2007 draft, and they tasted the NHL before PK Subban did. But now, a few years later, we would all take Subban on our team ahead of them both.
Who knows what Morin’s future holds, but being in the NHL today does not promise a long and fruitful career.
Again, bashing the Flyers for picking Kevin Marshall is futile. Learning from that pick is vital. To draft well, teams must choose skill over safety, embrace the luck of the draw, and be patient with their prospects.