Back to the Future: Evaluating Head Scout Marcel Comeau Part 1


Marcel Comeau has been the Head Scout of the Atlanta Thrashers and now Winnipeg Jets since 2003. This season will mark his 11th draft with the organization, and as Cheveldayoff continues to preach patience and hope, we will have a look at the man in charge of delivering a hockey team from a list of teenagers.

There are many ways to evaluate a draft, and of course, data continues to roll in all the time. Consider Part 1 a bit of an introduction to Comeau and his draft history. We’ll look at his draft record without much context to get our minds around who it is he’s been drafting and where the team has traditionally gone fishing for talent. I’ll add some thoughts about the prospects on which we still wait.

Getting to know Marcel Comeau

Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press did a brief interview and profile on Comeau back in June of 2012. It’s a charming read with plenty of detail on his career in hockey, and it gives us some hints as to the process of his current job. For our purposes, this quote tells an important tale:

Free Press: Do scouts have a style? Do you have a style as director of amateur scouting?

Marcel Comeau: I guess everybody looks at different things. When I coached, I always appreciated players who would go the extra mile, not necessarily guys who just brought skill. I always appreciated second effort, guys willing to go to war for you every night. I always thought character is a very desired commodity in a player. I felt we really had a lot of character when I worked in Saskatoon. We always had high-character, high-quality individuals on our team that played a strong team game and I think I tend to gravitate toward those players because that’s what I’ve liked. That’s what I like in a player, one who brings that consistent work ethic and one you’d like to share a foxhole with at some point in time.

You might recognize that preference in his first round selections alone. We know he’s been the Head Scout for a bad team. The result is that only three of his 10 1st round selections came outside the top 10. The remaining seven furnished Braydon Coburn (8th, 2003), Boris Valabik (10th, 2004), Zach Bogosian (3rd, 2008), Evander Kane (4th, 2009), Alex Burmistrov (8th, 2010), Mark Scheifele (7th, 2011), and Jacob Trouba (9th, 2012). Burmistrov is the smallest, and we all know his love to battle and hit, and Scheifele might be considered the ‘softest’ (it’s relative) despite projecting as a power forward once his 6’3" frame fills out. Comeau loves his warriors.

Yet, I’m reminded of an important (and fascinating) article by Tyler Dellow (MC79) on where NHL bottom 6 players come from. His conclusion isn’t that unexpected, but well supported by his data and I encourage you to have a look when you’re done here. Bottom 6 forwards come mostly from the top end of the draft – projected top-end guys who missed the mark – and the later they’re drafted, the more likely it is that they are: a) a bottom 6 player in the NHL; and b) older when they finally make the NHL; and c) drafted by a different organization than the one for which they first play NHL hockey. In other words, drafting for grit and work ethic rarely translates into NHL players unless that players is highly skilled also, and when it does, it’s often many years later and for a different organizaiton. It makes me nervous when scouts talk about ‘fox-hole’ kind of guys, and I can only hope he means ‘extremely skilled and talented guys who you might also want to share a fox-hole with at some point.’ 

That said, I don’t mean to dismiss Comeau so early. It hasn’t always been a very consistent re-build effort in Atlanta’s front office, and that’s reflected in the draft bullets given to Comeau. In his ten drafts to date, Comeau has only had 10 1st round and 8 second round selections to make. In contrast, 29 of his 74 total selections (almost 40%) have come in the 6th round or later. His GM’s have done him few favours and he’s shown some skill in those late rounds.

Where do our prospects come from?

Comeau has a penchant for the underdog. Eight of his ten 1st rounders have been spent in the CHL, with a particular fondness for the OHL (5 players taken) and the Barrie Colts (Little, Burmistrov, and Scheifele all among Barrie alum). After the first round, however, Comeau has spent 24 of his remaining 64 picks (38%) on players outside the top development program in their respective nations. Canada’s Junior A programs have been selected from 10 times, another 4 players came from American High School programs, and even one player was taken from Ontario’s Junior B league #29 overall in 2008. In addition, 9 of his 14 international picks have from leagues other than the top league in that country. Swe-1, Slovak 1.Liga, Mestis, and the various junior squads attached to parent international clubs have been targets for Comeau. Particularly in late rounds, he seems to favour the exceptional individual over the functional (or role) player at higher levels.

The table below is nothing too complicated. I’ve grouped the leagues into some categories to show where our prospects are coming from and given an ‘Average pick used’ to loosely demonstrate when in the draft Comeau goes fishing in those leagues.

– Two of his drafts were 9 rounds (~270 picks), and 8 were 7 rounds long (~210 picks).

– If a team had 1 pick in the middle of each round of a 7 round draft, the average would be 105.

– Weighted for having 2 9-round drafts and 8 7-round drafts, the average would be 111.

– You can see the Comeau has had it a little worse than middle of the road over his 10 years with an average pick at 122 for his career.

League # of Drafted Players AVG Pick Used # of F # of D # of G
CHL 32 94 21 11 2
WHL 12 118 8 4 0
OHL 14 81 7 5 2
QMJHL 6 79 6 2 0
US  12 126 6 4 2
USHL 4   1 2 1
NTDP 4   3 1 0
High School 4   2 1 1
Junior A/CJHL 10 167 5 3 2
BCHL 3   3 0 0
AJHL 1   1 0 0
SJHL 1   1 0 0
MJHL 2   0 1 1
OJHL 3   0 2 1
International 14 149 8 4 2
Russia 3   1 2 0
Sweden 5   2 2 1
Finland 3   3 0 0
Czech 2   1 0 1
Slovakia 1   1 0 0
Other 5 127 3 2 0
GOJHL 1   1 0 0
Overagers 4   2 2 0
TOTALS 73 122 41 24 8

Still waiting

In coming installments of this series, we’ll look at a few different ways to evaluate Comeau’s success. We’ll look at what he got in each round as measured against the established likelihood of nabbing a player at that spot in the draft, how he did as measured by the talent available in each draft, and even do some qualitative sussing to see what the scouting community has to say.

During our evaluation, we’ll find some evidence of players taken too early, misses on high-end talent, and a desire to out-smart the scouting community as a whole. The hardest part of evaluating drafting success, of course, is that it’s always still moving. In particular, defencemen can take a very long time to develop. Jim Rutherford is on record as saying you can’t tell what you have in a defenceman until he’s 24 – a full 6 years after being drafted. 

Interesting, then, that Comeau’s draft legacy will rely on a handful of late-round selections currently on the Jets blue line. Enstrom (239th, 2003), of course, is a prize pick for the 8th round. He joined the Thrashers in 2007 at 23 and has two 50-point seasons in his first 5 seasons and makes everyone around him better. Arriving on the Jets’ roster more recently are 24 year olds Arturs Kulda (200th, 2006), Paul Postma (205th, 2007), and Zach Redmond (184th, 2008 and an overager). Though each remains a depth player on a poor team, having three more defencemen from the 7th round or later playing in the NHL is a scouting accomplishment and begs us to ask whether Comeau has a talent for finding unheralded defensive talent. The continued development of those players will be an important part of how we talk about Comeau’s drafting in the future. For now, that’s in the hands of Charlie Huddy. 


Looking forward to Part 2: In Part 2, we’ll look at the quality of Comeau’s drafts by counting NHL games played by round and position from 2003 to 2010 (the Atlanta Years), and we’ll use the measured success (in NHL Games Played) of the other players taken in those 8 years as a way to measure Comeau’s relative success.