Late Round Draft Picks Are Vital For Jets To Succeed

If you’re looking for a mock draft or a feature on a prospective first round pick, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m terrible at mock drafts so I won’t even attempt at predicting what the NHL draft will look like. Yes, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be the top two picks. After that, anything can happen. Also, there are enough profiles on prospects out there. (Read Garret Hohl’s draft prospect profiles. They’re very good.)

This is about the the growing importance of the later rounds of the NHL entry draft and how it affects the Jets.

Salary Cap

The cap has changed everything in today’s NHL. No longer can a team spend to their heart’s content in order to essentially buy a Stanley Cup. The New York Rangers were prime examples of signing free agents to exorbitant contracts in order to claim Lord Stanley’s Mug. While the Broadway Blueshirts did hoist the Holy Grail in 1994, they had plenty of failures with this approach.

When the cap was introduced in 2005, teams were forced to rethink their approach. Granted, teams are still spending boatloads of cash on free agents. Last year, over $500 million were spent during free agent frenzy. Yet two teams that spent quite a bit of money on free agents, Florida and Buffalo, needed to reach the floor of the cap. So it is slightly misleading.

This is where the draft comes in, particularly the later rounds. When there isn’t any big name free agents or franchise draft picks available, the later rounds become vital.  Teams must have a strong scouting department and a keen eye on future trends (which includes analytics) in order to build their team. 

The Jets won’t have to worry about spending to reach the floor, nor will they spend to the ceiling of the cap. They are a budget team who uses an internal cap on player salaries. Still, the Jets must be careful when it comes to free agents, especially their own. Michael Frolik and Drew Stafford are UFAs on July 1 while Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd can hit the open market this time next year. The Jets can’t overspend on extensions to these players. They may have to deal away one or more of these veterans in order to stock the shelf for the future. The flip side being the team will need veteran leadership to help out the young kids coming up. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff must find the right balance to keep the team moving forward, while developing prospects for the future.

Diamonds In The Rough

The great French scientist Louis Pasteur once said, “Fortune favours the prepared mind.” He could have been talking about NHL teams that have had success in the later rounds of the draft. Perhaps no team has found more diamonds in the rough than the Detroit Red Wings. 

Seven-time Norris trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom was drafted in the THIRD round in 1989. Yes, every other team passed on one of the best defencemen of his generation twice! Pavel Datsyuk was selected in the SIXTH round in 1998. Henrik Zetterberg was taken in the SEVENTH round in 1999. This trio were vital cogs for the Red Wings long run of success in the 1990s and 2000s. 

The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have also struck gold in the later rounds. Yes, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were lottery picks but the Hawks found 2015 Conn Smythe trophy winner Duncan Keith (2002), goalie Corey Crawford (2003) and Brandon Saad (2011)in the second round. The Hawks went deeper into the draft to nab Niklas Hjalmarsson (4th round, 2005) and Andrew Shaw (5th round, 2011). 

These two teams prepared themselves by using scouting methods that were ahead of its time to select players that were best suited to their system. 

The Jets have found a gem in Adam Lowry who was taken in the third round in 2011. The former Swift Current Bronco didn’t put up huge numbers in his rookie year (11G, 12A in 80 games), but he had excellent possession numbers (54.1% corsi, 53% fenwick) while providing a physical style of game.

There are potential diamonds in the rough for the Jets. Nic Petan (2nd round 2013), Connor Hellebuyck (5th round, 2012), Andrew Copp (4th round, 2013), Jan Kostalek (4th round, 2013), Tucker Poolman (5th round, 2013), Jack Glover (3rd round, 2014) and Chase De Leo (4th round, 2014) are just some of the possible unearthed gems. At least three of these players will have to make an impact at the NHL level if the Jets have any hope at reaching the mountain top.

So while McDavid and Eichel will receive praise and platitudes on draft night, keep an eye on rounds 2-7. The next shining star may not have his sheen on as of yet, but wait a few years. 

*Corsi & Fenwick numbers courtesy war-on-ice.com