The Sens Farm System

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This isn’t intended as a deep dive from me on the Sens system, but rather a reflection on Pronman‘s (paywall) look at it about a week ago. Let me preface this by saying I take Pronman with a grain of salt–his track record is mixed, but not bad. As I mentioned on Twitter when this came out, there are a lot of warning signs throughout and I wanted to go through what I meant by that. I’m only looking at potential issues to make a broader point about the system (yes I do like some of the prospects). The rankings indicated are Pronman’s own, not mine. I’ll also remind you, Trent Mann took over the drafting reins in 2017 (only one of Tim Murray’s picks, Hogberg, remains).

3. Alex Formenton (2-47/17)

“Formenton didn’t post giant numbers for London…. His offensive ceiling will be a point of debate…. I don’t think it’s top-level skill….”

These are selective quotes (echoing, exactly, the scouting reports prior to the draft) because like most hockey people Pronman can’t help himself but drink the industry Koolaid about things he thinks matters (size and intangibles–“intangible” in this context means cannot be measured–think about that). I happen to agree with Pronman’s final word about his ceiling “[He will] be a quality penalty killer in the NHL.” Do I want to use a mid-2nd round pick on a PKer? No I don’t (think about when Erik Condra was picked). Keep in mind, he’s third on the entire list–a 3rd-line penalty killer is the 3rd best prospect in the org according to Pronman–wrap your head around that.

5. Josh Norris (1-19/17 SJ)

“Norris isn’t an overly flashy player….”

I’m picking out this innocuous comment because Pronman has very much changed his tune about Norris. When I profiled him last fall scouts fell over themselves talking about his limitations–I don’t believe a partial year in the NCAA has suddenly changed all those warning signs. Once again, however, I agree with Pronman’s conclusion, “[He] can penalty kill and will be a competent defensive center in the pros.” Why use a first-round pick (or trade for one) if ‘competent’ is his end game? He’s ranked lower than Formenton above, after all–why trade for a guy who does the same thing, but slightly worse?

8. Jacob Bernard-Docker (1-26/18)

“He’s a well-rounded player without a real wow factor. … He has quick hands, but I wouldn’t call his skill a selling point. … There is an upside question with him that continues to concern me….”

This echoes what scouts said when he was drafted and I’ll reiterate what I said at the time: I don’t mind the pick abstractly (second-pairing guy), but why make it in the first round?

11. Filip Chlapik (2-48/15)

“I’d like to see more consistency from him. For his talent level he’s underwhelmed me too much over the years.”

As regular readers will know, I’m quite fond of Chlapik and I’m including this just to bring up something I’ve said before: I firmly believe Pronman rarely watches AHL-games (he simply doesn’t have the time), so his first-hand opinions are based on junior and NHL scouting. One of the things that’s hurt Chlapik (whose ceiling is up in the air and was when he was drafted–I’ll briefly mention that Pronman face-planted on his defensive abilities), is that he plays hurt. Both pro seasons he’s laboured under various injuries that have limited what he can do–making his middling sophomore season hard to judge.

12. Parker Kelly (FA/18)

“Kelly’s numbers don’t immediately jump out to you….”

Pronman is generally effusive describing him and we have, again, that old NHL bias where he’s ‘good in the corners’–Pronman imagines future offensive skill that’s literally never manifested itself. I think having ‘hustle’ as your benchmark for a prospect is putting expectations far too low. Parker wasn’t drafted (my old profile is here–where a hoped-for offensive jump never happened), but he is sitting on a full ELC–why? I don’t believe in drafting for future fourth-liners (or sixth defensemen)–there is no shortage of players like that in the free agent pool.

13. Max Veronneau (FA/19)

“I don’t see top-end in either department to be a true scorer at the top level.”

While Pronman has excuses aplenty for rough & tumble prospects, skilled guys have to show him more. While I think that’s ridiculous, it does make him more prudent in his assessments. What he doesn’t point out, but I went over, is how it seems like Veronneau’s career has been boosted by playing with Detroit prospect Ryan Kuffner his entire career (some similarities to Chlapik and Daniel Spong). If that’s at all true there’s a good chance he burns out like a roman candle and gets Aaron Luchuk’d in a deal a year from now. While I’m concerned about the signing, I’ll reiterate that I’m supportive of taking chances on skill.

14. Jonathan Davidsson (6-170/17 Clb)

“[H]is skill level doesn’t wow you. It did when I saw him as an amateur but it hasn’t translated versus men. And for a player his age in the SHL, he’s been quite good but not dominant.”

This kind of player was a good risk for Columbus, but as I went over when the Sens acquired him, he’s a long shot to make it to the NHL and his progress since being drafted hasn’t changed that.

16. Shane Pinto (2-32/19)

“There will be stretches where you question Pinto’s skill level. He looks average with the puck, makes basic plays and doesn’t show the ability to create. … I’m skeptical of calling him a natural offensive player and a power play guy in the NHL, but I could see him become a bottom-six forward with his skill.”

Not a ringing endorsement for the highest 2nd-round pick you can have. Scouts disagreed over him prior to the draft and what I wondered at the time is why the Sens picked him that high–given their proclivities I think his size tempted them (not just his height, but his girth)–the Sens have (ever since Murray arrived) overvalued size and the worry is they were blinded by the surface details.

17. Filip Gustavsson (2-55/16 Pit)

“It wasn’t Gustavsson’s best season. That may even be write off territory”

I’m including this only to contrast it against the ridiculous stuff I was seeing written about him at the end of the 2018 season. At the time I was happily defending Hogberg’s rookie season because there was a lot of context most were unaware of, but Gustavsson was just bad last year. Overplayed? Sure, but he struggled–and that’s fine. He’s young and goaltenders take awhile, but Pronman’s comment above could be true–he might just be a bust–food for thought (and let’s remember, he’s 14 slots down from a 3rd line center on this list).

18. Kevin Mandolese (6-157/17)

“[A] tough player for me to get a read on…. The performance hasn’t been there…. It felt like a lot of pucks got by him that shouldn’t or he would lose track of a puck that he shouldn’t have.”

I’m including this largely to illustrate Pronman’s struggles here–he doesn’t know what’s going on with him–more food for thought. As for picking goalies late? It’s fine, but the Sens have struggled mightily in their goaltending scouting over the years.

19. Jon Gruden (4-95/18)

“He’s not a natural playmaker, as he forces plays at times…. I wouldn’t call his offensive or defensive play anything really significant, which makes me wonder what role he fills in the NHL.”

That second comment says it all–why pick the guy and why in the fourth round? This is exactly what I said when he was drafted. He’s not a player you draft if you look at his scouting reports, but not only did they pick him, they signed him to an ELC (!). He’s going to join Max McCormick, Vincent Dunn, and Shane Eiserman in the hall of fame I’m sure.

21. Luke Loheit (7-194/18)

“He just doesn’t score. He had mediocre BCHL numbers and didn’t do much better in high school. Scouts are concerned he never will have enough offense.”

Scouts thought so little of him that almost no one had a report on him (certainly no one ranked him)–why draft this player? Sign him as an FA after college, assuming he warrants it. He’s exactly in the same mold as Gruden, just with worse amateur numbers.

Depth. Markus Nurmi (6-163/16)

“I’m not sure there’s a lot of offensive upside in his game.”

This was the concern from scouts when he was drafted and despite enthusiasm from Ary last year he’s completely vanished from the Sens blogosphere after an unimpressive year with TPS. Why did the Sens draft him? He was a big, north-south player who was good defensively. Again, how many prospects like that do you need?

So who did he mention that isn’t on this list? Briefly:
1. Drake Batherson (4-121/17)
2. Erik Brannstrom (1-15/17 LVG)
4. Logan Brown (1-11/16)
6. Lassi Thomson (1-19/19)
7. Mads Sogaard (2-37/19)
9. Vitaly Abramov (3-65/16 Clb)
10. Joey Daccord (7-199/15)
15. Marcus Hogberg (3-78/13)
Depth. Nick Ebert (who I left out because he’s 25 and been through an ELC, so is he really a prospect?)

These are all either good goaltending prospects or very talented prospects–they have no guarantees, but taking a risk on them makes perfect sense.

Not making the cut for Pronman: Todd Burgess (4-103/16), Jakov Novak (7-188/18), Angus Crookshank (5-126/18), Maxence Guenette (7-187/19), Mark Kastelic (5-125/19), and Viktor Lodin (4-94/19). With the exception of Burgess and Crookshank these are all projected pluggers who max out as depth players.

To wrap this up: what’s difficult to do in the NHL is score. Defending requires less talent and therefore the pool available to perform it is much larger. The most lauded defenders are typically those who can also score, which is indicative. Filling out the fourth line is easy, adding 5th-7th defensemen is easy, and both groups are cheap. Drafting them is an enormous waste of time and money and yet the Sens, especially under Trent Mann, are jamming their prospect cupboards full of them. Looking just at the players I’ve highlighted above (14) none can reasonably expect to be top-six forwards and just one (Bernard-Docker) is a top-four (a four) defender. The highest potential among them is Gustavsson, but not many are going to see him as a definitive blue chip starter anymore. What I would like the org to do (and it won’t under Dorion), is to take more risks in the draft looking for talent. They won’t fail anymore than they already have, but their successes will matter more. What would you rather have, Drake Batherson in the fourth round or Tim Boyle? Take a chance on Mike Hoffman in the fifth or pick Jeff Costello? Mark Stone in the sixth or Max McCormick? When you look at the absolute best case scenario of their approach it’s Zack Smith–but that was 2008, it’s never happened again, and he isn’t remotely as important a player as the talented guys picked long after he was in the third round. Unless the game regresses to the clutch-and-grab era I’d never draft a ‘character’ player if that was his defining characteristic–they are a dime a dozen–lower leagues are filled with them. There’s this strange disconnect for many fans that when a talented player flames out the pick was wasted, but if a grinder plays a handful of games and throws a body check, it was worth it. Both scenarios are wasted picks, but the bang for your buck if the former pans out is enormous.

Those are the thoughts brought about by Pronman’s column. Upcoming I have a long reflective piece on the general coverage of the team, but it’s a behemoth so I have no idea when that will appear. I will, at some point, put out my own prospect list (no real time table for that, but probably before the season starts).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

3 Comments

  1. I always enjoy your columns, Peter, as you never hold back your punches.

    I’d agree with you that Gus and JBD are probably over-rated. Gus’ numbers in the ECHL were dreadful but it wasn’t also his first full year in North America. JBD is a decent bet to make the World Junior squad this year which is a good indicator of future (but not guaranteed) NHL success.

    I think that Angus Crookshank and Mark Kastelic were good picks for their spots in their draft years. Kastelic is a big, strong kid who scored 47 goals in the WHL last year. Not bad when you consider it’s probably the toughest junior league in North America to score in.

    Keep up the good work,

    RDB

    • Glad you enjoy the material!

      I don’t dislike JBD, my primary issue is with how early he was picked. Gustavsson could absolutely bounce back, but goalies are very hard to predict and there weren’t a lot of silver linings in his performance as a rookie (unlike Hogberg’s, for example).

      I’m fine with Crookshank–he may or may not pan out, but at least there’s some talent there. I’m not at all happy with Kastelic (as I went over in my draft review)–he was picked far earlier than necessary and the scouting flags for him are very alarming. Overage performance in any junior league is suspect–while it *can* mean something, it rarely does.

      Cheers,

      Peter

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