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Probability and destiny: When should you evaluate a draft?

When is right? When is it wrong?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Blight (AKA Arby_18) revels in the role of being a contrarian. He tends to have very strong opinions and vocalizes them without fear. This often places a large target on his back from equally strong opinionated and vocal fans of the opposite position. Ryan's controversial opinions frequently revolve around accusing the Jets management of being suboptimal, or even poor, overall in their managing of the team.

There is no doubt that Ryan's most controversial piece was his article on the Winnipeg Jets first round draft selection in their sophomore year. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft was a draft of reaches and slides. Hampus Lindholm and Derrick Pouliot were ranked 15th and 17th by TSN consensus rankings, but were taken in the top 10. From two large reaches came two large slides; 3rd ranked Filip Forsberg and 7th ranked Teuvo Teravainen started to fall. Jets' fans started to get excited. The Winnipeg Jets were desperately short in forward talent and there appeared to be some falling into their laps. But, the Jets instead selected defenseman Jacob Trouba.

Three and a half months later, Ryan wrote an article saying that the Jets might one day regret their decision.

Of course Trouba has turned out to be a pretty good hockey player thus far. Because of this, there seems to be this snide behaviour in regards to retweeting or posting of the original article, as if Ryan was wrong in his prediction. Some have gone as far to say as this article removes any remainder of credibility.

Now, it would be highly hypocritical for me to say that I haven't poked fun at Ryan for the very same thing, but this is from a very different standpoint and logic than some others.

My comment was mostly in jest. Although if you do go into the comments section of the original article, you will see that I contested Ryan's premise; however, that does not mean that Ryan didn't have a right to state and defend his opinion.

The point of this article is not to defend Ryan. I'm not someone cut out or wanting to do that, but I do think there are some key lessons that can be drawn from the situation as a whole.

The Article

Let's look at the article to see if Ryan's premise was unfounded or pointless.

The article opens up with the following:

First things first, let me begin this piece by stating the following: I think Jacob Trouba has the potential to be a heck of a hockey player, and I hope that he does become one for the Winnipeg Jets. In fact, I could very well become one of his biggest fans if he does become an integral part of our blue-line for the next decade. And I think that he has the potential to do so, as I was very impressed with his efforts as a teenager at this past summers Jets rookie camp.

Right off the bat we see Ryan admit that Trouba could turn out to be a stud. The point of the article was never to say that Trouba won't or can't turn out to be a good player or even that he doesn't have potential to be an awesome player. It's not about Trouba the player and whether or not he is a "bad pick".

We continue:

And it's not like Trouba is a player that came from out of the blue, as he was the ninth-ranked skater (all rankings via TSN, who has archived their Top-30 rankings dating back to 2004) and the Jets took him 9th overall. It wasn't like we passed on the fifth-ranked skater in Sean Couturier in order to take the twelfth-ranked skater in Mark Scheifele with the 7th overall pick the season before. I obviously don't have an issue with the ninth-ranked player being taken 9th overall, in theory.

Ryan emphasizes once again that it is not about Trouba the prospect in a vacuum. Ryan indicates that he doesn't even view Trouba as a reach, like he did about Scheifele.

So what then was it? Well, he answers that in his next paragraph:

Despite all of this, I have this nagging feeling in my gut that just won't go away, and I don't think it's from indigestion. It's a sick feeling that comes from passing on the consensus BPA that dropped from inside of the Top-5 to our draft position in two straight years, only to see Chevy and co. pass on that player. This year it was third-ranked Filip Forsberg, who managed to slide down and become available to the Jets at #9. And much to my chagrin, we passed on him.

Now there are some issues here in logic, in my own humble opinion, but it is only that - an opinion. It is not that Ryan viewed Trouba a disaster, but he worries about passing on what he and those surveyed for the TSN rankings viewed as Forsberg's talent.

Ryan then proceeds to show that he is not ignorant enough to believe that rankings are a law. He proceeds to show examples where the rankings seemed to be off in either direction: Blake Wheeler, Al Montoya, Lauri Tukonen, etc.

He then shows the historical evidence his opinion is founded upon:

But other than the two players mentioned above, the only other players since the 2004 Entry Draft who were ranked by TSN in the Top-5 but dropped to sixth or lower are Nikita Filatov (6th overall in 2008), Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley (12th and 13th overall in 2010, respectively), and of course Sean Couturier (8th overall in 2011), which Jets fans are well aware of. And you can now add Filip Forsberg to that list.

Oh, wait, there was one more from that one year when Sidney Crosby went first overall. Back in 2004 when Sid the Kid was the top choice, there was this one European ranked 5th overall that ended up dropping to 11th. Perhaps his passport had something to do with it. But if you ask the LA Kings how they think drafting Anze Kopitar with their pick turned out for them, I think they'd tell you that it went okay.

There it is. At the time of Ryan's article and since 2004, the only players to be ranked in the top 5 and fall out of the top 10 were a bust (Lauri Tukonen), a player who unfortunately passed away at 19 (Alex Cherepanov), three plus value NHL players (Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley, and Sean Couturier), and arguably a top 5 centre in the entire league (Anze Kopitar).

Recall at the time the popular opinion was still that Sean Couturier was heads above Mark Scheifele and this was the first draft since. Also, for context, recall that the Jets were extremely bereft in talent in the forwards department, for both high-end talent and depth, in both the big leagues and in the cupboards.

Ryan then finishes off his indicating once again that he thinks Trouba can be a player that can shape this organization. He reminds the readers that this does not have to do with Trouba the player, but he fears the worst. The final paragraph then ends with Ryan showing a counter example, a player who was ranked at 3rd but then failed to provide plus value.


While this is not the rigorous type of analytical research that one would usually see from someone more statistically inclined... okay, me.  However, Ryan's opinion is not unfounded. Ryan presents his argument, and gives evidence to support, plus counter examples.

The whole premise is on probabilities. In Ryan's opinion, which was not lone to Ryan, Trouba did not present the greatest probability in benefice for the Jets. This doesn't mean that Ryan claimed a destiny for Trouba though.

He has a point. There is power in consensus lists. The TSN (AKA Bob McKenzie) lists are constructed using the combined rankings of multiple NHL scouts. When you combine the subjective opinions of multiple professionals, you diminish the chance of failing due to the subjective nature, as long as there is not a systematic bias inherent in the system (which I believe there is, but that's another topic for a different time).

However, an average of imperfect opinions is nothing more than an average. Forsberg fell to #11, so there is no doubt some teams that did not view him in their top three. There are reasons why Forsberg was viewed in the top three by many, and there are reasons why others did not. Whether any or all of these reasons are justified or not is difficult to answer, even in hindsight.

The draft is a fickle thing. You can only judge by results in hindsight but it is the process that you want to judge. This is why you need a minimal success comparison. TSN's list should never be thought of as an authoritative figure, but can be used in the future as a bare minimum threshold; to see if teams did better in drafting than just following what was publically available.

A team should not draft looking at the TSN list. A team should though be getting superior value than the list when straying form it. If not, there is something wrong with the process.

This is similar to what my friend Rhys Jessop made when creating Sham Sharron. The Sham Sharron method is not a meant to be a modus operandi, but a standard a competent drafting team should eclipse in performance.

For me:
Currently, it is too early to count chickens. The fat lady is far from finish singing. Forsberg and Trouba may have long careers before we can tell who was wrong or right. I'm okay with that. I ranked Trouba ahead of Forsberg at the draft anyways (although I was wrong with a few others that draft).