In a recent tweet, the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson talked about Travis Ewanyk and his career crossroads. Ewanyk is looking for work—like a lot of pro players—and jobs are scarce. Ewanyk is generally regarded as a disappointment, having been drafted in the third round of the 2011 entry draft while also being unable to make the NHL grade at this time. Here is what I wrote about him on draft weekend:
- #74 overall- C Travis Ewanyk: Future role player has a nice range of skills and therefore a few slots he could fill. PF size and style, he can win faceoffs and projects as a future checking center. I don’t know that he’s going to bring enough offense to make the NHL, but he was chosen in the range where there’s risk involved with every selection. Source
So far in his AHL career, Ewanyk (per 82 games) is averaging 11.69 points—that is well below the Mendoza line for actual NHL prospects. In comparison, Mitch Moroz—himself a higher pick who is offensively shy—is averaging 14.7 points per 82 AHL games. These are not good numbers, and the struggles of Ewanyk were predictable before draft day. I always wonder why people consider Ewanyk a disappointment—he didn’t draft himself in the third round—instead of looking at the actual culprit. The real problem? Lack of curiosity, for the most part. If we can agree that junior scoring numbers can predict future offensive success in pro—and it can—then the disappointment lies not with the player, but rather with the organization making these decisions.
FORENSICS: MATH AND THE DRAFT
It’s established that the Oilers have in fact dabbled in analytics at the draft table. Marco Roy was a player Edmonton liked and math recommended and it makes sense to run these kids through some kind of model to see if there’s a way to suss out talent. I’m not convinced analytics was in use in 2014—although Leon Draisaitl was a solid analytics pick—but the last two drafts have been very good when filtered through the math.
I’m not a scout and absolutely there are people (like Michael Parkatti) who would have more sophisticated math models than me. However, my little basement list makes an important point: amateur numbers DO matter and there’s a tipping point where size or speed or whatever scouts don’t like ceases to be a factor, and actual God-given talent and boxcars push everything out of the way. If we’re talking forensics, let’s apply math liberally throughout each draft crop—and in projecting the minor league numbers.
Today, people reading the Matty tweet will discuss the disappointment of Travis Ewanyk. We know better. The disappointment lies not with the player, but rather the suits at the draft table.
WATCH THE GAMES, NERD!
Scouts are vital to an NHL team’s success for all kinds of reasons. In fact, I would suggest a wise NHL team would ask no more of their scouts than they do today—go find talent, rank that talent, hand over the list and fight for what you believe in. After the list has been delivered to the general manger, there are some reasonable check points that can be applied to the scouts’ list.
- Value skill above all other things.
- Let math do the work. Travis Ewanyk was a long shot the moment he was selected, the Oilers have been better in the last two drafted in this area. I also thought 2013 lined up pretty well with math, but the 2014 effort has me wondering if the organization is capable of a repeat performance.
- Don’t walkabout in the top 100. Edmonton has been better in recent seasons (2014 aside).
- In an unusual draft like 2014 (or 2003) make better use of those late picks.
- Print off the Bob McKenzie list and compare it to your own list. If a player is ranked on the McKenzie list, and not on the Oilers list, why? There should be a very good reason and it can’t be ‘saw him bad’ or ‘he never looks good when I see him’ and that’s for sure. Have a good long look at the Pronman list, too.
- If there is a shy offensive player on the McKenzie list, move that name down. Every time.
One final thing: For two years in a row now, the Oilers list and the Craig Button list closely aligned. That tells me that whatever the Oilers (and Button) are doing, the math of the draft is seeping in.
- Oilers at No. 4 (Jesse Puljujarvi) ranked No. 3 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 32 (Tyler Benson) ranked No. 44 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 63 (Markus Niemelainen) ranked No. 58 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 84 (Matthew Cairns) not ranked
- Oilers at No. 91 (Filip Berglund) not ranked
- Oilers at No. 123 (Dylan Wells) ranked No. 88 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 149 (Graham McPhee) not ranked
- Oilers at No. 153 (Aapeli Rasanen) ranked No. 52 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 183 (Vincent Desharnais) not ranked
- Oilers at No. 1 (Connor McDavid) ranked No. 1 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 117 (Caleb Jones) ranked No. 76 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 124 (Ethan Bear) ranked No. 56 by Craig Button
- Oilers at No. 154 (John Marino) not ranked
- Oilers at No. 208 (Miroslav Svoboda) not ranked
- Oilers at No. 209 (Ziyat Piagin) ranked No. 71 by Craig Button