Saw Him Good

Those who read this blog regularly know there are certain themes (really there’s about 5 things I keep beating to death over and over again). One of them is “saw him good”, the idea that many teams (baseball and hockey) can get the inside track by being lucky enough to see a player turn a corner when they were at the old ballyard to “see him good.”

The other side of the coin is “what if that was his one good game?” which has happened a time or two as well. The player in photo is Jani Rita, who scored a lovely goal in a World Championship Game in the late 90s and looked for all the world like a guy who would play in the NHL for years to come. Someone, certainly the Oilers, saw him good.

In one of the “saw him good” threads on this blog awhile ago, Rivers Q got off about 20 great points in the comments section. They were just outstanding, and I made a mental note to post them again when we all had a chance to give them more time and attention.

The basic premise of the original post (“Blue Bullet 30″) was about the 2007 draft and who to take. RQ dropped in and made the following comments:

  1. You know what would be great? If someone with a really rational take on the game kept an eye on these kids. You know, someone who values outscoring, playing tough opposition, two-way play, the relative contributions of defensemen versus forwards, etc.
  2. I hear about scoring totals, about “1st liner, 2nd liner” nonsense. Even the word “upside” makes me cringe at this point. Do they cheat for offense? Can they check their hat? Can they skate? Do they win puck battles? I realize this is much harder stuff to find, but it’s way more important than just looking at jacked up scoring totals.
  3. I’m also talking about more than just physical maturity. Winning puck battles, playing some kind of defense, not cheating for offense, skating, etc are not all attributed to a player’s physical maturity. Actual maturity, intelligence, competitiveness and hockey sense are part of the equation.
  4. I think if you’re drafting based on projected upside all the time, you’re begging for a high percentage of busts. It blows me away that a prospect that is clearly ahead of his peers can be considered less attractive because his upside somehow isn’t considered to be as good. Of course it’s not as good – he’s got a shorter path to an impact player. It’s like Vic’s thing the other day with the monkeys and the moon. Of course this is by no means restricted to hockey – I’m pretty sure most teams in most sports draft with this logic.
  5. I’m talking about sifting through the elite players and finding the true difference makers. One presumes they’ve at least crossed a threshold of offensive production.

Amazing stuff here. Thoughts?

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14 Responses to "Saw Him Good"

  1. Kyle says:

    If Rivers is referring to the perspective of a scout I would think that a good (for an instnace of bad scouting, watch Joffry Lupul) scout would keep an eye on the ‘little things’ that make a player good. When it comes to the average fan, not so much I suppose.

    In my opinion the drafting based on upside has a couple of rationals behind it; firstly I don’t think it’s too difficult to find a guy who would fit a grinding role, so supply/demand plays a part.

    Secondly, I think a lot of scouts are identifying this ‘ahead of their peers’ group thusly; players who are limited on talent but big on size/strength (grinding gameplay type characteristics) that they use in JR. to often outscore their opponents, however, when they make it to the bigs their size is no longer overwhelming. That’s the thing about Jr, everyone matures (physically and emotionally) at different paces so you see much bigger size discrepencies and statistical anomalies.
    Therefore these players ‘upside’ aren’t as high, because their usefulness has peaked.

    b) Guys with high ‘upsides’ are drafted ahead of these grinder type guys often because they have a rarer skill set (instinct, skill, etc) and they haven’t had a chance to develop physically like some of their more advanced peers.

    In conclusion, the upside drafts are taken ahead of the ‘ahead of his peers’ group because of supply/demand and identification of inequal maturation rates

    Or maybe I misunderstood Rivers’ point.

  2. Cam Fraser says:

    Having just finished Moneyball, I’m thinking a lot about the quantifiable data that is lacking in pro hockey to determine what makes a quality prospect. We need a Bill James (RiversQ seems to be a good start) to start asking the questions and a group of people like JavaDude to start crunching the numbers.

    I have a lot to say about this, but I can’t escape the feeling that this would be a hugely thankless process–I’m not convinced there’s a Billy Beane out there to listen.

  3. Lowetide says:

    cam: That’s the question. Who’s going to do all this work? And how do we establish a modern “Project Scoresheet” for minor and junior leagues?

    Who the hell has the time?

  4. Lowetide says:

    kyle: With regard to grinders, a large number of them were at some point in time the best offensive players on their teams (usually junior) and then adapted their game in order to be effective with 12 minutes a night and no PP time. That’s the prevailing wisdom anyway, but I think RQ is suggesting that it isn’t all black or white (ie, there may be a pure skill 17-year old who can battle in the corners, doesn’t cheat ala Bure and has a brain. Maybe it’s Voracek).

    Ethan Moreau was an extremely high draft pick and his bio before his draft day was basically a versatile PF who is used effectively on special teams. He was the highest scorer on his junior team (98 points) and clearly had some jam.

    So DID he battle well in the corners in junior at 17 years old for Niagra Falls? Or did he develop those skills when he turned pro and spent that season in the IHL? Or maybe in his first few seasons in CHI?

    That’s a big question RQ brings up imo. Can you identify the things that will be valuable among the top dozen forwards in each draft year even if they don’t develop as home run hitters in the NHL?

    I don’t know the answer, but it’s a question no one is asking.

  5. godot10 says:

    //Having just finished Moneyball, I’m thinking a lot about the quantifiable data that is lacking in pro hockey to determine what makes a quality prospect.//

    Baseball is an “individual” sport. Hockey is a “team” sport.

    The attraction of Lupul is that he is a one-shot scorer, which is a rare attribute. The problem with Lupul is, well, everything else.

  6. Devin says:

    Petr Sykora is a one shot scorer. Joffrey Lupul is not. Seriously, how many “one shot” goals did he even score this season? His shot is extremely average and he has terrible instincts in terms of getting into shooting position. How did he get this label anyway!?

  7. Kyle says:

    That’s a big question RQ brings up imo. Can you identify the things that will be valuable among the top dozen forwards in each draft year even if they don’t develop as home run hitters in the NHL?

    Again, this is just me, but I would argue you can, its just a matter of progression and adaptability.

  8. speeds says:

    It’s an interesting question, how to draft in this CBA.

    I haven’t sat down to really think about it, but to me swinging for the fences has its appeal.

    (1) If a player takes his time and eventually develops into a 3rd/4th line F, what have you gained over saving the developmental cost of the draft pick and simply signing UFA’s?

    There is enough irrationality in the UFA/RFA market that, to me, drafting a 4th liner is of little, and probably negative, value, vs. simply buying that 4th liner if you need it.

    (2) If (1) above is true, then a spectacular bust like Niinimaki may actually be more valuable than drafting a guy who takes until 22 to crack the team, and spends 5 years as a press box/4th/3rd line F.

    You save the money, the icetime for others, and you get a 2nd rounder as comp when you don’t sign him (in the Oilers case, a decent looking D prospect in Jeff Petry.)

  9. PunjabiOil says:

    Moreau was projected all along to be an elite 3rd liner since draft day. From numerous sources

  10. Barry says:

    Blue Jays bloggers have had this discussion for years. In baseball, college players are not eligible until they graduate (or leave school) which means (simplistically) teams can draft 22 yr old college players or 18 year old high schoolers.

    High schoolers are usually tagged with the “upside” label. College players (after the obvious elite players in the top 10) are usually seen as more projectible (ie. you get what you see (with some uncertainty over adjustment to wooden bats etc).

    The Jays have traditionally been the highschool drafters looking for upside (they were remarkably successful in the first round with this strategy). When Riccardi took over he brought an Oakland A’s philosophy of low risk college drafting. Rather than taking pitchers that threw 97 mph but could throw a strike, he drafted guys who could paint the strike zone but would not blow anyone away. It is too early to tell the success of this but the idea seems to be you get more players making the majors but they may not be “impact” players.

    I agree with Speeds’ comment. In the NHL you can fill your 4th and maybe 3rd lines with relatively cheap UFA (Josh Green, Marty Gelinas), undrafted guys (Penner, Bergeron) and even guys from Europe. When you are drafting, you might as well try for the home run. Figuring out what an 18 year old will be like when he is 25 is pretty tough. You can’t teach a guy to skate fast, be intelligent, or have skill. You can teach him defence and positioning.

    As for using stats to project in the NHL – it is virtually impossible. Baseball analysts have made great strides measuring pitching and offense because those are easy to measure (1 player vs 4 outcomes). Baseball has not had any success in effectively measuring defence because it has too many variables (even with relatively fixed positions) and is a team game.

    At the end of the day, “saw him good” might remain the best way to project NHL players.

  11. Cam Fraser says:

    I’m not saying it can’t be done or is nearly impossible; that point of view is laughable. I’m saying it’ll be a lot of work, work that no one will pay for. If you read Moneyball, you’ll see that this was the problem for measuring defense in baseball–the data required isn’t being collected. Hockey is far more defensively focused, and the offense cannot be readily separated from the defense.

    That being said, we need to run a 20 year analysis trying to find out what statistic most closely follows wins. Is it EV+? Is it rebound goals? Is it number of events in the defensive zone? There are probably a hundred potential metrics that are being tracked, any one (or two/three/etc.) of which will track most closely with wins. When we find those, we can start to look at historical draft choices using those metrics and start to see if they correlate in the minors as well.

  12. LittleFury says:

    Thoughts?

    Gold helmets are awesome.

  13. Kyle says:

    posted by speeds -
    (2) If (1) above is true, then a spectacular bust like Niinimaki may actually be more valuable than drafting a guy who takes until 22 to crack the team, and spends 5 years as a press box/4th/3rd line F.

    Thanks speeds, this is the basic point I was trying to make but due to my terrible writing skills it clearly wasn’t made.

  14. oilerdiehard says:

    One thing that jumps out at me from that list. If outscoring and solid 2 way play were high criteria for junior level kids for scouting. Would we still have drafted guys like Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky?

    I would say probably not.

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