Behold: Math!

This is Willie Nelson. Before the long hair and the outlaw manner there was a gifted songwriter trying to make it the traditional Nashville way (which involves buses and waiting your turn, and if you are a gifted songwriter handing over your songs even though you’d like to keep them for yourself).

Willie Nelson wrote “Crazy” which is a song that gets sung by someone in some bar every night of the year. Patsy Cline had the hit and if you buy me enough beer I’ll sing the whole damn thing for you a cappella.

I remember years ago hearing Steve Earle tell the story of that period in time when college kids turned on to the Redheaded Stranger’s music. Earle detailed a typical country concert hall and a clash between the working men and women who wanted to blow off some steam and the college kids who wanted to get high, lean up against the wall and listen to the words. The college kids became sport for the drinking folk (between dances) and that’s Texas on a Saturday night (or so the Earle story goes).

That’s kind of the way I feel about the NHL scouting community. The scouts go to the dance for the traditional reasons and guys like me are hanging with the college kids, maybe borrowing a jay or buying a jug of beer while we wait for the boxscore.

The problem then comes in the fact that NHL scouts are really excellent at deciding who can play. I know Henrik and Pavel get all kinds of attention, but fact is that most of the good kids are plucked in the top 50 or so every season.

I have a friend who scouts junior players (not WHL, but it’s a paying gig and he’s held the job for years) and one day decided to ask him about hockey prospects and math. I detailed my theory on junior leagues (which is basically that any organized league can be measured in terms of the next level, you simply need to know how much air to let out of the tires) and he gave me a look that told me my sanity was being questioned at that very moment.

He told me many of the things that are contained in this article but it wasn’t until today that it clicked in for me. When Hakan Andersson is asked about Wings prospect Jesper Samuelsson he says:

  • “He needs to work on several other things to just be a regular in Sweden. Statistically, he will probably never make it to the NHL, I just want to see him improve year by year and then we will see how far that will take him.”

My take on this is that Andersson may not agree specifically with my math (well it’s Gabriel Desjardins’ math, but the idea has been around for awhile) but there is a “line in the sand” for each scout based on level of play, age, etc.

When the Detroit Red Wings selected Henrik Zetterberg in the 7th round of the 1999 draft they were certainly projecting, in fact I’d suggest it was a “draft and follow” selection. By that I mean that baseball clubs sometimes select players who have classic baseball bodies even though they’re skinny or have an injury in hopes that they come around with age. “Z” was a draft and follow. If he wasn’t a draft and follow, he’d have been taken higher.

According to the Central Scouting Bureau, Zetterberg was 5.10, 154 pounds on his draft day. Daniel Sedin was 6.02, 187, Henrik Sedin was 6.03, 196 same day. Zetterberg played in a lower level in Sweden (division 1) in 98-99 and scored 37gp, 15-13-28 for Timra. Daniel Sedin played that season in the SEL, scoring 21-21-42 in 50 games for MoDo. Henrik was 12-22-34 in 49 games for the same club. As a North American hockey fan, my assumption has always been that Swe-2 is a much lower level, but I’m beginning to think the difference isn’t that great.

I think Hakan Andersson saw terrific skills in Zetterberg but would also argue that math (28 points in 37 games) and level of play (considering age) put him above the event horizon as well. How many kids who weigh 154 pounds are competing at that level at age 17 in a league where much older men battle? Timra’s leading scorer that year was Mikael Lind, who was 26 years old at the time. I think most 154 pound Swedish kids were playing in Sweden’s junior leagues, far from the older men.

Gabriel Desjardins doesn’t have a number for Swe-2 (yet), but my guess is that Hakan Andersson does. Even if he doesn’t know it.

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