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McPhee Channels Inner Churchill In Draft Approach

Vegas' GM sees opportunity amidst 'weaker' 2017 draft class

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

Throughout his magnificent life, Winston Churchill never played hockey.

Although to be fair, one of his more famous quotes is a fantastic metaphor for the Golden Knights' situation entering the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

These are wise words from Mr. Churchill, especially relevant in a year that the entry draft class is widely considered to be weaker than those from the past few years.

High-end talents like Nolan Patrick (Center/Brandon Wheat Kings), Nico Hischier (Center/Halifax Mooseheads) and Timothy Liljegren (Defense/Rogle) at the top of the draft rankings are considered sure-fire NHL impact players.

The consensus, however, is that the level of talent available this June falls off significantly after the top-ranked players.

But channeling his inner Churchill, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee isn't concerned by conducting his team's first draft amidst these circumstances. McPhee sees "weaker" drafts as an opportunity for good teams to distinguish themselves.

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"The interesting thing to me is, the weaker drafts are where the best teams excel," McPhee said in a recent phone conversation with season ticket holders. "If you go into a strong draft, almost everybody gets good players. In the weaker drafts, when there aren't as many good players, the teams that excel at the draft table seem to find more players."

It might not quite be World War II-era Churchill, but McPhee has an awfully interesting philosophy with this.

And to be fair, there is some credence to it.

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When looking at two of the weaker drafts from recent years (2012 and 1999), there are several examples of players who were selected in late rounds who've outperformed the players taken atop the first round.

The first player taken in the mostly disappointing 1999 NHL Draft was Patrik Stefan, who was taken by the Atlanta Thrashers.

 

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As the Thrashers struggled and failed to win a single playoff game before relocating to Winnipeg in 2011, Stepan topped out at 14 goals in a season and was out of the league by age 26.

The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, were able to take Henrik Zetterberg 210th overall in the seventh round. Zetterberg is currently only four points shy of 900 in his career, and led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008 as playoff MVP.

Similarly, the top goalie taken in the 1999 Draft, Ryan Miller, was taken 138th overall in the fifth round by the Buffalo Sabres. Miller won a Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie in a Sabres uniform, while the highest drafted goalie in that draft, Brian Finley, played only four games in the league.

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In the uncertain world of NHL Drafts, these things happen.

Just as in the 2012 Draft, fourth-round pick (95th overall) Josh Anderson of the Columbus Blue Jackets has 16 goals this season. The top two forwards taken that year, Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, have only three goals and 15 goals, respectively.

 

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The point being, no matter what some experts are saying about the 2017 draft's lack of talent, there are legitimate players to be had.

And McPhee believes that his staff is capable of finding these sorts of talents this June, even if pundits say that all 31 NHL teams are facing an uphill battle.

"I think we have an outstanding staff, I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding," McPhee said.

"Even when a draft is not quite as strong as previous drafts, you can still find some really good players if you've done your homework. Our plan is to go to Chicago and do very, very well and start drafting the young players that are going to take us where we need to go."

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