Every year, there is a small group of elite players that make up the top prospects of the NHL Draft. The number of which usually ranges in the single digits. But no matter what the number, the General Managers have a similar consensus to its size and the fact that after this small group is taken, the rest of the draft class is more similar to themselves than to this incredibly small pool of talent.
So how big is this year’s elite group? Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson knows. But he’s not about to tell us.
“Every team will look at the draft and say it drops off after this number,” explained Wilson during a lunch with the local media. “Some years it’s five or six or seven or eight and you’ll see all the teams - if all the six players go in the top eight – they’re all trying to get out of that position. So they’ll move out.
“And for us, if we see a guy like Logan (Couture), we felt like we had to get up to this range to get him, so we used our assets to get to that range. Because you don’t want to walk off the the draft floor and miss a guy by one or two picks.”
The Sharks first pick in Day One of the Draft comes 28th overall, but Wilson explained that if his scouts identify a player that they want will be taken sooner, he will make a move to get them. Just like he did with Couture in 2007.
“We don’t go off a ‘If this guy’s not here, here’s the rest of our list,’” continued Wilson. “We would rather identify the players we really want and move to go get them. That’s our policy.”
So when do all these deals start happening? According to Wilson, he’s been in talks with other General Managers for the past month. He referenced a large excel document with every team and the picks they have in each round of the Draft. During his phone calls, he tells the other GMs the range of picks he’s interested in so when it gets to Draft Day, they’re prepared for his phone call.
“We set the table a month ago,” said Wilson. “We study every team and they know in advance that I might want a couple of those picks. So when you get on the draft floor, you’ve got five minutes and you call a team and say, ‘We’ve already talked, if you don’t want that pick, I’d like that pick.’
“You see teams that have four picks in the third round or two here and two there,” continued Wilson. “If that’s where we forecast we have to be to get the guys we want, we’ve already talked to those teams. So we get on the draft floor and we say, ‘I’d like that pick if this player falls to it.’ And you can do it in a minute. And they already know. You can’t surprise them.”
But don’t fret if the Sharks don’t make a move for a top-ten pick. Wilson’s drafting strategy also involves patience. Although his franchise has had success by moving up to get Couture (ninth overall, 2007) and Setoguchi (seventh overall, 2005), the Sharks GM’s main goal is to add good players to his reserve list.
“It’s a bit of a poker game,” said Wilson. “But more teams now are willing to move picks than five years ago. I think they all understand that it’s the nature of the business.”
Wilson explained that there’s no exact science when it comes to evaluating a prospect. The time frame is different for different types of players.
“I assume it’s going to be longer, than less,” said Wilson. “And if somebody surprises you – like Marc Edouard Vlasic when he came in – that’s an aberration. It’s normally three to four years and that’s how you have to look at it. And we would rather have a guy ripen a little longer and go through the process of being down in the minors and learning what it means to be a pro player.”
According to Wilson, a big physical player – like Ryane Clowe
or Douglas Murray
– will take longer to adjust to the NHL because they can’t rely on their size and strength they way they could when they were younger. They need time to upgrade their fundamentals.
Players like Joe Pavelski
or Couture, however, usually integrate quicker because they process the game at such a high level. They can handle a more advanced role with greater ease.
“You’ve got to be careful, because a lot of the best players in this League have been traded to their second and third team before they broke through,” said Wilson. “So if you can be a little more patient, sometimes you can have a better read on your guys. It’s probably the toughest part of our business; drafting kids at 18, forecasting, committing to contracts.”