It has been pointed out that a handful of draft-eligible prospects in Finland In the past put up better stats than Slafkovsky this season, and that is true. To use that as your main argument for not picking him first overall while ignoring what scouts actually saw on the ice, or what he did in the Hlinka Gretzky last summer, the Finnish junior at the start of this season, or the Olympics and World Championship…is about as lazy as one can get in regards to judging who might go first overall. A lot of media members, in particular, have done it, however, and fans swallow it up as the Gospel.
“Slafkovsky didn’t produce as much as Barkov in his draft year, and Barkov only went second overall, so how can he go #1?”
Well – that was a stronger draft class obviously. But let’s be clear – Barkov was a freak of nature – he was mature at 16, and put up stats against men that Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu could only dream about in their draft years. Speaking of those two – neither had more points than Slafkovsky in the Finnish Elite league in their draft years. In fact; Selanne didn’t even play with men and Koivu scored ten points in 46 games. Slafkovsky had more points per game than Koivu against men… so where are the folks declaring he will be better than them? No one is…because that would be both silly and presumptuous.
Not everyone has the exact same development curve – Slafkovsky just so happened to do the majority of his improvement in the second half of this season.
When you combine all of the games Slafkovsky played after January – all of them against men – he had 16 goals and 12 assists in 43 games. But for many folks – all they focus on is his ten points in 31 regular-season games in the FHL -all of them as a 17-year-old. Why is that a more important stat than what he did in the playoffs, Olympics and World Championships? It makes no sense, and it screams bias. The majority of folks want the Habs to draft Wright, so they cherry-pick the one negative stat of Slafkovsky’s season and make it the main focus of their criticisms.
But getting back to Barkov for a moment. He was playing in his home country and in his second full season in the FHL when he put up those great numbers. It is a fact that he outproduced Slafkovsky, but it’s also a fact that he has outproduced hundreds of other draft-eligible Finns over the past 50 years. Every single one of them.
There are three players who put up noticeably better stats than Slafkovsky in the FHL in the past few decades. Three. Should we only compare Shane Wright’s stats to Mario Lemieux’s or Sidney Crosby’s in their draft years? Or McDavid’s? That would be patently unfair, wouldn’t it? Folks would think you were off your rocker to go there…but it’s fine to do it when it comes to Slafkovsky. It’s lazy, and it’s biased.
The European prospect from the past two decades who most resembles Slafkovsky is Anze Kopitar in a lot of respects. Similar size and strength, quite skilled and smart, good in all three zones, and tremendously adept at protecting the puck.
Let’s take a closer look at the production of both Kopitar and Slafkovsky in their draft years.
Much like Slafkovsky, Kopitar headed to a foreign country to play junior hockey in his draft year. Slakovsky got called up earlier in his draft year, so he got to play more games with the men.
Anze Kopitar was a 6-4 Slovenian who played in Sweden in his draft year. He averaged 1.6 ppg in Swedish junior but had zero points in 15 SHL games. He did produce at the U-18 and U20, but it was Division 1. Where the buzz rose around Kopitar was at the World Championships, where he scored 3 goals and 6 assists.
Slafkovsky was a 6-4 Slovakian who played in Finland in his draft year. He averaged the exact same point totals in Finnish junior before being called up – 1.6 points per game. While Kopitar averaged zero points per game against men in the SHL, however, Slafkovsky averaged 0.34 ppg in the FHL. He led the Olympics in goals and was named tournament MVP, and then…precisely like Kopitar…he scored three goals and six assists at the World Championships.
Teams have been raked over the coals for 15 years for not drafting Kopitar in the top ten in his draft year, but for a lot of scouting staffs, it was simply because of a lack of exposure. Not many North American scouts were flown to the Division 1 U-18s and U20s to scout him, and he was one of the few draft-eligible prospects to play at the World Championships that year. Most teams had limited scouting staffs at that World Championship.
Imagine if all teams had only based their rankings on how he performed in those 15 games against men in Sweden, however, like backseat scouts are doing this year with Slafkovsky. Not even a single point in 15 games? That must have meant that he lacked offensive upside…didn’t it? Well – that’s not how you scout. You don’t do it by looking at a stat line and making a bunch of lazy presumptions.
Scouts don’t ever rank a player based only on one specific stat. There are many factors that go into it. The Kings were comfortable in taking Kopitar at 11th overall because they went beyond the statistics. They had scouted him extensively in Swedish junior and at the World Championships, and were comfortable in taking him. There was a buzz around him at the 2005 draft not because folks were awed by his statistics – the buzz was because of his play for the most part at one season-ending competition – the World Championships. A 6-4 forward with the size and skill to be a terrific NHL player. Scouts are seeing and saying the same things about Slafkovsky.
It has become habitual to question every ranking done by scouts these days, and a lot of times it’s predominantly done by simply looking at the statistics.
There are plenty of media members declaring that Wright has to be first overall because of Slafkovsky’s regular-season stats in the FHL without ever seeing him play a shift in that league. Do they not think that perhaps scouts were impressed beyond the numbers? Sometimes it seems as if there is no faith in what we do…only critiques. I watched several of Slafkovsky’s playoff games and mentioned that he was very good in the playoffs. For the most part -it has fallen on deaf ears. “A strong playoff, Olympics and World Championship is irrelevant – did you not hear that he had ten points in 31 regular season games???”
My ranking of Slafkovsky first overall since February has resulted in an onslaught of personal attacks that have frankly been ignorant and juvenile. It turns out that I wasn’t just looking for clicks or blowing smoke out of my ass in stating that Wright is no longer viewed by NHL scouts as the top prospect, but all the majority of fans have done since Bob McKenzie’s list has come out is double down on the Slafkovsky bashing, with the “Ten points in 31 games” refrain leading the way.
I do not recall a single person saying Kopitar shouldn’t be taken high because he failed to score a single point in 15 SHL games. But for many – that’s the one and only thing they point to with Slafkovsky. Never mind that he’s a 6-4, 220-pound winger with soft hands, vision, and a great shot who competes. “He didn’t produce like Barkov. Bust! The scouts are wrong….we are Wright!”
To a certain extent, I expect it from at least some of the fans but I have to say that I have been disappointed with the response of certain media members this spring.
Concluding adamantly, and often, that Wright is the best player based almost entirely by looking at Hockey DB or Elite Prospects and public draft lists. It seems like everyone makes a draft list nowadays, and that’s even spread to media members who have not seen a large majority of the prospects. Look at a bunch of public draft lists…see a game or two from the top few guys who happened to be at the U18s or World Championships…and declare who are the top prospects.
What makes that especially discouraging is that a majority of fans take their “word” for it over the guys who spent hundreds to thousands of hours scouting prospects this season. That not only goes for the scouts in the NHL, but for me as well. I have watched more than 100 games between Slafkovsky and Wright alone, but media members with large Twitter followings make draft declarations after reading the stats and watching a handful of games on TV between the top two prospects? Well – they must be right…the scouts are wrong!
I have to say it’s discouraging. My draft subscriptions have suffered this season, in part because of hit jobs by specific media members because I had the audacity to like a player more than Wright. Not only was it unprofessional but it was unwarranted.
Tweets pointing to my ranking of Kotkaniemi over Tkachuk as proof that I am a poor scout? That’s pretty rich when the clamour for two months before the 2018 draft was that I was crazy to rank KK ahead of Zadina. I would still take KK over Zadina today…but now everyone acts as if it was Tkachuk they all wanted. It’s hypocritical hindsight. Cherry-picking a scout’s specific draft ranking in hindsight when you yourself never made rankings public is gutless as far as I’m concerned. My rankings have never been perfect – no scouts rankings are – but I’ve had more hits than misses over the years.
Everyone is free to like Wright over Slafkovsky. I get it. Declared the best prospect of the 2004 class since he was in diapers. Wanting a center instead of a big winger. It’s all understandable. But at least put some effort into your public reasoning beyond “ten points in 31 FHL games” or “But it was Kazakhstan!”. It is insulting to all of us that put in the work scouting these players.