The Best Player Available Draft Strategy

By Nick Quain

Fans love
to look at a team’s needs and try to determine who should be picked in the
draft.



  But should team needs be a factor?  Or should a team pick solely on
talent and character, not on position?

But on
the eve of the draft, it’s worthwhile looking at the age-old debate how to
determine the appropriate name to call. Does the team take a long look at their
organizational depth chart and determine who will better fit their needs several
years down the road? Or do they scrap the organizational depth chart and simply
try to form a consensus on the best player available (BPA)?



This
article looks at why, at least on the first day of the draft, a team should burn
their depth chart and not even think about what a potential future need may be. 
It uses the Ottawa Senators as an example of why teams should always draft the
best player available.



While
this might rain on the parade of most draft prognosticators – who justify mock
draft picks by team needs – the reality is a team may need anything and
everything down the road. And while the later rounds allow a team to stray from
this approach in creating organizational balance, here’s a close look at how
the Senators have utilized the BPA strategy effectively over the last 10 years.
Three particular instances are outlined where it seemed like an exception to the
BPA strategy was in order – but ultimately, was not.

1994
Bonk vs. Storr


In the
spring of 1994, the Senators had a pair of franchise centermen every expansion
team coveted in Alexei Yashin and Alexandre Daigle. Both were coming off
impressive rookie seasons and seemed like the cream of their respective draft
classes. But questions were already arising over who would be better and how to
find proper ice time for the two down the road. And he stated repeatedly that Yashin and Daigle were the first two
pieces of the puzzle.

Leading
up to the draft, the Senators were expected to nab either Ed Jovanovski or Oleg
Tverdovsky with their third overall pick to start shoring up the defense. Las
Vegas Thunder centerman Radek Bonk was anticipated to go with one of the first
two picks to either Florida or Anaheim, the latest two expansion teams. That
seemingly left the door open for the Senators to land one of their targeted
blue-liners.

But when
Jovo-Cop and Tverdovsky were surprisingly taken number one and two, it was
clear the Senators had a difficult choice to make. Take Bonk, coming off an
unprecedented year of professional hockey as a 17-year old in the IHL – and
regarded as the top player in the draft by many publications including the
Central Scouting Bureau? Or take Jamie Storr, the highest rated goalie to come
along since Tom Barrasso?

Potential
ice-time, team need and Sexton’s blueprint all suggested Storr was the logical
choice. Neither Yashin, Daigle nor Bonk played the wing, and it seemed no
combination of these three players could be assembled to put some of them on the
same line. The entire Senators depth chart was screaming for top-end talent at
every position — every position other than that of a scoring line center.

Looking
back, the Senators selection of Bonk as the best player available – blue print
be damned – was clearly the right long-term move, albeit not without
short-term growing pains. Bonk struggled considerably in his first five NHL
seasons, partly due to the limited icetime of being behind Daigle and Yashin,
partly due to several injuries, and partly due to his atrocious linemates on one
of the worst teams in NHL history.

But fast
forward another five years and the two centers the Senators planned to build
around are long gone. Bonk has now been the Senators top pivot for several
seasons. Storr has watched the Los Angeles Kings bring in several new number one
goalies in his time in the NHL and has yet to establish himself as anything more
than a competent back-up.

–Advantage
BPA strategy

1999
Havlat and co.

When the
1999 draft came along, the Senators were a much different team coming off a
franchise record 105 point season and their first division title. But after an
embarrassing 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, the team was facing
its first pointed criticism for team make-up. They were considered too soft and,
above all, too “European” to succeed in the post-season.

Looking
at the team’s depth chart going into the draft, it seemed the last thing the
Senators needed was another skilled center or right winger. Yashin was clearly
the team’s number one center with Andreas Dackell his permanent right-winger
coming off a 50-point season. Bonk and Vaclav Prospal were established as the
next two players up the middle and had two more skilled Europeans on their right
sides in Daniel Alfredsson and Marian Hossa. Andreas Johansson was yet another
talented right winger, coming off a career high 21 goals in 2000-2001.

None of
these players were over 25 either so the franchise seemed set at both positions.
If anything, it looked like there wasn’t enough room for all of them and some
of these skilled Europeans would have to be exchanged for gritty playoff
warriors.

Meanwhile
the left side was not nearly as strong. There was no long-term answer in goal
and the defense, while respectable, was filled with overachievers. So drafting a
player like Martin Havlat made no sense. He was known for being a soft, yet
skilled offensive center who could also play the right side.

Most
“pick for need” observers felt the Sens should have snagged goalie Ari
Ahonen, big defenseman Kristian Kudroc, or better yet, Ottawa 67’s standout
Luke Sellars. All seemed more logical when projecting a fit within the team’s
depth chart. These were more logical picks except Senators scouts believed
Havlat would be the better player.

One could
argue – and some have – the Sens still don’t have room for Havlat, given
the team’s current embarrassment of riches on its right side. But it was still
unquestionably the best pick. If the Sens really want to fill a need now or in
the future, they have the luxury of offering up one of Alfredsson, Hossa or
Havlat via trade: a potential trade worthy of a monster return compared to
offering up the likes of Kudroc, Sellars or even Ahonen.


Advantage BPA strategy

The BPA Exception?
Goaltenders


Some
believe there is an exception to the BPA philosophy – the goalie exception. This
exception says don’t draft a goalie in the early rounds when your system is
already stocked at the position.

The logic
is that goalies are less predictable, so a team shouldn’t waste high picks on
them.  It takes even longer to determine a goalie’s potential in the
minors, which leads to an ice time issue.
A
team has very little ice time for young goalies in their system – and they
need as much as possible to develop.

Finding room for another defenseman or forward in the minors is much easier,
even if you’re already flush.

And while
this exception is not without merit or consideration, looking at the 2001 draft,
the Senators have seemingly once again proven the drafting for position theory
wrong.

2001
Ray Emery

At the
end of the 2000-2001 season, the Senators were stacked with goalies. In the NHL,
Patrick Lalime had established himself as the Senators first true no. 1 goalie,
but had been pushed that season by Jani Hurme. Both were young and just entering
their prime, and it was clear any young goalie in the system would be hard
pressed to unseat either one for quite some time.

A logjam
in the Senators minor-league system was brewing as well. Three highly thought of
young goaltenders were biding their time in the minors.

In the
four drafts leading up to 2001, the Senators had used a total of five relatively
early draft picks on four goalies. Mathieu Chouinard (two picks), Simon
Lajeunesse and Martin Prusek all looked like they had a bright future, but were
fighting each other to properly develop.

The
Senators seemed set for several years in net and already had a problem finding
all three of their young goalies enough starts in the coming season (Lajeunesse
ended up playing most of that season in the ECHL).

Heading
into the 2001 draft, the Senators had five picks within the first 100 and the
last thing Sens fans expected was their team to use one of these picks on a
goalie. And then the Senators promptly selected goalie Ray Emery.

Only
two years later, and both Hurme and Lajeunesse are Florida property via trades
while Chouinard is set to be cast adrift by the organization. Ray Emery
meanwhile has emerged as the best goalie prospect the Senators franchise has
ever drafted.

–Advantage
BPA strategy

 

Summary

Clearly,
and in the early rounds especially, you take the best player available or you
will be doing your team a major disservice in the long-term. If you’re drafting
for need, it means you’re typically “reaching” for a player who fits a
certain profile and could be inferior. When it’s close between a couple
players, need may win out in arguments. But it should only be a tie-breaker.

If a team
creates an abundance of assets at a particular position, it allows them to trade
from that position of strength. This type of philosophy allowed the Senators to
trade the likes of Tim Gleason and Jakub Klepis this year – Senators first
rounders – to strengthen the team for its most successful playoff run to date.
The avoidance of ‘Need Drafting” is justified when you consider it typically
takes five years or more for a drafted prospect to be ready to make a true
impact in the NHL, and the fact is, no team really knows with any degree of
certainty what their team is going to look like in five years.

This
best player available approach is why the Ottawa Senators have consistently been
one of the richest teams in the league when it comes to cashing in at the NHL
Entry Draft.