This is the simplest and most important rule to follow at the NHL draft table. So many teams ignore this rule, including general manager Jim Benning. You are going to find out why that’s a problem that holds the team back.
The NHL draft is a critical time for every team in the league. Once the Stanley Cup is awarded, teams must focus on building towards the future of their respective franchises. Those that made the playoffs want to add to stay competitive while those that missed decide between rebuilding and competing.
Some foolish teams think they can do both at the same time. The Vancouver Canucks are one of those teams. However, this is not a piece about the rebuild; instead, we will focus on the approach to the draft. An unwritten rule when it comes to drafting is to pick the best player available (BPA). It’s a relatively easy rule to follow, yet so many General Managers make the same mistake and neglect this rule.
How do you determine the best player available? Let’s start with what you don’t do. Under no circumstances should a team select a player based on positional/organizational need. It is a fool’s errand to constantly plug all prospects into a future lineup for a couple of reasons.
First, it is beyond arrogant to assume that more than half of your draft picks will succeed. Additionally, you can’t delude yourself into thinking that the prospects that do make it will maximize their potential. Secondly, a GM must understand that the point of the draft is to load up on talent.
Selecting a player with a high probability of making the NHL, but will likely end up as a fourth line player does little to establish a highly skilled core. Teams need to acquire talent everywhere on their roster. They can always trade for what they need once there are rich with talent.
Personally, I believe a player should be assessed on hockey sense, skill and speed (with the first being the highest priority). Any concern over intangibles can be discussed after those three.
Before we begin, I want to disclose that I will be focusing on Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi. I want to stress that these players are not bad. The criticism is not going to be levied directly on them. It will be thrust upon the GM that left better players on the table when these picks were made.
This piece is specifically about the methodology and not the individual player. In case you were not aware, the GM is responsible for picks made in the first round. Most managers don’t show up on the second day of the draft, but general manager Jim Benning is an exception.
With that in mind, you need to understand that there is not enough time for Benning to scout every player that the Canucks could select. He is far too busy with his GM duties, that at best, he can carefully look at players in the first round.
The behind the scenes videos on the Canucks YouTube channel may portray Benning as the guy making all decisions, but pay closer attention. John Weisbrod and his Director of Amateur Scouting, Judd Brackett, give Benning most of the input on the second day of the draft.
I want the focus to stay with the first round for both brevity and to put the focus on Benning. Scouts are the hardest working people in the organization and get little credit for the best picks, but face the brunt of criticism for the worst ones. Some managers absorb that criticism like Mike Gillis, while others seem to be infallible to the fans for whatever reason (like Jim Benning). I believe the best GM’s use their scouts to the best of their ability and respect their input and accept responsibility. Let’s look at the two largest cases of Jim Benning’s failure to pick the BPA at the draft.