Assessing an NHL team’s drafting performance is notoriously difficult. There are far too many considerations including the lack of a single metric that can account for performance, the team’s drafting position and timing such as finishing near the bottom of the league at a time when the upcoming draft is a strong on versus a weak one (which was the case for the Montreal Canadiens in 2012, for example). Because of this, there is no definitive answer when it comes to evaluating drafting performance. Furthermore, the average NHL general manager has a shelf life of five and a half years, which compounds the challenge of assessing drafting performance for a specific management era, given it takes several years before a player can be viewed as a successful selection or not.
Needless to say, it’s not easy to assess the Canadiens’ drafting performance under Marc Bergevin relative to other teams. But there is one thing that helps a lot; the fact that Bergevin has been the Canadiens’ general manager for eight entry drafts. This provides enough sample size to help make a reasonable assessment of his work.
Current NHL GM Tenure in years (April 2020)
I will use games played as the data metric for success. Of course it is not an ideal indicator to assess success in draft selections, however I only use it as an exploratory indicator to help generalize before digging deeper into the players themselves. You'll see that I removed some recent selections from the assessment to reduce the speculation of how good a player will be. This helps measure what is measurable; an effort to reduce the bias of this assessment as much as possible. I've tried to keep it as simple as possible, by giving the most credit to a selection that becomes an impact player such as a top-6 forward, top-4 defenseman or a starting goalie.
Lastly, I separate sections of the draft (top ten, the rest of first round, and the second round to the end of the draft) to ensure we are measuring apples to apples when it comes to comparing Bergevin’s success to his peers. We don’t want to know if Bergevin made good picks. We want to know if he made good picks relative to other general managers. For ease of comparison, I removed the Vegas Golden Knights from the data, as their selections are too recent to add value to this assessment. So, let’s start.
The Top of the NHL Draft
Not every pick has the same value, obviously. So we will first look at the top ten picks in the draft. These are the picks that are almost guaranteed to turn into impact NHL players. We can remove the results from the 2019 draft, as there hasn’t been enough time for most of these players to crack an NHL lineup.
Between the start of the Bergevin era in 2012 and 2018 there were seven NHL entry drafts, of which the Canadiens had three top ten selections. Several teams also had three selections in the top ten, and only five teams had more selections, the Buffalo Sabres had six, the Vancouver Canucks five, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Colorado Avalanche and the Carolina Hurricanes had four each.
For those three selections, Bergevin chose Alex Galchenyuk (2012), Mikhail Sergachev (2016), and Jesperi Kotkaniemi (2018). Although it’s way too early to judge the 2018 draft, all these players are of NHL caliber; there were no strikeouts by Bergevin.
data source www.hockeydb.com
One could argue that instead of Galchenyuk, Bergevin should have selected Filip Forsberg or Morgan Rielly in the 2012 entry draft, but just as these players were available so too were some prospects that ended up being busts or much less impactful in the NHL.
In fact, of the 70 selections in the top ten between 2012 and 2018 there were only a few complete busts and a handful of less-than-impactful NHL players. So, theoretically, selecting an impactful NHL player doesn’t require rocket science. But a closer look at each draft and selection reveals that Bergevin did well to walk away from the 2012 draft – one of the worse in recent memory – with an impactful asset.
And, in 2016 Sergachev fell to the Canadiens at ninth overall. It’s starting to look like this pick was one of the best in the first round outside the top two. And, although he’s no longer with the team, Bergevin translated the asset into a impactful NHL player in Jonathan Drouin.
So, even though in theory, a GM should do well picking in the top ten, I give Bergevin some credit for avoiding busts and doing well with what he was presented with those top picks.
On a pass or fail grade scale, I give Bergevin a pass for his top ten selections.
First Round Selections Outside the Top Ten
Now this is where it gets more interesting. Once we remove the top ten selections, we are left with the remainder of the first round where selections are much less of a sure thing. We’ll look at 2012 to 2017, and remove 2018 and 2019 because not enough time has passed to evaluate those players yet.
In those six NHL entry drafts, the Canadiens made four selections, which is average. Those selections have played a total of 178 NHL games which ranks near the bottom relative to all other teams. But if you take a closer look, the Canadiens had the fewest games played among teams with four or more selections.
The selections were Michael McCarron (2013), Noah Juulsen (2015), Nikita Scherbak (2014) and Ryan Poehling (2017). Two of these players are no longer with the organization and can be classified as busts. Juulsen has had a string of unfortunate health issues, and Poehling shows promise, but it’s too early to tell.
Although there are some really good players selected after McCarron in the 2013 draft, including first pair defenseman Shea Theodore and several in later rounds, I do not see the pick as a colossal disaster relative to what other teams in that drafting range. The Canadiens had five more picks in rounds two and three that may reveal more drafting shortcomings than this single selection in the first round. But more on that later.
In 2014 the Boston Bruins selected David Pastrnak 25th overall. With the next selection the Canadiens chose Nikita Scherbak, who no longer plays in the NHL. After Scherbak many good NHLers, even star forward Brayden Point, were selected. But they were few and far between. Every NHL GM had a chance to select Brayden Point; some had multiple chances as he was not selected until the third round. So on that argument alone, we can’t give Bergevin a failing mark; can we?
But, the fact is, many teams have had four or less selections in the mid to later part of the first round and have come away with at least one impactful NHL player. Bergevin has failed to achieve this with his selections to date even if though one of this selections, Ryan Poehling, is just starting his pro career. For the work that can be measure to date, I give Bergevin a fail relative to his counterparts in a similar or less advantageous position.
Second Round and Beyond
This is where the real fun begins for teams’ scouting departments, and also where a more accurate assessment of drafting performance can be made. More selections, means a greater sample size to evaluate and formulate a solid overall assessment.
So let’s dig in. I will reduce the timeframe range even further, eliminating the 2017 draft because all those non-first-rounders haven’t had enough time to develop.
From 2012 to 2016, totalling five NHL entries drafts, the Canadiens made 27 selections in the second round and beyond. This is below the NHL average (30); three teams had 37 or more selections. Of those 27 selections, the total number of NHL games played is 1,069, which is above average for all teams. So this is good, right? Well, let’s take a closer look.
Of those 27 selections, Artturi Lehkonen and Victor Mete are the most impactful players at the NHL level. However, to date, their impact is low. For the purpose of this exercise, I consider both players to be middle or bottom-end of the lineup players. If we compare this with other NHL teams with the same or fewer selections we can have a more reasonable relative performance comparison.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had 27 selections and drafted impact players Jake Guentzel and Matt Murray. The Columbus Blue Jackets (27 selections) drafted Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand. With 27 selections also, the rival Boston Bruins have the third most total NHL games play by drafted players, landing Brandan Carlo, Matt Benning, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Ryan Donato among others. With fewer picks, the Anaheim Ducks drafted goalie Frederik Anderson, Brandon Montour and Ondrej Kase.
Of course there were a lot of excellent players, even star players, chosen in the second round and beyond between 2012 and 2016. But I don’t think it’s a fair argument point out those star players chosen with late round picks as failures of all the other teams that missed them. There’s a lot of luck involved. And that’s why everyone agrees that the more picks the better, to increase the chance of success. And that’s why the true measure of performance is the relative success to other teams. And although there are several teams that failed to discover an impact player after the first round like the Canadiens, the fact is most teams found at least one impactful player. Bergevin did not, and it put’s his team into the loser category of drafting performance. For the second round and beyond, I give Bergevin a fail.
Grading Bergevin’s Overall Drafting Performance
Of the three distinct drafting ranges, Bergevin’s only pass grade is for drafting in the top ten. But, even this grade is not on solid ground for the simple fact that drafting in this range provides a high level of certainty. In other words, a GM should most certainly find success.
What we are looking for is skillful scouting and business intelligence to draft the best players relative to the rest of the NHL. Outside the top ten and into the later rounds during the Bergevin era, the Canadiens have failed to acquire impact players at the rate of most other teams. For this reason, I’m giving Bergevin an overall fail grade.
The reality is that selecting a single top-six forward, a first line defenseman or a starting goalie outside the top ten in any five year period would raise a team’s drafting performance to ‘superior’. This is the humbling perspective of the NHL draft. And an illustration of how thin the line of success and failure is; how unfair it is to try to grade a team’s drafting performance.
Rethink The Value of a Draft Pick
Which pick outside the first round had the most impact for the Canadiens during Bergevin’s tenure so far? It’s a trick question. The 2015 second and fourth round picks traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Jeff Petry. The impactful Canadiens’ defenseman is easily the best asset to come from the drafting assets outside the first round during the Bergevin era so far. In fact, an argument could be made that Petry is the most impactful asset to come from any of the draft selections for the Canadiens under Bergevin.
Given Bergevin’s eye for professional talent (he acquired Philip Danault, Max Domi, Paul Byron, Tomas Tatar and Joel Armia to name a few), I can’t help but wonder how much better the Canadiens would be today if he used some of the draft picks to leverage the organization’s strength in acquiring NHL talent from other teams. We’ll never know.
Bergevin’s Second Chance: The Retool Era
The good news is that in the past couple of years, under a renewed mandate, Bergevin has shifted gears. He has stockpiled draft picks in an attempt to restock the prospect cupboards, as they say. In the last two NHL drafts, the Canadiens made 21 sections, tied with the Detroit Redwings for most in the league. This includes six selections in the first two rounds.
The quantity is high. What’s left to evaluate is the quality of these selections. Has Bergevin made some changes to his drafting philosophy? With a subpar drafting performance history to analyze, I sure hope something has changed. Only time will tell.
Interactive Draft Explorer found here