Drafting… player development… Those are two hot topics under Trevor Timmins and Marc Bergevin’s time with the Montreal Canadiens, although one could push much further to see that drafting and player development have been an issue in Montreal for a long, long time. Is it one more than the other? Which one is it? Both?
You see, like with anything else in the Habs’ fan base and media, it becomes an overblown narrative. The flavour of the month, if we can say. Not that there are no justifications to jump on that bandwagon. It just gets amplified in Montreal, where media scrutiny is like nowhere else, and the fan base thinks they know more than the average Joe… and aren’t afraid of making it known to whomever will listen. And they will if it fits a narrative.
First and foremost, we must understand that you cannot have one without the other. It’s impossible to trace a line where one starts and the other begins, aside from a timeline. Of course, drafting occurs when the team calls the prospect’s name from the draft table. Player development starts thereafter. But how can someone tell, if a player doesn’t pan out, if it was bad drafting or poor player development? That’s where you can’t draw that line.
First, let’s look at what it’s not, in order to better understand what it is. If a player is the consensus pick when his name is called, it’s not good or poor drafting. Nail Yakupov was everyone’s choice at number one overall back in 2012. Every team would have picked him first. So it wasn’t bad drafting.
On the other end, selecting a player that no one saw this high in the draft, and he turns out to be an excellent pick, that is good drafting. Alexander Romanov is as an example of that. There are tons of other examples.
I’ll add one more… luck. Lucky at drafting is when you select Cayden Primeau in the 7th round, or Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg in later rounds. Luck because teams have passed on a player almost 200 times before a team called their name.
For many, they judge player development based solely on if the player makes it or not. While there is some truth to it, doing so is too often wrong. You see, scouts not only judge a draft prospect not only by comparing him to his peers in his draft year, as some fans thing. The role of scouts is to try to determine when a young player will peak, when he will reach his full potential. Further, they try to compare between leagues, even between countries.
For the most part, teams provide all of their prospects with the same opportunities, or at least the same access and information when it comes to player development. If they come to development camp, or rookie camp, teams give those young men a list of things to work on to get to the next step. Whether it’s done through the scouts or if teams have a player development group, those young players are being followed during the season as well, and are given things to work on even after being drafted. They all do.
So why do some succeed and others don’t? Some people won’t like to hear this but Marc Bergevin was right. Some of the responsibility falls on the player himself. He’s responsible for putting in the necessary work and follow the instructions given. As even if they do, they might never reach their full potential. But all those who do succeed have put in that effort and have done what was asked of them.
Allow me to share a bit of my life experience with you folks. I am reminded of my peewee coach in Sherbrooke, with whom I played recreational hockey later in life. Sitting in the dressing room sipping on a cold one after a rec game, he once told me that in 15 years coaching minor hockey, he can count on one hand the number of times he didn’t make it to the finals. He didn’t always finish in the top in regular season, but his team progressed throughout the year.
Curious, I asked him why he thinks that was. He said that at tryouts, he would not necessarily pick the best players, but the ones that were looking at him when he spoke, and applied what he was asking them to do. According to him, it made many parents furious when their “more talented son” was cut, but he stuck to his beliefs. Those players, he explained, are “coachable” and those are the ones who will keep on developing and progressing.
Even later in life, as I was coaching Rep hockey, I have witnessed that phenomena first hand myself too. Some players started well behind others at training camp, but ended up being better at the end of the season, or at least improved much more. Those who paid attention, listened and learned from others’ experience, those who didn’t think they knew it all at a young age, advanced much faster and further.
So you see, when someone claims that Timmins, Bergevin or whomever doesn’t know how to draft, or that they don’t know how to develop players, they’re not telling the truth. Or at least, not the entire truth. They’re too often speaking out of knowledge, or out of turn. Alex Galchenyuk listening to his father who was telling him not to listen to the coaches is not the fault of the organisation.
Of course some draft better than others and some invest more in player development. Some coaches are better at developing players too. It’s like anything else. But at that level, the difference is minimal. And that’s why teams try to get the extra edge.
That’s why the Canadiens held their own combines, even in Europe. And that’s why they hired Dr. David Scott, a sports psychologist, who has been involved in prospects interviews in recent years, asking the right questions. That’s why they have Sports Science and Performance department and that’s why they have Rob Ramage and Francis Bouillon helping with player development.
Drafting and player development contains more grey area than it does black or white. They are intertwined into a mix of information and of people involved… and that includes the players themselves. They control more than they sometimes think they do.