Number One Consensus No More

By JD Lagrange – More and more draft gurus are coming out and putting Juraj Slafkovsky ahead of Shane Wright as the number one overall pick. The latest, Bob McKenzie, is perhaps the most well regarded of them all and it took everyone by surprise when he made the switch. After all, McKenzie’s track record speaks for itself, as his number one prediction has been correct since at least 2009!

In his justification, McKenzie explained that five of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN ranked the 6-foot-4 Slovak left winger at No. 1, while four scouts slotted the Kingston Frontenac centre in the top spot. Further, McKenzie adds that if you were to survey another group of 10 scouts, you could very well end up with the same 5-4 split, but in favour of Wright. It’s really that tight in the eyes of so many scouts. So it’s tight. Very tight in fact.

“It’s a peculiar draft year,” said one NHL team head scout. “Neither one of them are locks to be first-line players in the NHL. I’m not saying one or the other couldn’t become first liners, they’re both good prospects, but unlike a lot of years, this draft doesn’t have any great prospects. There are no slam dunks. There are things I like about both guys, but I have some reservations, too.”

The five scouts who put Slafkovsky at No. 1 on their lists do believe he has the best chance to be upgraded from a sure-fire top-six forward to a top-line NHL winger.

“What separates Slafkovsky from Wright for me is that he’s bigger, he played harder, he was more consistent with his competitiveness, and he stepped up to produce on big stages [Olympics and world championship],” another NHL head scout said. “In my view, he has the best chance to be a first-line NHL forward.”

Is it that close?

Now hear me out. In everything we’ve published quoting anonymous NHL scouts, most of them have acknowledged that the tie-breaker, when skills are similar, when it’s that close between two prospects, is the position that they play. In this case, it is not a stretch to say that Wright is benefiting from being a center, as opposed to Slafkovsky being a winger. At least one or two scouts, in the articles we’ve published, have given Wright their vote for that reason alone. And it’s fair.

Juraj Slafkovsky

But what that means is that in order for NHL scouts to pick Slafkovsky, it has to be by a wide margin. He has to clearly beat his counterpart as tie-breakers go to Wright. So perhaps the votes, in McKenzie’s example above, were 5-4 in favour of Slafkovsky but the five were strongly in his favour.

There is no way to know, of the four who voted for Wright, if any of them were tie-breakers, giving the center the edge because of the position he plays. But if that’s the case, when the center gets the vote because of the position he plays, it’s pretty much a tie when it comes to talent. This is not something we should ignore. In fact, it’s something that the Canadiens are taking into consideration, rest assured.

I strongly encourage you to read our three other publications, citing NHL scouts:

In closing, keep this in mind: the so-called number one consensus theory is no longer valid as more and more draft gurus are split. Secondly, that former consensus was from reporters and outside (some better than others) draft gurus, not from NHL scouts and teams. Third, this is a weaker draft than normal, and both candidates could end up being second line players… more or less even. Lastly, the draft is not a perfect science and there is a lot of room for mistakes. Stop pretending like you “know for sure” as it makes you look bad. Fact is… you don’t.

I personally don’t envy Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton. In this their very first NHL Draft with the Canadiens, they not only have the first overall pick, but the draft is held at the Bell Centre, in Montreal. And to complicate things, it’s a weaker top-end draft with no clear number one and lots of room to make franchise defining mistakes. Welcome to the job, gentlemen!

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