Draft picks are assets. Some NHL teams come into the draft with fewer picks because they’ve used those assets throughout the season to acquire players who could help them immediately, while others — the sellers — come in with more picks with which to build their prospect pool. No matter your situation, however, the aim on draft weekend is to get the most value out of the picks that you have.
This year, we saw that some teams have a different definition of value than others.
Trent Frederic (29th overall, Boston Bruins)
The Bruins deserve top billing in this piece for one glaring reason — they admitted publicly that they purposely used a first-round pick on a player whose ceiling is likely an NHL third line at best. Keith Gretzky, Bruins director of amateur scouting, told media that the team knew Frederic wouldn’t be a player who would break into their top two NHL lines, but that that was fine because he plays hard, and with “jam”.
Frederic was ranked 47th among North American skaters going into the draft, and is a bigger player — 6’2” and 203 pounds — who plays a heavy game. He could very likely be a reliable two-way player if his development goes well, but when a team has an extra first round pick, they should be focused on taking the most skilled player available.
The reliable, decent player will still be on the board later, and if he isn’t, someone comparable will. There was simply far too much skill left at 29th overall to justify this pick.
Logan Stanley (18th overall, Winnipeg Jets)
Trading up to get Stanley at 18th is a move that might come back to bite the Jets, but it’s one they clearly felt comfortable making after getting their big fish in Patrik Laine at No. 2 overall.
Don’t misunderstand, Stanley is a legitimate prospect and will likely make a serviceable NHL player. However, he has one glaring issue that should’ve made the Jets wary of taking him at 22nd, much less trading up to get him at 18th — he doesn’t score.
The Jets traded up to get Stanley because they were concerned he would be taken before they picked at 22nd, but not trading up might’ve saved them from themselves. There were plenty of better options available at 22nd, and certainly at 18th. Kieffer Bellows was taken at 19th by the Islanders. Giving up another pick to trade up a few spots because a player has size isn’t exactly getting top value from your picks.
Keaton Middleton (101st overall, Toronto Maple Leafs)
Leaping down a few rounds, the Leafs selected a 6’5”, 243-pound defenseman who scored exactly seven points (one goal, six assists) in 66 games for the Saginaw Spirit in the 2015-16 season. The selection of Keaton Middleton by a team who, over the past couple of seasons and under their new regime, has drafted fairly well, is regarded by many as proof that analytics haven’t entirely taken over and that the old-school way of thinking still lingers somewhere in the Leafs’ front office.
Middleton has very little offensive upside and, perhaps more importantly, lacks high-end skating and mobility. As more and more evidence piles up that the pro game is moving toward favoring mobile and offensively-minded defensemen—after all, the best way to keep the other team from scoring is to keep the puck yourself—Middleton doesn’t seem to have much chance to pan out as a smart pick for the Leafs.
In fact, his offense actually decreased from his 2014-15 totals of nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 61 games. It’s early to judge, of course, and skating is a facet of a prospect’s game that can be improved with coaching and time, but currently this selection ranks as a head-scratcher for many.