I’m sorry. Sometimes in life, we get it wrong. In prospect evaluations and draft rankings, we get it wrong all the time. Every year there are players that we may be lower on than others and we question how others see those players in such high regard. Six months later we realize that we were the ones missing something. Today is the day I look back and call myself out for some of the guys that I was lower on from last year’s draft and explain what I was seeing and how I got it wrong.
Connor McMichael, C, London Knights
My June 2019 Ranking: 58 Draft Slot: Round 1, 25th Overall (Washington)
What was I thinking?: One of my biggest issues with Connor McMichael was that every time I watched him live, which was a lot, I always felt like the effort wasn’t there. I felt like he had a good shot and his skating was okay but I was never convinced that he was a projectable top-six forward because of the effort issues and what I saw as a lack of dynamism in his game. He was just okay in most areas such as skating and vision. He graded out as a fairly average player across the board. He lacked creativity in my viewings and my opinion was that while he was a guy who I felt fairly safe about saying he was a future NHL player, he would be a good third-line player who could contribute on the powerplay.
How McMichael proved me wrong: So far this season, the London Knights forward has been among the best players in the CHL as a whole. He’s surpassed his point total from last season in 32 fewer games with 76 points in 35 games. The effort that I viewed as a detriment last season has shown to be completely unsubstantiated this season as the young Canadian center has been a play driver in the OHL for the London Knights. He has shown that he is a good skater and his vision has taken a massive step. The offensive game that I deemed a product of playing with a perennial powerhouse like London has proven to be a result of McMichael’s strong play.
He played a bottom-six role on the Canadian World Junior team and put up seven points in as many games while scoring timely goals including the goal that got the Canadian comeback started with about ten minutes to play in the championship game. McMichael was a very underrated contributor for the Canadian club, willingly taking a role lower in the lineup and producing when given the opportunity. McMichael has begun to create buzz as a player who could be pushing to make the Washington Capitals next season as they look to add productive pieces that are cost-effective. How wrong was I on McMichael? As of right now, I look pretty silly on this one.
Would I have made the pick in hindsight: Yes. Honestly, it’s starting to look like the London Knights center should have been chosen earlier. His production this year is making the Washington Capitals look like geniuses. There were no players in the range that McMichael was selected that I would have chosen ahead of him.
Shane Pinto, C, Univerity of North Dakota
My June 2019 Ranking: 64 Draft Slot: Round 2, 32 Overall (Ottawa)
What was I thinking?: Pinto split last season between the Lincoln Stars and Tri-City Storm of the USHL, finishing just under a point-per-game. He seemed like a decent skater but lacked some of the finer details that would allow him to be a good skater such as edgework and agility. He seemed to score most of his goals from in tight to the net, often being the recipient of good playmaking by linemates. He wasn’t a line driver and didn’t affect the game enough defensively to warrant a limited offensive skill set. I’m never a fan of players who seemed one dimensional and Pinto seemed like a player who was just that. A good net-front presence but he would need to improve a lot to translate his game to succeed at the next level.
How Pinto proved me wrong: Pinto is one of the best freshmen in the NCAA this season. He is top-five in goals, points, shots on goal, powerplay goals, and even-strength goals among other categories. The first pick on day two of the 2019 NHL Draft has produced at a high-rate while often centering one of the top two lines for the University of North Dakota. His skating has noticeably improved and his playmaking has become respectable. Pinto has done a better job of creating his own chances this year and has seemed to adapt to the pro-game.
Pinto has impressed this year to the point of starting the World Juniors as the top-line center for the American squad and didn’t disappoint. He finished behind only Trevor Zegras on the team in scoring and almost singlehandedly pushed the US past the Canadians in the opening game of the tournament Pinto has done a good job of improving his stock and proving that the Ottawa Senator’s weren’t all wrong to have chosen the center at the top of the second round. He has done an excellent job of finding the back of the net and looks to be on the right path in his development.
Would I have made the pick in hindsight: I still may have taken a different player in this slot with players such as Arthur Kaliyev, Nils Hoglander and Nick Robertson all available. All three players I had ranked higher (16, 26 and 35 respectably) than Pinto and still hold in higher regard. While this pick looks like it’s working out less than a year after it was made, it could have looked that much better. Regardless of that though, I was wrong on Pinto.
Nolan Foote, LW, Kelowna Rockets
My June 2019 Rankings: 68 Draft Slot: Round 1, 27th Overall (Tampa Bay)
What was I thinking?: I loved Nolan Foote’s shot. Outside of that, I wasn’t really a fan. I thought that his skating was an issue, a sentiment widely shared, and I didn’t believe that his IQ was all that impressive. I found that he was the ultimate passenger on whatever line he was on, albeit a very good passenger. He dealt with a nagging wrist injury throughout the season but in my mind, that didn’t excuse his skating flaws. I always have quips with draft-eligible players who have more goals than assists because I’ve found that generally means that the player isn’t driving play and doesn’t have a feel for the game outside of taking advantage of opportunities that his teammates generated. Creativity was non-existent is his game and I felt like he would end up being a decent “triggerman for hire” in his NHL career rather than finding a place as a true sniper.
How Foote proved me wrong: Despite missing time recently because of injuries, I clearly swung and missed on Foote. In 26 games for the Rockets, Foote has 33 points and 15 goals. His skating has been the most notable improvement this year. Foote was noticeably faster in the summer, even showing well in the World Junior Summer Showcase. His shot has become even more dangerous thanks to a wrist that isn’t impeded by injury. Foote has shown improvement as a playmaker as well, finding teammates with more consistency and helping drive play with the Rockets.
He was a member of the Canadian World Junior team, playing alongside Joe Veleno and Alexis Lafreniere and he often appeared to be the lines third wheel. He was a productive member on the line and was more than capable of keeping up with the pair. He didn’t put up massive numbers, just five points in seven games, but he looked good on the top line, despite switching to the right side.
Would I have made the pick in hindsight: I have no issue with the Nolan Foote pick at 27. I thought it was high at the time because I had concerns about his game but the upside was there and with Tampa Bay being the team that selected him, I felt that he would be put in a good development system so the ‘risk’ factor seemed lessened. Looking back, the only player in his range that I may have taken ahead of him was Arthur Kaliyev because I viewed them very similarly as high-end goal scorers with skating issues, Kaliyev with the more extreme measure of both. I likely lean towards Foote as he is the better skater which will be important at the next level.
Thank you for joining me as I called myself out for my three big mistakes from last year’s draft. Come back this time next year as I tell you about the mistakes I made this year as well. Prospect evaluation and analysis is an imperfect science. Everyone that does this at any level has their own formula of combining numbers, the eye test and various other forms of tracking prospects and not a single one of us will get it right. It’s all part of the fun but it is good to look back and try and figure out where you messed up, why you messed up and how you can fix it in the future.
I’ll be back next Monday with another Rambling about whatever is going on in the world of prospects. Be sure to watch out for the NHL Draft Report on Wednesday as well as we kick-off 2020 with an in-depth report on the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft! There will be 4000+ words breaking down my mid-season rankings and information and blurbs on over 50 draft-eligible prospects. As always, you can reach out to me on Twitter at @theTonyFerrari! Until next time, find a rink near you and enjoy some hockey!