We go 5v5 with the United States of Hockey. Five questions answered in five minutes, plus bonus rounds, OT and a shootout. Chris Peters, USA Hockey authority, great American and expectant father, shares some thoughts on this weekend’s draft and he gets us smart(er). Chris won’t be in Pittsburgh, and instead, will be watching from home, “I’ll probably be following just like anybody else… on TV. I had the luxury of being at the draft in St. Paul last year, but couldn’t get it to work out this time around, so I’ll be watching on TV and following up with some scouts and prospects.” Tweeting, too, we hope.
We will be there to cover it, assuming there are no hitches when we go to pick up our credentials. “Ummm… PuckBuddys? PuckBuddys? There seems to have been a misunderstanding, Mr. Knoerzer.”
1. How does this draft class compare to previous years?
Based on what the scouts have told me, this Draft is very good for about the first 20 picks and then with each round the talent level drops somewhat significantly. Essentially this draft is as deep as some years past, meaning it is going to be harder for teams to find value in the later rounds. The guys that most people have pegged for the Top 5 picks are as good as any in recent years, though. Should be a very fun first round.
“Well, it’s certainly justified as he is a pretty special talent. In that first overall pick, you want a guy that’s going to be guaranteed to produce and I think Yakupov’s skill set is one that will produce a lot of goals at the next level. He’s an exciting player to watch. I think too many people counted out Mikhail Grigorenko way too early, and it seems like he’s been beaten to a pulp in the media with the narrative that it’s risky to draft Russians.
He’s a big kid with terrific hockey sense and loads of skill. Yakupov has the speed and the goal scoring prowess, but Grigorenko might be the more complete player. Also, if Alex Galchenyuk wasn’t hurt all year, there’s a strong chance he would have been in the No. 1 overall conversation this year, so him slipping is going to really benefit a team drafting lower in the top 5.”
3. With that in mind, despite their obvious needs on the blue line, does Edmonton still take Nail Yakupov?
“That’s a great question. I really don’t know what Edmonton is thinking as far as their needs. The NHL Draft is almost always one where a team takes the best player available regardless of position or need. A lot of the advanced stats folks, and probably conventional wisdom say that drafting a defenseman within the first few picks is a bit of a risk, especially when there are a handful of impact forwards available.
Ryan Murray is a great option for a team drafting early, but I don’t think he’s the type of player you take with the first overall pick. There are going to be other ways for Edmonton to shore up their D.”
3. As far as defensemen are concerned, Ryan Murray appears to be the leader of the pack. Can or should anyone supplant him?
“I think Ryan Murray is the leader, but the one guy that has a shot at supplanting him is Matt Dumba. Murray is a very steady, smart defenseman with enough offensive ability to do some damage. Dumba on the other hand is an offensive force, he’s physical and he’s responsible enough defensively to not be considered an all-or-nothing offensive defenseman. The only thing about both is that they’re right around 6-feet tall, which is almost a little small for an NHL defenseman. I think Dumba’s physical edge and high-end offensive tools might be attractive enough for some teams to have him over Murray on their draft boards.”
4. Is there a prospect whose stock is, in your opinion, a little overvalued heading into the Draft?
“I am probably one of the few people saying this, but I think Morgan Rielly has been overvalued. He was injured for most of the season, but despite that NHL Central Scouting ranked him the No. 5 skater in North America. I definitely see him as a first-round talent, but I think he’s a safer pick after the top 10. I don’t think he’ll last that long, but I think there are just too many questions about his all-around game for him to be a top guy.”
5. On the flip side, is there anyone who comes to mind that should go sooner than he will?
“It seems like Stefan Matteau, who is the son of Rangers hero Stephane, has fallen on a lot of draft charts. I think he’s a first-round talent, but it sounds like he has fallen off on a lot of lists. Matteau is a big kid, with loads of strength and has a nastiness to his game. His offensive skills have been underrated by a lot of scouts. He has really good speed and skates with power. Matteau also has a pro-level shot already. Where he lacks a bit is in the puck skills department. He’s not much of a dangler, but he knows what to do with the puck. I think he’s a pretty special talent and you don’t find too many forwards with his skill set that can score.”
OT: Finally, a noticeable amount of discussion centered on European players, especially Russians, during the post-season has been colored by a not-so-subtle xenophobia. Is there still hesitation to draft European players in the opening round? Have you noticed the conversation change over the course of the past few seasons?
“I don’t think there’s hesitation to draft Europeans anymore, especially with the mountain of Swedes that has been taken in the first round over the last three or four years. There is still a load of hesitation to take a Russian and a lot of it has to do with the fear of the KHL. The Capitals are still waiting on Evgeni Kuznetsov, who would be an impact-type player in the NHL, but chose to stay in the KHL a few years. However, more Russians have come over to play in the Canadian Hockey League, trying to show NHL teams they are serious about playing hockey in North America.
Not too many of those kids, even if they didn’t make the NHL right away, have gone back to Russia. If the Russian in question is playing in Russia right now, there’s a much higher risk than taking one of the Russians that played in the CHL. I think this first round is going to be at least half European picks. There are too many highly skilled kids from Sweden, Finland and Russia this year. This could be a year where we see more Europeans than North Americans selected in the first round, which hopefully puts the whole European-hesitation to rest. The conversation hasn’t really shifted too much, but with the high-profile Russians in this draft, it seems the narrative has intensified.”
Shootout: What sites, pundits and wise guys should we follow to best track the talent?
“Well, there are a ton out there, but Corey Pronman over at Hockey Prospectus is a great guy to follow on Twitter and read, due to his breadth of knowledge and he’s very well-connected with scouts and GMs. Also, everybody follows him anyways, but Bob McKenzie’s TSN list that he comes out with the week of the draft is almost always the closest to what actually happens, as he compiles his info from scouts from just about every team. Then there are plenty of other sites that follow the draft pretty closely and have a lot of free content like Future Considerations and HockeyProspect.com. Everyone has different opinions on players, so if you really want to get an idea of a prospect, it’s best to read more than one thing.”
Thanks Chris. USA! USA! USA!