As we head into the NHL draft this weekend, there’s some evidence of a very unique and very interesting wrinkle that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been employing recently. This is one of those fascinating little aspects as we see teams try to search out little inefficiencies and turn them into advantages.
The Pens tactic? Drafting overage players.
If you’re no draft guru, don’t worry. In a nutshell, the rules state that all players who are 18-22 years old by the draft year are eligible to be selected at the draft, assuming of course their NHL rights aren’t already owned by a team. Most of the time, teams will gobble up all the first-year eligible players as they have identified them through scouting as the top draft-eligible prospects.
However, the NHL Entry draft is only seven rounds long. There are so many different leagues scattered across the world and with an ever-expanding talent pool of players, sometimes players aren’t selected at all in their first year of eligibility. This seems to be where the Penguins are zeroing in on drafting older, and presumably more developed players.
The really awesome Namita at @nnstats made some fancy charts to show!
[mini-thread] was looking at NHL team draft tendencies, and the Penguins have been very into drafting overagers (prospects not in their first year of eligibility) recently pic.twitter.com/iIAjAOUGQz— Namita (@nnstats) June 19, 2018
since they're in win-now mode, there's a plausible argument that this is simply due to having some pretty late picks. going back a bit farther, I looked at the proportion of overagers selected at every pick and fit a logistic regression to capture the general trend. pic.twitter.com/o3uqpHBkqv— Namita (@nnstats) June 19, 2018
based on the Penguins' limited draft capital in the last few years and these fitted pick probabilities, we would expect them to spend ~26% of their picks on overagers, which is a lot! but even after controlling for that, they picked a lot of overagers. pic.twitter.com/L8dRopkGIY— Namita (@nnstats) June 19, 2018
of course, there are sample size concerns. sometimes you toss 4 heads in a row. but if we simulated the last few Penguins drafts 100,000 times with the league-average probabilities of selecting an overager with each of their picks, it's still rare to see a result as extreme. pic.twitter.com/MVfiOkp0Mw— Namita (@nnstats) June 19, 2018
I would suspect this is no accident. Also from 2014-17 (and in 2018) the Penguins have had just one first round pick - Kasperi Kapanen in 2014, who was traded one year later. And they’ve traded several other picks for NHL help. So their percentages skew it a bit given that teams wouldn’t likely use a 1st round pick on an overage player and the fact Pittsburgh just has made less draft picks than the average team these past few years.
The sheer number of overage players drafted is also no coincidence. The best example of this is Dominik Simon, whom Pittsburgh drafted in the 5th round in 2015- just a few months shy of Simon’s 21st birthday. Simon was able to turn professional instantly, unlike the “typical” 18-year old 5th round pick who would spend several more years in a system like NCAA, Canadian Junior or a European league as they grew and developed.
As a result, Pittsburgh has gotten more NHL games and points out of Simon so far than Arizona has out of 3rd overall pick in 2015 Dylan Strome. In fact, Simon has as many or more NHL points at draft+3 years than 13 of the 29 2015 non-goalie first round picks of his draft year.
This isn’t to say Simon is necessarily a better asset than a first round pick, but by drafting an overaged player Pittsburgh was able to set themselves up for a quicker return. This concept means a lot for a team that needs depth and bodies on cheap contracts to help compete now.
Also, naturally in the 5th round there isn’t going to be a high likelihood of a future NHL player anyways, so taking a player a year or two older and more of a known quantity rather than select a younger player with a lot higher chance of complete failure makes common sense as well.
The flip-side of the coin is that overage players generally aren’t going to have high ceilings. Simon may have moonlighted on a line with Sidney Crosby for a bit, but his career path isn’t likely to be as a skilled, top-6 player in the NHL.
Still, in Simon the Pens found a player who could help their NHL team in a short amount or time and from very deep in the draft. The strategy has paid off here. Another overage pick, Linus Olund (5th round 2017, about to turn 22 years old next month) will start with Wilkes-Barre next season and may be at now where Simon was a year or two ago working his way up the ranks.
So if the Pens keep this up, who are some names they may target this weekend to add as 2018 draft picks?
Luckily, Defending Big D (The SBN Stars blog) put together a really great preview that I recommend if you’re interested. Here are a few names that stood out:
Adam Mascherin — Left Wing — Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Mascherin has to be the “big fish” of overage players this year, because unlike most he actually does have a high ceiling and potential top-end skill. Mascherin was drafted 38th overall in 2016 by Florida, but elected not to sign with them and will be back in the 2018 entry draft. At age 20 he’s already had a 100 point season in the OHL in 2016-17 and followed that up with a 40 goal, 86 point season last year. This would likely have to be one of the Pens top two selections (53rd and 64th overall), as Mascherin probably isn’t on the board the 3rd time Pittsburgh is scheduled to pick at 129th overall.
Sean Durzi — Defense — Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Another rare overage player that is expected to be drafted relatively high and could be another candidate potentially for the Pens 2nd or 3rd round pick. Kait wrote about him here. A RHD that is a good skater and offensively minded? That checks a lot of boxes as far as a prospect in demand in this day and age.
Ivan Kosorenkov — Right Wing — Victoriaville Tigers (QMJHL)
The 20 year old put up 82 points (36g+46a) in 63 games in the Q last season. He also has been to the Flyers prospect camp but didn’t sign there, so he’s been on NHL radar a bit.
Jesper Sellgren — Defense — MODO Hockey (Allsvenskan)
Sellgren played well for the Swedes in the U-20 WJC tournament, becoming one of their top defensemen by the end of it. Most of the Pens overage draftees have a European flair, and Pittsburgh’s new top scout Patrik Allvin is surely familiar with this player who has spent 2 seasons playing in Sweden’s top league.
Marcus Bjork — Defense — IK Oskarshamn (Allsvenskan)
See above. Also love DBD’s writeup here:
Bjork is still pretty raw for a 20-year-old, but he’s big and loves to shoot the puck. He led all Allsvenskan defensemen in scoring with 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points in 52 games. Definitely a worthy development project for a team willing to be patient and let him grow.
Justin Almeida — Center — Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Almeida probably went undrafted for his size (5’9, 170), but the 19-year old just put up 98 points (43g+55a) in 73 games last season in the WHL and is now on many NHL teams radar. I’ve read reports that say he’s not the best skater either, which is always a concern, but there’s no doubts he is a very talented offensive player at the junior level.
Justin Brazeau — Right Wing — North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Brazeau would be the flip-side of Almeida being as he is 6’5 and 220 pounds and “he combines that size with a surprisingly soft touch around the net and acceptable skating”. Brazeau tallied 39 goals and 75 points in the OHL this season and is 20 years old. The trick, as with all prospects, is forecasting how his size and style will project into the pro league.
Roman Durny — Goalie — Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
At the WJC tournament, Durny was a star for the Slovaks stopping .929% of the shots he saw and he saw 30+ a game on an over-manned team. Durny’s performance against Team USA was eye-opening. Dobbers Prospects says, “His positioning was nothing short of textbook, and he looked both poised and confident with chaos unfolding in front of his net.”
Daniel Kurovsky — Right Wing — Vitkovice HC (Czech)
Dobbers has a scouting report that makes the 20-year old sound like a 1st round pick:
An absolute horse of a power forward, especially along the boards, Kurovsky made a habit of requiring opponents to add two, sometimes three players to knock him off the puck. His size (6’4/198) plays a big role in his style of play, but he’s got soft hands, has a quick shot/release combo, moves extremely well and thinks the game at a high level. His quick footwork and long reach were used on the penalty kill, and his in-your-face style created problems for point men. Additionally, Kurovsky never seemed fazed by playing in traffic with or without the puck.
Not sure how real any/all of that is or would translate to North America but if Kuovsky is near as good as that writeup he’s gotta be worth a draft pick by someone.
We will see how this year’s draft unfolds, The Draft Analyst has ranked a whopping 250 overage players for this draft, so there are certainly no shortage of candidates for Pittsburgh and all the other NHL teams to look into.
If history is any precedent though, the Pens probably will be looking at the overage pool of talent more than other teams. It will be an interesting subplot to watch what Allvin and Rutherford have up their sleeves for strategy at this weekend’s draft.