Buzzing The Net

Finding value at the draft using the Jeff Skinner Rankings

Taylor Cammarata led the USHL in scoring as a 17-year-old (Britta Lewis:Waterloo Black Hawks)The Jeff Skinner Rankings, published annually by Buzzing the Net, are an objective estimation of the number of points a player would earn in his first years in the National Hockey league, adjusted for his age.

Since scouts look for much more than goal-scoring or point-scoring and that's all number-cruncher Rob Pettapiece has to work with, this can lead to some skewed totals, or some players ranked far too high or far too low. Offence isn't the only part of a player's repertoire, but at the junior level, production is the only thing that can be accurately measured across leagues.

The name "Jeff Skinner Rankings" comes from the first year of the rankings, when Jeff Skinner was ranked higher than either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall. Skinner was fast-tracked to the NHL and won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. Skinner's career since his first NHL season has been afflicted by injury and inconsistency and regression to the mean, but he has more points in the NHL prior to the age of 20 than any NHLer since 2006 other than Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane and Anze Kopitar.

Last year, ranked No. 12 in the Jeff Skinner Rankings and third among eligible prospects, was a young Chicoutimi Saguenéen by the name of Charles Hudon. Hudon was ranked 95th among North American skaters and was eventually selected 122nd by the Montreal Canadiens.

Here's what Buzzing the Net wrote about Hudon at the time:

12. 34.8 — Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL): Part of the purpose for this is to turn up players who draft stock might belie their true potential. Hudon will likely be a third- to fifth-round choice on Saturday, which is his 18th birthday. One red flag is he didn't increase his points from his rookie to sophomore season, going from 60 to 66. But he was a leader for the President's Cup runner-up Saguenéens and his team had one of highest strengths of schedule in the Quebec League, thanks to playing in the loaded Telus East Division, which accounted for three-fourths of the league's semifinalists and the Memorial Cup champion.

Hudon's development, however, has been quicker than people may have expected. An injury forced him off of Team Canada's IIHF U-20 team last winter, but he was the lowest-drafted skater to have made the squad. Only Anthony Camara, a 3rd round pick of the Bruins in 2011, made the team despite being taken outside of the first two rounds in 2011 or 2012.

At the conclusion of the season, Hudon played nine games with the AHL affiliate of the Canadiens, the Hamilton Bulldogs, and wound up the season playing on the first line. While I wouldn't exactly take Hudon over all but two of the draftees from 2012, there's some possibility that NHL teams could find some value by looking at scoring and age relative to other players in the same draft.

Two players from this year's rankings don't show up on many draft boards.

The first is USHL Player of the Year Taylor Cammarata of the Waterloo Black Hawks. He is 5th among draft-eligibles on this year's version of the rankings. It may be redundant to point out that he was also named the USHL Forward of the Year. USHL teams began being incorporated into the rankings last season, and Cammarata is the lone standout. While we don't know the quality of the USHL relative to the Canadian major junior leagues because we don't see those teams compete against one another, it's certainly notable that Cammarata led the league in scoring as a 17-year-old with 38 goals and 93 points in just 59 games. He also won the Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year, "presented to the top American-born player in junior hockey".

One hitch, though. Cammarata is ranked just 193rd on the Central Scouting Service list for North American skaters, meaning that if NHL teams followed that list to a T, he would be unlikely to be drafted.

Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus has him listed at 59th:

He is a great puck possessor, with very quick hands, and he can produce rapid movements. He is also an agile and shifty player, making him difficult to check. Cammarata receives praise for his hockey brain as well, and he has shown that he can be a great playmaker, setting up teammates well, with a high level of offensive creativity and instincts. Why is a highly talented player producing at an elite level in a difficult scoring league not a first rounder? For one, he is small, measuring at just 5'7". For another, he has just average top speed, which is underwhelming at his size, despite his agility and good acceleration. I have heard divided opinions on his willingness to play a gritty game, with one scout saying he will not engage at all, and another saying he likes to play that style.

If Cammarata were three inches taller, where might he be ranked? Size is valued highly by teams at the NHL draft, but as Pettapiece, curator of the rankings, likes to point out, "the nets in hockey are on the ground."

The second player that is ranked highly by Pettapiece model yet getting no attention from scouts is Jaedon Descheneau. He is unranked in CSS and is at 154th in Pronman's rankings with no explanation given. He's been helped out thanks to playing alongside Sam Reinhart and while I didn't get a chance to watch the Kootenay Ice play this season, it sounds like the knocks against him are mostly due to size, same as Cammarata. It's also possible, as Pronman noted to me, that in the absence of any higher-profile prospects in the 2013 draft class playing with the ice, no scouts got a chance to get a good look at him. Pronman said that without Descheneau's good numbers, he wouldn't even be on the board.

Descheneau is a late February birthdate, so there's still some room to both age and grow, and it's pretty difficult to discount a player that had 30 goals and 78 points as a 17-year-old in the Western Hockey League. He's almost assuredly not a top talent (otherwise scouts would find a way to downplay his lack of size) but when teams are just filling out their prospect lists in the late rounds of the draft, he may be worth taking a risk on. He is 13th on the Jeff Skinner Rankings, two spots ahead of Anthony Mantha, who was born precisely five days after 2012 Chicago Blackhawks first rounder Tuevo Teravainen.

Just like with Hudon last season, those are two names worth keeping in mind into the later rounds as you watch all 7 rounds of riveting draft coverage Sunday afternoon. TSN will carry every round live for the first time from 3:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. Eastern Time.

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