By Nick Valentino
Despite his obviously poor taste in favourite teams, Steve Dangle is a really smart guy.
Evidence of that is one of his most recent videos, in which he presented his idea of the “prospect pyramid”. The idea is simple: rather than get bogged down in prospect rankings, in which one prospect is ranked higher than another usually based on little more than whim, let’s group the prospects into tiers based on similar levels of ability.
If you haven’t already watched the video, I highly recommend it. I promise the excessive Leafs love will only make you throw up in your mouth a little bit. Kidding! I kid. I’m a kidder.
Unlike Steve, I’m going to start at the bottom of the pyramid. “Nothing like artificially building suspense,” is what I always say. But, unlike Toronto, Ottawa’s prospect pool is a bit thin – the result of having 13 total picks in the past two drafts compared to the Leafs’ 20. So, I’ll do away with Steve’s very bottom “everybody else” level and put all of Ottawa’s lowest tiered prospects together. This consolidated bottom tier becomes the level that includes all the players who are likely, at best, to end up as fringe NHLers and are, as Dangle puts it, a bunch of guys you’ve probably never heard of.
The Bottom Tier
Chris Leblanc, Robbie Baillargeon, Shane Eiserman, & Miles Gendron
In the case of the Senators, this tier includes a number of middle to late-round picks, most suiting up for NCAA teams. This circumstance is likely due to the fact that, with these players, you get as many as four years before each has to be signed to an entry level contract. As such, this tier includes players like Chris Leblanc, Robbie Baillargeon, Shane Eiserman, and Miles Gendron. These players were all drafted at least a year before they entered college and have not exhausted the Senators’ four years of exclusive rights, so they have yet to be signed by the team.
Baillargeon is an interesting case since it’s been five years since the team drafted him in 2012 and the team still has another year of exclusive rights. This oddity comes as a result of Baillargeon playing another two full seasons of junior hockey (in the USHL) after his draft year before attending Boston University. Now almost 23-years-old, it remains to be seen if all these years of development will result in a contract offer after this coming college hockey season.
In Baillargeon’s case, as with all of these players, there was something about their game that caught the eye of a scout that led to their selection. Most often, this is as straightforward as point production, as that has been at the core of Ottawa’s “results driven” drafting strategy. Still, these players generally aren’t expected to develop into everyday big league players. When they do, though, it’s a huge win.
For example, both Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman would have fit in this tier immediately after being drafted. As a sixth round pick, there wasn’t much expected of Stone, due to his skating. But, he had strong character, something that Sens now-head scout Bob Lowes really liked. Only after he was drafted did he become the huge scorer that saw him become a top WHL player and star for that year’s World Junior Championship Team Canada.
Similarly, Hoffman’s own rise from twice passed over until being drafted at 20-years-old in the sixth round to his current place as the team’s top left winger and recipient of a five-year, $5.187-million contract is well documented. As such, this tier isn’t merely the domain of late round collegians.
Dunn was signed two years ago, presumably meant as the successor to Chris Neil’s enforcer role. Soon after, the NHL changed and suddenly enforcers were obsolete. That Dunn has struggled with discipline issues and, to some degree, a lack of ability to actually play hockey does not bode well for his future beyond his Entry Level Contract.
Rupert and Donaghey were acquired in the Dion Phaneuf trade and neither seem to have a particularly high ceiling. I suspect that Rupert was thrown into the trade as a result of the league limit of 50 contracts so as to help make room for salary dumps Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, and Jared Cowen. Donaghey was in the CHL at the time of the trade, and wouldn’t have counted against either Toronto’s or the Senators contract limit. I can only assume that Donaghey, a right-handed defenseman, was acquired to give the Senators a bit more depth at that position.
Erkamps was the last player acquired by Bryan Murray when he signed as a CHL free agent after going undrafted with the Brandon Wheat Kings. It’s that tie that likely led to the signing, with former Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon’s connection with Lowes also playing a part in the drafting of Stone. With Ottawa’s aforementioned lack of blue line depth, especially on the right side, the Senators got a prospect, long shot though he might be, for only the cost of a two-way contract.
Markus Nurmi & Todd Burgess
Finally, I’d also have to include recent draftees Markus Nurmi and Todd Burgess. Their newness to the organization combined with their personal accomplishments (Nurmi as the first Finn drafted by the team in years; Burgess as the leading scorer in all of the NAHL) might make one want to put them higher on the pyramid, but I’d argue that’s driven by recency bias – both are long shots.
Nurmi, who played in the Finnish U20 league last year, was projected no higher than the fourth round for the 2016 draft. But, similar to college players, as a draftee out of a European club, the Senators get to keep his rights for four years before they have to make a decision about signing him.
Burgess is another player headed for the NCAA and was drafted as a 20-year-old. That latter fact lends some perspective to his scoring feats last season, achieved in a league in which he was an overage player. The fact is that this tier of prospects represents the real “lottery ticket” picks the team has made over the years. Most will fail to distinguish themselves enough to even get an ELC. The few who achieve that success likely won’t play above the AHL or even ECHL hockey for a few years.
Every so often, though, a team strikes gold with one of these players and ends up with a Stone or a Hoffman. That two of the Sens core players were long shot picks says to me that we shouldn’t completely dismiss this tier of prospects. This has been the first of a series looking at the Sens prospect pool through the lens of Steve Dangle’s prospect pyramid idea. Tomorrow, we’ll continue by looking at the next few layers in the pyramid consisting of guys that you’ve already seen or will soon see in the NHL.