The common myth around the NHL fan these days is that the only way to rebuild is to tank as low as you can for as long as you can to gain top-5 picks and young star prospects. Well I ask you, why is this not the case for current teams like the Coyotes, Kings, Islanders and Blue Jackets to name a few? There is usually only two answers. One, you picked the wrong player in the draft. Two, development. The Coyotes during the Gretzky era may have been the worst developers of young talent in the league. So many "bright" futures flushed down the drain or just never emerging. Here is a breakdown of top-20 picks since 2005.
2005: At number 17 the hulking Martin Hanzal was chosen. He was viewed by most scouts as a top-6 center with size and an amazing two-way game, but with very little elite offensive skills. The Coyotes in my opinion got it right with this one. They picked a guy that was pretty much guaranteed to be an NHLer even if he bottomed out as a 3rd lien center. Unlike most in the Gretzky era Hanzal would play another year of junior hockey moving from the USHL to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. This was a great move as he improved his skating and proved his two-way game against a stronger competition in the WHL. He was then brought onto the team and immediately stepped into the 3rd line center role as if he were a 10 year vet. While his numbers may disappoint some, he will never be an elite offensive player, Hanzal has turned into an essential cog on this team and quickly becoming one of the leagues premier shutdown two-way 3rd line centers.
Judgement: Developed properly, he was placed in a role they wanted him to play and one he was suited to play. The perfect fit.
2006: Peter Mueller, a name that would become controversial very quickly around the league was selected 8th overall. His mixture of lightning speed, great size and a rocket of a slapper made him an easy choice. He had destroyed the WHL with the Everett Silvertips and was one of the best forwards in the WJC for USA. He played very well in camp and was granted a roster spot on the top line with Doan and Reinprecht. He was electric in his first season scoring 54 points in 81 games. What followed from the hope and optimism was disappointment. Rumours of bad work habits started to bubble, and his sophomore season was a poor one. 2009-2010 would prove his undoing. With Tippett in charge the defense first system was now in place. Rumblings swirled about problems between Tippett and Mueller, rumblings that were being proven on the ice. His ice time was cut to 12 minutes, he saw very little powerplay time and his lackadaisical play was frustrating beyond anything to watch. Unlike Gretzky who coddled his young players Maloney shipped him out to Colorado.
Judgement: Developed Improperly, he had the on ice talent to make the team but the maturity was lacking.
2007: The year I knew Gretzky had lost his mind. With the 3rd overall pick many thought this was the chance to get that last young piece to solidify several years of rebuild. What transpired was the off the board pick of BCHL forward Kyle Turris, he had size, grit and in the BCHL could score like nobodies business. He was determined to take the college path to hockey so the Yotes had a chance to see what he could do against real opposition. He played great for the University of Wisconsin going just under a PPG and was very good for Canada at the WJC's on the second line. The next year he entered the league, but as a reverse Mueller. Turris struggled with the speed and caliber of opponents as a rookie. He was often caught out of position and weak on the boards. His game was nowhere near pro level and his ice-time was very low. After such an awful season Maloney stepped in, he was sent to the AHL to learn the pro game (Where he should have been in 2008) and he missed the great turnaround of the team under Tippett. He was impressive in the AHL gettign close to a PPG, but more importantly he was dealing with the speed of the game better and improved his strength on the boards. His poor play on the defensive side of the puck was still apparent though and it raised many eyebrows. This season has been a massive failure for Turris, penciled in as a guy that would play a top-6 role he quickly fell down the depth chart. He currently resides on the 4th line sometimes getting getting a promotion. Playing only 11 minutes of pedestrian hockey has been his trademark for me this season and Turris is rather quickly looking like a bust.
Judgement: Wrong player, simply put, Turris should not have been drafted in the 3 spot. He was a giant gamble as a project prospect from an inferior league.
2008: The last of the Gretzky picks, number 8 Mikkel Boedker. The diminutive Dane was another one of those WTF picks at the time. With guys like Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers and Zach Boychuck still on the boards and whom scouts thought much better of. Boedker did not have a particularly good camp but with pressure to do well Boedker was given a job on the team. Simply put, he was to raw and small for NHL at the time. He had skill but couldn't use it being easily pushed off the puck and his inability to win any battles on the boards. Similar to Turris he was banished to San Antonio in the AHL in 2009 to learn the pro game after an awful 14 games where he proved ineffective. He was pretty mediocre on the Rampage and was not given the ice-time he probably needed. This year Boedker put on muscle and really trained in the off-season. He has improved his strength and can now play in a bottom-6 role, Tippett has not played the youngster that much this season but he has had a decent bounce back year. Going forward I really expect him to burst out into a top-6 role next season.
Judgement: Developed well, after a shaky start he got time in the AHL where he worked on his strength and defensive game. Look for him to play a more critical part for the Yotes next season.
Thanks for reading. Next up the Maloney prospects.