With the NHL Entry Draft set to begin in a few short hours, the future of organizations across the League will depend on the quality of their scouting staff, as well as the decision making processes employed by upper management. In a salary cap world, obtaining effective young players who can come in and contribute on entry-level contracts is essential for teams who wish to compete for a Stanley Cup during an extended number of years. Splurging in free agency only works for a limited time until all of the veteran salaries become so top heavy that the house crumbles under it's own weight.
As it turns out, San Jose has been one of the better drafting teams from 1996-2006. Players like Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture, Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, and Milan Michalek have all served notable roles during their entry level contracts, allowing the organization to get the most value out of them during the "cheap" years before the requisite salary bump.
The mastermind behind it all? The San Jose Sharks scouting staff, and General Manager Doug Wilson who took over front office duties in May of 2003.
In tune with the vibrant technological scene in Silicon Valley, Wilson has been known to reach out to various firms in the area in order to land the most cutting edge data analysis that analyzes the worth of an individual player. The Sharks currently use propriety statistical measures that give certain weight to occurrences throughout the game-- for example, a goal in the last minute that ties or wins the game will count more towards a player's "value" then one that was scored with the Sharks leading 6-1. Furthermore, the location of these events, as well as the opponents they were scored against, are also included in the analysis.
It's an intriguing system, and one that has definitely contributed to San Jose's success as one of the best drafting teams in the League today:
Sharks Draft Success (1996-2006)
|TEAM ||# Picks ||>200 GP ||RNK||>50 GP/YR ||RNK||PTS/pick||RNK||Avg. Pick ||RNK|
Essentially, San Jose has managed to be in the top five in terms of prospects who reached at least 200 NHL games, played over fifty games per year, and points per pick despite consistently drafting in the latter stages of every single round.
Perhaps no player represents the ability of San Jose to find late round gems more than Joe Pavelski, who was selected with the 205th overall pick during 2003's seventh round. Seven years after that draft Pavelski became a key cog in the 2010 Sharks playoff run, putting the team on his back during the first round and contributing goal after goal during the most crucial moments of every game. Other high-value players in the latter stages include Ryane Clowe (6th round in 2001), Christian Ehrhoff (fourth round in 2001), and Douglas Murray (ninth round in 1999).
With a first round selection this year, after two straight seasons without one, Doug Wilson and his scouting staff have a great opportunity to usher in a new crop of young players who will be taking over the reigns in five years when players such as Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley enter into the downswing of their careers. Years of aggressive maneuvering at the trade table have left the Sharks system hurting for an impact forward who will be able to join the likes of Couture and McGinn as the new wave in San Jose-- this first round pick represents a portion of that future, even in the face of a less than stellar league-wide rate with picks 26-30.
Here's to a Devin Setoguchi, as opposed to a Lukas Kaspar, later tonight.