Off the Charts Draft Series: Grading the Sharks’ 2019 draft

One out of five isn’t great.

After a topsy-turvy second day at the 2019 National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft, the San Jose Sharks are now five prospects deeper. The team traded back three times (if you consider trading a current pick for a pick in next year’s draft a trade back) and traded up three times (if you count the trade that included Tom Pyatt and Francis Perron as trading up). At a glance, the team’s draft was, well ... weird, is maybe the best way to put it. Before we grade each pick, here’s a look at the team’s 2019 selections, thanks to HockeyDB.

To grade a draft class, we need to first establish player rankings. We’ll use Blue Bullet Brad’s top 100 players to begin with. He starts with aggregated rankings from 25 sources and adjusts each player’s scoring for his league, age, and position to develop a list of players based on both traditional scouting and analytics. For players outside Blue Bullet Brad’s list, we’ll use Colin Cudmore’s aggregate rankings from 60 sources.

A purely analytics-based grade of the Sharks draft doesn’t look to hot, but it does give away the punch line a bit: Yegor Spiridonov was by far the team’s best selection.

This model is based on adjusted scoring rates and the likelihood players will make the NHL based on comparisons to historically similar statistical profiles. Like any model, it’s not perfect, but it can act as a barometer for how well the draft went. One thing this model doesn’t take into consideration is rankings by other sources, which is what we’ll try to add here.

Reaching for a player — picking someone before his draft rank suggests he’s likely to be picked — isn’t inherently a bad thing, especially in the 40-100 pick range. When reaching becomes an issue is when the player in question would likely have been around at the team’s next pick.

Artemi Knyazev

Blue Bullet Brad’s rankings have Artemi Knyazev as a third-round player, with the value equivalent of the 64th pick.  When the Sharks drafted Knyazev, their next available selection was pick 82. Based on Knyazev’s aggregate ranking, it’s unlikely he would have been available at 82, so the reach there is warranted. Where it becomes difficult to accept this as a solid pick is when you consider the other defenders still available. Matthew Robertson was taken at 49, and he was the 35th-ranked player. Vladislav Kolyachonok, ranked 38, was taken at 52. Anttoni Honka, once thought to be a top selection in this draft, was taken at 87, well after where his 37th-best grade predicted he’d be selected.

Passing on Honka, who is also touted for his puck-moving ability and who spent much of the last two seasons playing professionally in Finland, seems especially egregious here. The good news is that, of all 1,810 technically draft-eligible defensemen who played 20 games this season, Knyazev’s projected wins above replacement (WAR) per 82 NHL games ranks 49.

The Sharks clearly had a player type in mind, and they should be commended for selecting a puck-moving defenseman who can skate rather than a lumbering fellow who takes up space outside the crease. San Jose’s draft team also receives positive marks here for trading back from their original pick at 41. More lottery tickets means more chances for a payout. However, they seemed — and we will see this is a recurring theme — to zero in on a specific player rather than take the best player of a given type. In other words, despite moving down, they didn’t let the draft come to them.

There are few Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) defenders who have turned into impact NHL players in the last couple decades. Knyazev’s point-per-game scoring rate is similar to recent draft picks who have since signed entry level contracts (ELCs), Jared McIsaac, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, as well as two players in Éric Gélinas and Xavier Ouellet, who enjoyed a handful of NHL seasons before flaming out of the league.

Grade: C

The Sharks did well to trade back and take a player whose archetype is doing well in the modern NHL. He likely wouldn’t have been available the next time the team picked. However, the Sharks left plenty of more highly rated talent on the board when they made their selection. The process was mostly OK, up until the pick itself. The Sharks organization feels Knyazev will be one of the 30-something percent of second-round defensemen who make the NHL. There’s an argument to be made Knyazev is one of the four defensemen from this year’s second round who will end up in in the league.

Dillon Hamaliuk

Though Doug Wilson Jr. and the Sharks’ draft team graded Hamaliuk as a first-round talent, his position at 80 on Blue Bullet Brad’s list suggests the organization sold themselves on Hamaliuk early and had blinders on during the draft.

The Sharks also traded away an extra pick they had acquired to move back into the second round. Picking against the grain of Central Scouting’s ranking typically yields better than expected results, but trading away a pick in the fabled 40-100 range is a silly thing to do almost regardless of who you jump up to select.

Would Hamaliuk have lasted until pick 82? It’s difficult to say for sure, and San Jose must have felt another team was going to take their player, but based on his aggregate ranking it seems very plausible 82 would have been the perfect place for him. Corey Pronman at The Athletic ranked Hamaliuk 44, but that ranking is a serious deviation from the forward’s position according to other scouting services.

The Hamaliuk pick was potentially revealing about the draft team’s mindset. Rather than amass picks and allow players to fall to them (much like the Carolina Hurricanes, whose draft was lauded as one of the best, did), the Sharks zeroed in on a specific player, a recipe for failure.

Grade: D

The only reason this isn’t an F is because Hamaliuk at least scored at an impressive rate at 5-on-5 before he went down with an injury. The fact players like Albin Grewe, Karl Henriksson, Alex Beaucage and Tuukka Tieksola, to name a few, were still around makes this selection even more groan-inducing. Of second-round forwards drafted between 2007 and 2012, just around 42 percent had played 40 games in an NHL season as of September, 2017. For Hamaliuk to outperform his draft spot, he’ll have to play NHL game number 40 either before or during the 2021-2022 season. That just doesn’t seem likely given how little attention the draft community paid him.

Yegor Spiridonov

The Sharks traded a 2020, fourth-round pick to acquire pick 108, which they used to draft Spiridonov. The Sharks are likely to draft in the second half of rounds again next June, so this pick could technically be considered a trade up. This is probably the lone time trading up is warranted, anyway. If you’re staring at the heart of the fourth round and a kid with a second-round grade is in free fall, you do what you can to stop his slide before someone else does.

Spiridonov was ranked 55 in Blue Bullet Brad’s amalgamated rankings, rendering this pick a “steal” to use sports-draft lingo. None of the players ranked higher than Spiridonov were left in the prospect pool, so the Sharks got the best player available. As a result, Spiridonov has a good shot at outperforming his draft spot.

There were some among the online draft community who felt it was Spiridonov, and not the other handful of Russian forwards drafted earlier, who was the spirit of the U18 Russia team’s circus act first line.

Grade: A

It’s hard to find fault with the process behind this pick. He was the best player available on the board. His scouting reports tell a story of a very well-rounded player that probably would have been drafted much higher if not for questions about his skating. Spiridonov’s contract with the Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk organization isn’t up until after the 2020-21 season, which will be two years after his draft year. It’s not difficult to imagine a world, where, if Spiridonov truly is a second-round talent, he joins the Barracuda after finishing his contract in Russia and is playing NHL games during the 2022-23 season.

Timur Ibragimov

I honestly have no idea. Ibragimov isn’t ranked anywhere. No matter where you take him, you’re taking someone who was never in danger of being picked otherwise. Wading through the muck of the sixth round, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot who you pick and when. There will always be years where guys like Sasha Chmelevski slip this far into the ether, but most years you’re looking at a 20 percent hit rate for guys who may lace up their skates 40 times five years down the road. Picking so far off the prospect list people aren’t even sure this isn’t an NHL 19 algorithm-generated name doesn’t seem like a great way to be part of that 20 percent.

The draft team rightly stayed away from all the U.S. National Team hoopla during the draft and looked at less-scouted regions, like Russia. The Sharks even hired a Russian scout before this season, perhaps explicitly for this purpose. However, when the team he used to scout for (Toronto) has all of Nikolay Kulemin to show for 14 years of drafting, it’s hard to get excited about what he may turn up.

Even if the Sharks had just kept to the best player available by consolidated rankings to make their selection, Egor Serdyuk, a third-round talent, was sitting right there (the Philadelphia Flyers drafted Serdyuk immediately after the Sharks’ pick). Blake Murray, another third-round guy, went all the way down at pick 183.

Grade: D-

This isn’t an F for the sole reason the Sharks at least decided to pick from an untapped geography. If there were any inefficiencies to exploit in this draft they were in not becoming just another part of the pack of vultures picking over scraps from the national team. As for the rest of it, well, godspeed.

Santeri Hatakka

The Hatakka pick is a similar story to the Ibragimov selection. Hatakka was at least ranked in the 100s by a few sources, and one even placed him as high as 88. The Sharks drafted him at 184, so it’s about where you would have expected him to fall if pre-draft rankings held any sort of predictive power. The pick isn’t a reach or an example of the Sharks zeroing in on a specific player, but names like Justin Bergeron and Billy Constantinou probably represent higher potential career peaks.

The Sharks now have a new Finnish scout, as well, so this may have been a nod to his work. But the team probably would have been better served picking a defense prospect with a more impressive point-per-game scoring rate from a list.

Still, little is expected of prospects picked in this range of the draft. If defensemen picked in the sixth round make the NHL at all, they do it five years after their draft year. If you’re going to pick one of the few, picking someone who is a good skater and already sound defensively should help.

Grade: C+

Hatakka is another fine pick. It’s hard to argue any the players left in the prospect pool offered a much clearer pathway to the NHL. It’s not difficult to think that picking someone who produced more gives you a bit more of an edge.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with this pick, but there isn’t anything about it that makes you stand up and shout, “they got him where!?” into the void.

Final grade: C/C-

The Sharks made a good pick in the fourth round. They also gave away a pick by trading up for a player who isn’t likely to live up to his draft slot, let alone outperform it. The draft team’s late-round picks left some talent on the board and would probably have been better left for an algorithm, given what we know about the strong relationship between junior scoring and NHL success. San Jose should have drafted six players and let the draft come to them rather than trying to isolate specific individuals. When a team’s draft leaves people scratching their heads, it’s a good sign things didn’t go wonderfully. Hard to disagree there.