As a fantasy hockey GM, the easy thing to do when evaluating prospects is take your cue from NHL teams. They spend a lot of time and money scouting players, so one can safely assume that the higher a player was drafted, the better he is, right? Wrong.
That's why if I had a choice between John Carlson and Alex Pietrangelo, I wouldn't rush to pick Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo was drafted fourth in 2008 and Carlson didn't get picked until 27th. Case closed for some judges of fantasy talent.
But let's look a little deeper. As talented a prospect as Pietrangelo is, I'd rather have Carlson. But on the day the two were drafted, I thought the Blues made an excellent pick.
The harsh reality of the NHL draft is that teams have to evaluate players – for the most part – at 17 years of age when they are not done developing. Major junior players often make their biggest strides in development as 18 year olds. The players who become the best NHLers continue developing early into their 20s until they reach their peak in the 24-to-32 year-old range. Those are the prime years and being able to accurately project what a player will do in that range is what makes drafting teenagers so difficult.
No one can claim to be an expert on evaluating prospects because you're dealing with human beings. There are a lot of variables. Even with the access to scouting reports and face-to-face interviews, there is stuff about a player that can escape the notice of an NHL team.
At best, projecting how a prospect will develop is a mystery in which you try to notice patterns and uncover clues.
But one area that NHL teams have more control over is development. The NHL team makes important decisions about what league the player will play and if they'll be released for international tournaments. Except in rare circumstances, drafting a player is like a carpenter cutting down a tree in the forest. A lot of time and effort goes into making a nice, useful piece of furniture. But if you don't do it properly, or with the proper amount of patience, you'll end up with one ugly footstool.
Developing players after they are picked is where the drafting game is won or lost. Some can step into the NHL right away and be productive, but those players are rare. Usually, they are supremely talented or physically mature players that can already compete with NHLers.
Take a look at the two defencemen taken right before Pietrangelo: Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian. Both were excellent picks and are already enjoying success in the NHL as sophomores. Pietrangelo, meanwhile is adrift in the Sargasso Sea of prospects because he is often a healthy scratch and isn't getting enough playing time to develop properly. The Sargasso Sea is an area in the Atlantic Ocean where the winds are mild and the currents are weak. It's full of seaweed, too. In olden days, sailing ships tended to avoid going there. Needless to say, NHL teams should avoid letting their prospects go there.