DeCock

DeCock: Don't expect another Skinner

Staff WriterJune 24, 2011 

Less than a year after he was drafted, Jeff Skinner took the stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday to accept the Calder Trophy. With that triumph so fresh, it's going to be hard for Carolina Hurricanes fans not to get excited about tonight's NHL draft.

After all, the Hurricanes plucked a 30-goal scorer straight out of the draft pool last year with the seventh overall pick. Why not grab another immediate contributor with the 12th pick of the first round tonight?

Because it just doesn't happen very often, that's why. It's fine to be exuberant about the immediate and instant impact Skinner had on the NHL roster. It's better to be aware that Skinner's quick transition was a fluke, an accident, a once-in-a-lifetime event that every NHL team hopes will happen with every draft pick but knows better than to expect it.

There's a reason Skinner set all those "youngest to" records - players his age just don't perform like that. The Hurricanes didn't get lucky with Skinner - too much scouting went into that pick to make it luck - but they were lucky that Skinner stayed healthy, adapted well and was able to contribute enough to be named the league's top rookie.

So as the Hurricanes prepare to pick tonight, it's worth a reminder that it's fun to hope they draft a player like Skinner, but no one should expect it.

Which isn't to say they can't get a great player at No. 12. If they've done their homework and made the right evaluations, the 12th player picked should be a future impact player - a scoring winger, a two-way center, a first-pairing defenseman - just not right away.

It may only take a year, but that year makes a huge difference. The number of draft picks that make the immediate jump to the NHL is minuscule.

Over the past five drafts, a total of 21 players have been NHL regulars coming right out of the draft. All but four of those were taken in the top 10; 13 were top-five picks.

Here's another way to look at it: 75 players went in the top 15 from 2006-10. Eighteen of them, the absolute best of each draft class, played in the NHL right away. This is what happens when you draft 18-year-olds.

The Hurricanes are more likely to find a player like Brandon Sutter or Zach Boychuk in the No. 12 spot. Sutter, the 11th overall pick in 2007, spent one more year in junior hockey but has been an NHL regular ever since. Boychuk also spent the season after he was drafted in junior hockey, has played 53 NHL games over the past three seasons, but has yet to lock down a regular spot.

There are no guarantees, though: Igor Knyazev, 15th overall, 2001, zero NHL games. Jeff Heerema, 11th overall, 1998, 32 NHL games. Even a top-15 pick is no sure thing.

Consider this as well: From 2001-2007, the Hurricanes drafted 49 players. A total of 13 have even played a single game in the NHL, and that includes such sure-fire top-four picks as Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd and Jack Johnson.

So it's a mixed bag, even in the top 12. For every Skinner, there's a Knyazev. For every Cam Ward (25th overall, 2002) there's a Philippe Paradis (27th overall, 2009).

The Hurricanes struck gold with Skinner, about as well as you can do in the draft without being in position to take a Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick. The Skinner pick should impact the franchise for years to come. It was a complete home run.

Expecting the same of tonight's pick would be folly. If he's an NHL contributor in two or three years, that would be the best-case scenario. Anything else is a bonus.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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