Our first edition of Draft Day Steals and Fails focuses on the 2014 NHL Draft. Make sure to check back often for the latest edition.
At the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia, the New York Islanders held the right to draft fifth overall. After a down year in 2013-14 where New York held a 34-37-11 record, the Islanders were approaching the draft with a plan to take a big powerful winger to play with center John Tavares.
Oilers take Draisaitl at 3... Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle, Nick Ritchie seeming top 3 choices for #Isles at 5.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) June 27, 2014
With Sam Bennett getting drafted fourth overall by the Calgary Flames, the Isles choice seemed to come down to Michael Dal Colle or Nick Ritchie. Both 18-year-old players were over 6’1” and 175lb. The belief was that with their size and what seemed like elite scoring ability, they'd be an excellent fit next to Tavares.
Of the two, Dal Colle was the lock at number five. Yahoo combined all the expert rankings and the Oshawa Generals winger came in with an average rank of 5.00. Taking him as the fifth overall pick seemed like it was written in the stars.
In 67 games during his draft year, the Generals forward scored 29 goals and 95 points. The kid had the production to back up that top-five pick status bestowed upon him.
As we all know the Islanders didn’t go against the establishment. Garth Snow stepped up to the podium thanked the city of Philadelphia, thanked Islanders fans watching at the Nassau Coliseum, and then drafted Dal Colle.
And herein lies the problem. When it comes to the NHL draft, a need-based strategy is just about the worst idea possible. For a few reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is readiness. Players selected in the first round of the NHL entry draft are usually 18 or 19 years of age. That’s a year younger than the first-rounders drafted in the NBA and three years younger than first-rounders taken in the NFL draft. NHL draftees won’t be ready for the show for a few years unless you're drafting generational talents like Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid.
In other leagues, specifically the NFL and NBA, there’s more time to scout these players and sort out who’s a sure thing or not. It’s like Forrest Gump's chocolate box metaphor for the NHL: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
The second reason a needs-based draft strategy isn’t a good idea is that it limits the number of players you’re open to. With the Islanders looking for a winger, they limited their options which is, well, just incredibly shortsighted.
Just look at some of the players that were available but ignored by the Islanders because they were either a center or smaller (or both):
|Team (Overall Pick)
|Toronto Maple Leafs (8th)
|Winnipeg Jets (9th)
|Detroit Red Wings (15th)
|Michael Dal Colle
|New York Islanders (5th)
Nylander is one of the better 5-on-5 players in the league averaging out to a 70-point player, Ehlers is a dynamic play driver who pushes the pace of play with his outstanding transitional skills. And Larkin is a natural leader with incredible speed and vision.
These players have great production pacing out to between 60-70 points over their still-on-going NHL careers. But all of them were passed over by the Islanders because they didn’t fit an immediate need. A need the Islanders didn’t even fill with the player they drafted.
Dal Colle didn’t hit the NHL full-time until 2018-19, five years after being drafted. And you can see why it took him a while. His NHLe (NHL estimated production) was dropping year-over-year after his post-draft season (2014-15).
Michael Dal Colle, who was not qualified by NYI, appears to be the only 1st round pick in the past 30 years to profile this favorably after his D1 season and not play at least 200 games in the NHL. 2014 was a strange draft year. pic.twitter.com/GS9j7maFRk— Byron Bader (@ByronMBader) August 19, 2021
In case you weren’t familiar with Islanders timelines, Dal Colle’s first full-time season took place at the same time as Tavares took his first lap with the Toronto Maple Leafs - OUCH!
And it’s not as if Dal Colle’s NHL debut was anything to write home about. In 28 games that year, he scored seven points. A pace of 21 points over a full year. He'd be out of the league two years later.
Ultimately, the Islanders deliberately ignored players who didn’t play wing or didn't meet their ideal size and it massively backfired on them. Massive draft day fail by the Islanders.