<
>
Insider

Defensive value over two decades

6/10/2010

This week we're looking at the top 10 value defensemen -- a week after looking at value forwards -- relative to their draft slots. But before we get to the list, here are two interesting points:

1. Defensemen are much harder to project than forwards. Outside the top 10 picks, there is a much smaller correlation between draft slot and performance.

For you math geeks: The correlation coefficient for forwards, relative to draft slot, is minus-0.391. For defensemen, it's minus-0.292. If that number was minus-1.0, the higher selections would always be the better players.

2. Of the top value defensemen, only one is from North America. The rest are European players. As expected, it seems diamonds in the rough are more likely found overseas than at home.

As for this list, keep in mind it takes into account only points per game, so it favors offensive-minded defensemen.

10. Kimmo Timonen, Los Angeles Kings

1993, Round 10, No. 250 overall

Expected: 0.071 points per game

Actual: 0.526

Difference: 0.455

Timonen dropped to the 10th round because of his small frame and slow development -- he had just two points in 33 games in the Finnish season before the draft. He stayed in Finland until 1998 and by then was traded to the Nashville Predators, where he became one of the league's top puck-moving defensemen and the team's captain. Eventually, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, where he immediately signed a six-year, $37.8 million contract -- the largest ever for a Finn at the time.

9. Lubomir Visnovsky, Los Angeles Kings

2000, Round 4, No. 118 overall

Expected: 0.108 points per game

Actual: 0.571

Difference: 0.462

His size (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) and age (23) hurt his stock. But once he was drafted, he immediately started his career in the NHL. He was among several players in that draft class to contribute immediately for their NHL clubs -- others included Marian Gaborik, Rotislav Klesla and Scott Hartnell, all first-rounders. But Visnovsky was the only one to make the All-Rookie team. He was eventually traded to the Edmonton Oilers.

8. Sandis Ozolinsh, San Jose Sharks

1991, Round 2, No. 30 overall

Expected: 0.177 points per game

Actual: 0.645

Difference: 0.468

Ozolinsh was the Sharks' third-ever pick, behind Pat Falloon and Ray Whitney, and management made room for him on the blue line by 1992. He wasn't exactly a late-round pick, but he managed to put up points everywhere he went -- and he went a lot of places: San Jose, Colorado, Carolina, Florida, Anaheim, New York, back to San Jose and finally to KHL last season.

7. Sergei Gonchar, Washington Capitals

1992, Round 1, No. 14 overall

Expected: 0.215 points per game

Actual: 0.690

Difference: 0.475

Before the 1992 draft, Capitals director of player personnel Jack Button liked Gonchar more than the scouting consensus, according to a 1992 edition of The Washington Times. Gonchar was part of the '92 first round that boasted a then-record 10 European players. This was because, for the first time, there were no risks to drafting Russians, thanks to the fall of the Soviet Union. After Gonchar was drafted, he stayed in Russia for another year before coming to North America in 1993. He's currently a free agent, negotiating a potential extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

6. Marek Zidlicky, New York Rangers

2001, Round 6, No. 176 overall

Expected: 0.088 points per game

Actual: 0.564

Difference: 0.476

Zidlicky was an overage player in the Finnish league and prior to the draft was considered a sleeper by the Red Line Report. The Rangers took a chance on him, but Zidlicky wouldn't sign to play in North American unless he got a one-way deal. So eventually he was dealt to Nashville, where he got the one-way deal he sought.

5. Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens

1998, Round 6. No. 162 overall

Expected: 0.093 points per game

Actual: 0.589

Difference: 0.497

Markov was the No. 47 European skater according to NHL Central Scouting, but he was shifting from forward to defenseman. Habs GM Rejean Houle told the Montreal Gazette at the time that Markov was talented on offense but needed work on defense. The following year, Markov stayed in Russia and led all defensemen in scoring. He made his Canadiens debut is 2000 and had a career year last season. Currently, there's some speculation Markov could be traded or re-signed this offseason, depending on whether the Habs think they can prevent him from hitting free agency next year.

4. Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs

1996, Round 8, No. 204 overall

Expected: 0.081 points per game

Actual: 0.588

Difference: 0.507

After the 1996 draft, Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher told the Toronto Star, "I think we're going to end up with one of our best drafts ever." Well, their first 12 picks played a collected 21 NHL games. Their second-to-last pick, Kaberle, has played 820 and counting. Part of the reason he slipped was his size -- he was a skinny 6-1. But a year after the draft, Leafs chief scout Anders Hedberg reported back to The Star and said Kaberle had grown significantly in his first year. In addition, he said, "He has a wonderful intellect for the game." Kaberle came over to North America from the Czech league in 1998 for two AHL games. The next season, he was up full-time with the Leafs. He's currently trade bait for the Leafs.

3. Mike Green, Washington Capitals

2004, Round 1, No. 29 overall

Expected: 0.179 points per game

Actual: 0.694

Difference: 0.515

Green was the No. 9 North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting, and some thought he would be gone by the mid-first round. But he slipped to the Caps late in the first in what was their third pick of the day -- the first two: Jeff Schultz and Alex Ovechkin. Even though expectations were fairly high for Green, he managed to get to No. 3 on this list by leading NHL defensemen in scoring the past two years. He could move up this list, as he's only 24. He's the only North American on this list.

2. Mark Streit, Montreal Canadiens

2004, Round 9, No. 262 overall

Expected: 0.069 points per game

Actual: 0.592

Difference: 0.524

Streit went undrafted in 1996 and eventually made his way to North America. He toiled around in the ECHL, AHL and IHL before going back to Switzerland. Eight years later, in 2004, the Habs took a chance on the 26-year-old with a ninth-round pick. By 2005, Habs GM Bob Gainey began to hear good things about Streit, who had a career year in the Swiss league with 43 points in 44 games. After the lockout, Gainey surprised a lot of people by telling the Montreal Gazette in August 2005 that Streit could be on the Habs' blue line: "He's a skilled, rushing defenseman, which is important with the new rules." It took a while, but Streit has been one of the NHL's top threats from the blue line in the last few years.

1. Sergei Zubov, New York Rangers

1990, Round 5, No. 85 overall

Expected: 0.125 points per game

Actual: 0.722

Difference: 0.597

In the 1990 draft, only seven European players were taken in the first four rounds of the draft. In the fifth round, the floodgates opened with four Europeans in that round -- the first of whom was Zubov. The Rangers took a chance on Zubov and fellow Soviet player Sergei Nemochinov despite getting limited looks at them. After the draft, Rangers coach Roger Neilson told the Toronto Star, "I have never coached a Soviet player so I have no feeling either way about them. I don't see how they can be any different than Swedes or Czechs." For the next two years, the Rangers wouldn't get many chances to watch Zubov in Russia but, in 1992, he came over to North America. The following year, Zubov made it to the NHL to play for Neilson. After less than 10 games, Neilson was fired. Of players drafted in the last 20 years, Zubov is No. 1 in scoring with 771 points. He played in the KHL last season.