Alex Pietrangelo


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.

 

When Doughty and Bogosian made the NHL, I wasn’t too surprised. Both were physically ready for the NHL. Doughty, being a late birthday, was a year older than the other two, and Bogosian is as strong as an ox.

 

Despite their early arrival, I still thought Pietrangelo had more offensive upside, but I’m beginning to worry. As a tall, lanky player, Pietrangelo, needed more time developed physically before playing in the NHL. His upside could be greater because he’s still getting stronger, faster – as well as getting smarter -- as he gains playing experience.

 

Pietrangelo is ranked No. 7 on Dobber’s Top 30 defence prospects, behind Carlson who is No. 3 and behind another 2008 draftee, Michael Del Zotto. That’s not because the Blues didn’t make a good pick. It’s because they’re not handling Pietrangelo properly and they’re cutting into what a prospect needs most to develop – playing time. He played only 45 games last year, and even though he missed six games to a head injury, he should have played more. A full season in junior, instead of half, would have been better.

 

Carlson benefited from being a USHL grad and graduated from the USHL to the OHL and can play in the AHL this season. The Blues have had only two choices for Pietrangelo – NHL or OHL – but other teams have successfully dealt with that limitation. The way to do it, if the player is not ready, is let them return to junior even if they’ve already reached a high level of performance there. Four years in the OHL doesn’t appear to be hurting John Tavares too much this year.

 

This year, the lack of playing time for Pietrangelo is reaching silly proportions. In the Blues first 33 games, Pietrangelo has been a healthy scratch 24 times. He has played one game for them since Nov. 8. Fortunately for him, the Blues have released him for the world junior tournament where he will suit up for Canada. Given his lack of playing time so far this season, it will be tough for Pietrangelo to play as well as his talent should dictate. Hopefully, he’ll improve on his performance from last year.

 

I wouldn’t give up on Pietrangelo yet. When you think of the opportunity he will get with a talented young team like St. Louis, he’d be on my wish list. The Blues have Erik Johnson and Carlo Colaiacovo on the blueline at the NHL level and have taken to playing Alex Steen at the point. In the AHL, only Jonas Junlund provides competition. If Pietrangelo reaches his potential, he’ll play on the top unit with Johnson for years.

 

In the 2009 DobberHockey Fantasy Prospects Guide, Pietrangelo’s upside is listed as 65 points with a 45 per cent chance of hitting it. I’d say that the upside is still realistic, but the chances of him reaching it have dipped a bit and the wait for him to get there will be a year or two longer. I can’t see Pietrangelo making much of an impact at the NHL in 2010-11. He should be in the AHL playing his game. Expect him in 2011-12, with modest contributions for the first couple of years.


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Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
StatsJunkie: Big test for AP I'm sure that Pietrangelo's performance at the world junior tournament last year was disconcerting to Blues management. For someone with his skill, and who was drafted as high as he was, he should be a key performer for Canada this year and one of the better d-men at this tournament.

If he is not, I would attribute it to a lack of playing time over the last two years -- and especially this year. It's one thing to be learning in NHL practices, but if you don't get a chance to play, you don't get a chance to see how those lessons apply in a game.

The world junior tournament has a high-level of play -- as do NHL practices -- but Pietrangelo will face a big test in this tournament. I hope he does well and I certainly don't want to see him flop for any reason.

He's the kind of defenceman that required patience and I don't think giving the kid NHL stints as an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old can be equated to patience.
December 21, 2009
Votes: +0

Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
Ttigers: Good case Last year was not as much of a concern as this year. As for the games played, it's not so much that he's not playing as many games as he could in junior, it's the frequency with which St. Louis is playing him. One game since Nov. 8 is not good for a 19-year-old defenceman. I agree with you that there is some benefit to him being with the big club to take part in practice and all that, but I'm a big believer in the value of playing time.

As for major junior players being more valuable than players developed in college, there's an argument to be made for both sides there. Yes, junior players play more games, but for the 20 or so games that college players don't play, they are practising or working out off the ice.

The issue isn't so much the number of games played as the frequency. College players play two games every week as opposed to major junior players who play three. Pietrangelo has played one game in a month and a half. Maybe St. Louis has a plan, and I hope they do, but I don't think it is to continue making him a healthy scratch. I'm sure St. Louis is taking a great interest in his development. What they're doing is certainly not a sign of neglect. However, if I were the St. Louis GM or director of player development, this is not how I would approach the situation. It's not a matter of right and wrong, it's a matter of opinion. In the end, whether Pietrangelo reaches his ceiling might have nothing -- or everything -- to do with the way St. Louis handled his development. It's not an exact science, so we'll never know the whys.
December 21, 2009
Votes: +0

StatsJunkie said:

StatsJunkie
... You make a good point about it being difficult to determine how good a player is at such a young age. It is even more difficult when trying to compare USHL players against CMJ players. I don't think teams want to take the risk with the higher picks on what they believe is a less certain commodity (especially D) because the level of competition in the USHL is inferior.

Regarding Pietrangelo's development, I think that St. Louis must not have been happy with how he was developing in the OHL. If you recall he was outclassed by a smaller D picked a year later (Ryan Ellis) in the WJ tournament last year. We are always quick to judge in the fantasy world that a player has been mishandled rather than saying that maybe they peaked early or the scouts just made the wrong choice. What about the players that were given time to develop in the juniors but never made the next step to the NHL. Were they left in the juniors or minors too long? It is something you can never prove so it makes for endless forum debate with no clear winner.

Something that is proven - the precentages show that players drafted earlier (on average) play more games and are more productive in the NHL than those drafted later.
December 20, 2009
Votes: +0

Ttigers said:

Ttigers
... Interesting article. Though I agree with the basic concept of the article, I disagree with the ultimate conclusion - that Pietrangelo is mis-handled by St-Louis. As I see it, there is a major problem with what you are saying; that GP is the most important factor. If that were the case, players developed in NCAA would not be as valuable as players developed in CHL.

I believe there needs to be a mix of learning (practices, meetings, video, etc) and applying (games). What I believe is happening is that the Blues realized they are in a catch-22: either Pietrangelo plays and practices in the NHL or he plays in the OHL. Their assessment is that he has more to learn than what the OHL can offer, but the AHL is not a possibility. So they are forced to have him practice with them, do video with their coaching staff, apply every so often, then when they can't do it anymore, send him back to the O. IF, we accept that the major premise behind his being in the NHL is to lear, and not to play, then the conclusion you've drawn is incorrect. Consider Del Zotto: though he is playing often, Tortorella is sheltering him, giving him the lowest amount of minutes at 5 vs 5, but high minutes on the PP. Is his development stunted compared to a young D who gets tons of 5 on 5 minutes, but finds his confidence shattered as a result of his mistakes?

NHL defensemen take a long time to develop, because the position is cerebral. What St-Louis is doing is managing their player's development. Take 3 months to provide as much information as possible, have him apply it in the WJHC & OHL. The fact that they are requesting that AP be traded from Niagara suggests that they are closely involved and invested in the young man's development - whether the request is made because they want him to go through a championship run, or because they feel the coaching staff in Niagara is not strong enough, they are getting involved and want his development to progress. THAT is a positive sign.

Pietrangelo, when he was drafted, was touted as having the highest ceiling, but the rawest of the big d-men available. Seems to me St-Louis is doing what they can to help the polishing stage.
December 20, 2009
Votes: +1

Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
Back to junior Another thing to consider if the Blues send Pietrangelo back to junior is that the the Niagara Ice Dogs own his rights. They are in last place in their division and likely won't make the playoffs, although he could help them do that. If St. Louis wanted to send him back to junior, it would make more sense if Pietrangelo went to a contender and had a chance at a playoff run. Niagara would need to know he was coming back before the trade deadline in January. If Pietrangelo went to the AHL for 10 games after the world junior tournament, it would be well into February before he would be returned to junior.
December 20, 2009
Votes: -1

Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
AHL stint Pietrangelo is a prime candidate for an AHL conditioning stint. I could see the Blues sending him to Peoria after the world junior tournament. Unfortunately, given his age, he can only stay there for 10 games. That is better than being a healthy scratch in the NHL, but if there going to send him back to junior, I think it would be better to do it sooner, rather than later.
December 20, 2009
Votes: -1

Ian Fergusson said:

shallowfrozenwater
... good article Ryan. i could easily see Piet in the AHL soon and that seasoning will help him as soon as next year.
December 20, 2009 | url
Votes: +0
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