June is finally here and in addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins being up 3 games to 1 in the Stanley Cup Final series against the San Jose Sharks, it means that the NHL Entry Draft is about 2 weeks away.
TSP founder’s note- Truth in lending- going to plug a product here, and for those who might not be aware, I am a member of the staff that produced it, so this is not an objective product review. As long as you’re okay with that, read on…
The 2016 draft previews and guides are out. Red Line Report’s 22nd annual draft issue arrived in mail boxes yesterday (or today if you’re further away from Lake Placid) and you can also order it on pdf at a $50 fee.
Why so expensive?
Well, for one- Red Line Report is an independent hockey scouting service founded by professionals and designed for professionals. There are no bells and whistles- no photos, statistics or any of the eye candy that you want in a classic magazine format publication. What you are paying for is hard information and scouting reports, insider notes and analysis on players that RLR scouts (all of whom have proven hockey backgrounds either as players or analysts) have all seen *live* in multiple viewings.
Back in the mid-1990s, several smart hockey men (one of whom is a D1 NCAA hockey head coach) realized that there was no existing professional journal for hockey insiders, and thus Red Line was born- with an idea of providing hard news and notes on players and prospects that might be of interest to various team executives, staffers and coaches. The original RLR did not exist in the format that it does today, but by 1997, it was becoming increasingly more of a deeper dive into NHL draft prospects than what the public typically saw from the annual Hockey News draft preview issues published every spring since 1984.
When Nashville Predators scout Kyle Woodlief left his position in 1998, he had previously done work for Red Line before his NHL scouting job and saw an opportunity to bring his vision to life. Woodlief purchased the publication and immediately set about shaping RLR into the NHL’s unofficial 31st team- running his staff like an NHL team does and building an annual amateur player ranking very similarly to the way the 30 pro hockey clubs do.
As such, RLR never, ever uses our inside knowledge to put players on our list where we think they *might* get drafted- we rank the players from top to bottom based on how we see it, and that’s why a player like Boston University defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who very well could be a top-10 selection in Buffalo and should fall no lower than 15-18 in a few weeks, is currently ranked just outside our first round. This is nothing against McAvoy, who has the makings of a good player, we’re just not convinced he’s better than the 30-odd players we have ranked ahead of him. Sometimes we’re spot on, and other times- not so much. But you can say that about 100% of the NHL teams out there and every individual who has claimed to be a draft analyst- no one has a perfect track record…that’s just not how the world works.
In the near two decades that Woodlief has owned RLR, he’s helped more than 10 of his staffers land scouting jobs with NHL teams. All 30 NHL clubs currently subscribe to Red Line’s professional season-long service along with myriad junior, NCAA and other pro clubs. When it comes to independent scouting, RLR is the recognized standard. That is not to say the other draft publications aren’t, but I’ll let them make their own cases to the marketplace. I know the people involved, and there is mutual respect there.
So, what are you getting for your $50?
For starters- the Red Line business model is simple: less is more.
Our draft guide is just 32 pages because we know that there is such a thing as paralysis by analysis. If you want more product, then there are other options out there worth exploring, but we won’t expand our guide to compete, because we believe in our approach- largely unaltered since 1999.
Inside, you get our draft list of players from 1 (Auston Matthews) to 312 (Julien Tessier). Yes, we know there are only 211 draft spots (2014 1st-rounder Conner Bleakley’s re-entry means that Phoenix gets a 2nd-round comp pick for him after acquiring his rights but not signing him by June 1), but we see a lot of players, so there is no harm in building a more robust base list, which helps teams with a perspective as they finalize their own lists.
Of those 312 listed players in RLR, we do in-depth scouting reports on the top-116. These scouting reports are typically around 120 words a pop, so you’re not going to get a lot of repetitive language to describe how crisply a player’s edging contributes to his game. We know your time is precious, so we get to the point and cover the gamut of what a player does and what we think he can be at the pro level one day. Every profile comes with an NHL projection of what kind of contribution we think he’ll make (if he makes it) and an NHL player comparison.
Also in the guide-
— 2 mock drafts in which Kyle and yours truly attempt to determine what the 2016 first round will look like. These mocks are very different from our own list because in it, we *are* using our inside info in certain spots to predict what teams will draft whom where. For example- McAvoy is a top-20 pick in both.
— A comprehensive team needs analysis to assist you with what we think each NHL club is lacking and how some of those needs might factor into their draft strategy.
— A European free agent roundup. Some players on our list have already been signed to NHL deals and we list them out. Other European vets are available, so it gives you the reader a head start should your favorite NHL team snap one up between now and the September start of training camp.
— The 2017 NHL draft top-67. This is how we see things some 400 days before next year’s draft and a lot can change. In our 2015 draft guide, here’s what our top-5 looked like:
1- Auston Matthews
2- Jakob Chychrun
3- Jesse Puljujarvi
4- Logan Brown
5- Jake Bean
One year later, all five of those guys are in the running for top-10 selections, with Matthews a cinch to be No. 1 overall and Puljujarvi very likely going 3rd. Truth in lending- we whiffed on Patrik Laine, who was 48 in June 2015- that had much more to do with a lack of work ethic and maturity last year, but he proved us all wrong and is a firm No. 2 on our 2016 draft guide list. Oh, and B’s fans- we had Dante Fabbro at 7th overall a year ago (and he’s pretty close to that ranking in June 2016), so don’t let anyone tell you he wasn’t highly regarded coming into the season- that’s bunk.
— Finally, our draft guide has its annual “special categories and awards” section, where we rank the most underrated, overrated, best and worst skaters, scorers…best character guys, toughest, and then those who we find lacking for one reason or another. When you hear people (agents?) complain about RLR, this is usually at the crux of the matter, but this is something that is as much a part of the draft guide as jelly is with peanut butter on a sandwich.
So…that’s the pitch.
$50 is a lot to spend on any publication and our product is not for everyone. But again- if you are a hard core hockey and draft enthusiast, and you want what the pros use (true story- sat next to Blues scout and HHOFer Al MacInnis on a flight to Pittsburgh and when I introduced myself as a RLR staffer, he pulled out our draft guide), then it’s a good investment. (Yes, tooting the own horn here, but it’s an honest statement- NHL guys read RLR)
You can order the guide (sans subscription) a la carte at the aforementioned price by going to http://www.redlinereport.com or by simply calling Kyle at 518-523-4289 and placing your order. If the year-long subscription interests you, there are several options you can choose from. And when you get Mr. Woodlief on the phone, tell him Kirk sent you. I won’t get anything more than a boot in the backside when the staff meets up in Buffalo for the draft, but at least he’ll know I’m working for a living.
Up next on the blog- will do a Boston Bruins draft strategy analysis for you, whereby I will attempt to break down the team’s philosophy and what I believe they need and how that all dovetails into what they will do in Buffalo.