Dominic Tiano: Mason Lohrei and the Evolution of the NHL Draft

Dominic Tiano is back with a new piece on Boston Bruins prospect Mason Lohrei and how he represents a trend for NHL clubs who are investing more and more entry draft selections on second- and third-year eligible players. Dom has watched a lot of the criticisms of Boston’s selection of Lohrei center around the misconception that he’s older- and somehow inferior- to the 2002 and late 2001-born players who were eligible for the first time this past October. This is food for thought- if you learn something new in the piece and it changes your perspective, then we’ll consider it mission accomplished. If not, that’s okay too.- KL

Before I begin my deep dive, let me preface things with this: When the Boston Bruins selected Mason Lohrei in the second round with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 National Hockey League Draft, I readily admit, he wasn’t my first choice. However, he is now, a member of the Bruins organization and I wish him nothing but the best. There will be no comparing him to what could have been, no sulking, and no excuses. Just a simple eye test on what he is and might be when he is ready to turn pro after junior and college hockey at Ohio State University.

I’m surprised yet I shouldn’t be, by some of the comments being made on social media, especially now that Lohrei has gotten off to such a good start with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. At the time of this article, Lohrei, a forward turned defenceman, has 5 goals and 10 assists in just 10 games.

But comments such as: “he’s an ‘overager’ so he’s just going up against younger players” or “he was picked in his second draft year so there must be something wrong”, or “how many players picked in their second drafts make it to the NHL?” and the one that really gets under my skin “comparing him to a CHL player” (I can say that because I cover the OHL exclusively), should be kept to one’s self unless you are prepared to provide some context and willing to accept some criticism.

In reality, and I am trying to be polite here, what it shows is a lack of knowledge of the changing methodology NHL teams employ, differences and nuances in the demographics of the various junior leagues or even a lack of effort to obtain the knowledge to know what that really means. I hope to bring you some context and maybe, just maybe shed some light on things and you can change your opinion (or not).

Let me begin with the term that gets thrown around a lot these days: ‘overager’. Many fans think Lohrei is an older player in the USHL and should be piling up points because he has a significant advantage in terms of physical maturity and experience. The fact is, Lohrei is 19 years of age (turns 20 on January 17, 2021). Considering that 16 and 17-year old players are a minority in the USHL and teams are limited to just 4 twenty-year old players (2000 birth year) on the roster for the current season, Lohrei isn’t much older than the majority of players he faces every single night on the ice. The USHL does require each member club to keep a minimum of three 16- or 17-year-old players on every roster to ensure that there is a developmental path for the youngest players on the junior spectrum, but the majority of the average ages of each USHL club is 18+. Lohrei is on the higher side of that average this season, but it isn’t like he is a 2000 birth year competing against a league full of 2003 and 2004-born players. In fact, the 2001 and 2002 birth years comprise the bulk of USHL rosters this season.

The mistake some casual observers make is in asserting that the demographics between the CHL, which comprises the three major junior leagues in Canada, and the USHL plus other Tier 2 junior leagues like the North American (NAHL) and Canadian British Columbia (BCHL), Alberta (AJHL), Manitoba (MJHL), Ontario (OJHL) and Quebec (QJHL) and other regional T2 subset leagues are the same, when in fact, they are not. Because the NCAA track tends to develop players over a longer timeline, whereas CHL-drafted players must be signed within two years/before June 1 of the season they turn 20 (and one year to receive a bona fide offer), those Tier 2 feeder leagues tend to have older rosters on average than CHL clubs.

I ask you to replace the word overager with experience for some context. Lohrei was playing high school/prep hockey at Culver Military Academy until the age of 18, and is now in his second full season in the USHL. That compares to a 17 or mostly 18-year old players in the CHL, their first year of draft eligibility. Let’s take it a step further. In 2017, the Bruins selected a QMJHL rookie in the name of Cedric Pare (an 18-year-old in his draft year) with not even a full season of Major Junior experience. It wasn’t until Pare’s fourth season that he broke out with 37 goals and 51 assists in 64 contests. The Bruins didn’t sign Pare and he is now playing in the East Coast Hockey League without an NHL contract.

To be fair, Pare was a seventh-round pick, and as I mentioned, didn’t have a season worthy of being drafted until his fourth season. I suggest you ask yourself this question: If Pare had been skipped over in his first draft, would he have been selected in his second draft? And you could ask yourself the same question about any player selected in rounds two through seven. Obviously, the Bruins (and maybe others) saw something in his first year to think he was worthy of selection his second time around.

Because Lohrei was passed over in 2019 does not mean he should not have been selected in 2020. You might be surprised to find out that in fact, statistics show he should have been selected the second time around, and that second-year players being selected in the NHL draft is becoming more and more prevalent going back a decade.

I looked at the six NHL Drafts from 2010 to 2015 to measure NHL success. I didn’t use 2016 or later as a lot of those players are still at the developmental stage. To measure success, I used 100 NHL games or more as the benchmark and included all players, even goaltenders. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.

In the chart below, you’ll see I’ve broken down each draft by round. In each round you will see the number of picks used to select first time draft eligible players and those picked in their second or third drafts as well as how many went on to play 100+ games in the NHL. At the bottom, you’ll see the total number of players selected as well as the total number that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage. At the far right, you will notice the total picks by draft year and those that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage.

The numbers are a bit skewed because only one player from 2010 to 2016, who was a draft re-entry, was selected in the first round when the Los Angeles Kings selected Tanner Pearson with the 30th pick in 2012. Still, only 76% of first round picks selected have played in 100 or more contests. Do I need to remind everybody that 3 of those first round picks not to play 100 games all belong to the Bruins? Malcolm Subban in 2012, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn in 2015.

Beyond the first round however, statistically speaking, there is a greater chance for success at the NHL level if you are a draft re-entry player, and in some cases a drastically better chance. And there are a greater number of draft re-entry players approaching the 100-game plateau then first-time eligible players. But we had to draw the line somewhere.

That said, in the second round where Lohrei was selected, there have only been seven players selected that have re-entered the draft. Still, they’ve shown to have a 42.9% success rate as opposed to 38.4% of first timers. Although 177 first timers were selected in those 6 years, 61.6% did not have the success. So, I ask you, which gives you the better chance of finding a successful player?

These are just statistics and are no indication of success. Maybe it suggests a trend. More radically, maybe it suggests the NHL change the draft and allow 18-year-old players be selected in only the first round, maybe the second round.

But to me, it suggests that we as fans, are too quick to jump to conclusions. We do after all, have a fast-food mentality when it comes to our beloved Bruins. Everything has to be served up on a black and gold platter- hot, fresh and now. There is for lack of a better term, no patience. No patience to wait and see how a player who isn”t on a public list around where the Bruins were supposed to select him actually plays and develops.

As I said in the opening, Lohrei is a member of the Bruins organization. The only comparisons we should be making is to Mason Lohrei from a season ago and asking ourselves how far has he come in regards to his development? Shouldn’t we be asking what his strengths are and what areas does he need to improve on more than what other player who is one year younger the Bruins could have chosen instead?

There is a very small group out there that wants to see a player fail just so they can say “I told you so.” That’s sad, yet but true. I know because some people have actually come out and say it to me. While its just noise on the internet, it is a reflection of where some are as fans- the new class of self-appointed pundits who think they know far more than they actually do and find it more important to be validated on social media by other low-information people. Rather than educate themselves on the evolving nature of the NHL draft and how the changing CBA has caused teams do things differently than were done in the past when a hard salary cap did not exist, some are stuck relying on inaccurate perceptions about junior league demographics to justify their own disappointment that the player(s) of choice based on public lists that bear no resemblance to those generated by the NHL teams themselves, were not drafted by the B’s.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I will only cheer for a prospect in the organization and hope they find success. No harping on who could have been, as that ship has sailed. Time will tell on Lohrei, but given that his two-way game has taken positive strides in one of the top junior leagues in the world, things are setting up for him to be an impact player in the Big-10 conference and beyond when the time comes for him to turn pro.

One thought on “Dominic Tiano: Mason Lohrei and the Evolution of the NHL Draft

  1. Really appreciate the articles here. Always knowledgeable and on point while steering clear of the hot takes and uninformed opinions so prevalent these days. Keep up the great work!

    Like

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