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Scouting the 2017 NHL draft: Please don’t pick Michael Rasmussen 14th overall

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In our continuing look at players who might be available with the 14th overall pick, we examine why the Lightning probably shouldn’t pick Michael Rasmussen.

Tri-City Americans v Vancouver Giants Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images

Every NHL draft has players who highlight the gap between traditional and contemporary player evaluation. This year is no different. One of those players is Michael Rasmussen. It isn’t his fault. He might turn out to be a good NHL player. But he’s going to be the subject of arguments between analysts who think a big physical center is the most important asset a team can have, and analysts who are more concerned with skill and 5v5 production.

Rasmussen is 6’5”, 203 lbs, and played for the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League this year. In 50 games, he put up 32 goals and 55 total points. Those totals combined with his size are enough to have him ranked near the top of the draft class by some outlets. McKeen’s has him 3rd. NHL Central Scouting has him 5th among North American skaters. ISS has him 8th. Hockeyprospect.com and Future Considerations see him lower at 15th and 18th respectively.

As we go through the the next few weeks, I expect to see some of the more data-driven projections start to show lower numbers than the ones above. Jeremy Davis addressed most of the reasons why in an excellent piece at Canucks Army in February. I highly recommend giving that a read. In that article, he suggests that Rasmussen would still be a fine pick in the middle-to-late first round. I’m going to side more on the “late” part of that “middle-to-late” assessment.

The main reason is, as Jeremy addressed, 5v5 production. Because of the limited data that we have from junior hockey compared to the NHL, we don’t have access to detailed shot metrics. But we can at least focus on the things we know to be most reliable instead of just checking all situations scoring and calling it a day. If we want to try to isolate a player’s true offensive ability, we need to focus on 5v5 production. And preferably, primary points. Ideally, we’d like to see a player who scores goals and racks up primary assists, because that’s an indicator that he’s a well-rounded playmaker.

Below is a chart that compares Rasmussen to Cody Glass, who is another forward likely to be available in the range where the Lightning will be selecting. The chart uses percentiles to illustrate where each player ranks relative to others in the same age range and same league. All stats including estimated scoring rates are via prospect-stats.com.

Rasmussen scored goals at a strong rate at 5v5, but his assist rate is concerning. Overall, his primary scoring rate is only around the 60th percentile among players in his age range in the WHL this season.

Compare that to Glass, who is near the top in every measure. The contrast is stark, and Glass isn’t an isolated case. Compare Rasmussen to Kailer Yamamoto, Nick Suzuki, Maxime Comtois, or even Isaac Ratcliffe and you’ll see a similar story. Rasmussen’s 5v5 primary scoring is an issue and I would not have him in consideration at 14th overall.

Even though I don’t think the Lightning should consider him, Rasmussen could still end up helping the team. If he does slide to 14th, a team below the Lightning might be enticed to trade up and grab him. His high ranking by some of the scouting services suggests that at least a few NHL teams will think of him as a top-ten prospect. If any of those are below the Lightning in the draft order and he’s still on the board at 14, the Lightning could use that as leverage to trade down and pick up a couple of extra picks.

Tampa currently does not have a 4th- or 5th-round pick in this draft. Using Michael Schuckers’ draft pick valuation model, the Bolts could reasonably trade the 14th pick for a late first rounder as well as that team’s 4th and 5th rounder. Alternatively, they could make the same move and receive only that team’s 3rd rounder. In that scenario, they would still be without a pick for two rounds but would have two 2nds and two 3rds.

Before I close, I want to call attention to one of Rasmussen’s teammates with the Americans this season. Kyle Olson is a less-touted prospect. As much as Rasmussen’s size is an asset in draft valuation, Olson’s is a liability. He’s 5’10” 150 lbs. He’s ranked 56 among North American skaters by NHL central scouting. He hasn’t been covered much but I’ve read some speculation that he might land anywhere from the late second to the fourth round. Look at his comparison to Rasmussen using the same numbers above.

Olson is in some ways the opposite of Rasmussen as a prospect. Plenty of talent and production but none of the size. I’m not showing their numbers to necessarily make a direct comparison but more to say that Rasmussen is the type of player who throws up warning flags while Olson is the type of player who suggests he might have a higher ceiling than the scouting services are setting for him. I want no part of Rasmussen at 14th. I’d take a player like Olson all day in the third round as a gamble on skill and creativity.

The Lightning have shown a clear preference for skill over size over the last few years and that’s one of the reasons the team has hit so frequently on forward prospects. Drafting a player like Rasmussen would be a huge departure from that strategy, and because of that, I think the debate around Rasmussen’s value is likely to end up in another team’s fanbase.

Michael Rasmussen Career Statistics

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM
2013-2014 Okanagan Hockey Academy Btm Prep OMAHA 59 41 46 87 123
BCMML Sabres 1 U16 Cup 4 0 3 3 0
Okanagan Hockey Academy Elite 15 CSSHL E15 2 1 0 1 0
2014-2015 Team British Columbia CWG 6 1 1 2 4
Okanagan Hockey Acad. White Prep CSSHL 28 27 23 50 36
Penticton Vees BCHL 1 0 0 0 0
Tri-City Americans WHL 1 0 0 0 2
2015-2016 Tri-City Americans WHL 63 18 25 43 37
Team White U17-Dev 3 0 1 1 8
Canada Black U17 WHC-17 5 2 1 3 16
2016-2017 Canada U18 Hlinka Memorial 4 1 3 4 8
Tri-City Americans WHL 50 32 23 55 50

Table via Elite Prospects.

Video note: Notice how many of his goals are tap-ins around the net on the power play. These typically aren’t the types of plays that suggest success at the NHL level.