Saturday, February 27, 2021

NHL era-adjusted mock draft: Why Theo Fleury, Ron Hextall, Alex Mogilny and more would thrive today

The game has changed.

Hockey fans of a certain vintage will often find themselves looking back over fondly remembered highlights and controversial incidents of the past and thinking, boy, if that happened now that guy would’ve been suspended for life.

For younger hockey fans, meanwhile, it’s common to wonder how a Connor McDavid or an Auston Mathews would’ve fared in the 1980s — and to insist that in a world where goalies were 5-foot-9 and smoked half a pack between periods, that they might’ve re-written the NHL record book.

While hockey is a traditionalists game, the evolution of the sport at the NHL level over the last decade and a half has been swift and it has been remarkable.

The goaltenders have gotten larger, adding post-integration techniques that have made “soft” goals even rarer. The salary cap system has caused youth to be served earlier as the years go by, creating an arms race for team speed and relegating the classic, plodding “stay-at-home” defenseman player type all but extinct. Analytics have revolutionized player evaluation, both by the public and by teams themselves. And the way the game is called and legislated by on-ice officials and the Department of Player Safety (an Orwellian moniker if ever there was one) has caused “enforcers” to disappear along with, thankfully, the “keep your head up” type hits that used to punctuate the NHL game.

With a stick tap to our colleagues over on the NBA side of our shop, a crew of The Athletic’s hockey writers (Thomas Drance, Sean Gentille and Sean McIndoe) decided to formalize the “what if?” game with a mock draft that seeks to identify the players from yesteryear who would perform best if they were dropped on the ice, in their prime, in today’s game.

The ground rules:

•Six-round snake draft.

•Every team must feature a complete starting lineup of three forwards (regardless of position), two defenders and a goaltender.

•Eligibility: The player cannot be in the Hockey Hall of Fame and must have played at least 50 percent of their career NHL games after the 1980-81 season and prior to the advent of the Behind the Net era (which we’ve placed in 2008).

The point of the exercise is to identify players who were good in their own time, but who would be absolutely sensational today. If we’re being honest, it’s also about having some fun remembering some guys.

Round 1, pick 1. Team McIndoe selects: RW Alexander Mogilny

Drance: Consensus top pick, but also kind of a squirrel pick. Mogilny would be dominant in any area.

Gentille: Dude was made for 2021, down to the fact that he wore a vanity number. There is no other 89.

McIndoe: This Darren Turcotte erasure will not stand…

Once I lucked into the first overall pick, there wasn’t much debate over who I was going to take. It remains an embarrassment that Mogilny isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but since he somehow isn’t, he’s almost too perfect for this sort of exercise. He was a smart and monstrously skilled presence who could play at both ends and who posted one of the greatest goal-scoring seasons ever, banking a ridiculous 76 in the 1992-93 season. His peak didn’t last long, as injuries and the clutch-and-grab era robbed us of Mogilny’s best. In today’s more wide-open game, and without the pressure of being the first Soviet star to defect, his prime might look like a combination of Datsyuk-ian wizardry mixed with Ovechkin-like finishing.

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