In the Mock Draft, the Mock Kings are Proud to Select...

Some people are too quick to dismiss advanced stats and their role in evaluating hockey players. I hear a lot of "if you've ever played the game, you know..." or "there's more to hockey than numbers..." Well, you know what, there isn't. If you say that, you just don't understand what the numbers are telling you, or you don't want to know.

In his career, Dean Lombardi has made 23 selections in the first two rounds of the NHL draft. If you look at the names on that list, one stat leaps off the page. Taken as a whole, they are composed of the letter E at a whopping 12%. N is close behind, at 10%, followed by S, A and R, at 8%, 8% and 7% respectively. Lombardi has consistently shown a tendency to draft players whose names contain B, C, S, H, L, J, K, V, Y or Z, relative to the letter frequency in the English language as a whole. Z is twenty times more likely to appear in a Lombardi selection than in the dictionary. Only once has Lombardi failed to draft at least one J.

D and T, meanwhile, are under-represented (which is why his 2008 selections so confounded cryptographers at the time). Meanwhile, the Thomas Hickey selection, which surprised many, was no shock at all to fans who were looking at the right stats (due to the presence of H, C, K and Y; the only pick in the last twenty years to have contained four of Lombardi's most prized consonants*).

(*some theorists have noted, perhaps sarcastically, that, drafting using the Lombardi algorithm, the ultimate prospect name would indeed be h-o-c-k-e-y.)

If Lombardi's picks sometimes seem "off the board," it's completely consistent with his philosophy of drafting from the consonants outward. He has been known to buy a vowel, but it has to be the right fit.

The most telling stat, however, is that an overwhelming seventeen of Lombardi's picks in the first two rounds contain either a double-consonant (Cheechoo, Hannan, Moller, Simmonds, Schenn) or the initials of the player form a double-consonant (Doughty, Voynov).

Accordingly, the ISS top thirty, sorted by the Lombardi algorithm, looks like this:

  1. Taylor Hall
  2. Nino Niederreiter
  3. Jeffrey Skinner
  4. Jonathan Merrill
  5. Brett Connolly
  6. Emerson Etem
  7. Jarred Tinordi
  8. Nick Bjugstad
  9. Kirill Kabanov (no longer ISS top 30, but double consonant)
    Evgeny Kuznetzov
  10. Jaden Schwartz
  11. Charlie Coyle
  12. Jason Zucker
  13. everyone else

Taylor Hall likely won't be available at 19. I would not rule out Lombardi trading up to grab Neiderrieter, the coveted "double-double" (double consonant last name AND double-consonant initials) the likes of which Lombardi has not seen since he drafted the legendary triple-double, Jeff Jillson (14th overall, Sharks, 1999). But I think we're likely looking at a selection of Merrill, Tinordi or Bjugstad.

In the SBN mock draft, the clear choice at 19 is...

Jonathan Merrill

6'3"+, 198lbs, ranked 11th by ISS, Central Scouting 21st (NA skaters), gold medal for US-U18 this past year, Freshman at University of Michigan in the fall (which he committed to four years ago). Also, he's an Okie.

Conventional wisdom has the Kings picking a forward, but I think Lombardi will pick the best player available, and will have no problem picking someone who won't be ready for several years. Also, Lombardi's love of Red Berenson is legendary.

When I spoke to Merrill last week at Ann Arbor's Yost Arena, he told me he was excited about the prospect of -- wait, that didn't happen. I'm a blogger.

Hockey's Future says: "Merrill looks to have leapfrogged his competition and could be [...] one of the top three best defensive prospects in the entire draft [...] simply dominant in [U-18 championships]  [...] explosive, gets the puck on net and creates lanes all over the ice [...] already a dominant player [...] This kid is for real."

Central Scouting: "He plays weaving and diving, sneaking and thinking, gaining the zone and moving the puck ahead right on the tape to a guy."

ISS: "Merrill is as dynamic and versatile as they come [...] very patient and calculating defender [...] never hesitates to explode after the puck [...] propels himself to great speeds [...] nearly impossible to gain a step against [...] temendous poise and confidence with the puck and makes a great first pass, rushes it into open ice well and creates lanes exceptionally well on the power play."

According to Michigan coach Red Berenson, Merrill, his talented new 6-foot-3, 198-pound defenseman, could potentially be the next Americanized version of Lidström.

"If you asked me to compare him to a player in the NHL, I would compare him to Nick Lidström," Berenson explained. "Jon is that type of player. I think he can become that kind of a player in the near future." [...]

Before he gets to play professionally, Merrill is expected to put on a Wolverines jersey this fall. He was the youngest player to commit verbally to an NCAA team, doing so at 14 years, eight months.

"I just figured, there wasn’t any other school that can offer what Michigan can," Merrill said. [...]

One of the players Merrill’s age is potential top-10 draft pick and former USA teammate Derek Forbort, who is slated to attend North Dakota in September. The two teens are often compared, but they seem to have distinct differences that will set them apart when teams decide on their draft selections.

Merrill is known for his hockey IQ, his superior understanding of the game and being a strong passer. Forbort, on the other hand, has a natural physical ability, standing 1½ inches taller than Merrill at 6-foot-4½"