Back in May, I wrote about how New York Islanders GM Garth Snow should be a serious candidate for the league's new General Manager of the Year award. We are in an age where teams will sign easily replaceable players to massive contracts, simply because they are more comfortable with the devil they know than the devil they don't. It's how Chris Kelly got a four-year, $12 million deal. It's why the Winnipeg Jets gave Ondrej Pavelec five years, $19.5 million. It's why the Canadiens re-signed Francis Bouillon to well above market price halfway through the season, while serviceable younger options like Tom Gilbert now go unsigned.
In the last few years, however, Snow has proved the exception to this rule. I don't know enough about the former backup goalie's intellect and the team's front office to say how it came about, but at some point the team went from giving over-the-hill veterans big money contracts to finding cheap talent that other teams have given up on, while locking up their own young players before their values peak.
There is a misconception that Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" was a book solely about the use of statistics in sport. But Lewis was never a sports guy; he was and is a businessman. The connections that he drew between Wallstreet and Major League Baseball were universal lessons that could be applied to any industry. Wherever you work, there are always inefficiencies that can be exploited, you just need to find what they are. Since taking over, Snow has managed to claim guys like Michael Grabner, Thomas Hickey and Evgeni Nabokov off waivers, sign talented underachievers like Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau to low-risk contracts, and lock up some of his core players - John Tavares and Travis Hamonic, for example - to bargain long-term deals. I don't know if Garth Snow has ever even read "Moneyball", but it's not a stretch to suggest that as a former player turned sharp analytical thinker, he has become hockey's Billy Beane.
And that brings us to Taylor Cammarata, a 5'7", 156-pound left-winger who played last year with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL. As a draft-eligible player, he was ranked 140th by Future Considerations magazine, 59th by Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus, and 69th by TSN scout Craig Button. He went unranked by McKeen's and The Hockey News, and was 193rd amongst only North American skaters by Central Scouting.
What is so special about this guy? Well, he outscored Sidney Crosby in high school at Shattuck St. Mary's as a 15-year old, with 170 points in 58 games, and then last year led the USHL in scoring with 93 points in 59 games. By all accounts his vision and hockey IQ are exceptional, and he has a nose for the net. His biggest weakness besides his size is his average skating. Remind you of anybody? Well, a certain small, determined winger named Brendan Gallagher was never given much of a chance of making an impact in the NHL despite 81- and 91-point seasons in the WHL. Now he's not only a top-6 forward, but was a serious contender for rookie of the year in 2013. If you follow Canadiens prospects closely, it might also make you think of Charles Hudon, whom the Canadiens plucked out of the QMJHL despite questionable foot-speed and an undersized frame, and has now catapulted himself onto Hockey Canada's radar and into contention for an NHL spot as early as 2014.
Every year, Buzzing The Net publishes its "Skinner Rankings", which take into account a multitude of factors in determining which draft-eligible players might produce the most at the NHL level in the near future. For 2013, Taylor Cammarata sat 8th, only three spots lower than Charles Hudon the year prior.
I mentioned Cammarata a couple of times in the run-up to the draft as a guy I would like to see the Habs target in the late second to early third round, but instead he fell to those New York Islanders, who grabbed him in the mid-third round, 76th overall. That was five picks after the Canadiens took Connor Crisp, an agitator who registered almost four times as many penalty minutes as points in 2013. Some day we may be speaking about Crisp over Cammarata in the same breath as Fischer over Giroux or Maxwell over Lucic.
Like Hudon did with Team Canada one year ago, Cammarata impressed with the American Junior team at its development camp this past week. Against a skilled Finnish team featuring Canadiens prospect Artturi Lehkonen, another player chosen ahead of Cammarata (but more justifyably so), the diminutive playmaker registered a goal and an assist, the latter being on a sweet feed to teammate Zach Stepan after showcasing his puckhandling skills to avoid being checked off the puck.
The only criticism I saw leveled at Cammarata during the camp was that he benefitted from having 6'5" Michael McCarron as his linemate, opening up skating room. If only the Canadiens had somebody of McCarron's size in their system...
Going to say player of the game a tie between MTL's McCarron and NYI's Cammarata.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) August 5, 2013
The Canadiens, if it weren't for the Crisp selection, could have come out of this draft with two potential scoring stars, two strong power forwards, a talented goalie, and some great projects. Instead it seems they fell one pick short. Maybe Taylor Cammarata will go the way of Corey Locke and never overcome his size disadvantage in the NHL. Or maybe he'll add to the growing list of players that teams undervalue because of their size and go onto become a star like Claude Giroux and Martin St. Louis.
Maybe if it's the latter, it will finally lead the hockey world to recognize Garth Snow as the innovator that he is, and the guy other GMs should look to follow.