Nick Ebert, a right-handed defenseman from the Windsor Spitfires, became probably the first prospect ranked in the pre-season in the top 5 to fall over 200 spots, eventually nabbed with the final pick, 211th overall, by the Los Angeles Kings. He finished the 2011-12 season with the Spitfires with 39 points in 66 games, while in his 2010-11 season he managed 2 more points in 2 fewer games. A step back offensively, but not a 200-spot one.
In Derek Zona's first post of the consensus rankings for the 2012 NHL entry draft, he had Ebert ranked 5th, saying "Nick Ebert is the most divisive player on the list. Everyone's got him ranked in the top 25, but he ranges from 2nd overall to 23rd." Bob Mackenzie's pre-season top 10 had Ebert 8th, with a write-up that didn't exactly scream elite prospect, but didn't scream 7th round either. So why was he ever ranked that high?
From the first time I head the buzz about Ebert last summer, I kept an eye on his progress and how he fared throughout the year. I thought it would be an interesting project to select someone a year ahead of the draft that had some questions, keep an eye on him and see where he end up. I picked Ebert because I'm a Windsor native so the story had some interest to me. At first I wasn't surprised to see him fall a bit, down to 10th on Zona's November update on the consensus list, but based on the comments, I became curious as to how low he'd fall, and if it was possible that he'd fall out of the first round entirely:
Nick Ebert, the defenseman from Windsor has taken a big hit in the early season and the scouts I've talked to have mentioned work ethic and attitude as a concern. Ebert was 5th in September and sits 10th now and few people were confident he'd stay there.
On the NHL network coverage, I could hear what sounded like someone from LA saying that at this point, you really have nothing to lose. I wonder if that was in response to someone suggesting they take the former top 5 ranked player who, for some reason, did a complete free-fall. The work ethic questions were there from the beginning it looks like, but as Zona mentions in his February update, "at some point, he becomes oversold and is being punished far too much."
We all saw Grigorenko fall from a potential 2nd overall pick to 12th, and there was speculation that he'd fall much further because of perceived laziness. It makes sense that a defenseman who has potential work ethic issues would fall even further. But 5th to 211th? Bob Mackenzie, the guy who kept shouting out who he "thought" the teams would pick 20 seconds before they selected them, ruining numerous picks for me and my friends who were watching (predicting Koekkoek at 10 with Forsberg and others still on the board seems like a bit more than an "educated guess" to me), even saw Ebert as a top 10 talent a year ago.
When it got down to the 7th round, I admit that I thought he was going to pass through altogether. He might not be an impact player, and he may never make the NHL, but in the 7th round, what do you have to lose? I must say, I was hoping the Oilers would give up a late-round pick next year or someone like Omark for a chance to get Ebert at the end of the draft. At that point in the draft, it seems like it's a better bet to get Ebert out of a funk than bank on someone who no one has ever talked about.
As Benjamin Massey wrote in the comments section to the NHL Draft Day 2 Live Blog and Discussion post,
Maybe that great player who got injured is crap now, or maybe he’ll recover brilliantly. The scouts think "that’s a risk worth taking" and draft him high.
That great player who had one year that didn’t meet expectations is treated, automatically, as crap. The possibility that maybe he just had a bad year like every single other player in the history of the world has doesn’t enter their minds.
Maybe he had personal issues going on that could be worked through. Maybe his girlfriend broke up with him. Maybe he got picked on in school, I don't know, Windsor is a rough place. He may not be a slam-dunk, but in the 7th round, my God he seems like a steal.