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I Don't Hate Your Favorite Prospect, Really

Why do you haters hate him so much?
Why do you haters hate him so much?

One of the most gratifying aspects of writing a column, or writing for a site like The Copper & Blue is the regular feedback I receive from my readers.  We get hundreds of comments and dozens of e-mails and Tweets each week.  It's all always welcome, even when it's a critique.  One bit of feedback that continually befuddles me, however, is that notion that I hate certain prospects or that I want certain prospects to fail based solely on my desire to draft Adam Larsson or my rankings in the Top 25 Under 25.  

It's one thing when Ben jokes that I hate Jordan Eberle; our relationship is based solely on good-natured ribbing, and without it I'd feel unloved.  It's quite another when e-mailers accuse me of hating Jordan Eberle, or call me "sick" because I want "Nugent-Hopkins to fail so badly".  Some commenters here have even accused me of "irrational hate" of certain prospects.

To me, hate is a bizarre emotion to bring to a discussion about hockey prospects.  It's extremely rare that any writer would want a prospect to fail, and the same rare odds exist for a writer covering NHL teams, unless of course that writer had a personal vendetta against a player based on some silly locker room slight or other personal affront.  Those writers seem to have a certain dementia that prevents them from writing about hockey in any sane or balanced manner.  But the rest of the journalistic community -- those who freely discuss prospects and young NHL players without malice -- doesn't have a worldview based on hate or the hatred of a certain player, so covering prospects in that manner is mostly foreign to them, to us.

Before we engage in a deeper discussion, I will admit that I've hated, genuinely hated with malice in my heart, two players in the thirty-plus years I've been observing the sport:  Derian Hatcher and Dale Hunter.  Hatcher and Hunter played a game best described as a number of dirty plays concealed by a couple of minutes of legitimate play.  Hunter was Matt Cooke in his day, only his play was defended as a necessary part of the NHL game, and he was defended as a good Canadian boy.  Hatcher was a giant elbow and knee looking for a person to injure on every shift.  He was a despicable player.  Had he played in a league that actually cared about the health of its players, he would have been suspended as often as he played.

Back to the discussion about me hating your favorite prospect.  Even on the worst of teams, there is always optimism around prospects.  Until they hit a certain age (except for goalies), they've got a chance to improve, a chance to prove themselves, a chance to make the NHL, and a chance to make a difference.  Though we know that only a small percentage of players beyond the first round will become solid NHL players, each fan base believes their prospects are going to be the late-round impact players to make up that small percentage.  Of course this cannot be the case, but the future is always bright and confidence is always high when it comes to prospects, and that confidence only wanes when those prospects top out in the minor leagues or leave the organization.  When I surveyed my fellow SB Nation hockey writers for this post, I was surprised at how many of them wanted to hang on to their late round picks because "you never know, you could get a star in those later rounds."  Their starry-eyed fuzzy focus on the future and optimistic nature came through, though the poll respondents and commenters were more pragmatic.  It's the pragmatism that my critics don't like.

When I try to project prospects, I do so with the mindset that most of them aren't going to become solid NHL players, and try to find the special players who might make it.  I utilize comps, NHLE, draft peers, and a little saw him good to build my lists and my view of players and I do so with the caveat that I might be way off.  But sometimes, I'm dead on, even in the face of long odds. When I argued that the Oilers should return Taylor Hall to Windsor last year and not burn a year of his ELC on a last-place team, I was labeled a hater.  This was months after I projected him to score .633 points per game in his rookie season, a projection that was just .013 points per game off of his actual numbers.  That projection was a difficult one to make, ask the experts skewered by David Staples.  Hater or not, I was pragmatic in my view of Hall's numbers, but as David said in the article "optimism sells".

Though I've been out in front of even the most optimistic fans on a couple of players, namely a lanky defenseman from Michigan State, and a chiseled forward from Kuopio, I've not been optimistic enough, or as one e-mailer told me, I'm not "optimistic about the right players".  So even though I rank your favorite prospect lower than you do, I don't hold a grudge against him.  Even though I project your favorite prospect for less of a career than you do, I don't hate him. 

What I want to know is why do you hate my favorite prospects so much?

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