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Coyotes Drafting Mitchell Miller Exposes Organizational Culture Gap

Arizona’s first pick in the 2020 NHL Draft was Mitchell Miller, a player convicted as a juvenile in 2016. They knew and drafted him anyways.

The Arizona Coyotes entered the 2020 NHL draft with a shortage of picks in the early rounds. Specifically, the Coyotes were missing a pick in each of the first three. Two of the three missing selections were spent on acquiring Taylor Hall (1st round) and Carl Söderberg (3rd round). The second pick was forfeited after the Coyotes violated league policies for testing prospects. Unfortunately, Arizona will also forfeit their 2021 1st round pick because of those same violations. Of course, all of this meant Arizona’s first pick in 2020 would not happen until the 4th round (110th overall).

Related: Armstrong Makes Adjustments to Arizona’s Amateur Scouting Staff

Perhaps the Coyotes were looking for a ‘bargain’ with that first pick. Maybe the Coyotes felt that the eventual selection had excellent analytical numbers so the Coyotes jumped on an opportunity to select ‘the best player’. We as fans may never know what considerations went into the Coyotes first pick, but to say it was a controversial selection would be a gross understatement considering the news that’s come out this week.

Mitchell Miller – 110th Overall Selection, 2020

Mitchell Miller is a December-born 2001 defenseman that spent the last two seasons in the USHL. Miller is currently attending the University of North Dakota. The right-shot offensive defender is originally from Sylvania, Ohio. Personally, I have never seen Miller, but he is considered to be an intelligent, mobile defender that can also pack a punch physically.

Miller spent his developmental youth hockey in two different Detroit programs – spending two years with Compuware and another two with Honeybaked. It was during these years, 2016 to be exact, that Miller was involved in an on-going and nasty incident that ended up in an Ohio juvenile court room. There are plenty of details, but a good starting place might be here.

The headline of a USA Today story from yesterday really tells readers all they need to know:

“Coyotes’ top draft pick, Mitchell Miller, was convicted of bullying Black, mentally disabled teen four years ago”

Given the civil uprising within the United States and across the world, this is probably not the greatest attention for a young player, team or league. The Coyotes have addressed the issue head on and seem adamant that they will work with Miller to use his platform and raise further awareness about bullying. As in all things draft related, only time will tell if Miller sincerely strives to make this right – if that is even possible. From what I have read so far, I have my doubts.

See below a letter from Isaiah Meyer-Crothers’ mother who says Miller never showed remorse and has still not apologized for the pain and suffering he caused.

A Case for Intangibles

As a lowly junior scout and published researcher, this has long been an interest for me personally. That is: the value of numbers/analytics VS the human element within the talent identification process. More specifically, our University of Alberta research focused on what personality characteristics or intangibles meant to junior hockey scouts. One of the prevalent intangibles within the results of my research was character. Trying to assess the character of a 14 or 15-year-old is difficult and complicated. However, it is not impossible when you have an organizational definition of character means to the club.

In this case, it is not like the Coyotes were not aware of Miller’s past. The entire league knew about the incident because Miller wrote a letter to all 31 teams. There have been several reports that have surfaced suggesting some teams eliminated Miller from their draft board. This provides a great example of how individual organizational culture can dictate which intangibles are important (or not) and how definitions can drastically vary from team to team. However, the larger inherent issue within the culture of hockey is another matter.

Hockey Culture

The topic of culture has been prominent in and outside of hockey circles for well over a year now. Former NHLer Akim Aliu inadvertently kickstarted a massive conversation with a single tweet. However, if the ‘hockey world’ is intent on addressing this issue then it has to start at the grassroots level of the game. Teaching kids about the importance of character, leadership, and being a good teammate – on and off the ice.

As stated, this is an important issue for me personally. Presently, I am in the process of publishing a book on intangibles in scouting and this is probably the worst marketing idea ever, but here is how the book ends:

Player intangibles clearly play a factor in the evaluation process of young athletes, and organizations that want to improve or maintain a successful culture should be cognizant of the characteristics, attitudes or beliefs that symbolize the cultural standards of success within the team. If the identification of intangibles is accepted as a means towards cultural enrichment then the development of enhancing intangibles should not only become a larger focus for young athletes, but also a key component of the sport experience and curriculum. That means educating, teaching, and reinforcing the benefits of a healthy culture to young players so that they can continue the positive evolution within hockey and within the larger realm of youth sport.

Would this early education have worked for Mitchell Miller? Maybe, but it is futile to try and guess. Does Mitch Miller deserve a ‘second chance’? Maybe not, but he got one. Lets just hope that Miller will takes step up and sincerely try to make amends however he can. That would be a start.

NEXT: Martin Hanzal Announces Official Retirement From the NHL

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