DRAFTING FOR SUCCESS

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-via Dave Shaver

The NHL draft is one of the most important parts of any NHL
team’s year. It is a team’s opportunity
to pick up players that, down the road, may turn into franchise cornerstones
or at least pieces that will them be successful. Unlike free
agency or trades, the draft is an opportunity to add pivotal assets at basically no
charge, with the added bonus of (likely) having the player through his prime playing years.

Despite the importance of the draft, there is no guarantee a
team is going to end up with that elite player they covet or even a player who
ends of being an NHL regular. Some have
even suggested that teams could pick players ranked similarly at random and
have a better success rate than picking the player they think might be the best
player available, through scouting, analysis and gut reaction. 

Detroit has long been admired as a team that drafts well and
knows how to develop players. The team
is regarded as one of the very best at finding hidden gems in the later rounds
and turning them into uber-elite talent (e.g., Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg,
Fedorov, etc.). But, over the long-run, how
do they compare to other NHL teams and draft success?  Alternatively, how successful is a bottom
feeder team (i.e., a team that has done very little over the past decade) at
drafting and developing talent compared to the better teams?

Lets take a look…

Team Busts 50+ Games 200 + Games Total 50G % 200G % Playoffs Cup Finals Elite  Elite Players
Anaheim 36 22 9 58 37.9% 15.5% 6 1 2 Getzlaf; Perry
Boston 35 16 11 51 31.4% 21.6% 8 2 3 Bergeron; Kessel;
Seguin
Buffalo 36 23 11 59 39.0% 18.6% 4 0 1 Vanek
Calgary 42 13 5 55 23.6% 9.1% 5 1 0  
Carolina 37 16 6 53 30.2% 11.3% 2 1 1 E. Staal
Chicago 51 21 11 72 29.2% 15.3% 6 2 3 Kane; Toews; Keith
Colorado 38 20 9 58 34.5% 15.5% 5 0 3 MacKinnon; Duchene;
Landeskog
Columbus 41 25 11 66 37.9% 16.7% 2 0 1 Johansen
Dallas 37 15 8 52 28.8% 15.4% 5 0 1 Benn
Detroit 38 14 7 52 26.9% 13.5% 10 2 0  
Edmonton 31 26 8 57 45.6% 14.0% 1 1 1 Hall
Florida 41 18 9 59 30.5% 15.3% 1 0 0  
Los Angeles 45 21 10 66 31.8% 15.2% 5 1 3 Doughty; Kopitar;
Quick
Minnesota 39 17 8 56 30.4% 14.3% 4 0 1 Koivu
Montreal 38 20 14 58 34.5% 24.1% 8 0 3 Pacioretty; Subban;
Price
Nashville 41 22 9 63 34.9% 14.3% 7 0 2 Weber; Suter
New Jersey 39 14 4 53 26.4% 7.5% 7 1 1 Parise
NY Islanders 47 20 12 67 29.9% 17.9% 3 0 1 Tavares
NY Rangers 41 19 9 60 31.7% 15.0% 8 0 0  
Ottawa 38 20 10 58 34.5% 17.2% 7 1 1 Karlsson
Philadelphia 42 16 9 58 27.6% 15.5% 8 1 1 Giroux
Phoenix 39 14 9 53 26.4% 17.0% 4 0 1 Ekman-Larsson
Pittsburgh 37 19 10 56 33.9% 17.9% 8 2 3 Crosby; Malkin;
Letang
San Jose 37 21 11 58 36.2% 19.0% 10 0 3 Couture; Vlasic;
Pavelski
St. Louis 44 20 10 64 31.3% 15.6% 5 0 1 Pietrangelo
Tampa Bay 43 17 4 60 28.3% 6.7% 5 1 1 Stamkos
Toronto 35 13 7 48 27.1% 14.6% 2 0 1 Rask
Vancouver 37 9 7 46 19.6% 15.2% 7 1 1 Kesler
Washington 43 20 10 63 31.7% 15.9% 7 0 2 Backstrom; Ovechkin
Winnipeg 46 11 6 55 20.0% 10.9% 1 0 0  
Average 39.8 18.1 8.8 57.8 31.1% 15.2% 5.4 0.6 1.4  
Stan. Dev. 4.2 4.0 2.3 5.8 5.5% 3.6% 2.6 0.7 1.0  

The table above is a summary of each team’s drafting success
rate from 2003 to 2013. If drafted before 2010, success constitutes playing over 50 games; if
drafted after 2010, success constitutes playing over 30 games; players
drafted from 2010 – 2013 that haven’t played over 30 games yet were completely
omitted. List is in alphabetical order.

THE NUMBERS

Teams, on average, have 31% of their players play at least
50 games and only 15% (so far) go on to play at least 250 games. In other words, in order to be treading water, a team should expect that two of their seven draft picks should at least play in the
NHL at some point, and one of the seven should go on to be an impact player that
plays at least 2.5 seasons.

Furthermore, the average team drafted 1 elite player between 2003 – 2013 (one a decade). A number of teams have drafted 2 and a select few have drafted 3 or 4 star players over that
time. Not surprisingly, the clubs that have drafted the most elite talent over the past decade also tend to be very good. Alternatively, a team
that hasn’t been able to draft an elite talent in the past 10 years, especially
an org that has been consistently drafting in the top-10 (e.g., Edmonton,
Winnipeg/Atlanta, Florida), should be making some
significant adjustments in how they evaluate and/or develop their draft
picks.

Now let’s have a look at some specific teams and their
drafting success rates. I’ve chosen four
that jumped out at me: Detroit, Edmonton, Boston and Calgary.

DETROIT

Detroit has made the playoffs every single year for the past
23 seasons. However, that was mostly due
to two elite cores that were running together for a decade (the Yzerman,
Fedorov, Shanahan, Lidstrom era and the Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom era). The Wings
have actually only graduated 27% of its draftees to the NHL since 2003, slightly
below the league average.

While Detroit certainly has a reputation for
developing players the right way, they also are much more selective about who
gets a real shot in the NHL. They have
been so good for so long that it has been nearly impossible for a newly Detroit-drafted
player to get a long look in the NHL. Interestingly, Detroit has actually not developed an elite player
through drafting since they picked Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the late 1990’s. Johan Franzen (2004) and Nik Kronwall (2000) might be the only skaters close to that distinction. 

So while the Red Wings franchise is known for their ability to find elite talent late in the draft, they haven’t done it for about 14 years. However, 50% of the players (7 in total) that
have come up to play at least 50 games have gone on to play at least 200 games.
This supports the notion that Detroit likes to let prospects ripen on the vine. When players do come up, they are ready to
produce and stay in the bigs. 

EDMONTON

Edmonton has actually graduated the most draftees to NHL
players since 2003. The team has been in
rebuild mode for the better part of a decade and has only made the playoffs once since
2003.

Yet, here they are at the top of
the heap in terms of bringing players through the system to become NHLers.  Given Edmonton’s success, or lack thereof,
does this mean that Edmonton is rushing their draft picks into the league?

I would say it most certainly does. While the Oilers lead the league in converting
draftees to NHLers, only 30% of those players (8 in total) have gone on to play
200+ games in the NHL so far, by far the biggest drop off between 50-game
players and 200-game players. Edmonton
will likely have Nugent-Hopkins and Yakopov crossing the 200-game barrier in the
near future, but the drop off between 50 to 200 game players is still
substantial.   

BOSTON

Boston is an intriguing case and perhaps even the class of the
league when it comes to drafting. They
have drafted 3 elite players in the past 10 years where most teams have drafted
1. They’ve traded away 2 of those
players, but have made the playoffs 8 times in the past decade and will likely
be a top-tier team for the next 5 years.

The Bruins
have turned 22% of their players into regular NHLers with
200+ games under their belt.  Essentially,
Boston is converting three players every two years into useful big leaguers. They,
along with the Canadiens, lead the league in converting draftees to this level of 200+ game guys. 

Also,
while they didn’t draft Rask, they acquired him for nothing very early into his
professional career when Toronto decided he was expendable. They have groomed Rask into one of the best
goalies in the league. It’s unclear whether Boston is using a different drafting
strategy to analyze the upcoming talent or implementing a unique way to develop
the players they draft or both.

What is clear is that what they are doing seems to be working.

CALGARY

Since 2003, Calgary has been one of the very worst drafting teams in the
entire league. They convert draftees to
NHLers or regular NHLers far less than the league average (23.9%). Additionally, they
are one of only five teams that have not drafted one elite player in the past
ten years. In addition, they are the only
team in the entire NHL that hasn’t had a 2nd rounder (a top 31 – 60
pick) play 50 games or more since 2003 – in part, no doubt, because Darryl Sutter’s favourite bargaining chip seemed to be second round picks. 

These dire circumstances appear to be changing given the apparent depth of their current prospect pool. 
Many up and coming players will likely play at least 50 games in the NHL, with several of those potentially crossing over the 200 mark.  As well, with any luck, there is 1 or 2 elite players in the system or soon to join it since the club is picking 4th in the upcoming draft. When we look back in five years, if the
players are developed right, the Flames’ drafting over the 2010’s might turn
out to be very good. It can’t get much worse than their drafting
in the 2000’s, that’s for sure.

SUM IT UP

The draft is the one of the most important aspects of an organization’s quest for success. Whether you’re drafting
to become good in a few years or drafting for impact right now, you have to go
about it the right way. GMs that can hit on 2-3 draft picks out of 7 year after
year will likely develop a good team that can last for years, as it constantly infuses ample new and ready talent to the mix. 

Peter Chiarelli and the
Boston Bruins certainly seem to be doing everything right. You want a model for how to build a winner
without tanking for a slew of top- 5 draft picks, follow the recipe of the
President’s trophy winner. Learning what
they look for when drafting, how they look for it and how they develop their draftees may be
the best thing any bottom-feeder team could do to accelerate their team’s drive
to become a great team that stands the test of time.  

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Regarding Sam Reinhart:

    What’s interesting to me is his late birthday. As with Monahan I wonder if their draft -1 indicates something interesting?

    What’s more since their draft-1 is the draft years of their birthyear peers how do they rank with them?

    Monahan:
    GP G A Pts PIM
    62 33 45 78 38
    It seems given his position and THAT draft class he could have gone top 3

    Reinhart:
    72 35 50 85 22
    Where would he fall, given the late birthdays Lindholm and Monahan (WOW Barkov and Mackinnon just made it) would be out (pushed back)?

    Is he better than Barkov? Would he have gone 5th?

    When I read Sam’s scouting report, I’m reminded of Monahan.

    Given a situation where the top 5 guys this year DON’T bust, what is a dream scenario if Calgary does get a centre?

    I’m asking, if a 1-2 of Monahan and – Reinhart (same) Bennett (dynamic) Draisaitl (?) which is more appealing?

  • Truculence

    One of my questions is; if there is drop of after the top 3; are there more than just DC and DR in the conversation.

    The point I was more interested in was the two second round picks and if anyone had any real knowledge of any of them. (I have read the general rankings, size, and stats but has anyone done the eye test and the advanced stats test on them.) By the way can anyone tell me exactly what numbers the Flames draft at in the later rounds.

    I also think that Trevling is actively pursuing another 1st.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      “I also think that Trevling is actively pursuing another 1st.”

      I’m curious, what makes you believe this is true (aside from who isn’t looking)?

      • Truculence

        I heard an interview with him and he was asked about the draft and how things were different now that he had the 4th and not Phoenix pick and it seemed to me that his response was such that the next two groupings (his term)both had lots of talent. The fact that the next 5-10 top ranked players also have some guys with both skill and size (he’s on record suggesting he would like a team that plays heavy) makes me think he would like to get a player in that range. Also he would have a good understanding of what the Coyotes might want for the pick and if the Flames have anything that might be of significant interest on them. Like much of what is said here on FN it is speculation and I think wishful thinking. I wish I had a crystal ball but I don’t.