NHL Draft Success (2005-08)

There have been a few articles reviewing draft accuracy over the years (like TSN’s Scott Cullen‘s awhile back) and as engaging as they are I’ve always had problems with the way they are constructed. Examinations of the draft that cover a long period of time fail to account for the changes in the league and the draft itself, so the comparisons just don’t work. When articles cover more recent drafts (Hockey Futures does them at five-year intervals) they are forced to make judgement calls on players whose futures are yet to be defined (for example, Colin Greening hadn’t started his pro career by that time; Carl Soderberg didn’t until he was 27). All this preamble is to make two key points: 1) the attitude and approach to the NHL draft changed seismically after the 2004-05 lockout (due to the cap), 2) the typical make-or-break moment for a draft pick varies considerably.  On top of that, the raw overview I’m about to give is simply a window into the study, since I can’t account for management changes or know how much money/emphasis is being allocated on scouting by each team, nor am I comparing the quality of those players beyond being useful at the NHL level.  What follows is a very broad examination of levels of success within the draft.  I’ve cut off at 2008 because even the ’09 draft class still hasn’t completed their cycle of development (even ’08 has a certain level of ambiguity).  All of this presupposes the importance of the draft, something that could not be assumed at certain points in NHL history.

My framework: what is a successful pick?  Any skater who has played 200+ NHL games (along with some judgement calls, particularly when it comes to goaltenders).  With that many games the player has managed at least two and a half seasons of NHL work and that’s a solid return on the investment.

2005 (here)

First Round
17 players have played 200+ games (I’m including Tuukka Rask), including 8 of the top-10 (Luc Bourdon tragically died and is the only exception).  Only 3 players never suited up in the NHL (Marek Zagrapan #13, Sasha Pokulok #14, and Alex Bourret #16); 6 other players (excluding Bourdon) played less than a full season, leaving 4 other players as middling returns with only Jack Skille (#7) likely to crest the 200 game barrier.
Second Round
8 players hit 200+ games (the best are James Neal #33 and Paul Statsny ##44), with 12 never suiting up and another 8 having yet to play a full season’s worth of games.  There are no players who seem likely to break that 200 barrier.
Third Round
4 players hit the mark (the best are Kris Letang #62 and Jonathan Quick #72); 12 never played, with another 10 not getting a full season’s worth.  Two players (Mark Fraser #84 and Ben Bishop #85) could break the 200 mark.
Fourth Round
6 players have reached the plateau (the best is Keith Yandle #105); 17 never played, with another 10 short a season; no one else will reach the barrier.
Fifth Round
4 players hit the mark (the best are Darren Helm #132 and Nathan Gerbe #142); 24 never played, with another 6 not reaching a full season; Ryan Reaves (#156) will make it 5 players next season.
Sixth Round
Only Matt D’Agostini qualifies, with Tim Kennedy having a slight chance to join him; 24 players never played with another 6 failing to get a full season.
Seventh Round
4 players reached the plateau (all serviceable players); 26 players never played, with another 4 not reaching a full season; Joe Vitale (#195) could hit 200 games.

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
4 – Columbus, Montreal
3 – Detroit, Dallas
2 – Pittsburgh, San Jose, Ottawa, Los Angeles, New York Rangers, Phoenix, Toronto, St. Louis, Nashville, Buffalo, Chicago
1 – Anaheim, Carolina, Minnesota, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Atlanta/Winnipeg, Colorado, Vancouver, Boston, New Jersey
0 – Washington, New York Islanders, Florida, Calgary, Tampa Bay

2006 (here)

First Round
19 players hit the plateau, including all of the top-ten picks; again 3 players did not suit up for an NHL game (Mark Mitera #19, David Fischer #20, and Dennis Persson #24), and 7 players did not play a full season; only Jonathan Bernier (#11) will achieve “success” status by my metric.
Second Round
9 players (I’m including Michal Neuvirth) hit the mark; 14 players never played, with another 6 never have played a full season’s worth of games.
Third Round
Only 3 players reached the plateau (Steve Mason #69, Brad Marchand #71, and Cal Clutterbuck #72); 16 never played, with another 5 not having hit a full season; it’s possible another player might hit the mark, but none are assured of it.
Fourth Round
Just 1 player (Matt Beleskey #112) meets the criteria, although I’ll include James Reimer (#99); 22 players never played, 6 others falling short of a season.
Fifth Round
No player has hit or will hit the 200 game-mark (or even 100); 23 never played.
Sixth Round
3 players hit the mark (Andrew MacDonald #160, Viktor Stalberg #161, and Mathieu Perreault #177); 23 prospects never played, with another 4 not getting a season’s worth of games.
Seventh Round
2 players qualify (Derek Dorsett #189 and Erik Condra #211); 24 players never played with another 4 not getting a season’s worth.

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
4 – Washington, Toronto
3 – Boston, Columbus
2 – St. Louis, New York Islanders, Minnesota, Ottawa, Los Angeles
1 – Pittsburgh, Chicago, Phoenix, Florida, Atlanta/Winnipeg, Vancouver, Colorado, Philadelphia, San Jose, Edmonton, Detroit, New York Rangers, Buffalo, Carolina, Anaheim
0 – Tampa Bay, Montreal, Calgary, New Jersey, Dallas, Nashville

2007 (here)
First Round
15 players hit the mark, including 8 of the top-ten; 5 picks never played a game (Alexei Cherepanov #17 died; Logan MacMillan #19, Angelo Esposito #20, Patrick White #25, and Nick Ross #30), with another 4 playing less than a full season; 4 players seem likely to reach the plateau (Tomas Hickey, Ian Cole, Riley Nash, and Brendan Smith).
Second Round
4 players have reached the plateau; 15 never played a game, with 9 more short a full-season.
Third Round
No player has reached 200 games yet, although 3 players have a good shot at it (Drayson Bowman #72, Yannick Weber #73, and Alex Killorn #77); 16 players never suited up, while 8 have yet to achieve a full-season.
Fourth Round
2 players qualify (Alec Martinez #95 and Matt Halischuk #117); 16 never played, with another 8 not achieving a full-season’s worth of games; Dwight King (#109) and Keith Aulie (#116) should join the other two after next season.
Fifth Round
1 player (Jamie Benn #159) reaches the mark; 23 have never played, while 5 have fewer than a season’s worth of games; Jake Muzzin (#141) seems likely to also hit 200 games.
Sixth Round
No one qualifies, although both Carl Hagelin (#168) and Nick Bonino (#173) will get there; 18 prospects never played, while 8 haven’t reached a season’s worth of games.
Seventh Round
2 players (Carl Gunnarsson #194 and Justin Braun #201) reached the mark; 25 have never played with another 2 not reaching a season’s worth of games.

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
4 – Los Angeles, Montreal
3 – San Jose, St. Louis
2 – Edmonton, Carolina, Colorado
1 – Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, Columbus, Florida, Detroit, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Calgary, New Jersey, Dallas, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, Toronto
0 – Ottawa, Boston, Anaheim, Vancouver, Buffalo, Atlanta/Winnipeg, New York Islanders, Minnesota

2008 (here)
First Round
16 players have reached 200 games, including 9 of the top-ten; four prospects never played (Kyle Beach #11, Chet Pickard ##18, Anton Gustafsson #21, and Daultan Leveille #29), with another 6 having less than a season’s worth of games; Jake Gardiner (#17) will join the 200 club next season.
Second Round
2 players (Derek Stepan #51 and Travis Hamonic #53) have reached the plateau, with Vyacheslav Voinov (#32), Roman Josi (#38), Justin Schultz (#43), and Marco Scandella (#55) locks to join them (Patrick Wiercioch #42 should as well); 8 players have never suited up, with another 13 short of a full-season.
Third Round
Again 2 players (Zack Smith #79 and I’m including Adam Henrique #82); 19 prospects never made it, with another 6 short of a full season.
Fourth Round
No one has reached 200 games, although Dale Weise (#111), T. J. Brodie (#114), and Gustav Nyquist (#121) should get there and I’d count Braden Holtby (#93); 16 players never suited up, with another 9 falling short of a full season’s worth of games.
Fifth Round
Only Matt Martin (#148) has hit the mark, although Andrei Loktionov (#123) and Matt Calvert (#127) should join him; 18 prospects never played, with another 8 short of a full-season.
Sixth Round
1 player qualifies (Jared Spurgeon #156), but Cam Atkinson (#157) and Tommy Wingels (#177) will join him next season; 20 players never suited up, while another 5 are short a full-season’s worth of games.
Seventh Round
Only Jason Demers (#186) hits the mark; 23 have never played with another 4 without a full-season; I’ll include Anders Lindback (#207) as well.

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
4 – New York Islanders
3 – Los Angeles, Nashville, Ottawa, New York Rangers
2 – Buffalo, Anaheim, Washington, Columbus, San Jose
1 – Tampa Bay, Atlanta/Winnipeg, St. Louis, Toronto, Phoenix, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Edmonton, Minnesota, New Jersey, Calgary, Detroit
0 – Chicago, Carolina, Boston, Florida, Colorado, Montreal, Dallas, Pittsburgh


Here’s the round-by-round success rate:
First: 63/120 (52.5%)
Second: 28/123 (22.7%)
Third: 14/120 (11.6%)
Fourth: 16/124 (12.9%)
Fifth: 10/127 (7.8%)
Sixth: 9/123 (7.3%)
Seventh: 11/128 (8.5%)

The scaling between rounds is not surprising.  Of the 39 top-ten picks (excluding Bourdon for obvious reasons), only 4 were misses, making them 89.7% reliable.  Excluding the top-ten picks, the first round is still significantly stronger than the second round (28/79, 35%, excluding Cherepanov for the same obvious reason).  The third and fourth, and then fifth-seventh rounds are roughly all on equal footing in terms of results.  Given the lack of decline after the second round there are clearly missing factors in the way NHL teams scout (otherwise the trend should go downward each round consistently), albeit the above data is a small sample (just four years).

Team Performance
Los Angeles 11
Columbus 10
Montreal, San Jose, Toronto, St. Louis 8
Ottawa, New York Rangers, Washington 7
Detroit, Nashville, New York Islanders 6
Phoenix, Buffalo, Edmonton 5
Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim, Carolina, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Colorado, Boston 4
Atlanta/Winnipeg, Vancouver, New Jersey 3
Florida, Calgary, Tampa Bay 2

It’s difficult to imagine any scouting staff could completely whiff on an entire year, but awful organisations of the time are on display among the bottom-feeders here.  It’s interesting that LA is in the midst of benefitting from excellent scouting right now, whereas Columbus is experiencing much more modest gains from their success (here’s where the difference between quality of players manifests itself most clearly).  It seems like a good year for scouts is 2 NHL players (more than that is excellent), while there should always be at least one found.

My hope is that others will dig a little deeper into the draft and glean a bit more the how and why behind the numbers–a few basic factors (poor coverage of Europe and the dismissal of smaller players) are clearly a factor (as explored here in a look at undrafted success stories).

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)



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