NHL Draft Success (2005-2009)


There have been a sprinkle of articles over the years reviewing draft accuracy, but I’ve always had issues 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 they don’t really work (you’ll see 20 and 30 year swaths as if everything about those periods is the same). 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 (just one example, Carl Soderberg didn’t jump to the NHL until he was 27).  All this preamble is to make two key points: 1) the attitude and approach to the draft in the NHL 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 more in depth analysis, since I’m not focused on all the nuances of scouting departments and only lightly touch on management changes.  What follows is a very broad examination of levels of success within the draft by team.  I’ve cut off at 2009 because even the ’10 draft class still hasn’t completed their cycle of development (’09 could still see some slight adjustments and you’ll see below there are players in the ’06 class still up in the air).  All of this presupposes the importance of the draft, something that could not be assumed at points in NHL history (there have been times when teams could buy their way out of trouble).

My framework: what is a successful pick?  There are a lot of complicated ways to decide, but the simplest is to say any skater who has played 200+ NHL games has returned value on the investment (I also make a few judgement calls, particularly when it comes to goaltenders).  Two and a half seasons of NHL work isn’t the only metric you could use, but it’s a good place to start.

2005 (here)
First Round
18 players have played 200+ games, including 9 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)
Second Round
8 players hit 200+ games (the best are James Neal #33 and Paul Statsny ##44), with 12 never hitting the ice
Third Round
6 players hit the mark (the best are Kris Letang #62 and Jonathan Quick #72; I’m including Ben Bishop #85); 12 never played
Fourth Round
7 players have reached the plateau (the best is Keith Yandle #105); 17 never played; Chris VandeVelde is 3 games away so I’ve included him in the total
Fifth Round
5 players hit the mark (the best are Darren Helm #132 and Nathan Gerbe #142); 23 never played
Sixth Round
Only Matt D’Agostini qualifies; 22 players never played
Seventh Round
5 players reached the plateau; 26 players never played

Here’s the success by team:
4 – Columbus (MacLean), Montreal (Gainey)
3 – Detroit (Holland), Dallas (Armstrong), Pittsburgh (Patrick), St. Louis (Pleau), New York Rangers (Sather)
2 – San Jose (Wilson), Ottawa (Muckler), Los Angeles (Taylor), Arizona/Phoenix (Barnett), Toronto (Ferguson), Nashville (Poile), Buffalo (Regier), Chicago (Pulford/Tallon), Edmonton (Lowe), New Jersey (Lamoriello)
1 – Anaheim (Coates/Burke), Carolina (Rutherford), Minnesota (Risebrough), Philadelphia (Clarke), Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell), Colorado (Lacroix), Vancouver (Nonis), Boston (O’Connell)
0 – Washington (McPhee), New York Islanders (Milbury), Florida (Keenan), Calgary (Sutter), Tampa Bay (Feaster)

2006 (here)
First Round
20 players hit the plateau, including all of the top-ten picks; 3 players did not hit the ice for an NHL game (Mark Mitera #19, David Fischer #20, and Dennis Persson #24)
Second Round
9 players hit the mark, but I’d throw Jhonas Enroth in there (so 10); 14 players never played
Third Round
5 players have reached the plateau, but another should join them (Brian Strait #65, so 6); 16 never hit the ice
Fourth Round
2 players (Matt Beleskey #112 and James Reimer #99); 22 players never played
Fifth Round
No player has hit the 200 game-mark (or even 100); 23 never played; Chad Johnson #125 was the best player picked
Sixth Round
4 players hit the mark (Andrew MacDonald #160, Viktor Stalberg #161, and Mathieu Perreault #177), with Leo Komarov #180 likely getting there (I’ve included him); 23 prospects never played
Seventh Round
2 players qualify (Derek Dorsett #189 and Erik Condra #211); 24 players never played

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
5 – Toronto (Ferguson)
4 – Washington (McPhee)
3 – Boston (O’Connell/Gorton/Chiarelli), Columbus (MacLean), Ottawa (Muckler)
2 – St. Louis (Pleau), New York Islanders (Milbury/Smith), Minnesota (Risebrough), Los Angeles (Taylor/Lombardi), Pittsburgh (Patrick/Shero), Buffalo (Regier)
1 – Chicago (Pulford), Arizona/Phoenix (Barnett/Maloney), Florida (Keenan), Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell), Vancouver (Nonis), Colorado (Lacroix/Giguere), Philadelphia (Clarke), San Jose (Wilson), Edmonton (Lowe), Detroit (Holland), New York Rangers (Sather), Carolina (Rutherford), Anaheim (Burke), Montreal (Gainey)
0 – Tampa Bay (Feaster), Calgary (Sutter), New Jersey (Lamoriello), Dallas (Armstrong), Nashville (Poile)

2007 (here)
First Round
19 players hit the mark, including 9 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)
Second Round
4 players have reached the plateau; 14 never played a game
Third Round
3 players have reached 200 games (Yannick Weber #73, Alex Killorn #77, and Joakim Andersson #88), with Robert Bortuzzo and Corey Tropp having a slim chance to get there (I didn’t include them in the totals); 16 players never hit the ice
Fourth Round
3 players qualify, with Steven Kampfer #93, Brad Malone #105, and Colton Sceviour #112 getting there (so 6); 16 never played
Fifth Round
2 players (Jamie Benn #159 and Jake Muzzin #141) reach the mark; Chris Terry #132 has a shot to join them (not included); 23 have never played
Sixth Round
4 players qualify; Anthony Peluso #160 could join them (not included); 17 prospects never played
Seventh Round
2 players (Carl Gunnarsson #194 and Justin Braun #201) reached the mark; 24 have never played; there’s a chance Paul Postma #205 will eventually get there (not included)

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
4 – Los Angeles (Lombardi), Montreal (Gainey)
3 – San Jose (Wilson), St. Louis (Pleau), Colorado (Giguere)
2 – Edmonton (Lowe), Philadelphia (Holmgren), Detroit (Holland), Dallas (Armstrong)
1 – Chicago (Pulford), Carolina (Rutherford), Pittsburgh (Shero), Buffalo (Regier), Arizona/Phoenix (Maloney), Washington (McPhee), Columbus (Howson/MacLean), Florida (Martin), Nashville (Poile), Tampa Bay (Feaster), Calgary (Sutter), New Jersey (Lamoriello), New York Rangers (Sather), Toronto (Ferguson), Anaheim (Burke)
0 – Ottawa (Br.Murray/Muckler), Boston (Chiarelli), Vancouver (Nonis), Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell), New York Islanders (Snow), Minnesota (Risebrough)

2008 (here)
First Round
18 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)
Second Round
7 players have reached the plateau, with Vyacheslav Voinov (#32) joining them absent his legal problems–I’d also include Jake Allen (#34), so 9; 7 players have never suited up
Third Round
4 players (Michael Stone #69, Lance Bouma #78, Zack Smith #79, Adam Henrique #82), and Jori Lehtera #65 if he can stay healthy (so 5); 17 prospects never made it
Fourth Round
Four have reached 200 games; 15 players never suited up
Fifth Round
Two players (Matt Martin #148 and Matt Calvert #127) qualify, but Philip Larsen (#149) should join them this season (so 3); Mark Borowiecki (#139) could join them, but is not included; 18 prospects never played
Sixth Round
4 players qualify (Jared Spurgeon #156, Cam Atkinson #157, Tommy Wingels #177, and Zac Rinaldo #178), with Ben Smith #169 likely joining them in the upcoming season (so 5); Mark Barbeiro (#152) has a shot to make it; 19 players never suited up
Seventh Round
2 players make it (Jason Demers (#186) and Matt Bartkowski (#190)); I’ll include Anders Lindback (#207) as well (so 3)

Here’s the success by team (I’ve included those players destined to break the plateau):
4 – New York Islanders (Snow)
3 – Nashville (Poile), Ottawa (Br.Murray), New York Rangers (Sather), St. Louis (Pleau)
2 – Buffalo (Regier), Anaheim (Burke/Bo.Murray), Washington (McPhee), Columbus (Howson), San Jose (Wilson), Los Angeles (Lombardi), Calgary (Sutter), Philadelphia (Holmgren), Arizona/Phoenix (Maloney), Toronto (Ferguson/Burke)
1 – Tampa Bay (Feaster), Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell), Vancouver (Nonis/Gillis), Edmonton (Lowe), Minnesota (Risebrough), New Jersey (Lamoriello), Detroit (Holland), Chicago (Pulford), Florida (Martin), Dallas (Armstrong/Hull-Jackson), Boston (Chiarelli)
0 – Colorado (Giguere), Carolina (Rutherford), Montreal (Gainey), Pittsburgh (Shero)

2009 (here)
First Round
18 players have hit the threshold (including 9 of the top-10), with another 3 who will get there (so 21); only one player never played (Philippe Paradise #27), with Scott Glennie (#8) as the only top-10 bust
Second Round
6 have reached the threshold, with another 4 on their way (so 10), with a chance Richard Panik (#52) will join them (not included); 9 players never made it
Third Round
3 players hit the mark, with Brayden McNabb #66, Andrej Nestrasil (#75), Kevin Connauton (#83), and Nicolas Deslauriers (#84) likely to make it (so 7); 12 prospects never made it
Fourth Round
6 reach the threshold (including Sami Vatanen); Linden Vey (#96) and Ben Chiarot (#120) have a solid chance to get there (so 8); 13 players never suited up
Fifth Round
3 players hit the mark (including Mike Hoffman); 21 players never suited up
Sixth Round
Anders Lee #152 should get there; 18 players didn’t make it
Seventh Round
2 players have or will hit the mark (Jordan Nolan #186 and Erik Haula #182)

Success by team:
5- Los Angeles (Lombardi)
4 – Ottawa (Br.Murray), New York Islanders (Snow), Nashville (Poile)
3 – Buffalo (Regier), Anaheim (Bo.Murray), Colorado (Giguere/Sherman), Washington (McPhee)
2 – Minnesota (Risebrough), Columbus (Howson), Dallas (Hull-Jackson/Nieuwendyk), Edmonton (Tambellini), Chicago (Pulford), New Jersey (Lamoriello), Detroit (Holland), Atlanta/Winnipeg (Waddell)
1 – Tampa Bay (Lawton), Arizona/Phoenix (Maloney), Toronto (Burke), Florida (Martin/Sexton), New York Rangers (Sather), Pittsburgh (Shero), Vancouver (Gillis)
0 – Boston (Chiarelli), St. Louis (Pleau), Calgary (Sutter), Carolina (Rutherford), Montreal (Gainey), Philadelphia (Holmgren), and San Jose (Wilson) with 0

I’ve been writing this piece for years in the hope that others will dig deeper, but as yet I’ve seen nothing like it.  A few things continue to be true: coverage of Europe still lags behind North America (likely due to cost) and smaller players still need to do more to be selected (both these categories are where the majority of undrafted success stories come from).

Round-by-round success rate (with year-by-year in brackets):
First: 96/150 (64%) (18/20/19/18/21)
Second: 41/154 (26%) (8/10/4/8/10)
Third: 27/150 (18%) (6/6/3/5/7)
Fourth: 26/153 (16%) (7/2/5/4/8)
Fifth: 13/157 (8%) (5/0/2/3/3)
Sixth: 15/153 (9%) (1/4/4/5/1)
Seventh: 14/158 (8%) (5/2/2/3/2)

The scaling between rounds is not surprising.  Of the 49 top-ten picks (excluding Bourdon for obvious reasons), only 3 were misses (HamillFilatov, and Glennie), making them 94% reliable.  Excluding the top-ten, the first round is still significantly stronger than the second round (50/99, 50%, excluding Cherepanov for the same obvious reason).  There should be a steady decline throughout the rounds, but between the fifth-seventh it’s a crapshoot with no meaningful difference in terms of success (this could be due to sample size or there may be something else going on–my guess is either the fifth is where they start swinging for the fences or it’s the last round where team’s are conservative).

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

It’s difficult to imagine any scouting staff completely whiffing on an entire year, but it happens (an average of 5 per season (5/5/6/5/7)).  It’s important to note these numbers don’t distinguish the quality of players and there are certainly a number of prospects who were in the NHL much longer than made any sense.  The average successful pick by team per year is c.1.5, so a good year for scouts is 2 NHL players, while there should always be at least one.

There’s plenty of room to assess GM’s independent of their teams (from 05-09 thirteen teams have had the same management in place).  A quick glance at the variance in performance for those with GM changes:

LA: Taylor 2/1; Lombardi 13/4 (the 2006 draft would have included some or all of Taylor’s scouting staff, with 2 panning out)
Columbus: MacLean 7/2, Howson 5/3 (the above caveat for 2007, where 1 player panned out)
Ottawa: Muckler 5/2, Br.Murray 7/3 (the above for 2007, with 0)
Toronto: Ferguson 8/3, Burke 3/2 (the above caveat for 2008, with 2)
New York Islanders: Milbury 0/1, Smith 2/1 (the above for 2006, with 2), Snow 8/3
Colorado: Lacroix 1/1 Giguere 4/3 (the above for 2006, with 1), Sherman 3/1 (the above for 2009, with 3)
Edmonton: Lowe 6/4, Tambellini 2/1
Arizona/Phoenix: Barnett 1/1, Maloney 6/4 (the above for 2006, with 1)
Anaheim: Burke 3/3 Bo.Murray 5/2 (the above for 2005 via Coates, with 1; the same for 2008 with 2)
Philadelphia: Clarke 2/2, Holmgren 5/3
Chicago: Tallon 5/4 (the above for 2005 via Pulford, with 2), Pulford 2/1
Dallas: Armstrong 5/3 Hull-Jackson 1/1 (the above for 2008, with 1), Nieuwendyk 2/1 (the above for 2009)
Pittsburgh: Patrick 3/1, Shero 3/4 (the above for 2006, with 2)
Boston: O’Connell 1/1, Chiarelli 4/4 (the above for 2006, plus interim GM Gorton, with 3)
Vancouver: Nonis 2/3 Gillis 2/2 (the above for 2008, with 1)
Florida: Keenan 1/2 Martin 2/2, Sexton 1/1 (the above for 2009 with 1)
Tampa Bay: Feaster 2/4, Lawton 1/1

The teams where the GM remained the same:
St. Louis (Pleau) 11/5
Nashville (Poille) 10/5
Washington (McPhee) 10/5
Buffalo (Regier) 10/5
Detroit (Holland) 9/5
New York Rangers (Sather) 9/5
Montreal (Gainey) 9/5
San Jose (Wilson) 8/5
Minnesota (Risebrough) 6/5
New Jersey (Lamoriello) 6/5
Winnipeg/Atlanta (Waddell) 5/5
Calgary (Sutter) 3/5
Carolina (Rutherford) 3/5

Since top-ten picks are essentially gimmies, GMs who have those picks have their numbers inflated, so in terms of what they can do outside of that here are the adjusted numbers:

(Average is 6)
12 – Los Angeles (-3)
10 – Ottawa (-2), Buffalo
9 – Columbus (-3), Toronto (-2), Nashville (-1), Washington (-1), Detroit, New York Rangers, St. Louis (-2)
8 – Montreal (-1), Dallas
7 – New York Islanders (-3), Colorado (-1), Anaheim (-1)
6 – Edmonton (-2), San Jose (-2), Philadelphia (-1), New Jersey
4 – Chicago (-3), Minnesota (-2), Pittsburgh (-2), Boston (-1)
3 – Arizona (-4), Winnipeg/Atlanta (-2), Vancouver (-1), Calgary
2 – Florida (-2), Carolina (-1)
1 – Tampa Bay (-2)

Arizona had the most top-ten picks (with 4), which forms the majority of their success; Los Angeles (which had 3), still produced a huge number of successful prospects, so those are the two clearest examples of teams whose scouts true colours are revealed this way.

All of this just scratches the surface.  Further analysis and time is required to draw conclusions, but it sheds some interesting light on the draft in the current era.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)