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NHL Draft Analysis: Finding 100-Game Players

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My deep dive on the draft came about like this.

The Maple Leafs hired long-time New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello to fill the vacant GM spot in Toronto. By the next day, these rumours started:

With Lamoriello in town, would long-time colleague David Conte head to Toronto as well?

Conte presented a problem. The Leafs have been in a full-on analytics shift, shown most prominently in the team’s return to valuing draft picks and prospect development over short-term fixes. With all of the analytics momentum in Toronto, the old-school Lamoriello was an odd but ultimately reasonable choice as part of the Leafs’ management group. But how would Conte, former director of amateur scouting in New Jersey, fit in with the Leafs regime? Popular opinion suggested that, while the Leafs have done poorly at the draft in the past couple of decades, the Devils had been equally bad.

Maybe even worse.

The only way to answer this question was to analyze draft performance team by team and quantify how each performed. That would allow for some comparisons.

Below, you’ll find some of the results of my first dig. After the results, I present some initial thoughts on how the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks have fared at the draft table. Then I’ll weigh on the Conte-to-Toronto rumours.

 

Examining The Draft

What I’ve done and what I haven’t

For this study, I examined all drafts between 2000 and 2012. I scanned for all players that had played 100 or 500 games. The results for the 100-gamers will be presented here.

Starting with 2000 made sense because that’s when the NHL grew to its 30-team size. Ending at 2012 was more subjective. Players from 2014 haven’t had long enough to amass 100 games. Six players from the 2013 draft are past 100 games. That figure rises to ten players from the 2012 draft and 18 from 2011. Going back any further would shrink the sample size too much.

In the end, I settled on 2012 because of Travis Yost’s piece on TSN.ca (here). Yost examines the draft period between 2000-2012. Sticking with the same time frame would allow my work to complement some research that’s already available.

I have not included any considerations for point totals, CF%, wins and shutouts, or any other indicators of player quality – yet. That’s a much bigger issue that will be tackled over time. For now, success is simply a draft pick that reaches the NHL and plays 100 NHL games.

 

Draft Results

The 100 gamers

Scott Cullen’s look at draft pick values charts some different measures of draft pick success, including the likelihood that each pick or round in a draft will yield a 100-game player. The chart below details how each team has performed in terms of selecting prospects that eventually go on to play 100 NHL games.

The y-axis shows how many picks each team had between the 2000 and 2012 drafts. The longer the bar, the more picks a team has made.

The color shows the percentage of team draft picks that have turned into 100-game players; light blue is 11-17%, medium blue is 17.1-23%, dark blue is 23.1-29%.

NHL Draft Pick Results

An initial note of interest is the league-wide average over the 13 drafts between 2000 and 2012. The average NHL team selected 105 prospects (about eight per year) and unearthed 100-gamers 20 percent of the time, or about one in every 5 picks. Based on the league-wide average, a team with eight picks in a given year during this timeframe should only expect to find one (maybe two) players who go on to play 100 games. Inversely, 80 percent of draft picks will never play 100 games in the NHL level.

That’s a humbling thought.

However, above and below the average, there’s a lot more to see here.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks lead the NHL in draft picks during this timespan. They drafted 136 times, which is 20 more picks than the next highest team (Edmonton, 116 draft picks). The Blackhawks drafted 17 in 2004 (five 100 gamers), 15 players in 2000 (no 100 gamers in the bunch) and drafted 10 or more players in seven different drafts.

The list of Blackhawks draft pick successes is incredibly long;

  • Tuomo Ruutu
  • Craig Anderson
  • Duncan Keith
  • James Wisniewski
  • Brent Seabrook
  • Corey Crawford
  • Dustin Byfuglien
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson
  • Jonathan Toews
  • Patrick Kane
  • Marcus Kruger
  • Brandon Saad
  • Andrew Shaw
  • Teuvo Teravainen
  • many others

The core of the 2015 Stanley Cup roster is here, along with major players who’ve gone on to important roles with other teams. Looking at this list, there’s a temptation to declare the Blackhawks’ scouting department a huge success. However, the team has been only league average in terms of selecting 100-gamers (20 percent success rate). The ‘Hawks have accumulated a deep pool of talented players at the draft primarily by drafting far more often than any other team.

 

Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are at the other end of the spectrum. Between 2000-2012, the Canucks drafted only 88 players – 17 less than average and a whopping 48 less picks that the Blackhawks. The team drafted ten or more times in a draft twice – 2002 (11 players) and 2003 (10 players). Of those two draft, only Ryan Kesler went on to play more than 100 NHL games.

Other notable players selected by the Canucks include;

  • RJ Umberger
  • Kevin Bieksa
  • Cory Schneider
  • Alex Edler
  • Mason Raymond
  • Michael Grabner
  • Cody Hodgson

The Canucks scouting department may shoulder some of the blame. In three drafts during this period, the Canucks failed to select anyone that went on to play even a single NHL game. The team selected 100-gamers on an NHL-worst 11 percent of their picks.

That’s awful.

But part of the story here is that the Canucks had many fewer draft picks than most other teams. The Blackhawks drafted 27 100-gamers during this span, converting draft choices at the NHL-average rate. For the Canucks to match that number of successful picks, they would have needed to connect on 31 percent of their selections. No NHL team succeeded at that rate during this period.

 

One Early Conclusion

The Blackhawks v. Canucks show two different draft paths. The Blackhawks have retained their draft picks, drafted many prospects, and converted their choices at a league-average rate. Chicago has managed to build a modern-day dynasty. Conversely, the Canucks have often traded away their draft choices for players or for last-minute help leading up to postseason runs. The Canucks have enjoyed playoff success, so the strategy isn’t necessarily folly.

But in the lens of draft success, the Blackhawks have demonstrated that one key precept of the Belichick draft strategy works in the NHL as well. Accumulating many picks, even lower picks, is a safer strategy for securing talent in the draft.

 

David Conte and the Leafs

For now, I’ll keep my comments on David Conte and the Leafs draft record fairly brief.

In 100 draft choices between 2000-2012, the Leafs drafted 23 players that played 100 NHL games (23 percent). During the same time frame, the Devils made 104 draft picks. Eighteen of these became 100 game NHLers (17 percent). In a strictly mathematical sense, the Leafs have been around the NHL average in terms of identifying 100-gamers. The Devils have been just below average. Conte doesn’t offer anything to Mark Hunter’s draft team and is probably a poor fit. But, if Lamoriello’s long-time head scout does land in Toronto, Leafs fans needn’t panic.

It’s not like their getting Vancouver’s draft team.

 

Looking Ahead

In the next piece, I’ll take a look at team success in identifying long-time NHLers – players who have amassed 500 NHL games. These results showcase the NHL teams that have succeeded in drafting players that play in the NHL for many years. The findings reveal an unlikely team as the league’s best drafter – the Buffalo Sabres.

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