Derek Zona runs our Edmonton Oilers blog, The Copper & Blue, where he comments on the state of his team. He's written about league-wide issues at SBN's From The Rink, and beginning today, he brings a weekly column here to SBNation.com.
As part of the research I've been doing on the Edmonton's successes and failures at the NHL draft in the last decade, I stumbled upon this article that had some statistics concerning career players drafted in the between the years 1990 and 1999. The author defines "career player" as a player that has played in 200 NHL games.
The number is arbitrary, but 200 games is four seasons of fifty games in the NHL, which is certainly an NHL career. Though the number seems low for first round picks, to do any sort of analysis, eventually we'll have to draw an arbitrary line to measure a career player.
My article on Edmonton's success rate has additional background. According to the article, of all of the draftees selected from 1990-1999, 19% of them became career players. Picks taken in the first-round became a career player 63% of the time, while 25% of second-round draft picks became career players. The author then lumps all players taken in the third round and beyond into one category, and those players became career players 12% of the time.
I decided to update and expand upon his work by running the same study for the years 1999 through 2005 and breaking out the categories by each of the thirty teams in the league. I used 1999 because the lockout season of 2004-2005 prevented players from accumulating games played, and I used 2005 as an endpoint because many 2006 draftees are still in college or turned pro prior to the 2009-2010 season.
I used the same 200 game minimum as a measurement of a career player, but I also cheated a bit and included any players that, barring catastrophic injury, were a surefire bet to make it to 200 games. There may some disagreement with those handful of players, but overall, they don't affect the final numbers significantly. I also lowered the goalie requirement to 100 games, which is essentially a short-career backup. I counted the player regardless of the team that he actually played the games for, so this is in no way a study on team management or player development organizations, just draft day accomplishments.
Over the course of these seven years, NHL teams drafted 1,958 players. Thus far, 317 of those draftees have played 200 games or are a sure bet to play 200 games, or 16.2% overall, three percentage points less than in the 90s, but there is still plenty of time for the players, especially U.S. college players drafted in 2004 and 2005, to break into the NHL.
Broken into individual rounds, the numbers are very close to the 1990s numbers. Kids selected in the first round have gone on to become career players 61.1% of the time as compared to 63% of the time in the 90s. Second round picks have yielded career players 24.3% of the time as compared to 25% of the time. In the third round and beyond, 8.7% of players have had a career in the NHL, compared to 12% of the time in the 90s, but late round picks take a longer round to the NHL in general, and I'd expect this number to align with the 90s numbers over the course of the next couple of years.
But how do the individual teams stack up against each other? Below is a heat map of the results of the study. Each column represents the % of total draft choices that became career players in the NHL. In my version of the heat map, the red is bad, meaning something like "stop drafting so poorly!". The brighter the color, the better the performance.
|Rk||Team||Total %||1st %||2nd %||3rd+ %|
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
Detroit Red Wings
Col. Blue Jackets
Toronto Maple Leafs
St. Louis Blues
New Jersey Devils
Tampa Bay Lightning
The most effective overall team at the podium was the Islanders, but looking at their "career players", I see a number of players that I categorized as "surefire" bets to get to 200 games. Players like future Selke Trophy winner Frans Nielsen, Blake Comeau, and current Phoenix Coyote Petteri Nokelainen. If Mattias Weinhandl ever comes back from the KHL, the Islanders' overall numbers will improve a bit more. The Islanders were tied for the fifth-most effective team in the first round over this period and they were in the top one-third of the league in the third round and beyond.
The Sabres, Penguins and Canadiens all come in within a percentage point of each other, but all three got to their overall percentages in different ways. The Sabres were poor in the first round, going four for eight with notable busts Barrett Heisten and Artem Kryukov. They were slightly above average in the second round and nailed it in the later rounds going seven for forty-seven, and that 14.9% rate was the second-best in the league. That late-round success nabbed players like Ryan Miller, Paul Gaustad, Dennis Wideman, and Jan Hejda.
The Penguins went six for seven in the first round over this time period, mostly due to the fact that had a top five pick four different times and landed Ryan Whitney, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Just for good measure they also drafted Colby Armstrong and Brooks Orpik. The Pens did an about face in round two, getting a career player one time in nine picks and that one is Alex Goligoski, tagged as a surefire career player. They found much more success in the later rounds, going for eight for fiftty-five, the third-best later rounds percentage in the league.
The Canadiens were simply strong in all three categories, the only team in the blue in all three categories. They did this even while going oh-fer in the 1999 draft. They've had special success with defenseman, grabbing Ron Hainsey, Mike Komisarek, Mark Streit, and even Ryan O'Byrne has a very good chance of joining this group.
On the flip side there were some absolutely brutal performances on those seven draft days, especially from the Coyotes, the Devils and the Lightning. The Hurricanes would be lumped in with that group but for their success in the first round - they were five for six in the first round and one for forty-nine with the rest of their picks. At least they were in the blue in some category, the aforementioned teams were at or near the bottom of the league in all three categories.
The Phoenix Coyotes were seven for sixty overall, fourth-worst in the league over that time span. They were four for eight in the first round, two for thirteen in the second and only found two career players in forty-four picks in the third round and beyond. Overall, they missed out on three franchise players over that span - it might explain why the Coyotes missed the playoffs from 2002 through 2008.
Surprisingly, the New Jersey Devils were third-worst team in the league. I say surprisingly because typically Lou Lamoriello is full of guile and seems slipperier than a greased eel. But on draft day, at least for these seven years, Lou's performance was a mess. Three for six in the first round, two for thirteen in the second round and hit on only two of his forty-five picks in the later rounds.
Finally, we have the Tampa Bay Lightning. Want to know why the Lightning bought up so many free agents? Look no further than their track record in this time frame. The Lightning had a total of 75 picks, more than any team except Chicago and managed to draft only four career players. Four. The league average would have netted them twelve career players in the same years. The Lightning had four first-round picks and whiffed on all four. They had eight picks in the second round and whiffed on all eight. Zero career players in the first two rounds over a span of seven years. They were able to find four career players in the later rounds, but even that was below the league average.
One other note of curiosity - the Flyers had zero second-round picks through these seven years. No, it's not that they failed to get a career player from the second round, they didn't choose in the second round for seven years. Bobby Clarke must've had something against the number two.