Drafting Success, 2001 - 2010

Bruce Bennett

Which organizations do the best job of identifying prospects that eventually become contributing players to NHL teams?

With the 2013 NHL Draft less than three weeks away, I thought it would be interesting to look back at previous drafts and see how each organization has fared with their draft selections. Which teams have been more successful turning their selections into NHL players? Which teams are more likely to find NHL players in the later rounds? Whether or not successful drafting leads to a successful hockey club? And whether or not there are any trends that may show how a team might do in the immediate future? Some of the information will play out as you would probably expect, but some might surprise you.

I started this study by looking at all the draft picks between 2001 and 2010. I excluded the two most recent drafts, as many of the selections have yet to even make it to the pro level. I then took the overall information and divided it up between Round 1 & 2 and Round 3 & Later. Generally the selection in the first two rounds of the draft are more successful than the later round selections, so I thought it might be a good way of evaluating each team’s scouting department. I then had to define what I considered a "successful pick". I decided to go with the number of NHL games played, as statistics don’t always tell the whole story. If you have played in a good number of NHL games, then you must have shown something for the team to keep you. I also decided to classify players as "Successful Picks" and "Marginal Picks", based on the draft year and number of games played. Below is my criteria for determining a pick's success level.

Draft Year Successful Picks Games Played Marginal Picks Games Played
2001 - 2003 250+ games 125+ games
2004 - 2006 175+ games 100+ games
2007 - 2008 125+ games 50+ games
2009 - 2010 50+ games 25+ games
Goalies 2001 - 2006 20+ games
Goalies 2007 - 2010 10+ games

Rounds 1 & 2 of the NHL Draft

We'll start off by looking at how each organization did with their picks in the first two rounds of the draft. I have listed each team's total number of picks in these two rounds, the number of "Successful Picks", the percentage of "Successful Picks", the number or "Marginal or Better Picks" and the percentage of "Marginal or Better Picks." If a player is considered a "Successful Pick," then he would also be considered a "Marginal or Better Pick." I have also included the league average (in bold), so you can tell where a team stands as compared to the NHL average.

Teams Total Picks Successful Picks Successful % Marginal or Better Picks Marginal or Better %
Philadelphia 12 9 75.0% 9 75.0%
Toronto 14 8 57.1% 8 57.1%
Ottawa 17 9 52.9% 12 70.6%
Buffalo 22 11 50.0% 14 63.6%
Carolina 18 9 50.0% 11 61.1%
Montreal 20 10 50.0% 12 60.0%
Washington 28 14 50.0% 14 50.0%
Winnipeg 18 9 50.0% 9 50.0%
San Jose 17 8 47.1% 9 52.9%
Florida 28 13 46.4% 15 53.6%
Minnesota 20 9 45.0% 12 60.0%
NY Islanders 20 9 45.0% 9 45.0%
Pittsburgh 18 8 44.4% 9 50.0%
Columbus 23 10 43.5% 12 52.2%
Colorado 24 10 41.7% 10 41.7%
NHL Average 21 9 41.6% 11 50.4%
Edmonton 27 11 40.7% 15 55.6%
Los Angeles 27 11 40.7% 15 55.6%
St. Louis 25 10 40.0% 14 56.0%
Vancouver 15 6 40.0% 7 46.7%
Boston 21 8 38.1% 8 38.1%
Nashville 21 8 38.1% 12 57.1%
Chicago 30 11 36.7% 12 40.0%
Dallas 22 8 36.4% 9 40.9%
Phoenix 26 9 34.6% 11 42.3%
Anaheim 24 8 33.3% 15 62.5%
Detroit 15 5 33.3% 8 53.3%
NY Rangers 24 8 33.3% 8 33.3%
Calgary 14 4 28.6% 5 35.7%
Tampa Bay 16 4 25.0% 6 37.5%
New Jersey 19 3 15.8% 5 26.3%

Percentage-wise, the Philadelphia Flyers have been the team that has maximized their selections in the first two rounds with 75% of those prospects going on to be successful NHL players. But the Flyers also have had the fewest number of selections in the first two rounds. So while their "Successful Picks" number equals the NHL average and their "Successful %" is tops in the league. They have nine less total picks than the NHL average. Chicago leads the way in number of total picks with thirty, but their "Successful %" is pretty poor. I guess the good news for them was their total number of picks still resulted in eleven. Washington had a very high number of total picks and a good "Successful %," which resulted in them having the most "Successful Picks" in the ten year span.

I don't really think these first two round numbers have much affect on making a team successful or not. Only two of the last ten Stanley Cup Champions (Carolina & Pittsburgh) are in the Top 15 in this category. The top round of the NHL Draft usually favor the poorer teams. The poorer teams need help right away and are able to select the better known players. Most of the successful teams are picking at the bottom of the rounds or not at all, because they traded away their pick(s). So the better teams are selecting more risky prospects.

So, while I don't think these numbers bare a lot of fruit in regards to successful teams, there is some interesting information. New Jersey was the poorest drafting team in the first two rounds and if you look at their current situation, they look to be in some trouble in the immediate future. They have no scoring depth, minimal scoring prospects and no next generation goaltender. Calgary has been another poor drafting team and they are currently in a very bad situation. They have below average NHL talent and next to nothing in their system. It will probably take them three or four years just to get back at a competitive level and that depends on how well they manage their current situation.

The Hurricanes have been pretty successful in the first two rounds of the draft. They ranked tied for 4th among "Successful %" and 5th in "Marginal or Better %". Also, six of their nine "Successful Picks" are still with the team, which is good compared to the other teams. Their issue in the first two rounds is not having enough picks. Their total picks are three below the NHL average and ten below one of their rivals in Washington. Since they have shown drafting success in Rounds 1 & 2, management needs to figure out a way to get more early round picks.

Round 3 & Later of the NHL Draft

Here we'll explore how organizations did deeper in the drafts. Which teams were able find gems in the later rounds and which appear to have pretty good scouting departments? This will be the same setup as the first two rounds with total picks, "Successful Picks", "Marginal or Better Picks" and the league average listed (in bold).

Teams Total Picks Successful Picks Successful % Marginal or Better Picks Marginal or Better %
Buffalo 60 8 13.3% 10 16.7%
Montreal 54 7 13.0% 10 18.5%
Nashville 64 8 12.5% 9 14.1%
NY Islanders 65 8 12.3% 8 12.3%
Boston 50 6 12.0% 7 14.0%
San Jose 59 7 11.9% 11 18.6%
Toronto 61 7 11.5% 9 14.8%
Dallas 56 6 10.7% 8 14.3%
Chicago 71 7 9.9% 9 12.7%
Columbus 71 7 9.9% 13 18.3%
Ottawa 62 6 9.7% 9 14.5%
Pittsburgh 62 6 9.7% 12 19.4%
Anaheim 55 5 9.1% 7 12.7%
Minnesota 55 5 9.1% 7 12.7%
Calgary 68 6 8.8% 8 11.8%
Colorado 59 5 8.5% 10 16.9%
Detroit 59 5 8.5% 6 10.2%
NHL Average 61 5 8.2% 8 12.5%
NY Rangers 61 5 8.2% 10 16.4%
Vancouver 53 4 7.5% 4 7.5%
St. Louis 61 4 6.6% 6 9.8%
Washington 61 4 6.6% 6 9.8%
Los Angeles 65 4 6.2% 7 10.8%
Philadelphia 66 4 6.1% 7 10.6%
Phoenix 51 3 5.9% 4 7.8%
Florida 61 3 4.9% 4 6.6%
Tampa Bay 75 3 4.0% 8 10.7%
New Jersey 58 2 3.4% 7 12.1%
Edmonton 62 2 3.2% 7 11.3%
Winnipeg 64 2 3.1% 3 4.7%
Carolina 50 0 0.0% 1 2.0%

In this category, Buffalo tops the list in "Successful %" and is tied for the lead with Nashville and the Islanders for the number of "Successful Picks." Pittsburgh leads the way with 19.4% "Marginal or Better %" and Columbus has the most "Marginal or Better Picks" with thirteen. Tampa Bay is at the top with the most picks, but with only three "Successful Picks", their "Successful %" is near the bottom of the league. More than half the league sits above the NHL average, with five players and 8.2% of the picks in the later rounds going on to be successful NHL players. In a salary cap league, teams need those guys that can perform a role more affordably.

While the top of this list isn't screaming playoff success, the bottom paints a pretty good picture. Of the bottom seven teams on this list, they have only made the playoffs four times out of twenty-one opportunities in the past three seasons. And the Top 3 in "Marginal or Better %" have been playoff regulars, only one time since 2008 have one of those teams missed the playoffs. So maybe finding regular NHLers in the later rounds has something to do with making or missing the playoffs.

The funny thing here is a team like Detroit, that generally has a good reputation for finding late round gems, is actually right at the league average and in the Bottom 15 in the league. Another funny thing is that five of the Top 10 in Round 1 & 2 "Successful %" dropped to the Bottom 10 in Round 3 & Later "Successful %". Whether this is a result of taking big risk in the later rounds or poor scouting, I don't know, but it is some interesting information.

That leads us to the Hurricanes and their very poor results in the drafts later rounds. The Canes are the only NHL team without a "Successful Pick" in the later rounds and they only have one "Marginal or Better Pick." And to go with their bad percentage, they are tied with Boston with the least number of picks in these rounds. To me, this speaks to the organization's scouting department. I understand you might take some risk, but not having one successful player in ten years really makes it difficult to become a successful team. The team should really look at redoing their scouting department or decide to trade as many later round picks as possible to move up to the 2nd Round.

All Rounds of the NHL Draft

Here we look at the overall success of these NHL organizations at the draft. Will this show how important the draft is to playoff success or are other ways of acquiring players just as important? The setup of this chart will follow the previous two charts. Total Picks, "Successful Picks", "Marginal or Better Picks", percentages and the league average (in bold) will be listed.

Teams Total Picks Successful Picks Successful % Marginal or Better Picks Marginal or Better %
Buffalo 82 19 23.2% 24 29.3%
Montreal 74 17 23.0% 22 29.7%
Washington 89 18 20.2% 20 22.5%
NY Islanders 85 17 20.0% 17 20.0%
Toronto 75 15 20.0% 17 22.7%
Boston 71 14 19.7% 15 21.1%
San Jose 76 15 19.7% 20 26.3%
Ottawa 79 15 19.0% 21 26.6%
Nashville 85 16 18.8% 21 24.7%
Minnesota 75 14 18.7% 19 25.3%
Colorado 83 15 18.1% 20 24.1%
Columbus 94 17 18.1% 25 26.6%
Florida 89 16 18.0% 19 21.3%
Dallas 78 14 17.9% 17 21.8%
Chicago 101 18 17.8% 21 20.8%
Pittsburgh 80 14 17.5% 21 26.3%
NHL Average 81 14 16.7% 18 22.2%
Philadelphia 78 13 16.7% 16 20.5%
Anaheim 79 13 16.5% 22 27.8%
Los Angeles 92 15 16.3% 22 23.9%
St. Louis 86 14 16.3% 20 23.3%
Phoenix 77 12 15.6% 15 19.5%
NY Rangers 85 13 15.3% 18 21.2%
Vancouver 68 10 14.7% 11 16.2%
Edmonton 89 13 14.6% 22 24.7%
Detroit 74 10 13.5% 14 18.9%
Winnipeg 82 11 13.4% 12 14.6%
Carolina 68 9 13.2% 12 17.6%
Calgary 82 10 12.2% 13 15.9%
Tampa Bay 91 7 7.7% 14 15.4%
New Jersey 77 5 6.5% 12 15.6%

Buffalo again tops the list in the "Successful %" and "Successful Picks" categories. Montreal is at the head of the "Marginal or Better %". Chicago leads the way in total number of picks with twenty more than the league average and they are the only team with over one hundred picks. Carolina and Vancouver are at the bottom number of picks category and New Jersey rounds out the list in "Successful Picks" and "Successful %".

With this chart you start seeing a stronger relationship between drafting and playoffs. Six of the Top 10 in "Successful %" are consistent playoff teams and eight of the ten made the playoffs this past season. At the same time, all Bottom 5 "Successful %" teams have generally missed the playoffs the past three seasons. The teams in the middle are sort of hit or miss regarding the playoffs, but the top and bottom are pretty clear. Even the teams at the top that aren't consistent playoff teams, are normally fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the season.

Again, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves at the bottom in almost every category. While they have been pretty successful at drafting in the first two rounds, everything else they do is far below standards. They have the fewest number of picks, coupled with a very low success rate. Unless the organization decides to change some things up, this pattern will eventually hurt the organization even more than it already has. Especially as a small market team, you need to be able to draft successfully and have affordable players contribute to your team. Without that, trades and free agents would be needed to maintain the franchise and those options will affect the systems depth and financials, like we are currently seeing.

In conclusion, I think this information maybe raises more questions than it answers. But it does show which teams generally do a good job of identifying prospects that eventually become NHL players. It also shows that teams that struggle drafting, often are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. The Carolina Hurricanes need to recognize a weakness of theirs and address the issue if they truly want to be a competitive team. Their new division is full of big spenders and they Canes won't be able to compete there, so they need to ramp up their scouting and development departments, so they can take advantage of that aspect of hockey.

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