What is the success rate of a typical NHL entry draft?

George McPhee sucks! Alex Ovechkin is overpaid! Mike Green is always injured! Where’s the leadership?!

Ah, the noises you’ll hear nowadays from all hockey media and fans alike about the Washington Capitals. Envision youtubing a Harlem Shake video every day for over 2 years and that’s how redundant this nonsense is. There really are a lot of questions about these Capitals and almost all of them can’t be fixed at once. Caps fans will really hate games like today’s Rangers game because not only was it a loss in which the team didn’t show up, it was a loss to a team the fans look and say “God damnit, why can’t we have a coach like (fill in the blank), why can’t we have a captain like (fill in the blank) and/or why don’t we have players like (fill in the blank)!” Add the fact that the visiting fan base not only vastly populated the arena, but could easily cheer louder than the home team, and that’s the recipe for the worst type of loss you can have.

So where do we go from here? Some will say “build from the draft”, which can be a good idea because, assuming your NHL team get’s a pick per round, you have the opportunity to get about 7 players and, when they’re ready, sign them to very cheap rookie deals every year. Hey, that’s 7 dudes and a good deal of chunk change for the price of one Ovechkin (too soon)! That’s a much better alternative than trying to find players through free agency or the trade deadline that will be much more expensive. However, it may not be as easy as people think.

First, let’s define what makes a successful pick. Let’s make this general because I am sure many Caps fans would have loved to have had Ryan Getzlaf(19th overall), Corey Perry(28th) or Mike Richards(24th) over Eric Fehr in the 2003 draft. Like all big 4 American sports drafts, you’ll always have busts and you’ll always have diamonds in the rough. It’s up to the collaboration of your team’s scouting department, general manager, coach and/or owner to get the job done and put every player in the right environment so he can develop in the most comfortable settings possible. Also, unlike the NFL or NBA, the NHL still has the elements of Major League Baseball(it’s wierd how we don’t we call it “the MLB”) where after a player is drafted, he needs to survive the physical and emotional tests of junior/european professional, international junior and/or minor league hockey before they can become an NHL player. Oh, and let’s not forget almost all these picks get drafted at 18! You know, the age in which you still haven’t fully understood the world around you, odds are were still living with your parents and haven’t gained the level of maturity that you do now. After all that, you don’t care where the kid was drafted! You just know that he earned his stripes to deserve his chance in the big show. That’s why you’ll never have a media member or majority of a fan base ever complain about Eric Fehr “being a bust”.

So to me, a successful pick for a professional athlete, let alone NHL player, is one that plays for 5 years worth of regular season games in his career. For an NHL player, that’s 82 games time 5 years, which equals 410 games. For goalies however, we will assume that every team employs a sharing playing time 2-goalie system. Thus, we will have these guys be considered successful picks at 205 games. With these guidelines set, let’s look at the chart observing all the NHL entry drafts during my lifetime.

Draft Class Current Age Total Players 1 game 410 games 410 points 1000 games 800 points 205 goalie games 410 goalie games Regular Season Changes
2012 19 211 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2011 20 211 9 0 0 0 0 0 0
2010 21 210 16 0 0 0 0 0 0
2009 22 210 35 0 0 0 0 0 0
2008 23 211 86 0 0 0 0 0 0
2007 24 211 85 1 0 0 0 0 0
2006 25 213 81 2 0 0 0 1 0
2005 26 230 109 5 2 0 0 2 0
2004 27 291 125 12 2 0 0 1 0
2003 28 292 126 32 6 0 0 3 1
2002 29 291 102 27 2 0 0 2 1
2001 30 289 122 36 6 0 1 6 0 30 teams, 82 games
2000 31 293 121 33 5 0 0 4 1 28 teams, 82 games
1999 32 272 111 26 6 0 0 2 1 27 teams, 82 games
1998 33 258 132 40 13 1 1 2 0
1997 34 246 102 29 7 3 3 2 1
1996 35 241 99 38 7 5 0 1 0 82 games
1995 36 234 112 33 10 6 1 9 3 lockout, 48 games
1994 37 286 115 47 12 6 4 4 4 26 teams, 84 games
1993 38 286 131 49 19 14 2 5 3 24 teams, 84 games
1992 39 264 125 40 8 7 0 2 1 22 teams, 80 games
1991 40 264 113 41 18 10 5 3 1
1990 41 252 98 42 17 15 6 5 2
1989 42 252 114 41 13 11 4 3 3
1988 43 252 95 31 14 13 8 2 0
1987 44 252 90 30 10 10 5 6 2 21 teams, 80 games

Now, let me start by saying that these numbers were finalized mid-season with no finished date. Thanks to Teemu Selanne, the 1988 draft class hasn’t finished yet! So of course this data will be completely different by this summer or the next summer, and so on. But we are hitting the point where patterns have been noticed and conclusions in some capacity can be developed.

First, the rule changes as to how long a regular season is played and how many teams there are is very important. More teams, means more opportunities to play and more games means more chances to reach milestones. Looking at the chart, the 2001 draft class is the first one to experience the current format of today’s NHL from start to finish. Unless extensive research is done, who knows how that affects the chart above, but it is fascinating to see how the draft format itself has changed as a result of the numbers of past draft classes. We went from 12 rounds in 1987, to 11 in 1994, to 9 in 1995 now to the 7 rounds we know and love in 2005. Is is all because of the column that represents how many draft picks that were able to say that they played in the NHL. The class with the picks to achieve this is 132 from the 1998 class and the least is 90 from the 1987 class. Remember, 1987 dealt with fewer chances than the 1998 class.

But instead of blabbering on about what went wrong, let’s mention what we can conclude out of all this. The last bit of material to use for our conclusions is showing you the link of what I would like to call Greenberg’s Theory. I hope many of you enjoy Neil Greenberg’s work on the Washington Post as I do as that 2nd graph in his article is the foundation as to why I want to start a sports stats blog. It’s to bash the shit out of his precious hard work and research It’s to see if that chart really is a true indication of what a typical NHL player’s career arc is, because if it is, that baby should be the mecca of all graphs for not just hockey fans, but NHL front office people to look at in terms of how to evaluate players. I am certainly not bashing Neil Greenberg by calling it a “theory”. I love the writer and he is an inspiration to me as to what I want to do with this blog, but note that in this particular graph he only includes 50-goal scorers. Another article will be made for another time to see if we can turn Greenberg’s Theory into Greenberg’s Law.

So with that said, Greenberg’s Theory states that NHL skaters (goalies will be another article for another time) peak at 24 (think Claude Giroux last year) and plateau at 27. So we can assume that after all that, we should expect players to lose a bit of skill and ability. If we apply this to our draft class chart, the 2003 class is at it’s “now or never” point. After all that, we can assume that all 2002 and older classes can be almost finalized because any player from those classes that have not made their NHL debuts have some very ridiculous odds to do it in the future. With these charts and these assumptions, the average NHL draft class contains the following.

110-115 players that will play 1 NHL game

35-40 skaters that will play 410 NHL games, 3-4 goalies will play 205 games (oddly, only 192 have done it in NHL history)

And if you really want to add patience to this research:

Close to 10 players will do what only 280 players in NHL history have done: Play 1000 games

10-15 skaters will collect 410 points (41 points/year for 10 years, 27+ points/year for 15 years)

4-6 skaters will do what only 143 players in NHL history have done: Collect 800 points

So odds are, the caps should expect half of their 2013 draft class to make it to the big show, but assuming everything is distributed evenly, only 1-2 will find a way to have some form of a long career and you can get a starting goalie once every 7-10 years. Some will say 410 games is nothing. But remember, hockey is the closest thing that answers the question as to what the physicality of the NFL looks like in 82 games. That’s why our test case, Eric Fehr ONLY has 286 career games. That’s why for as much as George McPhee absolutely deserves the credit of having a nice track record for drafting many of the current Caps (“Hey, what about me!!!!” Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney’s thoughts if he were to ever read this), it is very important to recognize that the trade deadline and free agency still play a gigantic part in what separates teams and general managers to the elite.

Many thanks should go to hockey-reference.com for being the tool I used for this research.

One comment

  1. So, a lot of numbers that could be useful…but…

    First, you should be able to ‘normalize’ these numbers across the different years.

    Second, you say ‘McPhee absolutely deserves the credit of having a nice track record for drafting…’ I don’t see it. McPhee has drafted who he should draft in some cases. Ovechkin (although some would argue he should have drafted Malkin…but your caveats about how hard it is to project players at 18 years apply and are spot on), Backstrom, and Alzner. Drafted some who carry a huge amount of divisiveness on their usefulness from the fans. Including, but not limited to Mike Green, Jeff Shultz, Marcus Johansson, and Alexander Semin. And then there have been a number of busts in the first round. Including, but not limited to Sasha Pokulok, Joe Finley, and Anton Gustafsson. And I only ID one draft pick who could be considered a steal. That would be John Carlson. But to me, the thing that should be pointed out more than any other is that NO pick past the first round has made ANY significant contribution to this team. Nada, none, zero. You say, ‘you’ll always have busts and you’ll always have diamonds in the rough’. I can find a number of busts but absolutely no diamonds in the rough from the McPhee regime.

    So, before saying ‘McPhee absolutely deserves the credit of having a nice track record’ please compare his numbers against the totals you’ve posted and see how he really stacks up.

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