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Evaluating The Draft: A New Methodology

P.K. Subban is an example of maximizing the value of a pick.
P.K. Subban is an example of maximizing the value of a pick.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Ever since Ed Willes published this article in The Province in March, I've been wondering if there was a way to make his analysis less subjective so we could actually have a breakdown of how each of the 30 NHL teams has fared in the draft over the 10 years from 2000-2009. The Canadiens actually ranked first overall according to Willes' study, which rankled a few people who are intent on believing the Habs suck at drafting, but are the Habs really the best team at drafting?

From the start I decided that WIlles' method of ranking players with his "slugging average" wasn't good enough.

Here players are graded on a four-point system: Four going to a superstar (Evgeni Malkin); three to an impact player (David Backes); two to an NHLer (Justin Abdelkader); and one point to a guy who makes the show without establishing himself as an NHLer (remember Jason King?).

What you can see there is that there's no cut off for games played for one point, and that lead to our own Bruce Peter finding flaws in Willes' numbers because there's not enough information given to find out how he arrived where he did. There's also the issue that drafting a player like Evgeni Malkin would only net you 4 times the points that an AHL call up gets you.

Willes also didn't take into account draft positioning. Should a team really get a ton of credit for drafting Sidney Crosby when he's the consensus #1 pick? Surely they get a bump for grabbing him, but not full credit. I came up with a different methodology to rank draft success based in large part around Jonathan Willis' post on Canucks Army where he shows the difference between a 1st line player and fan perception of one.

For starters we're going to do away with percentages, because that punishes teams who draft often in the later rounds instead of trading those picks. We're going to go by a straight point accumulation method. Basically we won't be looking at conversion rates, just how many good players a team has drafted. If a team chose to trade a number of high picks, they'll be punished by this method because they'll have fewer chances to grab impact players.

As with any study of this nature, a few assumptions have to be made. I assumed that a player who makes the NHL for a very short period still has an advantage over one that doesn't, because they're likely a good AHLer and provide depth. I also had to limit the study slightly by largely ignoring repeatability to allow the more recent drafts to be counted. I also had to allow some amount of subjectivity to remain in order to differentiate between a top pairing defenseman and a star defenseman. And of course I had to assume that the evaluations Johnathan Willis, and in turn, I was using were a good ranking system.

Here is the breakdown of how points are accumulated in this method:

NHL Status Points Alotted
AHL call up (<40 games) 0.25
Made the NHL (40+ games) 0.5
Regular NHLer (80+ games) 1
Second liner (35+ points in one season) 2
First liner (50+ points in one season) 3
Good first liner (70+ points or 30+ goals in one season) 4
Star forward (A point per game season or better) 6
NHL Status Points Alotted
AHL call up (<40 games) 0.25
Made NHL (40+ games) 0.5
Regular NHLer (80+ games) 1
Top 6 D (16+ min/game in one season) 2
Top pairing D (22+ min/game in one season) 4
#1 D (most min/game on team in one season) 5
Star D (subjective) 6
NHL Status Points Alotted
AHL call up (<10 games) 0.25
Made NHL (10+ games) 0.5
NHL backup (15+ starts in 2+ seasons) 1
Potential starter (subjective) 2
Starting goalie (50+ games in one season) 3
Good starter (50+ games w/>.913 save% in one season) 4
Star goalie (50+ games w/.920+ save% in one season) 6

Outside of these charts, the one addendum I'm making is that any player taken in top 5 picks of a draft year counts for one point less than players taken outside the top 5. This means that if a team whiffs on a top 5 pick, they're getting a point taken off as well. One exception will be made to that rule for Brayden Schenn, who no one thinks is a bust but couldn't play the whole year due to an injury.

I'll also include a percentage of each team's draft picks that made the NHL in any capacity. We'll borrow Willes' terminology of 'batting percentage' and convert 'slugging percentage' into 'slugging points'. The following is all 30 teams ranked in order of best to worst draft success:

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
63.75 0.438 [9th] P.K. Subban [6 points]

Surprisingly the Habs came out on top again. The Habs accumulated a ton of points for drafting top pairing defensemen like Subban, Ryan McDonagh and Mark Streit. They also didn't waste their one top 5 pick when they grabbed an elite goaltender in Carey Price. The biggest problem the Canadiens seem to have isn't drafting or development (which are the popular refrains among the ignorant), but undervaluing their own players and losing them for inadequate return. The list of players who were valued at 3 or more points that the Canadiens have traded or lost to free agency is quite long; Chris Higgins, Jaroslav Halak, Andrei Kostitsyn, Streit, Mikhail Grabovski, Sergei Kostitsyn, and McDonagh. Some of those players brought in a nice return (Lars Eller for example), but it's a lot of depth to lose in a short time since all those players were parted with in the last 4 years.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
63.5 0.392 [20th] Duncan Keith [6 points]

Chicago drafted more often in the last decade than any other team, and although their success rate wasn't huge, they hit several home runs and didn't waste all their top 5 picks in taking Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. That said, they totally whiffed on Cam Barker. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they grabbed 4 top pairing defensemen in the 2002 and 2003 drafts, including Keith, James Wisniewski, Brent Seabrook and Dustin Byfuglien. Chicago lost a few of their high end assets, but hung on to them long enough to win a cup.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
62.75 0.398 [18th] Jonathan Quick [6 points]

Los Angeles was a good all around drafting team, grabbing an elite defensemen in Drew Doughty and another #1 guy in Lubomir Visnovsky. They also drafted several good goaltenders and a few top line forwards like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Mike Cammalleri. Since 2003 the Kings were also careful to hang on to their top drafted players, or at least get huge value for them (like trading Brayden Schenn for Mike Richards).

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
59.25 0.420 [12th] Derek Roy [6 points]

Buffalo is one example of the weaknesses of this methodology. I don't think many view Derek Roy as an elite player, but he's had a couple point per game seasons so he gets full value. Buffalo's main strength in drafting is grabbing top 6 forwards like Roy, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville, Clarke MacArthur, and Drew Stafford.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
58.25 0.413 [15th] Claude Giroux [6 points]

The Flyers are best in the first round, outside the top 5, as they've taken 3 star forwards there since 2003 in Giroux, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. They'll probably have done the same with Sean Couturier as well, but his draft year isn't covered in this breakdown. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Carter and Richards are gone now, and they've also bled Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg, Justin Williams and Joni Pitkanen. Deft moves in other areas have kept the Flyers a contender.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
54.75 0.356 [24th] Alexander Semin [6 points]

I know what you're thinking, "This guy thinks Semin is better than Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom? What an idiot!" Well no, I don't think that, but Semin wasn't taken with a lottery pick, so it took more skill in scouting to recognize him as an asset, therefore he's the better pick. Washington either missed completely or grabbed top end players the last decade with a low conversion rate overall but a huge cache of talent with the previously mentioned players as well as Mike Green, John Carlson. Washington has also managed to keep all their elite drafted talent so far, which is a huge part of their success as a franchise.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
54.25 0.443 [7th] Henrik Lundqvist [6 points]

The Rangers are an all around solid drafting team. They grab their share of depth players and top end guys, but haven't landed a star forward in the decade, which is mitigated by their excellent goaltending and defense picks (Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto). The Rangers seem to have success wherever they happen to draft, aside from 2003 when they took Hugh Jessiman of course.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
54 0.418 [13th] Shea Weber [6 points]

The Predators are defense drafting machines.Weber and Ryan Suter are elite guys, and they've also brought in Dan Hamhuis who's a top pairing guy in Vancouver now. The big problem in Nashville has been obtaining 1st line forwards. The best forward they drafted in this decade, Scott Hartnell is now a Flyer, although Alexander Radulov could take over that title soon. The only other top line forward they've drafted is Patric Hornqvist, who was blind luck considering he was the last player taken in 2005.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
54 0.452 [6th] Kris Letang [6 points]

The Penguins are an odd team as far as drafting goes, because almost all of their success was from multiple top 5 picks. The Penguins accumulated a whopping 18 points from lottery picks, more than any other team. Pittsburgh also hasn't graduated a player taken outside the top 5 picks since Letang in 2005. Without the multitude of easily made top 5 picks the Penguins would drop from 9th in the draft rankings to 23rd.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
52.75 0.412 [16th] Erik Karlsson [6 points]

The bulk of the Senators' points were accumulated before 2004, with Jason Spezza being their big prize from that period, but they also made out like gangbusters in 2008 when they grabbed star defenseman Erik Karlsson. Jared Cowen has also developed much quicker than expected, becoming a solid top 6 defenseman at just 21.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
52.5 0.455 [5th] Paul Stastny [6 points]

Colorado is just outside the top end of drafting in the league as they've made some nice picks in Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly, Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and Tom Gilbert. Unfortunately they've let a lot of those players go too early in their careers.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
51 0.433 [11th] Rick Nash [5 points]

This is an odd one because Columbus has kind of screwed the system. Outside of Nash they haven't made a single impact player out of their picks, and the best ones like Jakub Voracek and Nikolai Zherdev have all been let go. The Bluejackets picked up points by drafting a lot of low end second liners and two goalies who messed up the rankings by posting one good year each, inflating their values. To put in perspective how poorly the Jackets have drafted, they gained just 21 points from their whopping nine picks within the top 8. That means the Jackets average a high end 2nd line player with their lottery picks, and that number is buoyed by Pascal Leclaire being vastly overrated in this system.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
49.5 0.333 [25th] Ilya Kovalchuk [5 points]

The organization formerly known as the Thrashers haven't developed many NHLers, but they've hit a bunch of big numbers which makes up for it. A litany of 5 point players like Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley, Kari Lehtonen, and Tobias Enstrom to go along with other big contributors like Evander Kane, Brayden Coburn, Ondrej Pavalec and Bryan Little. The problem here is that the Jets are even worse at keeping their draftees than the Habs are. Of those players I named, only Kane, Enstrom, Pavalec and Little are still with the team. Losing 3 of your organization's best draft picks for little return is a huge problem.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
49.25 0.467 [4th] Matt Carle [5 points]

San Jose has the reputation of being one of the best drafting teams in the NHL, and while their hit rate confirms that, they are only average in actual prospects becoming impact players. What San Jose has done is draft a solid number of top 4 defensemen with Carle, Christian Ehrhoff, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic already there, and Jason Demers on the way there. They've also grabbed a fair number of guys who can produce at a 1st line rate in Logan Couture, Devin Setoguchi, Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski and Ryan Clowe. What they seem incapable of doing is drafting depth players. Either the Sharks prefer the UFA route to fill their bottom 3 lines and don't give their prospects a chance, or far too many of their guys make the show and fade away prematurely.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
48 0.436 [10th] Ian White [4 points]

Toronto is the exact opposite of San Jose and Winnipeg, they very rarely grabbed any elite talents, but took a ton of players who played well enough to be second liners. Like Winnipeg however, they don't hold on to their players for very long as we see players like Brad Boyes, Alex Steen, Ian White, Viktor Stalberg, Carlo Colaiacovo and Jiri Tlusty having success elsewhere. Nikolai Kulemin is the best player the Leafs have drafted since 2002, although Tuukka Rask and Nazem Kadri will both likely surpass him within the next few years. Perhaps it's something to do with the pressure of Toronto and Montreal, but both organizations seem to continually underestimate the abilities of the players they have, although the Leafs haven't drafted a single elite player in the last decade.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
47.5 0.415 [14th] Corey Perry [6 points]

Anaheim's drafting is just like their team, top heavy. A trio of 6 point players in Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ilya Bryzgalov in the early 2000's mark the only high points for this team not named Bobby Ryan, who was a lottery pick. Ladislav Smid is the only player Anaheim has drafted outside of the lottery up to 2009 to play above replacement level who isn't listed there. Luckily the Ducks' scouts seem to have picked it up a bit since 2009, grabbing Cam Fowler and the promising Emerson Etem in the last few years.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
46.25 0.398 [19th] Alex Pietrangelo [5 points]

Another team with a great drafting reputation that's really around league average. The Blues' only problem is their straight up conversion rate because they've drafted quite a few good players, and one elite one in Pietrangelo. Other great picks from St. Louis include David Backes, David Perron, Patrick Berglund, and T.J. Oshie. While the Blues have traded several of their former first round picks in Erik Johnson, Lars Eller and David Rundblad, they've gotten good value in each trade.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
46 0.520 [1st] Phil Kessel [5 points]

Boston is a team of paradoxes. I doubt many people would think they would be rated this low, but their two recent top 10 picks (courtesy of Toronto) aren't included here. Boston has a sick conversion rate, but the huge majority of that is players who make the NHL for under 40 games in their career. Boston only drafted six players in this decade worth 3 or more points, and the best among them (Kessel) was promptly traded away for great value. Four of the six players that are 1st line capable are still with Boston in Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, but Kris Versteeg was traded long ago. Outside of Kessel, Boston did a horrible job in drafting in the first round in this decade. While Jordan Caron and Joe Colborne still have potential, Zach Hamill, Matt Lashoff, Mark Stuart, Hannu Toivonen, Shaonne Morrisonn, Lars Jonsson and Martin Samuelsson were all horrible picks.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
45.75 0.474 [2nd] Marian Gaborik [5 points]

It's probably not a great sign if a decade into your franchise's existence, the best pick you've ever made was the first one you ever made, and that player is now playing for the Rangers. Luckily for the Wild, Mikko Koivu turned out to be pretty great as well, and he's stuck around. The Wild actually did pretty good early in the decade, taking Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns in 2002 and 2003, but since then it's been a series of 1st round busts (A.J. Thelen, Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard and Colton Gillies), and the only top level player they've drafted, (Nick Leddy) they traded to Chicago for Cam Barker of all people.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
45 0.386 [21st] James Neal [6 points]

Dallas doesn't convert many of their draft picks into NHLers, and even rarely do they become good NHLers. Their ranking is also boosted by Mike Smith's ridiculous season in Phoenix, which pushes him into the star goalie category. Outside of the underrated Loui Eriksson and the soon-to-be star Jamie Benn, the Stars haven't kept any of their first line talent in the organization. Dallas is another organization that bleeds assets, losing Neal, Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman, Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen and Antti Meittinen in the last few years.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
41.25 0.443 [7th] Travis Hamonic [4 points]

We all know that John Tavares is the best pick the Islanders have made in this period, but he missed out on the point per game mark by one point this year, meaning he's only worth 4 points, and take one of those off because he was a top 5 pick. The Islanders have the same conversion rate as their biggest rivals in the New York Rangers, but the Rangers are way better at making their picks worthwhile. Outside of those two players, the only top end players the Islanders have drafted in the last decade are Kyle Okposo and Andrew MacDonald.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
40.75 0.472 [3rd] Ales Hemsky [4 points]

Edmonton is likely to move up these rankings quite a bit in a few years, with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins delivering on their potential, and probably Nail Yakupov this summer. But for now they basically sucked. Apart from Hemsky and Jordan Eberle taken 8 years apart, there's not really anything there, although Magnus Paajarvi is likely to develop into a much better player than he is now.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
39 0.308 [29th] Jimmy Howard [6 points]

Red Wing hater Ryan Lambert would laugh his ass off if he read this because the team that constantly gets touted as a great drafting team is downright terrible. The Red Wings haven't graduated a player who could produce at a 2nd line rate since they drafted a 24 year old Johan Franzen in 2004. They've grabbed a few good players before then in Tomas Fleischmann, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Kyle Quincey, and Niklas Kronwall, but by and large the Red Wings are extremely dependent on their aging core. Detroit's success over the last decade means they're usually picking late, but this conversion rate is horrible, and they may be dealing with a house of cards when Nicklas Lidstrom retires.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
33.75 0.407 [17th] Zach Parise [6 points]

After Parise, Paul Martin and Travis Zajac, this is a cavernous amount of nothing for New jersey to show. Adam Henrique and Mattias Tedenby will likely make the Devils' drafting look a little less apocalyptic in a couple years, but the only other forward drafted in this decade with potential top 6 talent was Nicklas Bergfors, who New Jersey sent away in a package in exchange for Kovalchuk. One other thing worth noting; the Devils didn't draft a goalie who would go on to play even a single NHL game in this decade. Good luck replacing Brodeur.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
33.5 0.329 [26th] Alexander Edler [5 points]

The two best players Vancouver has drafted since 2005 (Michael Grabner and Cody Hodgson) have both been traded, but the Canucks have managed to hit just enough good picks that they can still have a dominant team carried by the Sedins. Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler are the top end guys that Vancouver has retained from this period, and after that there's not much worth talking about.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
32.25 0.357 [23rd] David Booth [4 points]

In a few years I expect that Dmitri Kulikov will end up being the best pick for the Panthers out of this time period, but for now it's Booth. The only other big picks the Panthers made were Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. It shouldn't come as a surprise that all those picks were of the lottery variety. Florida didn't manage to draft a sincle top 4 defenseman between Bouwmeester in 2002 and Kulikov in 2009, just brutal.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
30.5 0.325 [27th] Keith Yandle [6 points]

Like Florida, the Coyotes have no excuses for being this ineffective. They finished low enough, often enough, that they should have a treasure trove of high end players, but they have Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, then nothing from this decade of drafting. Phoenix failed to draft a single good first line forward in 10 straight drafts, simply unacceptable. What makes it even worse is that only Blake Wheeler, Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris even have the potential to be first liners, and none of them are with the organization anymore.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
30.25 0.294 [30th] Cam Ward [6 points]

Carolina is pretty lucky. Like seriously, they're damn lucky. They've drafted 2 impact players in the last decade amongst a whole lot of nothing, with the worst conversion rate in the league, and those two guys ended up being the cornerstones of the franchise. Jamie McBain looks like he could be good, but as of yet, Carolina hasn't drafted or developed a single top pairing defenseman in the last 10 years. They drafted Jack Johnson, but traded him before he ever played a game.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
28.5 0.312 [28th] Steven Stamkos [5 points]

The Lightning have drafted exactly two really good players in the last 10 years. Stamkos with a lottery pick in 2008, and Victor Hedman with another lottery pick in 2009. Tampa has had a couple players look good in brief NHL stints like Paul Ranger and Mike Lundin, but after that it's a series of 3rd and 4th liners at best.

Slugging Points Batting % Best pick of the decade
26.5 0.376 [22nd] Dion Phaneuf [5 points]

Calgary has drafted a single impact player in the last decade, just one, and they traded him to the Maple Leafs for a couple bad contracts to even worse players. Calgary has drafted a single forward who's put up a 1st line capable season in Matthew Lombardi, and it was about low tier as it gets with 53 points, and it wasn't for Calgary. This is just a disastrous decade of utter crap, and it should be clear to people now how much this franchise rides on Jarome Iginla's shoulders. The Flames have one exciting prospect who isn't in this group in Sven Baertschi, and I feel bad for that kid. Iginla will be 35 this summer, how much longer can he do it? The Flames are already one of the worst teams in the NHL if you're a proponent of advanced stats and possession metrics, how much further can they fall? It's a house of cards, and in my experience Calgary is a pretty windy city.