As teams prepare for tonight's first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Scott Cullen examines past drafts to gauge the relative value of each of the first 30 selections.
This is an exercise that I've undertaken before. In that evaluation, I used a larger sample size, but I received a suggestion (I believe it was from Hockey Prospectus' Corey Pronman, but I apologize to Corey if that's not accurate) to use more recent information since scouting has evolved since 1980, theoretically improving the draft-day selections.
My adjustment, then, was to go through drafts from 1990 through 2007, hopefully leaving time for the 2007 picks to establish an NHL career, and assigned a numerical value to each of the players selected, using the following guidelines (with some examples):
10 - Generational (Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin )
9 - Elite Player (Ilya Kovalchuk, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin )
8 - First Line, Top Pair D (Eric Staal, Ryan Suter )
7 - Top Six Forward, Top Four D (Stephen Weiss, Brooks Orpik )
6 - Top Nine Forward, Top Six D (Matt Cullen, Toni Lydman )
5 - NHL Regular (Michael Rupp, Mark Fistric)
4 - Fringe NHLer (Jamie Lundmark, Jeff Finger )
3 - Very Good Minor Leaguer (Krys Kolanos, Doug Janik )
2 - Minor Leaguer, maybe gets a shot in NHL (Matt Ellison, Nate Guenin )
1 - Under a handful of NHL games (Hugh Jessiman, A.J. Thelen )
A few disclaimers:
- There is nothing to indicate that there is an equal talent gap from 10-9-8 as there is from 1-2-3, so the average grades may not be right on target for what the average player at that slot will become but they should be in the ballpark, I hope.
- It's difficult to properly evaluate players from the most recent drafts, as there is a certain amount of projection still required to determine where their careers are headed, so any evaluations from 2007, in particular, tends to be conservative, making the percentage of players "Ranked 7 or better" lower in some cases. At least we know, for example, that Ryan McDonagh is a quality NHL defenceman, but maybe it's too soon to consider him an eight, based on one excellent season.
- Players whose careers were shortened or had a narrow peak could be knocked down a point (ie. the top six forward who played 1000 games was generally deemed more valuable that the one that played 600 games and players that were top producers for more than a few seasons certainly rated higher).
- There are any number of reasons why a player may or may not make it to the NHL, so when I list players under "worst", there could very well be extenuating circumstances, whether it's injury or being stuck as a late first-round pick trying to make a talented team. Nevertheless, I've excluded Alexei Cherepanov (#17 in 2007) and Luc Bourdon (#10 in 2005) from the evaluation as their NHL careers weren't established enough before their tragic deaths.
Here is an updated general idea of what kind of value a first round pick.
- It's encouraging, in some respects, to see the number one pick net the highest value overall, but it really looks like 1-2 have a more decisive advantage over the next picks.
- The 10th overall pick has been an odd spot, with Nik Antropov probably the best through the 18-year sample and it stands in stark contrast to No. 11, which has yielded star players and as much value as picks right up to No. 6.
- While the 10th pick has produced lean results, the 15th overall pick has been a veritable wasteland -- congratulations, Ottawa! (The Sens, admittedly, did get Erik Karlsson with the 15th pick in 2008 and that's turned out okay.) It's an odd quirk that the pick in the middle of the range provides similar value to the 29th and 30th overall selections. Part of the reason is that the bust factor at 15 has been downright spectacular since 1997.
Factoring in that Alexander Radulov was actually a good pick, before he unexpectedly left Nashville for the KHL, here are the No. 15 selections from 1997 through 2007:
1997 - Matt Zultek.
1998 - Mathieu Chouinard.
1999 - Scott Kelman.
2000 - Artem Kryukov.
2001 - Igor Knyazev.
2002 - Jesse Niinimaki.
2003 - Robert Nilsson.
2004 - Alexander Radulov.
2005 - Ryan O'Marra.
2006 - Riku Helenius
2007 - Alex Plante
Most of these numbers tell us what we already intuitively know. The higher picks, for the most part, yield better players and there is an increasing level of uncertainty after the first five-to-ten players are selected.
There is always value to be found in the draft, even in later rounds, let alone late in the first round, but don't assume that a first-round pick is a difference-maker in the NHL, because that's not always the case.