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Scott Cullen

TSN.ca Analytics

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Every year, when I update my NHL Draft Pick Values, there is the obvious conclusion that the very top picks are the ones that offer serious value.

After that, it becomes a matter of connecting on a rare successful selection in the middle and later rounds – the odds are so highly against it, that pulling a legitimate NHLer out of those rounds is a chance to gain positive value.

The top two picks tend to offer similar value, based on percentage of players to play at least 100 NHL games, percentage of players to fill a role as a top-six forward, top-four defenceman or starting goaltender as well as the percentage of players that measured out as fourth liners or worse. That said, there is a better chance to land a superstar with the first pick – naturally, that’s where the generational-type of talents are available.

The trick is determining whether that No. 1 pick is really a superstar generational talent (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin), whether he’s just a prospect (Chris Phillips, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), or if he’s suspect as a prospect (Nail Yakupov, Patrik Stefan).

In assigning a value to a player, the breakdown is generally like this:

10 - Generational
9 - Elite Player
8 - First Line, Top Pair D
7 - Top Six Forward, Top Four D
6 - Top Nine Forward, Top Six D
5 - NHL Regular, 350+ NHL games 
4 - 200+ NHL games
3 - 50-200 NHL games
2 - under 50 NHL games
1 - 10 or fewer NHL games

Assigning peak value for players (elite, first line, top-six etc.) is focused on the best four-year window of a player’s career. If the lead-up or decline stands out as notably better or worse that can affect the evaluation but, ideally, those four years would serve as the baseline for a player’s rating.

The table below covers drafts from 1990 through 2014. The players selected in more recent drafts naturally have more room to move their ratings, so they tend to be conservatively graded in the early stages of their career.

(Click on the image to expand the table.)

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There are some interesting results at specific spots over the years. The 10th pick had yielded precious few top-six forwards, top-four defencemen and starting goaltenders. Dramatically fewer than the next five spots and at a lower rate than picks until late in the first round. 

The 11th spot has provided more upside than the 10th spot, strangely enough, yet there's a pretty decent bust percentage at No. 11, with only 64% of those picks playing in at least 100 NHL games. 

Pick No. 15 has been a trouble spot, generally, with less than half of the picks playing in at leat 100 games.

On the other hand, picks 20 and 23 tend to offer better returns than picks from 15 down, with more players playing 100 games and a higher percentage of quality players.

Beyond the first round, the trend goes as one might expect, and there's not necessarily a huge difference from one range to the next. In breaking down the picks for the table above, I divided the second round into five-pick increments, the third-and-fourth-round into 10-pick segments, then splitting the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds into top half and bottom half. The league going to 31 teams does not make this as neat and tidy. 

Scott Cullen can be reached at scott.cullen@bellmedia.ca