Monday Musings: Draft pick value

Thoughts

Between now and next Monday’s trade deadline numerous draft picks will be traded for soon-to-be unrestricted free agents or players with some term remaining on their contract.

The term “good value” will be tossed around a lot, but I believe too often we overrate the value of a draft pick.

I wrote an article about the value of draft picks a few years ago. I came up with four guidelines for players.

BUST (Fewer than 100 games)
SHORT LIVED (Out of league with less than 300 games played)
DECENT PLAYER (300+ games)
DOMINANT PLAYER (considered an elite player by fans/media outside their city)

Others will have their own guidelines and that could change the value of picks, but researching the article changed my perspective on draft picks.

The best way to build the foundation of your team is through the draft. Astute general managers will make trades or UFA signings to enhance their roster, but most competitive teams are built through the draft. A lot of luck is involved, and ultimately the development of those draft picks is just as important, if not more, than what round the player was taken in.

The first round is your best chance to land a truly dominant player, about 10%, and in my research 51% of players in the first round became decent. So 61% of the players drafted in the first round became regular NHL players. Keep in mind this included drafts from 1996-2005, and teams have put more research and resources into scouting during the past decade so I’d be willing to guess those numbers have improved slightly.

The chances of landing a dominant player in the second round dropped to 1.2%, and third rounds averaged 0.5%. It can happen, but those diamonds in the rough are extremely rare.

Rounds two through seven are for organizational depth (decent NHL player), but your chances still aren’t great.

2nd round 21.5%

3rd round 15.2%

4th round 8.6%

5th round 6.8%

6th round 8.8%

7th round 9.1%

Everyone will value draft picks differently.

This morning, The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired a second round pick in 2017 and 2018 along with Raffi Torres from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Nick Spaling and Roman Polak. Many deemed it a steal for the Maple Leafs.

It is true that by 2020 (likely the earliest one of those picks makes an impact in the NHL), Spaling and Polak probably won’t be in the league, so even with a 20% chance that the draft picks pan out you can say it was a good bet. I concur with it being a good bet, but saying the Leafs are orchestrating a good or great rebuild because of it is very misleading.

The Leafs are akin to the Oilers. They have made missing the playoffs look easy. Over their last seven non-playoff seasons the Leafs have averaged a 25th place finish, while the Oilers have averaged a 27th place result.

Both organizations have owned numerous high end draft picks in every round, but despite their high picks they haven’t improved in the NHL standings, because they don’t have enough good NHL players. Adding draft picks gives you hope for the future, but it doesn’t guarantee success, and even the best scouting staffs usually only develop two solid players per draft class because there simply isn’t enough room on an NHL roster for more picks.

The Leafs trade today gave them two future assets, but each pick has about a 20% of becoming an NHL player and they likely aren’t a difference maker in an NHL rink until 2021 or later. Did the Leafs get good value, or did they just continue their cycle of remaining near the bottom of the NHL standings?

It is too early to know, but until the Leafs replace their average NHL players with better NHL players they, like the Oilers, will remain near the bottom of the NHL standings.

QUICK HITS…

Speedbag

  • The ideal plan for the Leafs will be to trade those San Jose draft picks for proven NHL players instead of using them on draft day.
  • The Oilers will likely trade Teddy Purcell before next Monday. I’d much rather see them get a young prospect than a draft pick. The draft pick won’t help them until 2019 and the Oilers need to improve before then.
  • Teams who continually flounder near the bottom of the standings have one common trait: often they trade away proven NHL talent for draft picks, while good teams acquire NHL players and surrender draft picks. I understand Purcell is a pending unrestricted free agent, and getting a draft pick is better than letting him leave for nothing, but who will the Oilers replace him with? This is where the cycle of losing needs to change. If they don’t use his cap space to bring in a better player, then they are just spinning their tires. Acquiring a draft pick for him is one move, but the most important move his replacing him with an equally effective, or ideally a more effective player. Perennial losing teams rarely accomplish this key step.
  • Jaromir Jagr scored his 742nd goal on the weekend (in 1606 NHL games) and now sits third all-time in goals, trailing Gordie Howe (801 goals in 1764 games) and Wayne Gretzky (894 in 1487 games). Jagr leads the Florida Panthers in goals with 20 and points with 43. He just turned 44 and his love for the game seems to be growing. He talked about catching Howe and Gretzky. I think Howe is achievable, but he’d need to play six more years averaging 25 goals/year to catch Gretzky. I don’t see that.
  • With Jagr moving ahead of Brett Hull, Alex Ovechkin is now tied with Jeremy Roenick for 37th all-time at 513. The crazy thing is Ovechkin has tallied that many in 815 games, It took Roenick 1,363 games and JR was an electrifying player. Jagr needed 970 games to score his 513th goal, so Ovie is well ahead of his pace. We are watching one of the greatest goal scorers the NHL has ever seen, and I believe too many people take him for granted.

    With 38 goals he is on pace to score 55 and become only the third player in NHL history to score 50+ goals seven times. Gretzky and Mike Bossy did it nine times respectively.

  • Here is a really good read on Andrew Ference. The last line stood out for me, ““My kids won’t look back and be proud of how hard I could shoot the puck. Hopefully it will be because of other things.” Well said, Andrew. 

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