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NHL Team Drafting and Development: 2005-2014


Once a player is drafted by an NHL team, the future is full of hope for a career in the NHL. Unfortunately, that hope does not lead to reality for all of the players. There are many things that factor into whether a player ever appears in an NHL game. Some of those things are completely beyond his control, such as when a log jam of talent in the AHL system builds up behind a well rounded NHL lineup.  Of course, if the player has enough talent, he will get himself noticed enough to draw interest from other teams. Here, we will look at how teams have done turning draft picks into NHL players since the 2005 Entry Draft. This article is a follow up on a post regarding Draft Pick Value that you can find here.

Team drafted developed

The graph above shows the number of draft picks used by teams from left to right. Chicago has had the greatest number of picks since 2005. The number of players drafted by each team that have appeared in at least one NHL game is on the vertical axis. Vancouver has had the fewest number of drafted players appear in at least one game while the New York Islanders have had the greatest number.

The circles and numbers therein are the percentage of drafted players that have appeared in an NHL game. Again, Vancouver has converted the lowest percentage of drafted players into NHL players with a mere 21.31% showing. The Chicago Blackhawks have the second lowest percentage of drafted players making an NHL appearance at 24.72%. The Boston Bruins have the highest percentage of their drafted players appearing in at least one NHL game at 40.32% with the Islanders right on their heels at 40%.

As we all know, not every drafted player ends up staying with the organization that drafted him. It’s interesting to look at how the teams utilize their drafted talent once they have them in the system. Many teams trade prospects or end up losing drafted talent in free agency.

team drafted traded

 Here, we see the details for players that were drafted by a team but were traded or lost in free agency. From left to right are the combined NHL games played by these lost or traded players. On the vertical axis are the combined points accumulated by the lost or traded players. The Winnipeg Jets (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers) have the fewest NHL Games Played and second lowest point totals for lost or traded players. The Calgary Flames have the lowest point totals and the second lowest games played totals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the largest number of NHL games played by drafted players either lost or traded and the third highest point totals as well. Essentially, this means that Toronto has drafted well but has not kept those players. The Colorado Avalanche have traded or lost players making up the highest point totals of any team since 2005. Other notable outliers on this graph include the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Boston Bruins.

Team drafted retained

The graph above shows the combined totals of drafted players (2005 through 2014) appearing in at least one NHL game who were retained by the team that drafted them. Again, the combined total of NHL games played is from left to right while the point totals are from bottom to top. The L.A. Kings, N.Y. Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks have gotten the most combined games played from their drafted players since 2005 while the Vancouver Canucks have the least. Chicago also has the highest point totals of their drafted players with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Islanders and Kings right behind them. Once again, we also see that the Canucks have the lowest combined point totals for drafted players retained by the team.

Vancouver and Toronto are perhaps the most interesting teams to look at on the last two graphs. While Toronto has done a far better job at picking players who eventually reach the NHL level, those players have ended up with other teams to the tune of 1085 games played and 520 points. Obviously, Toronto got something in return for some of those players to mitigate that, but the totals are still a bit striking. Vancouver has retained drafted players to the tune of about 49 games played (this changes as they play more games with recent call ups) and 11 points while having traded or lost drafted talent with 2662 games played and 843 points. Again, they got players back in return, but the difference between what they retained and what they traded or lost is a bit mind-blowing.

drafted players retained traded diff

Another way to look at this is by comparing the differential between what the teams kept in terms of drafted players and what they either traded or lost. From left to right is the percentage of possible games played that the drafted players have appeared in (Poss. Games Played %). It’s framed as a differential so basically it is the Poss. GP% of retained players minus that of traded or lost players. A positive value means the drafted players kept by the team have a higher collective Poss. GP% than the ones they traded or lost.

The vertical axis is points differential, so again, points by retained players minus points by traded or lost players. The circles represent the difference between the retained and traded or lost players in terms of Draft Pick Value percentage. In the article preceding this one, I discussed Draft Pick Value, which essentially is a numerical value based upon the expected number of NHL games played for that particular selection in the draft. The first overall pick has a much higher value than the later selections. As a player goes through his career, he fulfills a percentage of that value. Lower round picks who end up playing a lot of games fulfill their assigned value fairly quickly while higher round picks take longer to fulfill their pick value because the expectations are higher. The negative circles (white) mean the traded or lost players have fulfilled their expected value more fully than the retained players and vice versa.

Which teams have gotten the most value for later round picks? Since 2005, 1,228 players have been selected at pick number 91 or later. 239, or 19.46%, have appeared in at least one NHL game.

Lower round draft picks

 The graph above shows the number of draft picks in the lower rounds (pick 91 and after) for each team since 2005 on the horizontal axis. The vertical axis shows the number of players selected with those picks who have played in at least one NHL game. The circles represent the percentage of players drafted in the lower rounds that went on to play in the NHL.

The Dallas Stars have the largest percentage of these players, 32.43%, with the New York Islanders right behind them at 31.82%. Other teams notable for a high percentage of lower round picks going on to play in the NHL are Toronto, Columbus and Nashville. Chicago has the lowest percentage of lower round draft picks playing at least one game in the NHL despite having the highest number of picks in those rounds. Montreal and Vancouver also have very low percentages but also significantly fewer selections made after the 90th pick in the draft than Chicago.

Determining which teams are better at turning draft picks into NHL players is a tricky business. If a team’s roster is loaded with talent, like that of Chicago or Los Angeles, there is not much room for players to make the NHL team unless they are particularly valuable. This is hard enough for higher round draft picks so it is logical that teams heavy with talent on the NHL roster would have less in the way of opportunity for lower round picks to make it. This is further supported by glancing at who the lower round picks are that eventually make the NHL team. Chicago has Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith on the NHL roster, all of whom were drafted after the third round. Similarly, Los Angeles has lower round picks, Alec Martinez, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan on the NHL roster and formerly had Andrei Loktionov (KHL) and Linden Vey (VAN) as well.

As we know from the first article on this topic, defensemen taken in the lower rounds are very hit or miss while the forwards tend to split into two fairly easily definable categories: buried treasure or enforcers. The lower round forwards such as Jamie Benn or Patric Hornqvist fall into the buried treasure category. They are skill players who do not rely almost solely upon physicality to make it into the NHL. The forwards in the enforcer category, such as Jared Boll, Zac Rinaldo and others, rely not upon quantifiable hockey skill, but upon their willingness to fight and hit at a furious pace. Knowing this, it is no surprise that for the most part, the higher round players tend to pay more dividends for the teams drafting them.

points pims lower vs higher with CBJ

The graph above shows the Points and PIMs (penalties in minutes) for players drafted from 2005 through 2014. Again, these values are constantly changing as games are played but given that our scale is up to 1,600 points and PIMs, small changes will likely not make much of an impact on the overall point. The marks in red are the players drafted by the team indicated with selections between 1st and 90th overall. The marks in blue are for players drafted by the team with the 91st or later overall pick. Because Columbus has such an obscene amount of PIMs from their later round picks, I omitted them from the graph below so that we could see more detail. Suffice it to say, Columbus has used the team’s lower round picks to find big hitters and enforcers.

higher vs lower round picks

 Here is the same graph with Columbus left out. The higher picks for Edmonton, Chicago and Pittsburgh have much higher point totals than PIMs. The higher picks for Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia trend into higher PIM territory but are still among the higher point group as well. Colorado has the highest point total for players drafted 1-90 over this time.

Among the players selected in later rounds, Nashville, Dallas and Montreal have the highest point totals. Philadelphia’s lower round picks have accumulated the highest number of PIMs of all the other teams’ lower round picks and despite the fact that they are on the ice for far less time than the higher round picks, managed to build up more PIMs than nearly half of them.

Another oddity about this graph is that Nashville’s lower round mark has a higher point total than their higher round mark. Calgary and New Jersey’s higher round selections are lower in points than the lower round marks of several other teams.

games pim share

The graph above is another look at all of the picks from 2005 through 2014 by the team that drafted them in terms of their share (portion of the total) of Games Played and Penalties in Minutes. Not all penalties are for fighting or roughing so much of the time, as games played increases, so does PIM. What we are looking for here is something that doesn’t fit the normal pattern. Columbus and Philadelphia stand out because their draft picks have amassed a disproportionate amount of PIMs. Upon taking a closer look, many of these were from fighting and other “enforcer” related penalties as you may have guessed.

points pims traded retained

Here we see Points and PIMs again for the teams but broken down into what the teams kept and what they traded or lost. Columbus traded or lost a lot of the PIMs but also a lot of points. They kept a large chunk of the players with heavy PIMs but they have not quite gotten to the same area in terms of points.

points traded retained

This graph allows us to focus on the points more clearly. The teams at the bottom right of the graph have retained the largest number of points by their draft picks while trading away relatively little in terms of drafted point producing talent. The most notable are Chicago, New York (Islanders), Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Colorado has traded or lost the largest amount of points, but have retained a healthy group of point producing players as well.

The left side of the graph again shows an interesting contrast between a handful of teams. Calgary and New Jersey have traded away very little in points but have retained very little as well. This leads to the conclusion that at this point, the talent they have drafted have not given them much of a return on their investment as of yet. Vancouver and Minnesota have not been rewarded with many points by their draft picks and have traded or lost more than they have retained. Toronto has traded or lost a large number of points while keeping relatively few. Again, the teams that are trading away talent are getting players in return, but this is certainly something to keep an eye on as teams are always trying to keep their coffers stuffed with talent for the future.

As a follow up to this, I’ve put together information on how teams have constructed their rosters by using their own drafted talent, undrafted players and players drafted by other teams and then acquired by the team in question.  Because there are between 35-40 graphs detailing NHL roster construction in this manner, I will put those in a separate post following this one.

*All data herein was collected from www.hockey-reference.com, www.nhl.com, and www.hockeydb.com  

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