Jun 122012
 

If you browse through the list of top NHL forwards you will find it consisting mostly of first round picks, and especially top 10 overall picks.  But when you browse through the list of top NHL defensemen far fewer of them were drafted in the first round and even fewer among the top 10.  Here is a list of all defensemen who gathered 40 points in the NHL last season.

Defenseman Points Round Position
 Erik Karlsson 78 1 15
 Brian Campbell 53 6 156
 Dustin Byfuglien 53 8 245
 Zdeno Chara 52 3 56
 Alex Pietrangelo 51 1 4
 Alexander Edler 49 3 91
 Shea Weber 49 2 49
 Dan Boyle 48 Undrafted
 Mark Streit 47 9 262
 Ryan Suter 46 1 7
 Dennis Wideman 46 8 241
 Dion Phaneuf 44 1 9
 Kevin Bieksa 44 5 151
 Kevin Shattenkirk 43 1 14
 Kimmo Timonen 43 10 250
 Keith Yandle 43 4 105
 Kris Letang 42 3 62
 Michael Del Zotto 41 1 20
 Duncan Keith 40 2 54

Of the 19 defensemen listed above, just 6 were first round picks and there were also 6 defensemen drafted in the 5th round or later as well as an undrafted defenseman.  Another method for identifying top defensemen is to look at their salary cap hits.  There are 20 NHL defensemen who have a salary cap hit of $5M or higher, only 7 of them were drafted in the first round and 4 of those were top 10 picks (including Redden who is no longer in the NHL) so pretty close to what we see above.

Comparing those numbers to NHL forwards, 14 of the top 20 point producing forwards this past season were first round picks, and 9 of them were top 3 picks.  Additionally the top 9 forwards in highest salary cap hits were all top 3 picks and all but Gaborik were top 2 picks.  Among the 23 forwards with salary cap hits above $6.5M only Pavel Datsyuk (round 6, 171st overall), Brad Richards (3, 64) and  Paul Stastny (2,44) were drafted outside the first round.  The elite forwards in the NHL are almost exclusively first round picks.

In the 14 years from 1996 through 2009 there were 420 first round draft picks with 61% of them being forwards, 32% of them being defensemen and 7% being goalies.  If you consider a standard 22 man NHL roster to have 13 forwards (59%), 7 defensemen (32%) and 2 goalies (9%), that ratio of forwards to defensemen to goalies in first round draft picks is almost exactly as expected so it isn’t like the absence of first round picks on defense leaderboards is due to a lack of defensemen being drafted in the first round.  It seems more likely that something else is going on here with the most likely explanation being that defensemen take longer to develop and thus drafting them is an even greater crap shoot than drafting forwards.

So, what do I take away from this?  Well, I think it probably means that teams should adjust their drafting strategy so that they have a bias towards drafting forwards in the first round and focus on drafting defensemen with your later round picks.

 

Jun 252009
 

The 2009 NHL entry draft takes place tomorrow evening so lets talk draft and trade rumours. The first thing that everyone needs to know is that not all players drafted tomorrow night in the first round will become NHL star players, or even good NHL players. The truth is the majority of those drafted in the first round tomorrow will go down in history as ‘draft flops’. That is unfortunate because most of them aren’t flops, they are just subject to the laws of reality and the reality is that it is simply not possible for every top 18 year old hockey player to make the NHL and excel. There just aren’t enough NHL roster spots for that to occur.

Toronto media and fans love to talk trash about the Leafs drafting ability over the past decade or two but it is really unfounded. Many call Nik Antropov a bit of a failure because while he is a good player, he didn’t turn out to be a star as one would expect from a 10th overall pick. Let me toss out 10 names for you: Jocelyn Thibault, Nolan Baumgartner, Radek Dvorak, Lance Ward, Brad Ference, Bransilav Menzei, Mikhail Yakubov, Dan Blackburn, Eric Nystrom, and Andrei Kostitsyn. Those names represent the 10th overall draft picks in the five years before Nik Antropov was drafted in 1998 and the five years after. Dvorak has had a pretty decent career as a second line player. He’s played 976 games, scored 194 goals and racked up 502 points. Kostitsyn is a skilled player that looks to have a promising career probably not unlike Dvorak’s though possibly a bit better. He currently has 52 goals and 108 points in 186 games played. Jocelyn Thibault had a pretty decent career has a second tier starter or solid backup. The rest didn’t really turn out to be much of anything. So is Antropov, who currently sits at 527 games played with 132 goals and 304 points, a bust. Not even close. Rather, he seems more like the upper end of the scale of what you can expect with the #10 pick. Yes, there will be the odd truly star player taken 10th overall like Teemu Selanne in 1988 but they are rare.

For more discussion on draft picks and the likelihood that they will become NHL regulars you can take a look at my Draft Schmaft post from a few years ago. Scott Cullen over at TSN.ca has a similar analysis and you can also find an interesting draft analysis over at Pension Plan Puppets.

There has been a lot of talk about Brian Burke’s public statements that he would love to trade up in the draft and select John Tavares. This task just became more difficult when it seems that Oren Koules has won the power struggle over Len Barrie. Koules it seems is more interested in cutting salary to levels very close to the salary cap floor ($40 million). If this is ones goal it probably means that you want young players on your roster so they are more likely to keep the pick and are less likely to be interested in someone like Kaberle who, outside of Luke Schenn (who is unlikely to be traded), is their most valued asset. It seems more likely that Burke could trade up with Atlanta to get the #4 pick where he could select Evander Kane or Luke’s Schenn’s brother Brayden. My gut tells me that if Burke can’t trade up to get into the top 5 and one of the top 5 for some reason doesn’t fall to #7 he’ll seriously consider looking at trading down and picking up an extra pick or two in the process, not unlike what the Islanders did last year when they traded the 5th overall pick to Toronto for Toronto’s 7th overall pick and a 3rd round pick and a 2nd round pick in this years draft and then flipped the 7th overall pick to Nashville for the 9th overall pick and a second round pick. So the Islanders dropped from 5th to 9th and picked up two second round picks and a third round pick in the process. Burke may try to do something along those lines to help fill out the Leafs prospect pool.

Another Leaf rumour going around is that the Leafs are interested in Wade Redden. This has shocked many because most people see Redden as a flop and at his salary and contract length is a waste of time. There is some truth to this. His game has fallen off a bit the last couple of seasons and he is over paid at $6.5 million but he is still a good player capable of playing big minutes (he was 23 in time on ice per game for defensemen at 23:24) and in the right trade, it could make sense. First off, acquiring Redden would make it easier to trade one or both of Kaberle and Kubina which should land Burke with more prospects or draft picks which would amount to cheap players being on the team to offset Redden’s expensive contract. Second, it may be possible for the Leafs to rid themselves of a big contract in the process by, for example, including Jason Blake in the deal. It may also be the case that the Rangers, who have cap issues, may be looking to get rid of Redden at any cost and may be willing to include a draft pick and/or a prospect in the deal just to make it happen. Burke is looking long term and he desperately wants to stock up on prospects to make that happen and if he can flip Kaberle and Kubina (and their $9.25 million in contracts for the upcoming season) for prospects and pick up Redden to offset that loss and maybe pick up a draft pick or prospect or dump a big salary of his own as well it may very well make sense to make that move and it should not be dismissed as a mistake in the process.
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