Looking at recent NHL entry draft success: The Drafting Index


When having a recent Sens-related discussion on Twitter (as I am inclined to do) I cited a common defense of Sens management that I’ve used more than a few times: At least the Sens drafting under Bryan Murray has been strong as compared to the rest of the league. That statement has comforted Sens fans somewhat when dealing with the current plight of the team. Drafting is a strength of the organization and helps to paper over some of the other issues that exist which we as Sens fans, are all well aware.

But this time, I paused after stating this because while the Sens draft record under Murray has the general consensus of being very good and we can look at a number of anecdotal examples (Erik Karlsson helps us all carry on at night), I had never come across a measure of how each team has performed in this area as compared to their peers. How did I know this assumption was necessarily true?

So I decided to create a measure. I called it The Drafting Index. The goal is to measure both the drafting quality and quantity of all teams over a recent 5 year period ranked against each other. It could be easy to simply tally up the total NHL games played by all players drafted over this time period but that does not account necessarily for the quality of player drafted. It favours the teams who have graduated many drafted players into their lineups without evaluating their level of play. At the other end of the spectrum, I did not want to only look at total points recorded by players drafted in this period as that would most likely result in the teams who drafted a superstar or two rising to the top without considering the team’s strength in drafting outside of these 1 or 2 superstars.

So I decided to allocate equal weighting to both total games played by players drafted over this time and total points achieved. I didn’t want to leave out drafted goaltenders when it came to the production metric so I used Wins as their counting stat. I doubled the Win output to approximate the value of a point by a skater (i.e. a goalie who can win 40 games in a season (which is rare) holds roughly the same value as a PPG player).

Once these results were tallied, I simply ranked each franchise from 1 to 30 in both metrics (assigning 30 points to the top team, 29 for the next and so on with the last place team getting a 1). Then I added both numbers together to assign equal weighting and it provided an index which could be a maximum of 60 (30 + 30) and a minimum of 2 (1 + 1). I chose the 5 year period starting from the 2008 draft because it was far enough away to get a good picture of the development of these players (and of course it was also the first year that Murray’s drafting regime began). The period ends at 2012 as the 2013 and 2014 drafts are too recent to provide much of anything in the way of results at this point.

The results are below. I found them fairly interesting and I’ll make a few observations afterwards. (Click to enlarge)

Screenshot at Dec 17 06-35-00

– First off, the index is obviously not going to account for teams who traded away high picks over this time to acquire other quality assets. It’s understood but there’s not much we can do but provide context there. The index also does not reflect a change in a player’s organization after they are drafted, only who originally drafted them. And this of course will be a fluid number as time goes on and more players from the 08-12 draft classes enter the league and continue their careers but we have enough data here that a snapshot at this time should not differ significantly index-wise as time goes on.

– As for the results, it’s somewhat surprising to me to see the Islanders run away with this index scoring a perfect 60 by being the top ranked in GP as well as Points. Drafting John Tavares obviously helps but that alone isn’t going to give you that kind of runaway win. Tavares accounts for just 15% of the Islanders GP total and 31% of the points total. Clearly this was a bad franchise providing lots of opportunities to its young players but you cannot deny that they took advantage of their drafts by choosing numerous quality players who are producing at a much higher than replacement rate. There are several teams who were equally awful on the ice over this period (Florida, Columbus, Winnipeg for example) who didn’t fare nearly as well.

– On the other end of the spectrum, we have Pittsburgh who finished dead last in both metrics to arrive at a dreadful 2 as their final index number. The Pens not finishing with a great number in an index like this would be expected given their weak drafting position due to their ongoing success as well as their numerous trades of high picks to augment their playoff pushes. However this is still a very troubling result for them when looking at their counting numbers. Over the course of 5 years, they can only report 314 total NHL games played and 91(!) total points from their drafted group. Compare that to teams with similar levels of on-ice success over that time like Chicago (948 GP, 362 Pts) or Boston (806 GP, 416 Pts) and I don’t think that excuse holds a ton of water. What this does indicate is that having Crosby and Malkin (and Fleury I suppose) on your team takes you a long way. But this is a trend that is worrisome if I’m a Pens fan and free agency can only cover these holes for so long. There has already been a depletion in the overall depth of this team and Sens fans can start to see a lot of similarities in the Muckler years which had a very familiar-looking 5 year drafting drought which was papered over at the time due to the team’s on-ice success. But even Muckler’s pathetic draft run yielded more in the way of results than what the Pens came up with here. They really need to find a way to reset their strategy before a new downward cycle begins.

– If I’m trying to pinpoint similarities in the top index performers, one common factor across the Top 5 (Isles, Lightning, Oilers, Kings, Sens) is an elite level player drafted in 2008 who came into the league early and dominated very quickly (Tavares, Stamkos, Eberle, Doughty, Karlsson). That certainly will set you up for success in this index but it’s not the only thing that matters as all of these teams also had plenty of depth in their picks that continued past these elite players. The one outlier in this group of 5, in terms of overall number of players drafted who made their way into the NHL, is the Oilers but they made up for it by being very adept with their high 1st round picks even though they got next to nothing in rounds past that.

– For the most part, teams tended to have fairly similar rankings in both GP’s and Points but there were a few exceptions. Boston was 7th last in Games Played but had the 14th best point production. St. Louis also had a similar gap in their GP’s to Points. So while those teams haven’t graduated a ton of players into the NHL, they’ve done well with the ones they have.

– Putting the index into context for the Sens, it did confirm the commonly-held belief that they have drafted particularly well under Murray relative to their peers. They are graduating a high number of players as well as seeing production from these players at a top 5 level of performance against the rest of the NHL. Given the restraints this team has, this kind of ongoing performance is necessary and vital for the future success of the franchise. Drafting is only one of the elements needed for an organization to compete but it’s one of the most important ones so it’s good to see that for now at least, the management team is flourishing in that respect.

I would love to hear any comments or feedback on this index. Is it too simplistic, does it take into account enough factors? Would anyone like to see other time periods covered? Let me know.