Draft Special Part III: Drilling Down
Drilling Down Into the Numbers
Okay. The last piece of this story. We have recently looked at how many man games played (MGP) teams have drafted and we have looked at overall success by teams over the last 10 seasons.
But now let’s look at how it has really played out.
Who has drafted well?
The top tier. These teams have all drafted 4000+ man games played in the last ten years.
No surprise with Anaheim and Tampa Bay. They have had much success in the last ten years. They have played 64 and 93 playoff games respectively. The Anaheim scouting department made some great hauls from 2011-2013 drafting Rickard Rakell, John Gibson, William Karlson, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, Freddy Andersen and Shea Theodore. The Ducks (10th in Rick’s Success Ranking - RSR) are above average in regular season wins since 2011 but have had consistent playoff success elude them as former stars began to fade and they traded away some of this drafted talent (Karlsson, Andersen and Theodore) without much in return.
Tampa (3rd in RSR) scored some big wins as well from 2011-13. Vladislav Nemestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Cedric Paquette, Ondre Palat, Andrei Vasilevsky and Jonathan Drouin. The difference here is that Tampa was able to hold on to the talent and if trades were made, they did well with the returns.
Two of the biggest surprises at the top are Carolina and Buffalo. While Carolina has had some success over the last few years (19th in RSR), they are still below average in regular season wins, playoff games played and playoff series won. Their big pulls from 10 years ago were Victor Rask, Brock McGinn, Jacob Slavin, Elias Lindhom and Brett Pesce. Aside from Lindholm (and now a Flame) these guys aren’t necessarily lighting the lamp on a regular basis.
The Buffalo Sabres! What gives? They have drafted 4307 man games in the last ten years, just 98 less than Tampa. That is the difference of just one player for one season. Yet their RSR is last in the league! Playoff series won? Doesn’t matter, they haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. They are also last in regular season wins. So how does this work? They draft well. Joel Armia, Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, JT Compher, Sam Reinhart and obviously Jack Eichel have each played hundreds of NHL games. So what gives? Well, they either trade some of this young talent away (Armia, Zadorov, Grigorenko, Compher) and get little in return or they get a good player in return but he leaves after a few seasons (Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly). Plus, what they have kept, just aren’t getting it done. Obviously, the higher you draft, the better odds you have in hitting a bullseye now and then.
If you remember my initial hypothesis positing that drafting well correlates to on ice success, the Chicago Blackhawks have done it in spades. Stan Bowman and team have drafted well, built around those players and then added pieces to complement their core. While some teams would reward players with huge contracts after winning the cup, Bowman was expert at trimming the fat and getting back good returns as well. All teams want players from a cup winner and the Chicago GM exploited that. Chicago ranked 2nd overall in RSR only behind the Penguins (not surprising, another GM that was not afraid to pull the trigger and rebuild his team after early success – Jim Rutherford). The big difference here is that not only did the Blackhawks draft for man games, they also drafted talent. A huge task when you are finishing near the top of the league and drafting low each year. Phillip Danault, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat are some of their great finds.
Ah the Oilers. The opposite of the Blackhawks. They draft well but… They have had buckets of high, first round picks but ugh! They have drafted over 4000 man games in ten years but sit at 27th in RSR. They sit in 2nd last at regular season wins, playoff games played and playoff series won in the last ten years. Only the Sabres are worse! The 15 year rebuild. Thank goodness I am not an Oilers fan!
Teams That Have Had Success Without Drafting Well
The Los Angeles Kings sit at 26th best in Man Games drafted but are 5th in RSR. How did they do it? The numbers can be a little deceiving and remember, as objective as I have tried to make this, it is still very gray at times. Much of the Kings success came early in the last decade, skewing the data somewhat. They really haven’t drafted great. Tanner Pearson and Adrian Kempe stand out but that is about it. The Kings had built a fairly strong core prior to that and then kept them together. Really though, the Kings rise and fall was quite fast. In 2008-09 they missed the playoffs for the 6th straight year (built up some good picks in those years – Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Wayne Simmonds, Drew Doughty, Brayden Schenn) then lost in the 1st round the next 2 seasons. They won cups in 2012 and 2014 and went to the conference final in between. In 2014-15 they missed the playoffs again.
The New York Rangers have drafted the least amount of Man Games in the last 10 seasons at just 2066 yet sit at 9th overall in RSR. Though not having cup wins, starting in 2010, they made the playoffs 7 straight seasons going to the finals once and the conference finals twice. Much like LA, they made hay with picks starting in 2005. Then, starting in 2011, they started trading away high picks at the trade deadline to build cup winners. They came close but it has cost them now as their talent pool is quite shallow.
Our Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have drafted well as MGP shows. They only sit at 18th in RSR but the future looks bright. They have drafted over 4000 man games since 2011 (6th overall) and since their return, have snagged 13 NHL regulars in those first 6 drafts. Not many teams can say that.
Near misses or yet to be seen include: Nic Petan, Jansen Harkins, Sami Niku and Mikhail Berdin. Since 2017, under the heading of promising and hopeful would be Kristian Vesalainen, Dylan Samberg, David Gustafsson, Ville Heinola, and Cole Perfetti. Things look good going forward for this Jet squad.
So, what did we find out? Can we correlate drafting well to success? Kind of. But there are so many other layers. Just because you get lots of high picks doesn’t mean you do well in the draft (Edmonton). Just because you draft lots of man games, doesn’t mean you are successful on the ice (Buffalo). Just because you don’t draft well or much, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful (New York Rangers).
It appears there is still an appropriate balance of drafting, developing and trading for value needed to be successful. Teams that have found the most success have drafted well and then built around that core (see the Oilers of the early 80s). Don’t trade away talent for nothing in return. Avoid knee jerk reactions at the trade deadline or on the draft floor (Peter Chiarelli – what were you thinking in July 2015?). Make good picks, but if all your picks are 3rd line wingers and 5 spot defensemen, you will still not have success.
Thanks for reading. All the data is available here.