Calgarypuck Draft Analysis

Part III: The Safe Pick?

June 19th, 2003

D'Arcy McGrath


Background: Two weeks ago we asked Calgarypuck readership to complete a series of ten consecutive draft years ('92-2001), looking at the first four rounds and rating each player chosen on a scale from one to five (five being a star, one being a complete bust). The results are used to look at the draft on an analytical basis.


Two opposing forces will be at work at the Calgary Flames draft table in Nashville on Saturday morning.


Additional Draft Coverage
Preview: Charlton
Preview: Ciampa
Buyer Beware (Goaltending)
Draft Analysis: Part II - Ranking the Clubs
Draft Analysis: Part I - A Real Crapshoot
Sutter Plots His First Draft
Flames News & Notes

On one hand you have a very deep draft - a scenario that suggests that no matter what players are available when the Flames, under the tutelage of first year general manager Darryl Sutter, make their first choice they are bound to select a solid prospect.


On the other hand you have a recent history strewn with failed first round picks, a run that has seen the club either come up empty (see Daniel Tkaczuk in 1997 or Rico Fata in 1998), behind the curve (see Oleg Saprykin in 1999) or still patiently wafting for dividends (see any draft since). 


If this club didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all.


The question comes down to what happens when an immovable object confronts a powerful force? Something has to give right?

Flames fans are hoping that this year that immovable object moves, and moves a great deal, with the club landing a cornerstone player in the 2003 Entry Draft.


Making Them Count


Every club sets out to succeed at an entry draft, to find talent from picks one through nine, and restock their future in two brilliant afternoons. The first round holds most of the focus, however, and that focus becomes twice as strong when a team's first pick resides in the draft's first ten.


The Flames have drafted in the top ten five times since they've come to Calgary, with four of those instances coming in the last six years.


Though they have some promise from the past two drafts, they have yet to hit that homerun, something that they could really use this season.


To help the club steer through these murky waters of draft success and failure we look to the past and an analysis of ten years of draft picks (1992-2001), rated by the readership of


Has there been any trends in the top ten picks of these draft years that can help the club from stumbling badly and creating more nonplayoff seasons down the road?


Risk By Position


Some clubs have hard fast rules that govern their early first round draft stategy on day one of the preceedings.

"You can never have enough defencemen".


"Never take a goaltender in the first ten picks".


"It all starts at center ice".


These are but a few that have made their way through draft guides and each city's newspapers every June.


But is there a noticeable risk or reward from sticking to or running from a certain positional player?

Risk By Position

Breakdown of results by position from 1992 to 2001

Forwards Defencemen Goaltenders
Taken 65 27 8
Best 5.0 5.0 4.3
Worse 1.1 1.2 2.2
Average 3.1 3.3 3.2
2 above 55 24 8
3 above 37 16 4
4 above 14 7 1
2 or > 85% 89% 100%
3 or > 57% 59% 50%
4 or > 22% 26% 13%



Simple math tells us that 100 players have been drafted in the first ten picks of the drafts from 1992 to 2001.


Of those 100 picks, 65 forwards, 27 defencemen, and eight goaltenders have been chose, all with mixed results.


The table to the right leads you through the results by position over this time period.


You'll find in the fourth row down that the difference by position is actually quite small with defencemen having a slight edge of 0.2 over the last place forwards (3.1 to 3.3 range; the equivalent of a slightly above average hockey player).


Defencemen also had an edge in terms of the frequency of picks turning out to be above average or star players. A full quarter, or 26% of defencemen drafted over this time period went on to play significant roles in the National Hockey League (or are on pace to do so).

This compares to 22% of all forwards, and a much lower 13% of goaltenders taken in this timer period.


The number of average or better players works out to 59% of defencemen, 57% of forwards, and 50% of goaltenders. 


Considering the excitement generated by a top ten pick it's somewhat alarming to see that teams can only expect a 50 to 60% chance of getting an average hockey player, no matter what position they draft.


Finally it's interesting to note that all eight goaltenders drafted in this time period went on to at least play, compared to 89% of defencemen and 85% of forwards.


Risk by Origin


It seems some organizations or general managers have unwritten guidelines when it comes to which part of the globe they tend to target when they draft hockey players.

Mike Smith in Chicago is well known for his penchant to select Russian hockey players, just as the David Poile in Nashville has a definite drive to select players from Canada's Western Hockey League.


Is there a difference? A region of the world that produces a better chance at finding that sure thing hockey player? A place where a team's "bust quotient" can be diminished ensuring they find a talented hockey player that can contribute to their organizations?

Risk By Origin
Break down of players by their origin
  WHL OHL QMJHL Czech Finland Russia Slovakia Sweden H.S. College IHL
Taken 24 36 6 2 4 12 2 4 1 5 4
Best 4.6 5.0 4.5 4.2 3.5 4.8 4.8 3.3 1.1 4.9 4.6
Worse 1.1 1.1 2.1 3.6 2.9 2.5 2.0 2.5 1.1 2.8 3.2
Average 3.1 2.9 3.4 3.9 3.1 3.6 3.4 3.1 1.1 3.8 3.8
2 above 19 29 6 2 4 12 2 4 0 5 4
3 above 13 14 4 2 3 9 1 3 0 4 4
4 above 5 7 2 1 0 2 1 0 0 2 2
2 % 79% 81% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 0% 100% 100%
3 % 54% 39% 67% 100% 75% 75% 50% 75% 0% 80% 100%
4 % 21% 19% 33% 50% 0% 17% 50% 0% 0% 40% 50%



The answer? Well .. yes and no.

With only 100 picks to analyze and 11 categories to separate them, one must be careful not to draw too extensive of conclusions from the data.

The fact that the only U.S. High School pick in this time period went belly up is hardly a call to ignore U.S. High Schools, for example.

Almost two thirds of top ten picks in these ten years were allocated to the three Canadian junior hockey leagues, with 36 from Ontario, 24 from the west and a paltry six from Quebec. If I was a QMJHL fan I'd be a bit alarmed with the diaparity between the three leagues, as a top ten player every two of three years is not a glowing report of Quebec league talent.

Risk By Origin Summary
Regional Break down of players
  Canada Europe U.S.
Taken 66 28 6
Best 5.0 4.8 4.9
Worse 1.1 3.3 1.1
Average 3.0 4.2 3.0
2 above 54 28 5
3 above 31 22 4
4 above 14 6 2
2 % 82% 100% 83%
3 % 47% 79% 67%
4 % 21% 21% 33%


Of the six Quebec leaguers not a single player proved to be a full disappointment, compared to 19% of OHL players, and 21% of Western leaguers. A promising 54% of the 24 kids drafted from the west went on to be at least average NHL players, compared to 39% of the Ontario League.

No one source of hockey players could boast a percentage of stars greater than 50%, a mark that represented the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, and the U.S. College Ranks. These statistics are somewhat insignificant when you see that some of these sources only offered up two players in this time period. So for summary purposes it's interesting to note that 24 players were taken out of Europe in this time period, plus an additional four European players that were gleamed from the International Hockey League bringing their total to 28 (compared to 66 of Canada).

When regionalized, the top ten doesn't paint a pretty picture for Canada, though clearly the shear number of picks allocated to hockey's home land is promising.

Only 47% of Canadian kids drafted turned out to be average or better in their NHL careers. This number compares to 79% for European draft picks, and 67% to U.S. players chosen (much smaller sample size).

Canadian kids did match the Europeans in terms of the number of stars churned out, however, with both sides of the pond mining gold 21% of the time.

Fast Forward 2003

This year's consensus top ten, like the ten years analyzed above, has its mix by position and country of origin. Most feel that a Canadian will go first this year be it the goaltender from Quebec or the lanky center from Ontario.

When the Flames come to the podium in the nine spot there's a good chance they'll have a choice between a Canadian, a European, a defenceman and a forward.

If history has any bearing there is a 65% chance the Flames will select a forward, and a 66% chance they'll take a Canadian player with their first choice. The latter was all but confirmed through comments by Darryl Sutter over the past month.

In the end, like every pick in any draft, odds dictate that the player has a good chance of making the NHL, and a decent chance of making a pretty strong mark through his career.

But at the end of the day, for Calgary, that's just not good enough.

So be careful Mr. Sutter, it's high time the Flames selected a player that can impact their future in a positive fashion. Let some other club do the math on top ten picks, your club needs to move clear of the lime light on draft day.


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