The Oilers And NHL Draft Success

The jewel of a decade's worth of Edmonton draft picks. Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images via view.picapp.com

I was glancing over some draft notes and articles recently when I found an article by Jamie Fitzpatrick on About.com.  The article's topic is draft success, and to measure it, Fitzpatrick counts career players drafted by round through the 1990s.  The author draws an arbitrary line of 200 NHL games and calls that a "career".  That's four seasons of fifty games which, indeed, seems like a significant career for most NHL players.  Obviously, when evaluating first round picks, this seems like an extremely low number to consider a career, but we need to draw a line somewhere so I'll follow Fitzpatrick and stick with 200 games.  I also improvised and added in a different minimum for goalies -- 100 games -- which translates to 20 games per year over five years, or a backup goalie.

The author notes the rates of success in drafting career players from the first, second and all rounds beyond.  The overall success rate of getting career players in all rounds is approximately 19%.  The first round rate was 63%, the second round 25% and the rest of the draft was around 12%.

I'm using the Oilers draft period from 1999-2005, as players drafted from 2006 on may still be matriculating and have significantly different chances of having an NHL career.  The actual career player rate from this time period is 16.2%, but there are still players with a shot at becoming career players on the tail-end of the period.  This draft period includes one year without Kevin Lowe's guidance, 1999, but in the other six years, Vish was at the helm of the organization.  The Oilers drafted 12 career players out of 76 draft picks during this timeframe for an overall rate of 15%, or about three career players short of the average though there are others drafted during this timeframe that still have a chance at an NHL career - Taylor Chorney, Robby Dee, Devan Dubnyk, Liam Reddox and Chris Vande Velde - but that's true of most teams and, at this point, we have a solid picture of this group of draftees on the whole. 

This methodology makes no statements about the Oilers' ability to develop players, player injuries, player decisions or any other circumstance that may have kept the player out of the NHL.  For this specific time period of 1999-2005, the current career player rates are 16.2% overall, 61.1% in the first round, 24.3% in the second round and 8.7% in the third round and beyond.  The overall rate and the third round and beyond rates are lower, but there is still time for later players to make the NHL and correct the rate.  Later round players normally take longer to get to the NHL, so, on the surface, the disparity in rates makes sense.

After the jump, I'll look in detail at the success rates broken out by the three categories mentioned above and how those rates measure up against the league averages.

First up is the first round where the Oilers had eight picks in seven years:

 

Year Round  Num.  Player GP 
1999 1 13 Jani Rita  66
2000 1 17 Alexei Mikhnov  2
2001 1 13 Ales Hemsky  443
2002 1 15 Jesse Niinimaki 
2003 1 22 Marc-Antoine Pouliot  176
2004 1 14 Devan Dubnyk  19
2004 1 25 Rob Schremp  51
2005 1 25 Andrew Cogliano  246

 

Of those eight players, three of them became career players.  Andrew Cogliano has already hit the number and, barring a case of smallpox, Marc Pouliot will get there next season.  The third pick is, of course, Ales Hemsky, the jewel - and maybe the lone jewel - of an Oilers' system that stumbled for a decade.  Three for eight is 38%, 25% short of the league average, or two career players short of average over this period.  Two career players can make a significant impact on a franchise, no matter the level (1st line, 2nd line etc.) of career that they have.  Seven of the next ten players drafted after Alexei Mikhnov in 2000 were career players - how do the current Oilers look with one of those seven players, even if it's only Steve Ott?  And in 2002, eight of the next ten players drafted after Jesse Niinimaki were career players.  If the Oilers are able to land Daniel Paille to go with Steve Ott, they are a significantly different team. 

The second round is a bit of a different story for the Oilers.  They made thirteen selections over those seven years and were nearly as successful at finding career players in the second round as they were in the first:

 

Year Round  Num.  Player GP 
1999 2 36 Alexei Semenov  211
1999 2 41 Tony Salmelainen  70
2000 2 35 Brad Winchester  247
2001 2 43 Doug Lynch  2
2001 2 52 Ed Caron 
2002 2 31 Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers  58
2002 2 36 Jarret Stoll  433
2002 2 44 Matt Greene  308
2003 2 51 Colin McDonald  2
2003 2 68 Jean-Francois Jacques  109
2004 2 44 Roman Tesliuk 
2004 2 57 Geoff Paukovich 
2005 2 36 Taylor Chorney  44

 

Of those thirteen selections, four of them became career players and there is still hope for Taylor Chorney and Jeff Deslauriers.  The Oilers had success with 31% of these players, better than the 25% league average, but in actual numbers they were only one player better than the league average.  Removing any of these players from the team's history doesn't significantly alter the way the team has performed.

The rest of the draft is always a crapshoot.  The Oilers drafted 54 players after the second round during these seven years and many of them are names that even Lowetide forgets already.  For brevity, I'll only show those that have made a career and those that still have a chance:

 

Year Round  Num.  Pos  GP 
1999 3 91 Mike Comrie  568
2003 3 94 Zack Stortini  224
2005 3 86 Robby Dee 
2004 4 112 Liam Reddox  56
2005 4 97 Chris Vande Velde 
2001 5 133 Jussi Markkanen  128
2000 7 215 Matthew Lombardi  444
2003 7 214 Kyle Brodziak  257

 

Those 54 picks have yielded five career players, one short of the league average.  Of course, Matthew Lombardi's career has come elsewhere as will the bulk of Kyle Brodziak's (out of purgatory).

So the Oilers were a league average team from the second round on over this time-frame, but their record in the first round was poor and the results are on the ice now.  The short-comings in the first round may be scouting, or may be on the final decision-maker.  It's a small sample size, but that's all we have to go on.

What about the players drafted after 2005.  Since then, the Oilers have drafted 23 players.  If the Oilers managed to draft to the league average, the team can expect four career players to come from those four drafts.  They've already got themselves one in Sam Gagner, so are there three more players on that list?  Optimism runs high in Edmonton these days, mostly because when you hit bottom, hope is all you have.  But is there a reason to optimistic about the future?  Stu MacGregor is beloved in some corners of the internet, and if there's a possibility that he was better than his predecessor, the Oilers won't be handicapping themselves every year.

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