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2011 Draft Preview - Fishing Holes

Last year, I wrote an article on "fishing holes", a phrase I lifted from an article that Kent Wilson wrote a couple years back. Here's what Kent had to say about the concept:

This may be why clubs develop what I call "fishing holes", by which I mean they concentrate their scouting in certain amateur/developmental leagues (for the Flames, it's the WHL/CHL) - they can become familiar with the relative degree and value of the competition and therefore can more capably gauge a prospects level of performance.

During Darryl Sutter's tenure in Calgary, the Flames were an extreme example of this, drafting more players from one league (WHL) than any other club, but most teams in the NHL do have "fishing holes" of their own, i.e. areas where they draft proportionally more players than the rest of the league.  After the jump we'll take a look at the tendencies for all thirty NHL teams.

In the following chart, I've taken all of the players selected in the last five NHL entry drafts (2006-2010) and calculated what percentage of draftees were taken from each league, which will provide a baseline in determining what's "normal".  Here are the percentages for each of the leagues and/or nations (note: this is where the player was playing when drafted, not the player's nationality):


And since I've done this exercise in each of the last two years, it might be fun to see where things are changing, so for each of the leagues with at least ten draftees, let's compare 2006-2010 to 2005-2009 and 2004-2008:


Most of the leagues in Europe are seeing a steep decrease in the number of players being drafted, with Russia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic hurting the most. Interestingly, even though many of the players who would've been drafted from those countries have moved to the CHL, the CHL hasn't seen a huge increase in draftees, with both the QMJHL and WHL staying relatively flat. Instead, it's been other European countries like Sweden and Germany that have picked up the slack. In the US, there's been a shift away from NCAA players and towards players in high school, and those participating with the development program.

In the next several charts, I'll group teams by division and look at how much their draft tendencies diverge from the (2006-2010) NHL norms listed above. Each chart will be colour-coded with "hot" spots (marked in red) and "cold" spots (marked in blue). The more pronounced the shading is, the more that team diverges from the league norm. If the team stays within 2% of the league average, there is no shading, a difference of 2-5% gets light shading, 5-10% more pronounced and 10%+ is brightly coloured. I'll use the WHL as an example: a team that used 14.30% to 18.30% of their draft picks on players from the WHL receives no shading; 11.30% to 14.30% would be shaded blue; 6.30% to 11.30% a more pronounced blue; less than 6.30% bright blue; 18.30% and 21.30% would be shaded red; 21.30% to 26.30% a more pronounced red; and greater than 26.30% bright red.







One of the fun ways that this data may help is in looking at prospects leading up to the draft. The Oilers, for instance, have a couple of third round picks, so it makes some sense for us to look more closely at some of the guys in that range from Sweden and the WHL leading up to the draft, and a whole lot less sense to look at guys playing in the United States since the Oilers tend to shy away from those players (I don't think Troy Hesketh has changed their minds). Here's a quick synopsis of each team's favourite and least favourite spots relative to league average:


And finally, just a few quick notes on some points I found interesting:


  • Each team should have seven picks per draft or 35 picks overall, but the actual average is 35.17 because of a few compensatory selections that are given out each season.
  • The New York Islanders have drafted the most players in the last five years, taking 44 different players, or 8.8 players per draft, which is 1.8 more than the league's allotment to each team. The team is rebuilding, and if nothing else, they've got quantity going for them.
  • Compare that to the Oilers who have actually drafted fewer players than average over the last five years. That might have something to do with the Taylor Hall selection being declared the starting point of the Edmonton rebuild - the system just didn't have very many prospects.
  • The Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars have each drafted 28 players in the last five years (5.6 per draft). In Vancouver's case, the team is good right now, so that's not much of a concern. In Dallas' case... they really should've traded Brad Richards
  • The Buffalo Sabres have only drafted two players out of Europe in the last five years, both out of Sweden and both in 2006. I get the feeling they don't have much video of European games.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins are the only team to have passed completely on one of the three major Canadian hockey leagues - they haven't drafted a player out of the WHL since Moises Gutierrez was picked in the sixth round in 2004. The Penguins must have thought that Kamloops was in Mexico.
  • Darryl Sutter won't be getting a new job with the Penguins. No one has taken more players from one league than the Calgary Flames' twelve from the WHL despite the fact that the Flames have had just 32 picks.