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Comparing the Coyotes Under Keith Gretzky to the Oilers and the Rest of the NHL

How did the Coyotes do on draft day when Keith Gretzky was the man in charge?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Earlier this week, in my article about the then rumour of Keith Gretzky joining the Oilers as the team’s new assistant general manager, I touched briefly on the draft record of the Phoenix Coyotes during the five year that Gretzky was the team’s head scout. I didn’t go into much detail, saying just that it’s "not very reassuring" and is "very reminiscent of the Oilers recent history: good at the top of the first round, not so good everywhere else," a thought that should strike fear into the heart of Oilers fan everywhere.

This is something I wanted to come back to because I think it’s important, assuming of course that his previous work is in large part justification for his promotion, but of course Jonathan Willis beat me to it in his latest at Oilers Nation. As is always the case with Willis' work, the whole article is worth reading, and after doing so (if you haven’t already) I expect that you will reach the same conclusion as he did; that the Oilers out drafted the Coyotes between 2007 and 2011 when Gretzky was the man in charge of their draft board.

This isn’t to say that Gretzky is solely responsible for the Coyotes failures on draft day, there are dynamics and decision making processes that we have no way of knowing about, but ultimately he’s the man who will be given credit for a good draft or blamed for a bad draft, that’s the reality of the job. When the Oilers drafts under Stu MacGregor were assumed to be stellar (those were the days) I don’t remember many people suggesting that he deserved only partial credit, in much the same way, if the Coyotes faltered when Gretzky is the man in charge, then most of the blame has to be laid at his feet.

Reading Willis’ post it seemed clear to me that both the Oilers and Coyotes didn’t do very well outside of the first round between 2007 and 2011, but what wasn’t clear to me was how that compared to the rest of the NHL. Drafting 18 year olds is far from an exact science, perhaps we’re expecting too much from these teams. To try figure out if this is the case I turned to the Draft Finder tool from Hockey Reference, and to keep things relatively simple I limited my search to the first four rounds of the draft. The odds of a player drafted in the final three rounds spending any real time in the NHL are low, so I focused just on the rounds where the majority of NHL players are found. The table below summarizes what I found. The table is sortable by clicking on the heading.

Team Picks in Rounds 1-4 100 GP Rounds 1-4 Success % Picks in Rounds 2-4 100 GP Rounds 2-4 Success %
Los Angeles 22 12 55% 17 9 53%
Tampa Bay 18 10 56% 13 6 46%
Minnesota 15 8 53% 9 4 44%
Anaheim 23 13 57% 16 7 44%
Detroit 17 8 47% 15 6 40%
Colorado 15 7 47% 11 4 36%
Calgary 19 7 37% 15 5 33%
Nashville 20 8 40% 16 5 31%
Ottawa 19 7 37% 13 4 31%
Carolina 19 8 42% 14 4 29%
Dallas 13 3 23% 11 3 27%
New Jersey 18 7 39% 15 4 27%
Washington 15 6 40% 10 2 20%
Buffalo 20 7 35% 15 3 20%
NY Rangers 15 5 33% 10 2 20%
Edmonton 24 10 42% 16 3 19%
Chicago 23 6 26% 17 3 18%
Atlanta/Winnipeg 17 6 35% 12 2 17%
Montreal 18 5 28% 13 2 15%
San Jose 10 3 30% 7 1 14%
Toronto 18 4 22% 14 2 14%
Columbus 19 5 26% 15 2 13%
NY Islanders 24 8 33% 18 2 11%
Vancouver 13 3 23% 9 1 11%
St. Louis 27 9 33% 20 2 10%
Florida 27 7 26% 21 2 10%
Boston 16 5 31% 11 1 9%
Pittsburgh 16 3 19% 12 1 8%
Phoenix 22 6 27% 15 1 7%
Philadelphia 12 3 25% 9 0 0%

As you can see, I set the bar for a successful pick at the player having played at least 100 games in the NHL; this is far from an ideal way to assess draft success, but it at least gives us an idea of how often teams are finding NHL calibre players in these drafts. It should also be noted that since the Coyotes, like the Oilers, weren’t overly successful on the ice or at attracting free agents off the ice, that this 100 game cut-off could actually flatter the them as they would be more likely to start the career of a prospect a season (or two, or three) sooner than a deeper, contending team might.

The Oilers look surprisingly average here, better than I would have expected, turning basically one in every five picks in Rounds 2 through 4 into NHL players. Of course one of those three players, Tobias Rieder, was traded to the Coyotes for next to nothing, and two of the 16 picks included here were 31st overall, effectively a first round pick, so let’s not get too excited.

Looking at the Coyotes compared to the rest of the league things are much worse. In five drafts the team found only six players total, and only one after the first round. Considering that the team had three top ten picks in these seasons, it would be hard to sell this as particularly good work by the scouting staff. Maybe Gretzky really does have a remarkable eye for talent, but so far it hasn’t shown up at the NHL level.