Picks Apart - What's a Draft Pick Worth?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

At Peter Chiarelli's year end scrum he agreed that trading Edmonton’s First Round pick #9 was a possibility. But what’s it worth? To bad we don’t have the NHL equivalent to the Draft Value Chart developed by the Dallas Cowboys and still popular in the NFL thirty years later. In that NFL ranking, the Oilers First round pick would be worth 1350 points and their Second round pick 490.

Developing an NHL Draft Value Chart would be a great project for someone. I tried. But it’s a project that requires more time and resources than I can muster. However, I did make a start by looking at five draft years, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. My ambition was to see how many of the players chosen in each of the first three rounds would go on to careers in the NHL and have an impact. Two very different but equally important questions!

I was curious as to how many of the 450 players chosen in those five years would have serious NHL careers. And remember, these are players drafted in the first three rounds! It’s a small sample size. Some rounding was necessary to keep the math points from becoming tiresome. It was necessary to make extremely arbitrary cut lines when going from quantity to quality judgments. (About 20 goalies were drafted in this time period and are not included in this career metric)

· 184 played over one hundred NHL games

· 129 played less than one hundred games

· 118 never played a single NHL game.

The cut line of 100 games is somewhat arbitrary. There might be a few great players whose careers are cut short prior by injury, but for the most part a successful draft pick needs to have some longevity at the NHL level. Using this metric, just over 40% of players chosen in the first three rounds were a success.

Here’s one of the first striking results from this admittedly modest sample size from 08’ to 12’: the decline in successful draft picks (those playing over 100 games) is remarkably linear. 94 players chosen in the Round One played more than 100 games. 59 players chosen in Round Two played over 100 games. And 31 chosen in Round Three.

Roughly speaking – a First Round pick has a 60% chance of a career, it drops off quite neatly to a 40% chance for Second Round picks, and then again to 20% for Third Round picks.

The picture is more complex if the data is broken down further. If we compare how the top ten picks fare against the next ten picks, a new picture emerges. Here’s that data set, with the pick range and the % of players from that range that played over 100 games in the NHL.

Picks 1 – 10

90% played over 100 games

11 – 20


21 – 30


31 - 40


41 – 50


51 – 60


61 -70






The chance of a successful career drops off within the first round quite dramatically. Sure, there is still a 58% chance of a career player for picks taken between #21 - #30, but it’s 90% for top ten picks. From the standpoint of quantity of games played, picks taken anywhere in Round Two have a similar success rate, about 40%, and picks taken anywhere in Round Three have a similar success rate – about 22%.

Before moving on to the quality of those careers , a small observation about the First Round duds. Only seven players chosen in the first round during this five year period failed to notch a single game in the NHL. Interestingly, five of those seven were centres, one a goalie and only one played on the wing. If GMs are going to gamble, it’s on drafting a Centre because the reward is that much higher.

Pause before continuing! I’m about to wander in to arbitrary quality evaluations of draft picks chosen in the first three rounds between 2008 and 2012. Rather than list all the caveats, I’ll just issue a blanket warning. Read at your own risk.

My first decision was to toss out goalies for analysis. The sample size was just too small and after all, goalies are like drummers and skydivers, crazy.

Forwards For this modest exercise the metric for quality was points per game. The data pool consisted of those forwards who did play over 100 games. There were 118.

Given the relatively small sample size and the single metric used – points for game, it wouldn’t be wise to get too exercised about the findings. But perhaps it lays the groundwork for future considerations. Here are the basic findings:

* Forwards chosen at the top of the draft – from pick # 1 to pick #10 were in a class of their own. Quality drops off after that.

· Only half the forwards chosen in the balance of the First Round would deliver the points per game found among top ten selections;

· Only a quarter of those chosen in the Second Round were as likely to deliver as per the top ten picks, and it then tailed off to about one in eight in the Third Round

To put quality and quantity together – you can see how quickly success fades as the draft proceeds. The fall off starts after you get to pick #11. There is at least some evidence in this survey that an early Round Two Pick is not really an upgrade on a late Round Two Pick, and similarly homogenous results (at a lower level) for Round Three Picks.


The primary metric for evaluating blueliners chosen was average time on ice per game. I know, way too simple. But read on. My even more arbitrary metric was to assert that a blue chip NHL defenseman played at least 22 minutes per game.

There were 66 players in this set – players chosen in Rounds One, Two and Three in the years 2008 to 2012. Every one in this sample played 100 or more games in the NHL. Only a small fraction would get a blue chip rating.

So what are the chances of getting one of the blue chip d-men? The success rate turned out to be just the same for a top ten pick versus those chosen between pick #11 and #20. The drop off was steep after that.

Even more striking was the equivalence of any d-man chosen between pick number 21 through to the end of the Second Round. And as for the Third Round picks, the chance of one playing 22 minutes or more was just 1/7th that of a top twenty pick.

I’m taking away four points from this exercise:

  1. Choosing a forward with a top ten pick, or a defenseman in the top twenty will get you a successful NHL player almost every time.
  2. Teams that need help at Centre, (like the Canadiens this year) will take risks and overpay in a trade.
  3. Third Round picks and later are not as worthwhile as one might have thought.

  4. Somebody needs to develop a Draft Value Chart as per the NFL equivalent.

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