Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Value of the Draft Pt. 1

By Dan Moser

Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland. Thanks to the advice from my dentist I've decided to take things in a different direction for a little bit. That's right ninjas I'm going academic up in this bitch. For the next few days I will be posting in parts a paper I recently wrote on the value of the NHL draft from a statistical perspective. I have removed some of the academically required content such as an abstract, summary, and recommendations. These sections, although excellently written, are redundant of themselves and the actual body of the paper.

Don't worry no Corsi numbers or anything like that, we are talking basic stats here like goals and points. Anyway I hope you enjoy part one, and come back for part two.

The Value of the Draft:
A statistical analysis of National Hockey League as it relates to draft pedigree

Each year following the completion of the National Hockey League season, the league executives take part in the annual distribution of young hockey talent provided by the NHL Entry Draft. Players aged 18 - 20 are selected by NHL teams and officially become the playing properties of said teams. Throughout the season, teams have the option of keeping their draft picks or trading them away for talent from other teams they believe will help them succeed in the near future. Typically teams that believe they are close to being championship caliber will trade their picks away and young developing teams accumulate picks in the hopes of finding the next superstar to one day lead them to a championship. This is not an easy decision and in many cases the wrong decision is made.

Through a basic statistical analysis of draft pedigree as it is related to on-ice performance from an individual perspective, this paper will aim to prove that the value of a first round draft pick is too high to trade away. This is especially the case because only one team can be a champion each year.

Analysis will take place ased on tables providing the top 20 goal scoring forwards and top 20 point scoring forwards from each of the seasons following the NHL lockout of 2004/05. Preliminary research indicates that while a first round forward may not be guaranteed to be an elite level player, the majority of top scoring forwards were in fact first round draft picks in their respective draft years. 


2010 Leading Scorers

In its most simplistic form hockey is all about goals. The team with the most goals always wins the game; therefore it is fair to deduce that goals are the most important statistic in hockey. In order to analyze the on-ice performance of individual players the top 20 goal scoring forwards will be examined in Table 1.
At first glance it is quite clear that there is a correlation between draft round and goal scoring ability. The relationship is so strong that over half of the players listed on Table 1 were not only drafted in the first round but in fact in the first five picks of their respective draft years. It appears as though the higher a forward is drafted the more likely they are to become an elite scoring player.

Once the undrafted players are removed (because their draft status cannot be properly quantified) the evidence is even greater. The average draft pick used to select a top goal scoring forward in 2010 is 16.56 which is just over the half way point of the first round of the draft. With the exception of Jussi Jokinen, all of the drafted forwards listed were selected in the first round, with all but two being selected before the half way point of the first round. 

Of the top 20 goal scorers in 2010, only three were not drafted in the first round, Alexandre Burrows, Dustin Penner, and Jussi Jokinen. Burrows and Penner are part of a very small group in today's NHL. Advancements in scouting have made it so very few elite level players are undrafted. Penner was discovered while playing American college hockey for the University of Maine while Burrows had a stranger route as an undrafted Canadian junior hockey player playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The third exception, Jokinen was selected in the 6th round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. He was never expected to make such a large impact but rose in prominence due to his level of success in the newly instituted NHL shootout. 

Although games are won and lost based on goals, to correctly analyze a player's offensive production their total point, the accumulation of goals and assists, must be analyzed. From a team standpoint goals are more important but typically a player is ranked by his points. The 2010 NHL leading point scorers are shown in Table 2.

Including assists in the rankings eliminates all three outliers from the previous Table. However, a similar correlation is evident in Table 2. Again 17 of the top 20 players were drafted in the first round. Of the point leaders, 13 were drafted in the top five of their draft class including the top five point scorers for this season, while 15 were selected in the first half of the first round. In Table 2, the average draft pick used to select a top 20 point scoring forward was 10.58. Essentially the only way to have a top 20 forward in the year 2010 was to have been lucky enough to draft a forward within the first eleven picks of an Entry Draft.

This time other than Martin St. Louis, who was not drafted at all, a second round player, Paul Stastny, and a third round player, Brad Richards, are listed. Given that both player were still drafted high considering the length of the draft, a certain level of offensive output should be expected though perhaps not at this level.

End of Part One. Please check back soon for Part Two so we may continue to explore the NHL Entry Draft and player performance together. Hooray! 

Click here for Part Two.

Click here for Part Three.

Click here for Part Four.

Click here for Part Five.

Click here for Part Six.

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