In the NHL, Drafting Well Matters – But Isn’t a Silver Bullet

One would think that drafting quality players (players with >160 games played in the NHL) would nearly guarantee success in the NHL.  However, while the data shows it certainly leads to a consistently competitive team, it does not guarantee a Stanley Cup or even a trip to the finals.  Pittsburgh is a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to drafting high quality players (15% of draft picks turn into quality players) and only have had 10 them, yet their success stems from more than just their picks.  At the same time, teams like Anaheim, Los Angeles and Washington are in the top quartile when it comes to consistently picking well and their continued success in fielding playoff-making teams can be traced to their draft and develop capability.


Who Many Quality NHL Players Are There In Each Draft Year?

To really judge which how well players and teams performed relative to their draft position, just looking at who made it to NHL to play a single game really isn’t the best metric, since the bar needs to be higher in order for a player to have a real impact for their organization.  So what is the better, next level cut to provide a good measurement of a quality draft pick who made an impact in the NHL.  After looking at the players selected from 2005-2016 the bar for players I recognized and having reasonable careers and stuck around for a few years seemed to be about 160 games.  Two years of games, even if it was over several years looked about right.  Then when I researched that the NHL players are eligible for a pension when they played 160 games, I felt confident that this second cut seems quite reasonable to confirm that the scouting organizations for teams did a good job at picking a ‘winner’ – or better said, a quality player.

Here is a summary of the quality players (as defined as having played at least 160 games in the NHL) by year from 2005 to 2016. As you can see,  each draft typically has 20%-25% of the players drafted end up as quality players, with a typical deviation of about 6%.