The NHL Draft acts as the proverbial reset of the NHL calendar. Teams re-evaluate the direction of their organizations, make roster decisions, and welcome a new crop of drafted prospect into the fold. Irrespective of pick position, each team’s goal is to select players most likely to play in the NHL and to sustain success. Most players arrive to the NHL in their early 20s, which leaves teams having to interpolate what a player will be 4-5 years out. This project attempts to address this difficult task of non-linear player projections. The goal is to build a model for NHL success/value using a player’s development — specifically using all current/historical scoring data to estimate the performance of a player in subsequent seasons and the possible leagues the player is expected to be in.
It’s time for (another) draft day! Whether your team has the 2nd or 20th overall pick in the NHL entry draft, it’s always a useful exercise to look at past outcomes and modify your expectations accordingly.
This year’s NHL draft class is weak. I don’t follow junior prospects closely, but that’s what I’ve heard from more knowledgeable sources. It’s a fair claim; Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier seem talented but not among the game-changing talents that have recently been drafted first overall.
However, it’s harder to judge the draft class past the very top. Scouting is hard, especially for hundreds of prospects across the world. It’s possible that while there is no clear star in the draft class, the rest of the draft is as strong as ever.
That would have big implications for draft strategy. The conventional wisdom is that teams may trade more picks this year because they believe the weak draft class makes the picks less valuable. But if the draft is typical after the first few picks, that would be a poor use of assets.
We don’t yet know how well this year’s draft class will do in the NHL. But, we can use historical data to ask questions that establish expectations: how well does each draft class typically perform, and how much does this vary by year?
Recently, one of my VanHAC slides was used to justify the Bruins’ decision to take Trent Frederic over Alex DeBrincat (and many others) in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. Needless to say, I haven’t slept soundly since then.
Unfortunately, crafting a solid rebuttal isn’t as easy as saying “DeBrincat has a higher ceiling.” To that end, I present a framework for evaluating these types of draft decisions. There are two basic questions to consider:
- What are the outcomes for each player?
- How can we appropriately value these outcomes?
In the salary cap era in the NHL, the entry draft has become a top priority for general managers. Acquiring players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, or Aaron Ekblad is most easily done at the draft table. More and more, GMs are recognizing that players peak at a young age, making long-term deals for early-20-somethings a wise investment, even if valuations are fueled by projection.
Here’s a sample of contracts for under-25-year-olds: