NHL Draft: Sutter plays the percentages

By Simon Richard

Calgary coach and GM Darryl Sutter completed several trades involving draft picks during the first day of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh, N.C.

First, Sutter traded Calgary’s first and eighth round picks (19th and 247th overall) to the New York Rangers in exchange for two Rangers picks, a first and second (24th and 46th). Sutter then sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets the 46th choice he just received from the Rangers in exchange for two late third round selections (70th and 91st overall).

In the process, the Flames chose Kris Chucko (24th), a six-foot-two, 190-pound forward from the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks. They also drafted Brandon Prust (70th), a five-foot-11, 191-pound winger from the OHL’s London Knights. The other third round pick was used to select Dustin Boyd (91st), a six-foot, 186-pound center from the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

Most hockey experts and fans won’t see any special interest in those moves. But based on past historical data, it seems that Sutter noticeably increased the Flames’ chances of getting a superstar, or possibly an impact player, and he significantly raised the team’s hopes of finding a NHL-caliber player.

Statistical expectations based on 17 years of NHL draft selections

We have studied each of the 4,136 NHL draft picks from 1979 to 1995. The results were then classified into four groups: superstars, stars and impact players, good and average players and non-NHLers (the ones who didn’t have a career in the NHL).

Doing so, we have a considerable amount of data, 17 years worth, from which we can identify trends in the drafting of NHL teams.

For example, we know precisely the rate of the members of each of the previous groups who emerged for the whole period and also for each of the rounds during that period.

For example, over the whole period, 2 percent of the picks became superstars, 4 percent of them transformed into stars and impact players, 15 percent became good and average players, and roughly 79 percent did not transform into NHL players. Overall, 55 percent of the draftees never played a single game in the NHL.

There are wide differences between parts of the first round, say, for example between the first five selections overall, and the players selected from the 6th to 10th positions. However, past data shows that the deeper you go into the draft, the more the gaps in the rate of success between each of the picks tends to contract. Results even show that there are sometimes surprising results. For example, over the 17 years, 5.9 percent of the players drafted in the 6th round became either superstars or stars and impact players compared to only 5 percent of the ones selected in the third round.

A great move by Sutter assuming past trends

If we analyse the moves made by Sutter according to the data collected, it appears that he has improved the Calgary Flames chances to not only get a NHL player, but has also increased the team’s chances to get an excellent player.

According to past data, the 19th and the 247th picks Sutter traded had respective rates of 22 percent and 2 percent to produce either a superstar (or star/impact) player, and 63 percent and 9 percent chances respectively to land an NHL player (200 games or more in the NHL).

Using the formula used to determine the statistical likelihood, it means the combined expectation for the Flames to get at least a NHL player with these two picks is 66 percent, with a 24 percent chance of getting an
excellent player.

In comparison, the 24th, 70th and 91st picks now respectively give 20 percent, 7 percent
and 7 percent chances of getting either a superstar or a star/impact player.
The
expectations also are respectively 57 percent, 30 percent and 25 percent to get at least a
NHL performer. That means those three combined picks now give Calgary a 31 percent total chance of finding a first class player, and 77 percent total chance of drafting a NHL player.

In brief, according to past trends, from a 24 percent chance, the Calgary
Flames raised their hopes to get a first class player to 31 percent, an increased rate of 29 percent. And from a 66 percent chance, the Flames
increased their chances to have at least a NHL player to 77 percent, that is
to say a step of 11 in numbers but an increase of 17 in terms of percentage.

It also means that Sutter, purely on a statistical basis, is now closer of getting a future player for the Calgary roster. Time will tell.

Simon Richard is a freelance writer and the author of La Series de Siecle, September 1972, a book about the Summit Series published in 2002.