The drafting and development of the latest expansion teams

By Holly Gunning


At long last, enough time has elapsed that we can
begin to evaluate the drafting and development of the newest NHL expansion
teams, the Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus
Blue Jackets. Nashville entered the league in 1998, Atlanta in 1999, and
Minnesota and Columbus in 2000, bringing the league to 30 teams. Five years is the generally-accepted
amount of time one must wait after an NHL entry draft to judge a player or draft class. All four of these
teams have now had two draft classes pass the five-year mark.
Thus, the data that will be examined below is from the 2000 and 2001 draft
classes, which are common to all and thus controls for quality of draft.

These four teams are quite comparable in regards
to drafting and development because they
would have had similar (high) picks in the draft and similar
opportunities for their picks at the NHL level. All four teams had one and only one first
round pick in 2000 and 2001. They each had two second rounders over two drafts (though not
necessarily split between the drafts) except Nashville which had three second
rounders. None of the four teams have recently changed AHL affiliates (see
note at bottom).ont>

Each year, Hockey’s Future evaluates and compares
teams on their drafting
for the draft class of five years previous, but this
article goes further, by looking at movement of players to the pro ranks, and graduation from AHL to
NHL. Looking across two combined draft
classes helps to even out idiosyncrasies of a particular draft class and begins
to show a pattern.

The data below will show that the Wild
have done very well in evaluating and developing talent during this period,
while the Blue Jackets lag behind the group. At the bottom is a table of the
players included in the analysis, showing their pick number and NHL games

Finding NHL talent

First, there is the simple question of how many NHL
players a team has produced. It seems simple, until you realize that some of
the games played were chances to prove that the player wasn’t going to pan out
as an NHL player.

A cutoff of 10 NHL games eliminates those
who only were called up in emergency situations or as a test. Also shown
is another cutoff — playing a full NHL season of 82 games. A measure of quality of the picks, however, is the average number of games per pick. It is perhaps a
better measure overall because those who only had cups of coffee will have less
of an impact.

TeamNo. of picksNo. playing 10+
NHL games
% playing
10+ NHL games
No. playing 82+
% playing 82+ NHL gamesAvg. no. of

Minnesota leads with 56 percent of its picks (9
of 16) going on to play 10 or more games in the NHL, 25 percent playing 82 or
more games, and an average of 77 games per
player. Minnesota had the fewest picks in this period with 16, but having
retained their first and second rounders, they had fewer late picks who
were unlikely to make it. Also, three of the players who played over 10
games were overage Europeans: Maxim Sushinski, Peter Bartos, and Lubomir
Sekaras, who are more likely to play in the NHL, though for shorter periods. Atlanta and Columbus
each had only
one overage European who played 10 games.

Atlanta tied Minnesota for number of
players with 82 or more games, with four, and came in second in average number
of games played per pick with 42.

At the bottom end, Nashville came out lowest with four (19%)
of picks playing 10 or more games, but
three of the four have played 82 or more games. Columbus comes out average
on percent playing 10 or more games (29%), but when you look at players playing 82 or
more games, they drop to just one player, Rostislav Klesla, which comes out to 5
percent of total picks. The average number of games for the Blue Jackets is just 21.
It appears that Columbus did the worst, though it should be pointed out that
Nashville accomplished its low numbers with the advantage of one more second round pick
than the other three teams.

First rounders are naturally the players most likely to
have played the most NHL games at this point. One of Columbus’ first rounders in this
period was Pascal Leclaire, a
goaltender. Since goaltenders take longer to develop, it’s not surprising
that he has played fewer games, bringing the team’s hit rate and average games
per pick down. An even longer-range look may show a different result for
the same draft classes.

Finding pro talent

Next, to isolate development from drafting, we
need to first separate out the players who made it to professional hockey from
those who did not, and thus could not be developed. Removing those who skipped
the development phase must be done as well.

Every team has players who bypassed the AHL,
usually first round picks like Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk. Overage
Europeans sometimes fall into this category as well, such as Petteri Nummelin
for the Blue Jackets.

Below is a look at how teams did finding players
who went on to play more than 10 games in the AHL with any team, affiliate or
not. This includes players that the team gave up on and never signed
to a contract, but who caught on elsewhere. Adding to this the number who
bypassed the AHL, we have a measure of how well the scouting staff did in
finding talent, separate from development (which will be examined in section 3). The
only scouting “hits” that are not measured are Europeans who could
potentially play in the NHL, but choose to stay in their home countries.

TeamNo. of picksBypassed AHLAHL 10+ games any
% in AHL 10+ games
any team
Bypass and AHL
% of pro players
(bypass and AHL 10+)

Minnesota had four players bypassing the AHL, all
from the 2000 draft class: Marian Gaborik, Nick Schultz, Maxim Sushinski, and
Lubomir Sekaras. The latter two were overage Europeans, taken with a
fifth and an eighth round pick, and neither remain with the club.

Atlanta selected the most players who went on to
play 10 AHL games, with 11. Minnesota had the highest percentage, however,
with 63 percent. Nashville did the worst in both categories, with just
seven players for 33 percent. These numbers change little when bypass
players are added in, though Minnesota does take a more commanding lead with an
88% hit rate. In this period, Minnesota had remarkable success finding
players who could potentially have been developed into NHL players.

Affiliate graduations

How well are AHL affiliates doing in developing
and moving
talent to the NHL? Of those who were assigned to the affiliate and good enough to
play 10 games for them, how many went on to the NHL?

Below is the number and percentage of picks who played 10 games in the AHL with the affiliate,
as well as the number and percentage of those
players who made it to the NHL from there, playing 10 games. Those bypassing the AHL (and
those who played in the AHL only after the NHL due to the lockout) are taken out
of the equation.

TeamNo. of picksAHL 10+ with
% playing 10+
games with affil
No. who graduate
to NHL from AHL affil
% who graduate to
NHL from AHL affil
Nashville21314%267% (2/3)
Atlanta23939%444% (4/9)
Minnesota16850%563% (5/8)
Columbus22942%444% (4/9)

The Houston Aeros moved the most players up to
the Minnesota Wild, with five (63 percent). The Milwaukee Admirals had a higher percentage
(67), but
moved just two players up to the Predators, Dan Hamhuis and Timofei Shishkanov.
Shishkanov played just two games for Nashville and is now with the St. Louis
Blues. The Chicago Wolves and
Syracuse Crunch tied at four, both at 44 percent. Syracuse does get credit
in the above table for Leclaire, as does Houston for Mikko Koivu, though both
are first rounders.


By virtually every measure, the Minnesota Wild
have done the best in both drafting and development among the four most recent
expansion teams. The Columbus Blue Jackets have done the worst in finding
NHL talent, though somewhat better in finding AHL talent and moving them up to
the NHL for a tryout. Atlanta did well in finding talent who played over
82 games, and talent that at least
went on to play at the AHL level. Nashville moved the fewest players
through the system to the NHL level during this period.

2000 and 2001 selections

ATLANTA PositionRd.OverallNHL
Scott HartnellC16372 Dany HeatleyLW12272
Daniel WidingC236 Ilja NikulinD231
Mattias NilssonD372 Libor UstrnulD242
Libor PivkoF3891 Carl MalletteC4107
Matt HendricksF5131 Blake RobsonLW4108
Mike StuartD51373 Matt McRaeF5147
Matt KoalskaF51543 Zdenek SmidG6168
Tomas HarantD6173 Jeff DwyerD6178
Zbynek IrglF6197 Darcy HordichukLW6180204
Jure PenkoG7203 Samu IsosaloF8230
Mats ChristeenD8236 Evan NielsenD8242
Martin HohenerD9284 Eric BowenRW8244
Dan HamhuisD112162 Mark McRaeD9288
Timofei ShishkanovLW23324 Simon GamacheC929037
Tomas SlovakD242 Ilya KovalchukLW11305
Denis PlatonovC375 Michael GarnettG38024
Oliver SetzingerC376 Brian SipotzD4100
Jordan TootooRW498104 Milan GajicC4112
Anton LavrentievD6178 Colin StuartF5135
Gustav GrasbergC8240 Pasi Nurminen*G6189125
Mikko Lehtonen*D9271 Matt SudermanD7199
Colin FitzrandolphF7201
Mario CartelliD9262
Marian GaborikLW13360 Rostislav KleslaD14253
Nick SchultzD233285 Ben KnoppD369
Marc CavosieC499 Petteri Nummelin*D513361
Maxim Sushinski*RW513231 Scott HeffernanD5138
Eric ReitzD61705 Tyler KolarikC5150
Brian PassmoreC7199 Shane BendaraG6169
Peter Bartos*LW721413 Janne JokilaF7200
Lubomir Sekaras*D8232213 Peter ZingoniF8231
Eric JohanssonC8255 Martin Paroulek*LW9278
Mikko KoivuC1664 Andrej NederostC928628
Kyle WanvigRW23664 Louis MandervilleD9292
Chris HeidD374 Pascal LeclaireG1835
Stephane VeilleuxLW393128 Tim JackmanLW23827
Tony Virta*RW41038 Kiel McLeodC253
Derek BoogaardC720265 Aaron JohnsonD38555
Jake RiddleLW8239 Per MarsF387
Cole JarrettD51411
Justin AikinsRW6173
Artem VostrikovF6187
Raffaele SannitzD7204
Ryan BownessRW8236
Andrew MurrayC8242

* overage European

Note: for the first year in this
six-year period, two teams were affiliated with now-defunct IHL teams, Atlanta
with the Orlando SolarBears and Columbus with the Cleveland
Lumberjacks. Both joined current affiliates Chicago Wolves and
Syracuse Crunch, respectively, in 2001 when the IHL folded. From this
sample, only Darcy Hordichuk played for Orlando, and only Peter Bartos played
for Cleveland, one season apiece.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not
reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.