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.
|Team||No. of picks||No. playing 10+|
10+ NHL games
|No. playing 82+|
|% playing 82+ NHL games||Avg. 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.
|Team||No. of picks||Bypassed AHL||AHL 10+ games any|
|% in AHL 10+ games|
|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.
How well are AHL affiliates doing in developing
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.
|Team||No. of picks||AHL 10+ with|
|% playing 10+|
games with affil
|No. who graduate|
to NHL from AHL affil
|% who graduate to|
NHL from AHL affil
The Houston Aeros moved the most players up to
the Minnesota Wild, with five (63 percent). The Milwaukee Admirals had a higher percentage
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
|Scott Hartnell||C||1||6||372||Dany Heatley||LW||1||2||272|
|Daniel Widing||C||2||36||Ilja Nikulin||D||2||31|
|Mattias Nilsson||D||3||72||Libor Ustrnul||D||2||42|
|Libor Pivko||F||3||89||1||Carl Mallette||C||4||107|
|Matt Hendricks||F||5||131||Blake Robson||LW||4||108|
|Mike Stuart||D||5||137||3||Matt McRae||F||5||147|
|Matt Koalska||F||5||154||3||Zdenek Smid||G||6||168|
|Tomas Harant||D||6||173||Jeff Dwyer||D||6||178|
|Zbynek Irgl||F||6||197||Darcy Hordichuk||LW||6||180||204|
|Jure Penko||G||7||203||Samu Isosalo||F||8||230|
|Mats Christeen||D||8||236||Evan Nielsen||D||8||242|
|Martin Hohener||D||9||284||Eric Bowen||RW||8||244|
|Dan Hamhuis||D||1||12||162||Mark McRae||D||9||288|
|Timofei Shishkanov||LW||2||33||24||Simon Gamache||C||9||290||37|
|Tomas Slovak||D||2||42||Ilya Kovalchuk||LW||1||1||305|
|Denis Platonov||C||3||75||Michael Garnett||G||3||80||24|
|Oliver Setzinger||C||3||76||Brian Sipotz||D||4||100|
|Jordan Tootoo||RW||4||98||104||Milan Gajic||C||4||112|
|Anton Lavrentiev||D||6||178||Colin Stuart||F||5||135|
|Gustav Grasberg||C||8||240||Pasi Nurminen*||G||6||189||125|
|Mikko Lehtonen*||D||9||271||Matt Suderman||D||7||199|
|Marian Gaborik||LW||1||3||360||Rostislav Klesla||D||1||4||253|
|Nick Schultz||D||2||33||285||Ben Knopp||D||3||69|
|Marc Cavosie||C||4||99||Petteri Nummelin*||D||5||133||61|
|Maxim Sushinski*||RW||5||132||31||Scott Heffernan||D||5||138|
|Eric Reitz||D||6||170||5||Tyler Kolarik||C||5||150|
|Brian Passmore||C||7||199||Shane Bendara||G||6||169|
|Peter Bartos*||LW||7||214||13||Janne Jokila||F||7||200|
|Lubomir Sekaras*||D||8||232||213||Peter Zingoni||F||8||231|
|Eric Johansson||C||8||255||Martin Paroulek*||LW||9||278|
|Mikko Koivu||C||1||6||64||Andrej Nederost||C||9||286||28|
|Kyle Wanvig||RW||2||36||64||Louis Manderville||D||9||292|
|Chris Heid||D||3||74||Pascal Leclaire||G||1||8||35|
|Stephane Veilleux||LW||3||93||128||Tim Jackman||LW||2||38||27|
|Tony Virta*||RW||4||103||8||Kiel McLeod||C||2||53|
|Derek Boogaard||C||7||202||65||Aaron Johnson||D||3||85||55|
|Jake Riddle||LW||8||239||Per Mars||F||3||87|
* 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.