Backchecking: The value of NHL draft picks

Scott Cullen
2/20/2009 5:07:52 PM
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With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching, there will be more and more deals that involve players exchanged for future draft picks, which has always left me wondering:

What is a draft pick worth, anyway?

To get a general idea, I decided to go through ten drafts, from 1995 through 2004 (leaving time for the 2004 picks to establish their NHL career) and assigned a numerical value to each of the players selected, using the following guidelines, with some examples:

10 - Generational (Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin )
9 - Elite Player (Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley )
8 - First Line, Top Pair D (Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf )
7 - Top Six Forward, Top Four D (Daymond Langkow, Chris Phillips )
6 - Top Nine Forward, Top Six D (Daniel Cleary, David Legwand )
5 - NHL Regular (Michael Rupp, Boyd Devereaux )
4 - Fringe NHLer (Kris Beech, Krystofer Kolanos )
3 - Very Good Minor Leaguer (Pavel Brendl, Jeff Heerema )
2 - Minor Leaguer, maybe gets a shot in NHL (Chris Hajt, Daniel Tkaczuk )
1 - No NHL games (Matt Zultek, Luca Cereda )

Here, then, is the rough breakdown of what a team can expect to get from a draft pick.

No. 1 - 5
Average Rating:
Best: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Worst: Alexandre Volchkov, Pavel Brendl.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 96%

No. 6 - 10
Average Rating:
Best: Shane Doan, Dion Phaneuf, Mikko Koivu, Milan Michalek, Mike Komisarek.
Worst: Terry Ryan, Al Montoya, Petr Taticek, Daniel Tkaczuk.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 74%

No. 11 - 15
Average Rating:
Best: Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Alexander Semin, Ales Hemsky, Alex Tanguay.
Worst: Matt Zultek, Michael Henrich, Scot Kelman, Artem Kryukkov, Jesse Niinimaki, Hugh Jessiman, A.J. Thelen, Teemu Riihijarvi.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 54%

No. 16 - 20
Average Rating:
Best: Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Alexander Frolov, Robyn Regehr, Petr Sykora.
Worst: Jens Karlsson, Jakub Koreis, Brad Church.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 62%

No. 21 - 25
Average Rating:
Best: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Daniel Briere, Brad Boyes.
Worst: Luca Cereda, Jeff Brown, Craig Hillier, Mikhail Kuleshov, Nikos Tselios.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 72%

No. 26-30
Average Rating:
Best: Mike Green, Martin Havlat, Scott Gomez, Corey Perry, Niklas Kronwall.
Worst: Andy Rogers, Martin Vagner, Mike Morris, Jonas Johansson, Ari Ahonen, Kevin Grimes.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 44%

No. 31-35
Average Rating:
Best: Derek Roy, David Bolland, Loui Eriksson, Matt Cullen, Nick Schultz.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 26%

No. 36-40
Average Rating:
Best: Jarret Stoll (2002), Fedor Tyutin.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 32%

No. 41-45
Average Rating:
Best: Mike Ribeiro, Patrice Bergeron, Mike Fisher, Ilya Bryzgalov.
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 26%

No. 46-50
Average Rating:
Best: Shea Weber, Mike Cammalleri, Jochen Hecht, Kristian Huselius, Jarret Stoll (2000). 
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 32%

No. 51-55
Average Rating:
Best: Duncan Keith, David Booth, Jason Pominville, Antoine Vermette
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 26%

No. 56-60
Average Rating:
Best: Zdeno Chara, Tom Poti, Patrick O'Sullivan, Matt Stajan, Brandon Dubinsky, Jiri Hudler
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 28%

No. 61-75
Average Rating:
Best: Brad Richards, David Krejci, Erik Cole, Paul Martin.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 26%

No. 76-90
Average Rating:
Best: Brian Gionta, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Joe Corvo, Toni Lydman, Sami Kapanen.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 21%

No. 91-105
Average Rating:
Best: Marc Savard, Johan Franzen, Alexander Edler, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Comrie, Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, Michal Rozsival.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 23%

No. 106-120
Average Rating:
Best: Miikka Kiprusoff, Lubomir Visnovsky, Jaroslav Spacek, Ryan Malone, Christian Ehrhoff, Jan Hejda.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 9%

No. 121-135
Average Rating:
Best: Kris Versteeg, Tom Gilbert, Kyle Quincey, Chris Mason.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 13%

No. 136-150
Average Rating:
Best: Ryan Miller, Mikael Samuelsson, Trent Hunter, Lee Stempniak, Matt Cooke, Brent Sopel.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 11%

No. 151-165
Average Rating:
Best: Andrei Markov, Brian Campbell, John-Michael Liles, Kevin Bieksa, Mike Smith, Stephane Robidas, Brett Clark, James Wisniewski.  
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 14%

No. 166-180
Average Rating:
Best: Pavel Datsyuk, Pavel Kubina, Marek Zidlicky, Samuel Pahlsson, Ladislav Nagy, P.J. Axelsson.   
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 14%

No. 181-195
Average Rating:
Best: Martin Erat, Filip Kuba, Paul Ranger, Ian White, Brooks Laich, Bruno Gervais.   
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 10%

No. 196-210
Average Rating:
Best: Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Lundqvist, Tomas Kaberle, Willie Mitchell, Joe Pavelski, Andrew Ference.   
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 7%

No. 211+
Average Rating:
Best: Dennis Wideman, Michael Ryder, Mark Streit, Danny Markov, Sami Salo, Cristobal Huet, Pekka Rinne
At Least 100 NHL Games (or very likely): 9%

A few conclusions:
- There is little difference in the expected return on picks from about the middle of the fourth-round through to the end of the draft.

- First-round picks may be the only ones to be considered likely to reach the NHL.  Surely these players get better opportunities with the team that drafts them, but there is also something to be said for how difficult it is to project elite talent at 18 years of age. 

- The best overall returns from draft picks came from 1995 (Bryan Berard, Wade Redden and Aki Berg were the top three choices, though Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Jean-Sebastien Giguere were all first-rounders) and 1998 (Vincent Lecavalier, David Legwand and Brad Stuart were the first three, with Alex Tanguay, Robyn Regehr, Simon Gagne and Scott Gomez all going in Round One). 

- The 2004 draft hasn't yet materialized into very good production, despite having Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin at the top.  Admittedly, some of the players taken in the 2004 draft are still in the early stages of their pro careers, so they will have an opportunity to achieve a higher ranking as time goes on.

- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune suggests that the Wild may have to consider moving goaltender Niklas Backstrom if he can't be signed to a contract extension.

- According to the New York Post, Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer has an understanding with Ducks management that he won't be dealt unless he requests it.

- The Montreal Gazette reports that the Canadiens have been shopping winger Alex Kovalev since the beginning of February, without any takers.

- The Denver Post had the Bruins scouting Avalanche defencemen Jordan Leopold, Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei.  With Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli admitting he has a wishlist that includes eight names heading into the deadline, the Boston Globe picks eight for the Bruins to target, including: Chris Pronger, Keith Tkachuk, Erik Cole, Jay Bouwmeester, Tomas Kaberle, Nik Antropov, Dominic Moore and Fredrik Modin.

- As the Ducks embark on a six-game road trip, theLos Angeles Times suggests that Chris Pronger might not return to Anaheim with his teammates, noting that the Ducks should be happy to get a good young player and a first-round pick in return.  Depending on the calibre of the young player, the Ducks may be able to get more than that.

- According to the Ottawa Sun, the Sabres may have to consider moving ever-injured Tim Connolly, who is playing well while he's healthy, but will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.

- Amid widespread reports that Maple Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle has a list of at least ten teams to which he would accept a trade, the Toronto Sun notes that it's believed all are in the Eastern Conference.

- The Delaware County Times reports that the Flyers may want to consider Nikolai Khabibulin if, as rumoured, he's available from the Blackhawks.  The paper also has Flyers GM Paul Holmgren working the phones with Florida and Anaheim as well as Chicago.

- The Winnipeg Sun mentions that Canucks goaltending prospect Cory Schneider could be trade bait as the deadline approaches.

- The Tennessean reports that Predators defenceman Ville Koistinen, a healthy scratch over the last eight games, wants to be traded.

- According to the Tampa Tribune, the Lightning have been mentioned in a couple of rumours, with Vaclav Prospal rumoured to Columbus (seems like a long-term deal for the Jackets to accept) and Martin St. Louis to Pittsburgh.  The natural exchange for St. Louis would figure to be a package including Ryan Whitney.

- The Ottawa Sun reports that the Coyotes have shopped Olli Jokinen, Derek Morris and Ed JovanovskiThe New York Post reports that the Devils may have interest in Morris or Jovanovski.

- The Bucks County Courier Times says that the Flyers' rumoured interest in Chris Pronger won't subside, though it would require the Flyers to ship out significant salaries in order to create room.  One Flyer mentioned as possible trade bait is third-line winger Scottie Upshall.

Tom Gilbert, D, Edmtonon (0-7-7, plus-4 in last 5 GP)
Dennis Seidenberg, D, Carolina (2-3-5, even in last 6 GP)
Antoine Vermette, LW, Ottawa (2-5-7, plus-1 in last 5 GP)
Alexandre Burrows, LW, Vancouver (1-5-6, plus-4 in last 3 GP)
Manny Malhotra, C, Columbus (2-4-6, plus-4 in last 4 GP)
Marty Turco, G, Dallas (10-3, 1.73 GAA, .940 SVPCT in last 13 GP)

Bryan McCabe, D, Florida (0-1-1, minus-5 in last 7 GP)
Joe Corvo, D, Carolina (0-0-0, minus-5 in last 5 GP)
Bill Guerin, RW, N.Y. Islanders (0-0-0, minus-6 in last 5 GP)
Martin Erat, LW, Nashville (0-0-0, minus-6 in last 8 GP)
Peter Mueller, C, Phoenix (0-0-0, minus-4 in last 4 GP)

"To be blunt, I don't think we give a crap what other people think. We're here for one reason and one reason only and that's to win. He believes I can help." - Flames LW Todd Bertuzzi, when asked about similarities between himself and coach Mike Keenan.

"I know a bunch of guys on their bench and they were laughing when I went out there." - Coyotes LW Daniel Carcillo, who scored in the eighth round of the shootout to defeat Atlanta.

"In the last month, he's probably been the best player in the NHL, him and (Alex) Ovechkin." - Thrashers coach John Anderson, on Ilya Kovalchuk.

"I only saw one shot in the third period and I kind of liked it." - Flames G Miikka Kiprusoff

"I pretty much know where Gagne is going to be, and I think everyone in the building knows where Knuble is going to be." -Flyers C Mike Richards.

"If they get two power-play goals a game against us they usually win.  They get five, they always win." - Predators coach Barry Trotz, on the Red Wings.

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Scott Cullen can be reached at

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