Continuing our theme of evaluating draft values and trends, this week let’s evaluate whether the NHL’s top offensive defensemen are comprised of top draft picks, or whether teams can find consistently high-scoring defensemen in the later rounds on draft day. To examine this, let’s look at which rounds the top 30 offensive defensemen (points-wise) for the past ten National Hockey League seasons were selected.
1998/99 '99/00 '00/01 '01/02 '02/03 '03/04 '05/06 '06/07 '07/0 '08/09
1st Round 13 14 13 11 9 11 10 9 12 8
2nd Round 4 5 5 5 2 2 2 3 0 3
3rd Round 3 3 2 1 4 4 4 5 4 3
4th Round 5 3 3 2 2 1 3 2 3 3
5th Round 2 2 1 2 3 3 3 3 1 3
6th Round 0 0 0 0 2 2 3 3 3 3
7th Round 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1
8th Round 0 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 3 2
9th Round 0 0 2 2 1 0 0 0 1 1
10th Round 2 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
11th Round 0 0 0 1 2 2 0 0 0 0
Undrafted 0 1 1 2 3 2 2 3 1 2
We can certainly tell that defensemen drafted in the first round have dominated the top defense scorers for some time. For the past ten seasons (this chart extends eleven years because of the lockout) there have never been less than eight first round draft picks among the top 30 points scoring defensemen in the NHL. At its high point, fourteen of the 30 top defensemen were first round selections back in the 1999/00 season. However, it is interesting to note that of this past season’s top 30 point-producing defensemen only eight were first round selections—or, the smallest first round pick percentage (26%) of the past ten seasons.
Next, let’s examine the totals and percentages:
Total out of 300 Percentage out of 300
1st Round 110 37%
2nd Round 31 10%
3rd Round 33 11%
4th Round 27 9%
5th Round 23 8%
6th Round 16 5%
7th Round 5 2%
8th Round 15 5%
9th Round 7 2%
10th Round 10 3%
11th Round 5 2%
Undrafted 17 6%
As we’ve done in the past, we must establish that the NHL no longer has any rounds past round seven. Therefore, we can suggest that the selections from the eighth round and beyond can now be considered undrafted free agents—meaning they would be available to each of the 30 NHL teams to sign once the draft is complete. That would mean that 18% of the top 30 scorers from the past ten seasons would have been undrafted free agents had the NHL employed its current Entry Draft model. A significant number indeed, but not overly surprising, considering the success of drafted free agents we’ve seen from goaltenders.
Now, you may be asking, what about the fact that a lot of the same defensemen are probably on the list year after year? First off, this is true of all rounds (for example Nicklas Lidstrom in the 3rd round), secondly there was also a fair bit of turnover throughout the annual top defensive scorers. Names like Boris Mironov, Larry Murphy, Robert Svehla and Fredrik Olausson were sprinkled throughout these scoring charts. So, it is not as if the same 30 defensemen have been dominating the NHL landscape for the past ten seasons. That said, defensemen like Nicklas Lidstrom (third round), Brian Rafalski (undrafted), Chris Pronger (first round) and Scott Niedermayer (first round) are on this list almost every season. That says something about their longevity, ability to stay healthy and willingness to compete and dominate whenever they take the ice.
Remember, we are not merely considering the top ten defensemen each season; we are considering the top 30. The average points cut off for the top 30 defensemen point tabulations was 35.1 points. So, it is not as if we are not including some dominating offensive defensemen. The 35 point standard is solid output for a defenseman (especially one who does not see much power play time) but it is not spectacular. Interestingly, the number of points the 30th defenseman generated went up from 32 in 1998/99 up to 39 in 2008/09.
Compared to some of the information on goaltenders we have examined, it seems somewhat apparent that the defensemen drafted in the higher rounds carry more value—at least in terms of producing offense—than do their lower round counterparts. Consider that 37% of the top 300 were first round draft picks; as compared with rounds two, three, four and five combined which equalled 38%. Compare those two numbers and you realize just how dominant first round picks have been when it comes to generating points from the back-end.
In fact, the chart, aside from the third round producing slightly more top scorers than the second round, moved in a fairly predictable direction (37% for the first round all the way through to 2% for the seventh). The interesting part is that, once again, we see steals are available after the draft if teams are shrewd and can identify talent no one, including themselves, thought was worth a draft selection. Some may think that says something about each team’s talent evaluation, but it most likely says a lot more about a player’s late development—probably both physically and emotionally, as well as increased opportunity.
So, while offensively gifted defensemen are available later on in the draft, the stats indicate that they certainly are not ubiquitous. With some of the top names constantly peppered throughout the top scoring defensemen year after year, teams drafting defensemen in the first round should realize that over the past ten seasons, players drafted higher up in the draft have filled the defensemen scoring sheets more than their lower drafted counterparts. Although they should be on guard that the numbers may be slowly shifting in another direction. Suffice to say being a scout or general manager is no exact science.
Richard Pollock is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Richard by clicking here or click here to see Richard's other articles.