(Update: now with infographic!)
Criticizing the Hurricanes for their draft success, or lack thereof, is easy (hell, I’ve done it). But as we all know, drafting can be a complicated issue. A team could have great success drafting in later rounds, they could be skilled at pulling diamonds from the rough, or they could take the time-honored approach of “earning” multiple top-5 picks to reload the cupboard. In order to take a broader look at draft success, I’ve put together the spreadsheet linked below in order to dig deeper into 10 years of drafts from 2003-2012 (I omitted the 2013 draft since most players need at least 1 year after being drafted to make the league).
You might want to open this spreadsheet in another tab/window for reference while reading the rest of this article and trying not to vomit.
A successful team can be built through free agency, the draft, shrewd trades, or any combination of the three. Typically, teams with lower budgets need to focus more on drafting, based on a combination of not being able to throw stupid amounts of money at players and the luxury that the NHL affords teams to keep drafted players in the system for yeeeeaaarrrrs.
Thanks to a lack of shrewd trading (see: throwing away 2 draft picks to get Kevin Westgarth), the Canes made 71 draft picks between 2003-2012, which was tied for 23rd most in the league. Chicago set the pace with 98 (!) picks, and Vancouver brought up the rear with a scant 64.
Of those 71 picks, only 24 have laced up their skates for an NHL game (for any team- not just the one that drafted them). That amount is tied for 28th in the league, ahead of only Vancouver. The Islanders (of all people) hold the lead with 39 draftees who have played at least one NHL game. A mere 34% of Hurricanes draft picks have made it to the big leagues; a percentage that puts them at 26th in the NHL.
Only 9 of the Canes 71 picks between 2003-2012 have played at least 100 NHL games, which is more than only Calgary, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. The other 26 teams are all in double digits, with Edmonton, Columbus, and Montreal all tied at 19 players with at least 100 games played. This figure includes all NHL games played, not just those played with the team that drafted a player; so Andrew Ladd and Captain Daddy Issues count for the Canes. Looking at this as a percentage of draft picks, the Canes are tied for 25th.
Surely, you’d say to yourself, with all the times the Canes have missed the postseason, they’ve GOT to have a lot of 1st round picks? Well, no. They have 8, which is t-23rd. And of those picks, 3 have been in the top 5 (t-3rd most; hooray?), and the average 1st round draft spot has been 10th (t-28th).
On the upside (yes, there is some), the Canes 1st round picks have played a combined 2688 NHL games, which is 5th most in the league. The average of 336 games played per 1st rounder is good for 2nd in the league. It’s a Festivus miracle: the Canes are top 5 in multiple categories!
Back to the turd burger at hand, and where much of the drafting criticism has focused: non-first round picks. Sure, the Canes have nabbed Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, Brandon Sutter, Jeff Skinner, and some yahoo who didn’t want to come here with early picks, but after that it’s been rather poor to put it mildly. Among players drafted in rounds 2 through 9 (yep, it was 9 rounds long until the 2005 draft), the average amount of NHL games played by Canes picks is only 19. Seriously, 19 games!? That’s (I hope you’re sitting down) tied for 28th in the league.
Even with the success of 1st round picks, the dead weight of later round picks drags down the average games played per draftee to 55, which puts the Canes at 20th in the NHL. Yikes.
So what’s the big deal with drafting? We can get free agents to sign, right? There’s always a trade to be made, no? The Canes have made a mere 2 postseason appearances in the last decade. Only Edmonton, Florida, and Winnipeg have fewer. Look at the teams who are consistently in the bottom 3, 5, or 10 of any of these metrics, and you’ll see a picture pop up like Magic Eye. Think it’s a coincidence that the teams that draft poorly (e.g. Canes, Panthers, Coyotes, Jets, Flames) are the ones that have their caddies on speed dial?
Bob Wage of Canes Country shined some light on what might be behind some of this poor drafting: the fact that the Canes have the 2nd fewest scouts the league. Maybe, JUST MAYBE, it’s time to either replace the scouts we have with more competent ones, and/or add some folks to the scouting team.
It’s time to make the playoffs an annual tradition, and not just watching them on TV. The NHL Draft matters, and it all starts again next Friday.
Have questions, hate mail, or issues with my data analysis? Let me know in the comments section!