What Could Have Been: A Decade Of Drafting With Hockey Prospecting

Background, Numbers, Counting Numbers, Digits, Colorful

The Hockey Prospecting model is a new and unique concept. It’s a whole different way of looking at players and evaluating who they are and their potential. It’s also a very new concept for NHL hockey operation departments. NHL teams that I’ve interacted/consulted with have many, many questions but there’s two things that teams always ask about:

  1. How do our best prospects look in this thing?
  2. Which players would you have drafted at x spot?

The second question comes up in different ways. “Who would you have taken with our 2nd round pick last year”, “if you picked 10th in every round of a certain draft, who would you have taken”. The questions are all a bit different but they’re all phishing for the same things: who would you have picked up on at the draft that we missed and how can this thing help us.

After receiving the question enough times, I undertook an exercise to answer it (and pitched it to a team). I not only looked at who a team could have had at one draft position in one draft, but looked at who a team could have drafted over the course of a decade with a moving draft position. In the exercise, I assumed that the team was getting better and better over time and was drafting at a lower and lower position each year.

Here’s the team the model drafted…

Methodology and Assumptions:

  • The exercise follows the team for ten years (2009 to 2018)
  • The draft positioning and team are hypothetical in this exercise however the team is assumed to be one of the 31 teams in the NHL.
  • The team begins as a near-lottery team, drafting 5th overall, and gets better each year, becoming a division leader then a conference finalist to eventually becoming a Stanley Cup winner. What this this equates to is their draft position getting worse and worse.
  • The team drafts at the same position every round. They never trade up or down.
  • The team never acquires more draft picks or trades draft picks out.
  • The team never drafts a goalie, only forwards and defensemen.
  • The team doesn’t prioritize position based on need. They take the best player available.
  • The best player available is based on how the player projects in the Hockey Prospecting model at the time of the draft while also considering age, runway left to improve and development pattern.
  • While the exercise doesn’t prioritize one position over another, a D may be prioritized if multiple F have been taken in a row in a given draft and vice-versa. This only applied if player value between the F and D were relatively equal.
  • This assumes, throughout the entire process, that Vegas doesn’t exist and there’s only 30 teams in the leagues. This is done simply because it keeps it cleaner.

The Results

2009 – Drafting 5th Every Round

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
15Oliver Ekman-LarssonDStar Producer
235Tyson BarrieDStar Producer
365Reilly SmithWAvg. Producer
495Linden VeyW100 Gamer
5125Alexander AvstinWBust
6155Brandon KozunWBust
7185Torey KrugDStar Producer

2010 – Drafting 10th Every Round

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
110Vladimir TarasenkoWStar Producer
240Tyler ToffoliWAvg. Producer
370Jordan WealWRepl. Producer
4100Artemi PanarinWStar Producer
5130Tim HeedD100 Gamer
6160Tanner LaneDBust
7190Nikita GusevWPossible Star

2011 – Drafting 15th Every Round

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
115Nikita KucherovWStar Producer
245Adam ClendiningD100 Gamer
375Johnny GaudreauWStar Producer
4105Brendon KichtonDBust
5135Alexey MarchenkoD100 Gamer
6165Josh ArchibaldWRepl. Producer
7195Henrik TommernesDBust

2012 – Drafting 20th Every Round

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
120Scott LaughtonWAvg. Producer
250Nikolay ProkhorkinWProbable NHLer
380Charles HudonW100 Gamer
4110Joe LaleggiaDBust
5140Coda GordonWBust
6170Jake BischoffDBust
7200Nick EbertDBust

2013 – Drafting 25th Every Round (Division Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
125Nic PetanC100 Gamer
255Taylor CammarataWBust
385Jordan SubbanDBust
4115Vincent DunnFBust
5145Anthony LouisCBust
6175Andreas JohnssonCRepl. Producer
7205Emil GalimovWBust
* Different Vince Dunn from the D drafted by St. Louis in 2015.

2014 – Drafting 25th Every Round (Division Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
125David PastrnakWStar Producer
255Brayden PointCStar Producer
385Daniel AudetteCProbable Bust
4115Dysin MayoDProbable Bust
5145Pavel KraskovskyWProbable Bust
6175Sammy BlaisWRepl. Producer
7205Joe HickettsWProbable Bust

2015 – Drafting 28th Every Round (Conference Finalist and Division Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
128Nick MerkleyWProbable Bust
258Oliver KylingtonCProbable NHLer
388Kirill KaprizovCProbable Star
4118Ethan BearDNHLer
5148Andrew MangiapaneWNHLer
6178Simon BourqueWProbable Bust
7208John DahlstromWProbable Bust

2016 – Drafting 30th Every Round (Stanley Cup Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
130Alex DeBrincatWStar Producer
260Vitali AbramovWProbable NHLer
390Antoli GolyshevWProbable Bust
4120Cole CandellaDProbable Bust
5150Matthew PhillipsWPossible NHLer
6180Collin AdamsWProbable Bust
7210Joachim BlichfeldWProbable Bust

2017 – Drafting 28th Every Round (Conference Finalist and Division Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
128Reilly WalshDProbable NHLer
258Andrei AtybarmakyanWProbable Bust
388Lucas ElvenesWPossible NHLer
4118Leon GawankeDPossible NHLer
5148Nick CampoliDProbable Bust
6178Ivan ChekhovichWPossible NHLer
7208Joseph GarreffaWPossible NHLer

2018 – Drafting 25th Every Round (Division Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
125Rasmus SandinDPossible Star
255Filip HallanderWPossible NHLer
385Alexander KhovanovWPossible NHLer
4115Jack PerbixWProbable Bust
5145Danila ZhuravlyovDProbable Bust
6175Nikolai KovalenkoWPossible Bust
7205Marcus WestfaltWPossible Bust

BONUS: 2019 – Drafing 30th Every Round (Stanley Cup Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
130Arthur KaliyevWPossible Star
260Pavel DorofeyevWUnknown
390Dominick FensoreDUnknown
4120Mike KosterDUnknown
5150Egor SerdyukWUnknown
6180Mikhail ShalaginWUnknown
7210Cole MacKayWProbable Bust

BONUS: 2020 – Drafting 25th Every Round (Division Winner Previous Year)

RoundDraft NumberPlayerPositionResult
125Jacob PerreaultWUnknown
255Zion NybeckWUnknown
385Martin ChromiakWUnknown
4115Anton JohannessonDUnknown
5145Pavel NovakWUnknown
6175Alexander PashinWUnknown
7205Ronan SeeleyDUnknown

The Results (2009 to 2018)

70 picks made in total

Stars: 10 – OEL, Barrie, Krug, Tarasenko, Panarin, Kucherov, Gaudreau, Pastrnak, Point, DeBrincat

Probable/Possible Stars: 3 – Gusev, Kaprizov, Sandin

Average Producers: 3 – Smith, Toffoli, Laughton

Replacement Producers: 4 – Weal, Archibald, Johnsson, Blais

100 Gamers: 6 – Vey, Heed, Clendining, Marchenko, Hudon, Petan

NHLers/Probable NHLers/Possible NHLers: 12 – Prokhorkin, Kylington, Bear, Mangiapane, Abramov, Phillips, Walsh, Gawanke, Chekhovich, Hallander, Khovanov, Garreffa

Busts: 14 – Avstin, Kozun, Lane, Kichton, Tommernes, Laleggia, Gordon, Bischoff, Ebert, Cammarrata, Subban, Dunn, Louis, Galimov

Probable/Possible Busts: 17 – Audette, Mayo, Kraskovsky, Hicketts, N. Merkley, Bourque, Dahlstrom, Golyshev, Candella, Adams, Blichfeld, Atybarmakyan, Campoli, Perbix, Zhuravlyov, Kovalenko, Westfalt

In total, 17 NHLers and 15 probable/possible NHLers were drafted. Additionally, 6 players reached the 100 game mark and may have turned into full-time NHLers in a different system. All told, we can expect a success rate (i.e., 200+ games in the NHL) of ~45% (league average success rate is 26%).

The exercise identified 10 stars and 3 possible/probable stars currently coming up through the system. That’s a 14% confirmed star rate with another 5% of the players trending towards being stars. Stars only make up 3.5% of all skaters drafted. Some teams go decades without finding one star (e.g., the current Detroit Red Wings). It is pretty astonishing a team would end up with this many stars over such a short period.

Flaws and limitations of the method

If you look at the players taken that made the NHL, what do you notice? The team is absolutely loaded with wingers, with more coming. But there wasn’t as much success realized from centers and defensemen. Part of the reason is centers and offensive defensemen are highly sought after and the really good ones often go early. For seven of the 10 years, the team is drafting outside the top 15. The majority of the really high impact centers and defensemen are gone when the team gets to choose. But look at what’s still left. Year after year, elite wingers that slip through the cracks!


Tarasenko Point Pastrnak

Gaudreau Johnsson Kucherov

Panarin Archibald DeBrincat

Smith Gusev Toffoli

Laughton Weal Prokhorkin

Blais Mangiapane Kaprizov


OEL Barrie

Krug Bear

Kylington Sandin

This team would have needed to acquire center and defensemen depth over the decade but, with the strength of their ever growing prospect pool, they would have been able to acquire those pieces, quite easily. Perhaps you could have traded DeBrincat and a prospect or pick for Ryan O’Reilly in 2018, when he was dealt to St. Louis. Barrie and Blais for Kadri in 2019, when he was dealt to Colorado. Gaudreau and a prospect or pick for Hamilton in 2015, when he was dealt to Calgary. You get the idea. The roster has holes but I don’t think there’s any question that the results here beat out the draft results of any team from the 2009 to 2018 period. And after a decade, the team would still be competitive, would still have a loaded prospect pool and would have little to no reliance on the free agent market.


    1. It would differ quite significantly. Bob McKenzie’s list has long been admired for how close it is to how the actual draft plays out. So choosing BPA on his list, you’re essentially picking the player that is going to go in the next 5 spots. If you notice from the picks above, players often jump up several spots (even rounds in some cases) and are chosen much earlier than they went in real life.

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