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The Thrashers and NHL Draft Success

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Derek Zona over at The Copper & Blue (SB Nation's Oilers blog) wrote a nice run-down of the Oiler's recent draft success. I highly recommend you read his post before continuing with this one, as I'm going to use his methodology to pull up some numbers for the Thrashers.

It all started with an post by Jamie Fitzpatrick looking at draft success rates for NHL players in the 90s. Well, you might remember a certain somebody did his own analysis of the 90s recently, so I thought it'd be fun to jump on this bandwagon as well.

The question? "How many career NHL players did the Thrashers get in the drafts from 1999-2005?" Remember, this is the period that is widely considered "dark times" for the Thrashers. Our drafting has (according to common wisdom and many stats posts by The Falconer) gotten much, much better since then. Still, how'd we do? And how did we stack up to the Oilers?

The cut-off that Derek used for "career player" is 200 NHL games (but just 100 games for goalies.) The expected success rate of 1st round selections is in the low 60s, but since the Thrashers drafted in the top 5 for many years, we expect them to be much higher.

Year Round  Num.  Player GP 
1999 1 1 Patrik Stefan  455
2000 1 2 Dany Heatley  589
2001 1 1 Ilya Kovalchuk  621
2002 1 2 Kari Lehtonen 216
2002 1 30 Jim Slater  335
2003 1 8 Braydon Coburm  297
2004 1 10 Boris Valabik 80
2005 1 16 Alex Bourret 0


As expected, the Thrashers had a bit more success than the Oilers. Of our 8 picks, 6 are "career NHLers" based on Derek's standards, though I expect Boris Valabik to hit that mark eventually. (If he can stay healthy, it'll only take two more seasons." Alex Bourret, on the other hand, was a total bust. Now, keep in mind this says nothing about the quality of the player: we all consider Patrik Stefan to have been a terrible pick, but he meets the criteria we're looking for. 6-for-8 (75%) means the Thrashers beat the average, in a couple years, that should be 7-for-8, or 87.5%.

The second round is where it starts to get a little rough. You'll notice that the Thrashers traded away a large number of their second round picks in certain years, going three consecutive years without a 2nd-round selection.

Year Round  Num.  Player GP 
1999 2 30 Luke Sellars  1
2000 2 31 Ilya Nikulin  0
2000 2 42 Libor Ustrnul  0
2004 2 40 Grant Lewis 1
2005 2 41 Ondrej Pavelec  61
2005 2 49 Chad Denny 0
2005 2 53 Andrew Kozek 0

This is where it starts to look ugly. Not a single 2nd-round pick has panned out? 0-for-7? 0%? Ouch.

Now, we obviously expect Ondrej Pavelec to hit 100 NHL games sometime soon, probably this next season, but it's still pretty shocking. Even 1-for-7 (14.3%) is under the NHL average for 2nd-rounders (about 25%). We'd actually need two of these guys to work out.

Oh wait. There's a name up there I recognize. Ilya Nikulin? I know him from somewhere... isn't he an All-Star in the KHL? Yes, sadly, we got burned by the Russian Factor with our pick of Nikulin. And, if you count him and Pavelec, we're looking more like 2-for-7 (28.6%), just a tad above the NHL average. So while our 2nd-round drafting certainly wasn't great, it's not quite as terrible as it looks at first glance.

Of course, after the 2nd round, things get a little ugly. The NHL average is roughly 12% (if you look at the 90s) and 8.7% over the period we're looking at (purely stats-based, not counting guys who "might make it.")

The Thrashers had 54 picks in the later rounds, conveniently the same number as the Oilers, so if you'd like a comparison, you've got it. Of course, 16 of the 54 (30%) were in the 8th or 9th round, so we can't expect too much. Here are guys who made it along with guys who might someday make it...

Year Round  Num.  Player GP 
1999 5 128 Derek MacKenzie  64
1999 8 217 Garnet Exelby 408
2000 6 180 Darcy Hordichuk 431
2001 5 135 Colin Stuart 51
2001 6 189 Pasi Nurminen 125
2002 7 198 Nathan Oystrick 56
2003 8 239 Tobias Enstrom 246
2005 6 187 Andrei Zubarev 0

I don't have to tell you this, but it's pretty ugly. Our current success rate is 4-for-54, or 7.4%, short of the current 8.7% average. There's a few guys who might help that out, but it's not really in our hands. Derek MacKenzie is picking up about 20 games/season as a call-up for the Columbus Blue Jackets. A long-term injury might see him hit 200 games. Colin Stuart would have, in all likelihood, hit 200 games with us, but due to some trades, he's currently not getting any NHL games with the Calgary Flames. Nathan Oystrick might still have a chance as a call-up for the Anaheim Ducks, but it's a long-shot at best. Andrei Zubarev would very likely make our squad, but he's currently playing in the KHL.

The good news is that our drafting has picked up measurably. Three of our first round picks since 2006 are already in the NHL (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane) and the only other selection still has a shot (Daultan Leveille). Two of our three 2nd rounders look to be solid (Carl Klingberg, Jeremy Morin, not so much Riley Holzapfel). Of our 20 later-round picks, two will almost certainly be career NHLers (Arturs Kulda, Paul Postma) and several others, especially goalies, hold high places in our soon-to-be-released prospect rankings.