Saturday, January 6, 2018

Expected Future Value of NHL Draft Picks From Tier II Leagues

What Tier II feeder leagues for the NHL Draft produce the most future value? These are the North American amateur leagues that do not ruin NCAA eligibility, and produced at least 15 NHL non-goalie draft picks from 2004-2016. There are 7 such sources; the US Development Program, US High School, USHL, British Columbia Hockey League, Ontario Junior Hockey League, Alberta Junior Hockey League, and  other Canadian Junior Hockey Leagues.These are the players who were playing tier II in their first NHL draft year, not necessarily the team they were playing on at the time they were drafted.

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) “Tier 1” Major Junior produces over 40% of all NHL Draft picks, but playing in that league destroys NCAA eligibility (which in my opinion is an absolutely ridiculous rule bordering on criminal that should be challenged in court). So for kids who would like to pursue a college scholarship, they are forced into other less competitive leagues.

United States High School Hockey produced by far the greatest number of draft picks from Tier II with 186 (59% of those coming from Minnesota and Massachusetts), but also produced the greatest number of “strikeouts”. Roughly 50% of all players drafted to the NHL from USHS will never even get an Entry Level contract, compared to 20% from the USDP and 24% from the CHL.

The level of competition in the CHL is substantially higher than all these tier II leagues, so it’s easier to forecast how players from there will develop into professionals. Tier II is always a gamble. There are so many kids who will dominate high school hockey, but disappear against better competition. Many such draft picks will get exposed at the NCAA level and never get an NHL contract, which is why USHS players will get drafted more frequently in the later rounds when teams are willing to take on more risk for the potential of a big reward.

The BCHL is easily the most successful league of all the Canadian Tier II Junior leagues at producing future NHL players. With recent picks like Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro having lucrative futures ahead of them, the BCHL value will continue to grow. The league steals players from the CHL at a greater rate than other provinces; the reason for which is open to speculation. The league does attract a significant proportion of prospects from outside the province. There is also a greater proportion of kids in BC that would rather follow the NCAA path than Major Junior.

As someone who lives in BC, I’d like to think it’s because we’re smarter out here, but that’s not it. There’s a significant number of Major Junior players who get their educations at Canadian Universities paid for when their junior careers are finished. You can play CHL and still get a quality post-secondary education, but for some reason in British Columbia they place a greater priority on American educations. For that I’ve got no explanation. I was born in Ontario anyway…

Cale Makar was just drafted from the Alberta league last year, but that league rarely poaches CHL talent. Most Alberta kids who are eligible for the CHL will play in the CHL. Unless Makar inspires more youngsters to choose AJHL over CHL, I would not expect the historical trend to change. Scouts won’t suddenly show up to AJHL games in greater numbers to find the next Makar. He’s the exception.

It will always be a higher risk to draft players that you have not seen play against the best competition possible. Most of the USDP players will be scouted at the U18 World tournament, so scouts can watch them play very competitive games in a small sample. Unless other tier II players get an opportunity to compete on the international stage, there will always be more risk drafting them than CHLers. You’ve got to be sure if you’re going to burn a top 20 pick on a risky asset.

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