Saturday, February 17, 2018

Drafting Stanley Cup Champions (2004-2016)

How many draft picks become Stanley Cup Champions? Of 2500+ non-goalies drafted from 2004 to 2016, 59 have won the Stanley Cup (2%). How does this sample of the draft pick population compare to the non-Cup Winning picks? Not shockingly, the bulk of this sample comes from Chicago, LA, and Pittsburgh. There may be a "chicken or the egg" dilemma with the data set. Did these teams win because they drafted this way, or did they hit on a few super stars (Malkin, Crosby, Toews, Kane, Kopitar, Doughty), bringing everyone else along for the ride? It may be a little bit of both.

The histogram below shows the total number of Cup Winning Picks by round drafted (goalies not included, or players older than 21).

The shape of the graph is a bit different from draft pick value by round for the non-championship winning population. The 2nd round is closer to the 1st round than it should be based on standard draft pick value, the 5th round beats the 3rd round, and there's a flat slope starting from round 3. The Stanley Cup champions do need to hit on some later round draft picks. The Penguins got Letang and Guentzel in the 3rd, the Hawks got Hjalmarrson in the 4th and Shaw in the 5th, the Kings got Alec Martinez in the 4th and Muzzin in the 5th. Even with elite talent at the top of the line-up, you need to hit on some later picks to win the title.

The "chicken or the egg" dilemma applies to the success of the 2nd round picks. Are teams more likely to win the Stanley Cup if they hit on round two, or are the 2nd rounders just more likely to be passengers on the train? Players like Krejci, Lucic, Saad, Voynov, Toffoli, made a significant contribution to trophies, others were mostly passengers and role players. There is a steeper decline in success rate from 2nd to 3rd round among Cup Winning Picks than we see in the non-Cup population. If non-1st round picks are just more likely to be passengers, we should see more 3rd rounders winning Cups. This does suggest there is some truth to the theory that it's important for Cup contenders to hit on 2nd round picks.

Where do they come from?

The chart below shows what percentage of the draft population played at least 10 games in each feeder league in their first year of draft eligibility. Some prospects play in more than one league, so the totals don't necessarily sum to 100%.

The proportion of draft pick sources are comparable between Cup and non-Cup draft picks. There is a slightly larger proportion of Canadian major junior players, and a smaller % drafted from tier II. The NCAA number is that small because of the small number of kids who have finished high school by their NHL draft eligibility. Most of the college bound kids are playing tier II. Does this mean that teams are more likely to succeed in the playoffs if they draft more from CHL than the NCAA and its feeder leagues? It's possible. CHL players tend to turn pro sooner, so the dynasty teams that need young guys to plug holes at a discount, can get help faster if they draft from junior.

We do see the Cup Winning Picks with a higher proportion from European Elite leagues, which doesn't necessarily mean that drafting from those leagues will produce more championships. There are very few players who are good enough to play in the higher level elite leagues in their draft year. Teenagers playing in Elite leagues have very high upside, if you can get them.

The chart below shows the rate at which Cup Winning Picks enter the NHL versus the rest of the draft population.

50% of Cup winning draft picks will play at least 10 NHL regular season games at age 20, and over 70% by age 21. These are the ages where we see the greatest difference in growth (or slope) of the samples above. Players who go on to win Stanley Cups are getting fast tracked to the NHL after entry level slide at a greater rate than other picks.  Does this mean that teams are more likely to win the cup if they fast track their draft picks? Probably not. We're talking about Chicago, Pittsburgh, LA, teams who have won Cups under the salary cap crunch. It's more likely these teams are forced to fast-track their best young players to plug holes in the line-up for cheap.

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