Prior to the NHL Entry Draft on Sunday, the hockey world was awash in draft rankings and mock drafts, all trying to predict or at least give some indication of how the draft would play out. Of course, they were all rendered completely moot as soon as the draft itself was underway, as every NHL team operated from their own internal draft ranking, many of which differed significantly from that of independent scouts, websites, and publications.
As a result, highly-ranked prospects slid down the draft board, while other picks had fans and analysts scratching their heads as to why that player was picked in that position.
Which teams strayed the furthest from the pre-draft consensus? I decided to find out.
I took the consensus draft rankings from NHLNumbers.com, which combines the rankings from respected sources, such as Bob McKenzie, International Scouting Services, and Hockey Prospectus, and weights them according to past accuracy in previous draft rankings. I then compared the actual draft to these rankings, subtracting a player’s actual draft position from their ranking.
This gave me a negative number for a prospect who fell down the draft and was picked later than expected and a positive number for a prospect selected sooner than expected. I did this just for the first three rounds, as the draft rankings only went up to 100 and the later rounds are even more of a crapshoot than the rest of the draft. For players selected in the first three rounds who were not ranked, I gave them a ranking of 101. This is a little slipshod, as teams that may have reached late in the third round were not, for lack of a better word, punished, but I’m comfortable with that, as rankings at that point become a little tenuous anyway.
I added these up for each team, then sorted them by the average distance away from the consensus they were. My method isn’t exactly scientific and it’s far from foolproof, but it should give us some sort of an indication of which teams’ draft rankings were most dissimilar from those of independent sources.
It’s an interesting group of teams at the top of this list, as we see some very successful teams, such as the Penguins, Sharks, and Red Wings, along with teams that have struggled, like the Wild, Stars, and Flames.
The four largest differences from the consensus rankings in the first round came from the Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Flyers selected Samuel Morin 11th overall, 14 spots higher than his consensus ranking at 25th and the Blue Jackets picked Marko Dano at 27th, 16 spots higher than his ranking at 43rd.
The Flames and Canadiens reached the most, however, with the Flames picking Émile Poirier at 22nd overall, 35 spots higher than his consensus ranking at 57th and the Canadiens picking Mike McCarron 25th overall, 40 spots higher than his ranking at 65th.
The Flames made the biggest reach in the first round last year as well, picking Mark Jankowski in the first round, 40 spots higher than his consensus ranking. At the time, Jay Feaster said that he thought Jankowski would be the best player to come out of the 2012 draft, indicating that the team had him right at or near the top of their rankings.
This time around, Feaster had three picks in the first round and went with consensus on two of them, Sean Monahan and Morgan Klimchuk, picking them right around when they were projected to go. But even with Poirier included, Feaster said, “Our three picks in the first round…they came from our first thirteen names on our list.”
That means that the Flames didn’t just have Poirier as a first-round pick, but as a top-thirteen pick, or rather top-twelve considering they picked Klimchuk after Poirier.
As for the Canadiens, their internal draft rankings likely emphasized size, as they reached in the first round to select the 6’5″, 228 lb McCarron, despite question marks about his skating and offensive upside.
The Dallas Stars ended up with the biggest separation from consensus, partly because they had five picks in the first three rounds. Valeri Nichushkin was picked below his consensus ranking at 10th and their other first round pick, Jason Dickinson, was only slightly higher than his consensus ranking, but their three other picks were all picked well ahead of their ranking, particularly Remi Elie, who the Stars picked 40th overall and who isn’t in the top-1oo by the consensus ranking.
The Wild ended up at the top of the chart, but it should be noted that they did not have a first round pick, though their second and third round picks were both selected well ahead of their consensus rankings.
Teams with a negative number at the bottom of the list ar ethe teams that seemingly benefited from other teams straying from the opinions of independent scouts, as they managed to select players lower than their consensus ranking.
The biggest fall in the first round came from Hunter Shinkaruk, who was ranked 12th overall and fell 12 spots to the Vancouver Canucks at 24th. The Canadiens made up for McCarron by picking Artturi Lehkonen, the biggest fall in the second round, who went from his consensus rank of 29th all the way to 55th.
The biggest fall in the first three rounds went to the Anaheim Ducks, who picked defenceman Keaton Thompson 87th overall, 42 spots lower than his consensus ranking at 45.
Finally, while it has generally been shown that it is better to draft according to consensus in the first couple rounds, that doesn’t mean that some teams won’t be successful going against consensus. It’s entirely possible that some of the lower-ranked players that got picked higher than expected will turn out to be worth the risk, while other seemingly sure-fire blue-chip prospects will amount to nothing in the NHL.
It is, however, risky. Going with consensus gives a general manager an easy out if a prospect doesn’t pan out like expected. It’s hard to blame a GM when everyone else thought that a prospect was going to be a good NHL player. Going off the board puts a GM’s neck on the line: there’s no one else to blame if a prospect turns out to be a bust.