When choosing between a forward or a defenseman, in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, there are arguments to be made for selecting one over the other. Most arguments are in favour of choosing the forward over the d-men, as they take less time to develop, while also being considered less of a gamble. Meanwhile, some believe in taking the defensemen, as an argument can be made that they are the more valuable commodity. These are all items to consider when finalizing one’s draft ranking.
Another area to consider is the accuracy of teams selecting players in the correct draft position. In an ideal world, where scouting was perfect, draft position would be able to tell which players would go on to the NHL to put up the most points and play the most minutes. However, that is not the case. In this study, I wanted to test how accurate teams are in selecting forwards and defenseman in the correct draft position. To do this, I looked at the correlation between draft position and career average points per game and draft position and career average time on ice. Only first year draft eligible players, drafted between 1998 and 2010, were used in the study, as I wanted to test the accuracy of how teams draft players of the same age. This rules out the NCAA players drafted between 1998 and 2003, due to the opt-in rules at the time. NCAA players, drafted during this period, would lose their NCAA eligibility if they opted into the draft during their first eligible draft season.
Forwards and Career Average Points-Per-Game
Defensemen and Career Average Points-Per-Game
The correlation between draft position and career average points per game is stronger with forwards than it is for defenseman. When one looks at the adjusted r-squared for forwards, it is 0.151, which means that 15.1% of a first round forward’s future average career points per game is explained by where they are selected. Meanwhile, it is only 10.6% for defenseman. That is a 42% increase for forwards over defenseman. However, this does not confirm that teams are more accurate in selecting forwards over defenseman. Just because a defenseman is able to put up many points does not necessarily make him a good defenseman. Therefore, with defenseman, points are not as strong a measurement for quality of player as is time on ice.
Forwards and Career Average Time-On-Ice
The correlation between draft position and career average time on ice for forwards (0.347) is not as strong as the correlation between draft position and career average points per game (.394). For forwards, draft position better explains future career average points per game by 30% more than compared with future career average time on ice. Therefore, teams are better at selecting forwards in the correct order in terms of future points per game than they are future time on ice.
Defenfsemen and Career Average Time-On-Ice
The correlation between draft position and career average time on ice for defenseman (0.447) is considerably stronger, than compared against the correlation between draft position and career average points per game (.338). For defenseman, draft position better explains future career average time on ice by 81% more than it does with future career average points per game. This demonstrates how defensemen receiving the most ice time are not necessarily the defensemen who are putting up the most points. When compared with forwards, draft position is also better at explaining future career average time on ice by 66% more with defensemen. When it comes to selecting the players in the correct order, in terms of future time on ice, teams are doing a considerably better job at selecting defenseman than they are forwards. Therefore, that means there are less defensemen slipping through the cracks in the first round than compared to forwards and they are more likely to be selected in the correct draft position than a forward.This has value as a draft strategy for teams drafting late in the first round, as they are more likely to find a forward as a late round steal than they will a defenseman.
While one would hope that draft position would be a useful tool at explaining future success of a player that is not what is happening. With adjusted r-squared values hovering between 0.11 to 0.19, draft position is not a strong factor at explaining the NHL career average points per game of a player or their career average time on ice. Despite that, what it has shown, is draft position is strongest at explaining the future career average time on ice for a defenseman. Therefore, what teams are best at doing, in the first round of the draft, is selecting the defensemen in the correct order. With this new knowledge, one needs to rethink their beliefs that defensemen are the bigger gambles to select in terms of reaching their potential. In actuality, teams are more likely to select the defenseman in the correct draft position than compared with a forward, which mean team are likely better at ranking defensemen than they are forwards. Therefore, when a team has to select between a defenseman and a forward, the only reason to lean to the forward is the fact that they take less time to develop. However, for those teams willing to develop and retain their talent, they should not hesitate to take the defenseman over the forward, as past history has shown there is no reason to think that defenseman are the bigger gamble. They may actually be the safer pick.