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WHAT CONSTITUTES A SUCCESSFUL DRAFT?

By: Mike Peck

If you’re a sports fan and like player drafts, this is probably your favorite time of year. The NFL had their draft back in May and June features drafts for the other three major leagues, culminating with the NHL Entry Draft on June 27 and 28 in Philadelphia.

Strategies in drafting players is much different in the four sports as in hockey and baseball, there is development systems in place as players usually don’t make immediate impacts for the major league clubs for up to four or five years after getting drafted.  While in football and basketball, teams can fill holes in their roster and address immediate needs with the draft.

Focusing on hockey, what makes a successful draft? It’s a question that can be viewed a couple different ways as each team is in a different place from a roster standpoint.  The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, can continue to re-stock the organization and take the best player on the board when they pick in the 27th spot in this summer’s draft.

But a team like the Florida Panthers or Buffalo Sabres, who pick one and two respectively, can strive for an immediate impact player who can contribute right away. Maybe try to fill an immediate need. Nathan MacKinnon was the top pick in last June’s draft by the Colorado Avalanche and led all rookies with 63 points while playing in all 82 games, so a top 10 pick can make a quick impact.

Again, however, a first round pick doesn’t translate into immediate help in the NHL. Of the 30 first round selections last June, just eight of them (or 26.7%) played a game in the NHL last season and no player picked outside the top 10 played more than seven games.

So back to the original question, what makes a draft class successful? Is it quantity or quality? My answer is both. It’s unlikely a team will get both quality and quantity (although a recent Blackhawks draft class might just do that), but both can turn the fortunes of a franchise.

Luck, of course, plays a big role into this. Having the first overall pick doesn’t guarantee stardom. For every Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Patrick Kane, there is a rare chance you get a Patrik Stefan or Alexandre Daigle. Make no mistake, you are probably getting a franchise cornerstone with the top pick, but nothing is guaranteed.

Speaking of Kane, he was the top pick overall in the draft of 2007 by the Blackhawks. In seven seasons, you’d have a hard time arguing that Patrick Kane is not a hall-of-fame hockey player. So, on the surface the 2007 draft for Chicago should be an “A+” draft, correct? But did it have quantity or depth?

Kane was one of seven players chosen in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, but was the only player, and will more than likely be the only player, to play for the Blackhawks. As a matter of fact, Bill Sweat (2 games) and Akim Aliu (7 games) are the only other two players to skate in the show from that draft for Chicago. The other four draftees in the Kane class of ’07 include centers Maxime Tanguay and Richard Greenop, goalie Josh Unice and defenseman Joe Lavin.

So was the draft a failure?  I think any team in the NHL would sacrifice a draft class for a Patrick Kane caliber player, so the ’07 draft was a franchise changer for the Blackhawks and was a success.

The 2006 draft was no different for Chicago as they picked Jonathan Toews third overall in the first round while the eight other selections never reached Chicago with just one other player (Peter LeBlanc, one game with the Washington Capitals) playing a game in the NHL.

The point is, hockey teams are like shopping malls. They need anchors or cornerstones. The Blackhawks hit on their two top end of the draft selections in 2006 and 2007 with Toews and Kane and set the organization up for a golden era.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a successful team in the Blackhawks position can also hit on quantity in the draft. At least in the modern era of the NHL, the 2011 draft could end up being one of the most successful in franchise history for Chicago and that’s with first round selections Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault still developing in Rockford.

Consider the draft has already yielded impact players Brandon Saad (2nd round pick) and Andrew Shaw (5th round pick) for the Blackhawks. Plus throw in two solid prospects in McNeill and Danault, probably two of the organizations top three defenseman prospects in Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck, along with forward Alex Broadhurst and the 2011 draft could be one of the most fruitful for Chicago.

The 2004 draft might compare to the 2011 class as Chicago selected Cam Barker, Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, Adam Berti, Jake Dowell, Petri Kontiola and Troy Brouwer, all of whom spent time with the Blackhawks, three winning Stanley Cups.

From a percentage standpoint, dating back to the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, the highest percentage of players from a single draft to make it to the NHL is 48.3%, occurring from both the 2008 and 2005 drafts according to hockeydb.com.  The average is around 43.0%, meaning not even half of the players chosen in the draft will even make it to the NHL.

So when picking 27th in this June’s draft, chances are the Blackhawks will get a player that won’t be NHL ready for a couple of years.  But in the era of the salary cap and free agency, it’s crucial for teams to restock from within. Of the 25 active players on the Blackhawks final roster in 2014, 14 of them were either drafted or signed as a rookie free agent after the draft by Chicago. Mix in the trade acquisitions of Kris Versteeg (in 2006), Jeremy Morin and Nick Leddy while they were either still amateurs or pre-NHL, and 17 of the 24 players came up through the Blackhawks system.

One thing that Chicago has done well dating back to the 2001 draft, is finding players in the first round that contribute at the top level. Of the nine first round selections between 2001 and 2009, eight of them have played in the NHL.

Stayed tuned to IceHogs.com the week of the draft as we’ll break down and preview the event beginning on Monday, June 23, leading up to the first round on Thursday, June 27.

Season Tickets for 2014-15 Now on Sale: Reserve your seats today for the IceHogs 16th season of professional hockey and eighth as the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Call (815) 847-6399 or visit icehogs.com to find a ticket package that fits your needs.





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