Friday, July 12, 2013

Washington Capitals: Draft History in Context, Part IV -- The Fourth and Fifth Rounds: Diamonds in the Rough

We have completed three parts in the look at Washington Capitals draft picks over the 2001-2010 period, and now, in Part IV, we will take a look at what we might call the “diamonds in the rough” portion of the draft – the fourth and fifth rounds.  This is a portion of the draft where the odds of making it as a contributing NHL player (by our definition, one who dressed for at least 100 NHL games) decrease markedly.  Whereas almost 20 percent of the players selected in the second and third rounds reached that 100-game threshold, the chances of a player doing so in the fourth and fifth rounds is cut almost in half – 10.3 percent of the players drafted reaching that milestone. Before we get to comparisons with the rest of the league, let us take a look at the Washington Capitals and their fourth and fifth round draft picks over the 2001-2010 period.

If the second and third rounds were something of a “desert” for the Caps in terms of drafting players who made contributions at the NHL level, things were no better in the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2001-2010 period.  Combined, the Caps selected 23 players in those rounds over the ten-year period, three of whom dressed for at least one NHL game.  None made it to the 100 game threshold we established as the basis for a “contributor.” 


While it is true that left wing Oskar Osala managed only three games in the NHL (he currently plays for HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the Kontinental Hockey League), there are those 57 games played so far by current number one goaltender Braden Holtby.  Selected in the fourth round in 2008 (93rd overall), Holtby is the third goaltender drafted by the Caps in the 2001-2010 period to appear in at least one NHL game.  To date he has 57 regular season appearances and has posted a respectable record.  Of goaltenders appearing in at least 50 games over their first three seasons since 2000-2001, only two goaltenders – Marty Turco and Tuukka Rask – recorded a better save percentage than Holtby over those first three seasons of their careers.  He is tied for 13th among that group in goal-against average.

There is also Philipp Grubauer, another goaltender.  His contributions are likely to be some years away, so writing him off as a potential “contributor” is premature.

However, that’s it.  The jury is still out on such draftees as Patrick Wey (115th overall in 2009) and Caleb Herbert (142nd overall in 2010), but none of the other 21 players taken in the fourth or fifth round by the Caps have appeared in an NHL game to date. 

So, how does the Caps’ performance in these rounds compare to that of the other 29 teams?  Here are the teams, ranked in order of the number of selections made in the fourth and fifth rounds:

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The Caps rank in the upper half of teams in terms of selections made in the fourth and fifth rounds.  However, they have not had much success in terms of those picks making it to the NHL.  Only two teams have had fewer of their selections in this tranche appear in an NHL game (coincidentally, both of them being former Southeast Division teams – Carolina and Florida), and the Caps are one of only three teams not to have any of their selections reach the 100-games played threshold. 

The Caps have had next to no production out of skaters in this part of the draft, owing to the fact that only one skater – Oskar Osala – played in any NHL games (three in all with a 0-3-3 scoring line).  Even among goalies, though, the Caps’ Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer combined rank only fifth in total games played in this group.  The best that can be said here is that Holtby and Grubauer have their futures ahead of them and might yet be solid and reliable contributors down the road.

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This is not going to be a particular rich source of NHL contributors.  Only the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks have has as many as five players selected in the fourth and fifth rounds appear in at least 100 games. And as we noted, barely 10 percent of the players taken in these rounds make it to that 100-game mark. 

Then there is the matter of impact players.  Given where teams are drafting, the likelihood of finding an impact player as we defined it in the look at second and third round picks (100 games, 50 goals, 100 points).  We might lower the threshold here to 100 games, 20 goals, and 50 points to find reliable, if not “impact,” NHL players.  Here is that list:

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The likelihood of finding players to meet these criteria is low, but not unheard of. There were 30 players selected by 21 teams who did meet these criteria.  We have to allow for a bit of flexibility here, too, since intuitively one would expect such players to have longer lead times in lower leagues before making their NHL debuts and establishing themselves.  If we were more tolerant in that regard, we might include such players as these:
  • Marcus Foligno (Buffalo/104th overall in 2009; 11-20-31 in 61 games)
  • Marcus Kruger (Chicago/149th overall in 2009; 13-26-39 in 125 games)
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago/108th overall in 2005; 9-47-56 in 306 games)
  • Craig Smith (Nashville/98th overall in 2009; 18-30-48 in 106 games)
  • Matt Martin (NY Islanders/148th overall in 2008; 16-25-41 in 201 games)
  • Matt Frattin (Toronto/99th overall in 2007; 15-13-28 in 82 games)

Again, the Capitals are not among the teams having drafted skaters who meet even the lower threshold of reliable player, and it is no certainty that any skaters in their system will reach that level of contribution.  The default answer here is that, well, there are all those first round draft pick encumbering roster spots.  That argument fails to account for: a) the fact that only half of their 16 first round picks over this period are in the Caps system (and that includes Evgeni Kuznetsov), and b) that Caps draftees, even if they had been crowded out on the parent roster, have not caught on with other clubs to make their contributions.  Remember, we are focusing on the players drafted by their clubs, regardless of where they might have moved, not their contributions solely within the systems of the teams that drafted them.

In the end, what we are left with is another example of an unproductive tranche of the draft.  From the second through the fifth rounds over the 2001-2010 period the Capitals drafted 44 players and have had three of them record as many as 100 games in the NHL, only one of whom is with the club today (goalie Michal Neuvirth).  Another goalie – Braden Holtby – appears certain to hit that games-played mark, but the record in drafting skaters has been rough finding diamonds in the rough.


Anonymous said...

In addition to the implied issues with scouting and player selection, I also wonder how much of this is contributed to player development and career management. Putting players in places and with coaches that can drive their development through the different levels of the organization. Pulling players up before they are ready due to holes in the roster or leaving players to languish without clear objectives and things to work on do not bode well to see quality results.

The Peerless said...

That is a fair point. Drafting is the common denominator in that the same folks have been managing that process for a decade or more. But the path a prospect takes after he is drafted -- the systems, coaches, and environments to which he is exposed -- has to play a role in the success in bring a player from draft to Verizon Center ice.

GRin 430 said...

Another interesting study would be to compare how many players at each drafting position make it. For example, how many people picked #23, how many picked #58, how many #126.

I am willing to bet that there are more successful players selected at the top of each round, particularly the top of the first 3 rounds. But I'm willing to let the numbers say whatever they say.

Assuming I'm right, the fact that a team like Detroit is able to continue to find players despite picking late in each round just about every year is a true testament to their organization.

One more question is whether the Caps have gotten any better at drafting over the years, even as their draft position was worse. They clearly had problems in 2000-2005, but did they learn anything?