Team-by-Team Breakdown of NHL Goalie Drafting
In a recent article, we reviewed the National Hockey League entry draft for the years 2001 through 2013. The principle end point was to provide factual evidence to confirm that, regardless of the league in which a goaltender plays, if sufficiently talented to be deemed a professional prospect, said goaltender will be found.
The current article reviews the same NHL entry draft period. The aim of the current analysis is to reveal how well – or how poorly – each NHL club has been with their selection of goaltending prospects.
Results were based on the simple parameter that all drafted goaltenders either played in a minimum of one NHL regular season game or not. Although an over-simplification of the decision-making process and draft success, if a certain prospect played in one game, the club selection was validated. The data however does not distinguish whether the drafted goaltender played for the club by whom he was drafted, but merely that GP-1 was attained.
No information was gathered regarding the wisdom, and success rates, regarding free agent signings.
The first graph illustrates the number of goaltenders selected by each hockey club during the study period.
The second graph reveals the number of prospects participating in a NHL game on a club-by-club basis.
In certain cases, a goaltender drafted by one team was traded prior to NHL participation (e.g., Tuukka Rask) and therefore played for the team to which he was traded. The team drafting the goaltender was still given credit for the validity of the pick.
The graphs do not reveal that a club most commonly selects either one or two goaltenders per draft; however, on four separate occasions a club chose three goaltenders in the same draft. This includes the 2001 Los Angeles Kings, the 2002 Vancouver Canucks, the 2002 Tampa Bay Lightning and the 2003 Philadelphia Flyers. This has only been surpassed by the selection of four prospects on one occasion in 2004 by the San Jose Sharks.
Thomas Greiss is the only one of those prospects to advance to the NHL.
The results reveal the New York Rangers selected only five goaltenders over the course of thirteen drafts. Furthermore, The Rangers went the longest continuous period without a goaltender selection from 2005 – 2008 and drafted only one goaltender from 2005 – 2012.
Similarly, the New Jersey Devils drafted only six prospects and also went without selecting a goaltender from 2006 – 2009. They also did not draft a goaltender for eight of the 13 drafts.
Only two other clubs went four years in a row without a goaltender selection. They are the Boston Bruins (2004 – 2007) and the San Jose Sharks (2009 – 2012).
In the case of the Rangers and Devils, the most plausible reason for these results is based on two names: Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur.
Lundqvist began playing for the Rangers in 2005 and only two draft picks have been used on goaltenders by the Rangers since that date.
Conversely, Brodeur has been the goaltender for the Devils for the entire time limit of the analysis.
When a club has a franchise goaltender who maintains health, longevity and success using valued draft picks on goaltenders is not warranted. Prospects drafted into a situation like this may also never get an opportunity to play for the big club. Furthermore, it is impossible on the basis of this analysis to determine the philosophy of the different clubs.
Some clubs prefer to develop talent patiently through the draft while others prefer trading draft picks away and build their team via free agent signings.
The team with the greatest number of draftees to play in the National Hockey League, purely on a numerical basis, is the Los Angeles Kings with six of 14 (43 per cent). This was during a time period when goaltending was a concern in Los Angeles. Prospects included Cristobal Huet, Danny Taylor, Erik Ersberg, Yutaka Fukufuji, Jonathan Bernier, and Jonathan Quick.
With Quick having emerged the winner, and with seeming stability between the pipes, how will this affect the number of selections by the Kings in future drafts? If Quick stays healthy and the Kings remains one of the better clubs in the league, will similar results like those in New York or Jersey be seen on the west coast?
The Toronto Maple Leafs faired very well with three of eight selections playing in the NHL. These include Justin Pogge, Tuuka Rask and James Reimer. Pogge (a former National Junior Team Canada member) has not been able to stay in the NHL and Rask, in a trade for Andrew Raycroft, is now the franchise goaltender for the Boston Bruins.
Pogge’s inability to stick demonstrates that even being on the Canadian National Junior Club, and winning a world junior championship does not guarantee a future in the world’s greatest hockey league.
The trade of Rask for Raycroft demonstrates that what may seem like a reasonable short-term solution may be ill-advised and being patient with prospects, despite the constant “need to win now” pressure, may serve the hockey club best in the long run.
Conversely, the Philadelphia Flyers have not only drafted the largest number of goaltenders (17), but only two selections have actually made an appearance in a Flyer uniform. This means only 12 per cent of the drafted prospects have worked out for the Flyers.
The question of whether the Flyers have done the poorest job in scouting and selection is valid but difficult to determine.
Whether the Flyers goaltending dilemma is based on poor scouting, rushed or poor development, performance intolerance (e.g., Sergei Bobrovsky going from persona non grata to Vezina Trophy winner), fan and media pressure, scrutiny, ill-advised poor agent signings (e.g., Ilya Bryzgalov), injury, contract length or value, or salary “cap” issues cannot be explained by a mathematical figure.
Nevertheless, at least 16 goaltenders have dressed for the Flyers during the study’s time frame, including Johan Backlund, Martin Biron, Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, Bryzgalov, Sean Burke, Roman Cechmanek, Jeremy Duchesne, Ray Emery, Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett, Martin Houle, Michael Leighton, Neil Little, Antero Nittymaki and Maxime Ouellet. Cechmanek leads the way with 163 gamed played, and in the case of Boucher, Leighton and Emery, all have had more than one stint with the Flyers. The author refers to this as the “Billy Martin Phenomenon.”
The analysis also reveals that prospects from numerous different leagues failed to reach the pinnacle of the profession. This should come as no surprise.
An interesting finding was however noted with respect to US high school and prep school selections. A total of ten were drafted from 2001 through 2013 with two this past spring. Of the ten prospects, three to date have advanced to the NHL (30 per cent) including Quick, Cory Schneider and Richard Bachman.
Taking a risk on a goaltender still early in his development has both risks and advantages.
Naturally, the risk is the prospect does not continue to develop and the pick is a bust. Conversely, it may be five to six years before the big club even considers signing the prospect and have to place him somewhere in their system and make a decision on his future in the organization. This doesn’t cost anything. Great goaltenders have been found in the past from this approach including Tom Barrasso (1983- Acton- Boxboro High School) and Mike Richter (1985 – Northwood Prep school).
The final graph reveals how many goaltenders from each round went on to play in the National Hockey League. This number is not sub-divided on a draft-by-draft basis. Again, prior to the lock-out of 2005 the draft was nine rounds and subsequently is seven only.
Of the 92 prospects to advance to the NHL 18 per cent were first round selections.
The percentage for rounds two through are as follows:
2nd round – 17 per cent
3rd round– 13 per cent
4th round – 11 per cent
5th round – 15 per cent
6th round – Nine per cent
7th round – Nine per cent
8th round – Six per cent
9th round – Two per cent
Late selections to beat the odds include Martin Gerber (8th round, 232), Pekka Rinne (8th round, 258) and current St. Louis Blues tandem Jaroslav Halak (9th round, 271) and Brian Elliott (9th round, 291) , both in 2003.
This analysis will continue in a future article in an effort to determine what happens to all the prospects that do not make it to the NHL.