Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Drafting D-Men in the 1st Round: The Big Picture

Everything points to a bumper crop of defensemen being selected in the first round of June's NHL 2008 Entry Draft. Central Scouting has 15 d-men among its' top 30 North American skaters and 13 among its' top 30 European skaters. If the actual draft follows form, the first round should surpass the record 13 d-men selected in the first round of the 1996 draft. Unfortunately that 1996 draft was also the worst in history for defensemen, with only 6 of the 13 first rounders having played 200 NHL games to date. Prime failures include Jeff Brown (not Downtown Jeff Brown or Jeff Brown, the author of the Flat Stanley books, although he might have been a better pick),Mario Larocque, and Matthieu Descoteaux. These three played a total of 10 NHL games between them.

Surprisingly, drafting d-men on the 1st round has been a successful strategy .
A review of drafts from 1979 (the first year of the "Entry Draft") through 2002 shows that of 190 defensemen drafted on the first round, 140 or 73% have played at least 200 NHL games to date. 37 have played in at least one All-Star game. By comparison, 65% of forwards drafted on the first round have played at least 200 games. Considering that defensemen are competing for half as many open positions on a standard NHL roster, this difference is significant. It's also surprising given that there is general agreement that defensemen take longer to develop and because of the greater emphasis on offense in junior hockey.
Looking at the composition of today's NHL, 80 of the top 220 defensemen (in TOI) in 2007-8 were picked on the first round. The remaining 140 players came from a more or less normal distribution of the remaining draft rounds and free agents. To summarize, this research shows that the talents and skills that make for an NHL caliber defenseman are being accurately identified and ranked by draft order.

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