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Vulgar Statistics: Drafting, the Great Crapshoot

12/19/10
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It’s pretty obvious that the Sabres lack top flight scoring talent beyond Thomas Vanek.  Jason Pominville and Derek Roy are decent players in their own right, but neither can be described as a sniper. Some fans would rather see the Sabres lose the majority of their remaining games so that they can secure top flight talent in the draft, a position I do not advocate because losing on purpose, and rooting for losses is for idiots, and because the draft is such a crapshoot anyways.

Still, you’d think a top ten draft pick would be a pretty safe bet.  After all that’s where you get the Patrick Kanes and Nicklas Backstroms, and late round steals like Ryan Miller and Henrik Zetterberg are rarities.  Next you should pretend that this sentence was a clever lead-in to the following chart.

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As you can see, even the top ten picks each year are littered with players that were either complete busts, disappointments, or merely adequate as players (which is probably a disappointment for a top ten pick).  Now a few things, first of all, my player assessment may be open to interpretation for a few guys.  I’m human and cannot watch every NHL game.  Also, the purpose of this entry isn’t to say that top picks aren’t more valuable than later round picks, it’s merely to say that high picks are not some kind of fix-all for a struggling team.  Now, let’s make a little bit of sense out of all that:

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Alright, so the odds favor getting a player that is at least pretty good versus any other single option, but versus the whole, the odds favor getting a player that is merely adequate, or worse.  Around 40% of players out of the top ten are above average, giving you a good return on your investment, another 40% has the pick being a complete waste of a draft position, and the remaining 20% has them landing somewhere in the middle.  It gets better when you isolate the top five…but not by much.

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Only 57.5% of players selected in the top five have really been impact players.  Doesn’t that seem low?  Shouldn’t the number be somewhere around 75%, or at the very least just a little higher?  Even if you’re one of the worst teams in the NHL, you only have slightly better than a 50-50 chance of picking up a guy who will be an impact player in the league.  The absurdity of losing on purpose aside (because encouraging a less than complete effort is a great idea), the numbers alone show that banking on high draft picks will leave you feeling sorry for yourself far too often.

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