What Can San Jose Expect In The First Round of the NHL Entry Draft?

Perhaps the most difficult part of an organization's job is assessing the young talent that will be on display this upcoming weekend at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

The players who populate the free agent and trade markets are known commodities-- Doug Wilson, along with 29 other General Managers across the League, are at least somewhat familiar with the talents and skill sets they possess. Player X is a power forward who will drive hard to the net and control the puck along the boards, able to get you 55 odd points a year and chip in for a minute on the penalty kill-- Player Z is a sniper who will find open spaces above the circles and pick corners all year, able to get you roughly 30 goals but require sheltering against the better offensive opposing forwards across the League. The tape every organization has on these players is phenomenally vast, with synthesis of the data made even easier through the advent of new technologies such as Center Ice and digital video cameras.

This isn't to say mistakes aren't made of course-- teams run into situations all the time where a player underperforms the expectations they had when donning a new jersey, and overpayments on July 1st have a lot to do with that-- a player like Wade Redden clearly isn't worth $6.5MM for the next four years, but he does provide some value as a defenseman in the four hole. It's just these types of contracts that kill teams and fuel the fires of opinion across talk radio and blogs.

The nature of drafting is much more difficult, especially when you get out of the top five selections. These players have had eyes on them since the day they first began to skate, dominating nearly every level which they played at and flourishing above their peers. But once you get out of that top five range, things become much more difficult to gauge.

Doug Wilson has been notoriously lax with his first round draft selections lately, trading the 2008 and 2009 selection away in separate deals in the last two years. 2008's first rounder was traded with Steve Bernier to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Brian Campbell at the Trade Deadline, and 2009's was involved in a deal that saw Ty Wishart, Matt Carle, and a fourth rounder go to Tampa Bay in exchange for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich.

However, for as much criticism Wilson has received for his undervaluing of draft picks over the last two years (with Niclas Wallin being another example), perhaps he has realized the fickle nature of drafting eighteen year old kids and instead opted to trade for known commodities.

To illustrate this point, here is the draft success of each round from 1996-2006 by round:

Draft Success By Round (1996-2006)

Round #
# Drafted
> 200 GMS
1 317
53.0% 260
2 360
18.1% 89
3 337
13.1% 73
4 345
8.1% 42
5 355
4.5% 30
6 325
8.0% 42
7 339
26 7.7% 39

Looking at this, it's clear that the first round is where an organization's best chance of success is at in terms of drafting legitimate NHL players. That's not exactly a novel idea (the earlier you pick the better the player!), but the steep drop off into the second round should definitely be noted.

However, this chart doesn't exactly tell the whole story. San Jose has been a consistently good regular season team for awhile now, and thus have ended up with draft selections in the latter stages of the first round. With a 28th round selection this year, they will be entering the fray quite late. Let's take a look at the success of the 26-30 round selections from 1996-2006 and see if there is anything we can glean from the pool of players*.

*Please note that a 30th selection in 1996 would have been a second round pick, as there were only 26 teams in the NHL at that point. The same idea should be kept in mind for every year until 2001.

Draft Success By Selection (1996-2006)

Round #
# Drafted
> 200 GMS
26th 11
27.27% 137.6
27th 11
36.36% 236.8
28th 11
27.27% 159.5
29th 11
45.45% 186.6
30th 11
27.27% 100.9
32.73% 164.28

What we see here is that there's roughly a one-third shot that the Sharks will draft a serviceable NHL player that will see at least three full seasons of action. The sample is a little skewed by guys like Nick Foligno (who hasn't reached the 200 game mark yet but will likely do so next season), but it gives us a rough barometer of what we can expect to see out of this pick in four or five years.

For every potential Mike Green, Cory Perry, and Martin Havlat taken this Friday, there will be more than enough Mike Morris' and Lukas Kaspar's to go around as well. A 32.73% success rate is much better than what you'll see in later rounds (specifically from the third round on), but it's far from a sure thing.

Whether or not Wilson decides to hold on to this pick or not is debatable at this point, but you have to figure he's leaning towards it-- the last few seasons of "buy deals" have stripped the system of a top prospect outside of Logan Couture, and with the Sharks window closing to some degree, that system needs an infusion of talent.

But if a deal is on the table for a top young player to come to San Jose via trade, one in the 22-23 year old range who has seen at least two seasons of NHL action, it might be prudent to hedge your bets and move the first round pick to get him. While you could always strike gold by rolling the dice with the 28th, obtaining a top six forward or top three defenseman with youth on his side could pay off in the long run as well as immediately helping the Sharks right now

Will that perfect storm actually occur? I doubt so-- holding on to young players is the main priority of every organization across the League, and most wouldn't be privy to giving away a known talent for something that has a 33% success rate. But if this type of situation presents itself, where a team is looking to move a top young player that doesn't fit into their plans for whatever reason, I wouldn't be shocked to see Doug Wilson pull the trigger.

Go Sharks.