The Avs are not likely to make the playoffs this season. Given that sad reality, I have already started to look towards the draft and the hope that another terrible season has not been in vain. This year there are numerous quality choices for a top five pick; Jones, MacKinnon, Drouin, Barkov, Monahan, Lindholm, and others. I am firmly of the belief that defensemen and goalies are much higher risk draft choices than forwards (my bias in this study). Without any data to confirm or deny my gut feelings, I decided to take a quick look at the top 5 picks in previous drafts and see if I could glean any information.
I decided to confine my analysis to a limited number of years and I wanted to allow defensemen and goalies the time to develop, so I chose the 12 drafts from 1995-2006. Of the 60 players drafted in the top five during those years, 37 were forwards, 18 were defensemen, and 5 were goalies. In keeping with my desire for a simple study, I chose 2 questions to ask about the players.
First, was the player a complete bust? I chose the number of games played to answer this question. If the player completed three full seasons, 246 games, I determined the player was not a bust.
Second, was the player a star? This question was more difficult and prone to subjectivity. I looked at only two criteria to answer this question; number of all star games and number of major awards. Any player with more than one (two or greater) all star appearances or major awards was labeled a star. This criteria excluded some players who would have a case for stardom at some point during their careers including Wade Redden, Eric Brewer, Olli Jokinen, Rick DePietro, Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Vanek, Nicklas Backstrom, Bobby Ryan, Brad Stuart and Kari Lehtonen.
Of the 60 players drafted in the top five during these 12 years, only 5 were considered busts. Personally, I found it astounding that nearly 92% of top five draft picks played extensive games at the NHL level. It should be noted that only three years contained any busts; 1996 (Volchkov, Jackman), 1999 (Pavel Brendl), and 2001 (Svitov and Chistov). The draft position with the highest bust rate was forwards at 10.8%, next came defensemen at 5.6%, and finally not a single goalie picked in the top five was a bust. So far, it is not looking good for my gut, but the measure of a top five pick is not playing, it is stardom.
Of the 37 forwards, 15 of them (41%) qualified as stars. They are Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Phil Kessel.
Of the 18 defensemen, only 1 (5.6%) qualified as a star, Jay Boumeester.
It should be noted that this is a very small sample of a limited period of time. Other years have produced more high caliber defensemen in the top 5. Given the small sample sizes, expanding the years could significantly change the outcome.
This small study confirmed my belief that drafting a forward is usually the best plan. I am surprised at how well goalies and poorly defense from the top five fared. That said, 2008 includes a very strong top 5 with Doughty, Bogosian, and Pietrangelo, so I don't think drafting defense is necessarily as bad as it appears here. Is any of this a surprise? Given this data, does it reduce the draft desirability of Seth Jones?