Study: NHL Forwards Drafted in the Top 5 Since 2004

Jeff Gross

MHH recently looked at the success rates of top ranked defensemen over the past few years. How do the forwards stack up?

Last week, I posted a study on the defensemen drafted in the top 10 over the past 10 years. In the end, I determined that there was around a 70% chance that a prospect taken in that range would develop into a top pairing player.

Today, we'll look at the top forwards taken in a similar time-frame.

In the interest of eliminating as many variables as possible, all of the players we'll be looking at are from the post-lockout NHL. In my original data collection, I included the 2003 forwards, but since Eric Staal and Nathan Horton both had rookie years before the rule changes, I excluded that draft year (including Thomas Vanek, who didn't have his rookie season until post-lockout) from the data. Therefore, the study begins in 2004 and covers 9 drafts instead of 10. I also found that there was a sufficient enough sample size to limit my data to the Top 5 picks instead of the Top 10. Since more forwards than blueliners have been drafted in this range over the past few years, I was able to narrow my focus and make it more relevant to the 1st Overall pick, a luxury I didn't have when studying defensemen.

Excluded Players

There have been 29 forwards drafted in the Top 5 over the past 9 years. Of those, only 1 player has yet to start his ELC (Strome). Also, Niederreiter is still under contract with the Islanders and eligible for a call-up, but he did not play in the NHL this year.

Draft Pick Draft Current Name Pos Minors GP G A Pts +/- PIM
'10 5 NYI AHL Nino Niederreiter RW WHL 64 2 1 3 -30 20
'11 5 NYI OHL Ryan Strome C OHL

This leaves 27 players that will be the focus of this study.

Study Data

The charts are sortable. Just click on the words in the blue box, and the table will sort to that column.

Draft and Team Information:

Draft Pick Name Pos League Entry D. Yrs. Draft Current Same
'04 1 Alex Ovechkin LW RSL '05 0 WSH WSH Y
'04 2 Evgeni Malkin C RSL '06 1 PIT PIT Y
'04 4 Andrew Ladd LW WHL '05 0 CAR WPG N
'04 5 Blake Wheeler RW HS-MN '08 3 PHX WPG N
'05 1 Sidney Crosby C QMJHL '05 0 PIT PIT Y
'05 2 Bobby Ryan LW OHL '07 2 ANA ANA Y
'05 4 Benoit Pouliot LW OHL '07 2 MIN TBL N
'06 2 Jordan Staal C OHL '06 0 PIT CAR N
'06 3 Jonathan Toews C NCAA '07 1 CHI CHI Y
'06 4 Nicklas Backstrom C SEL '07 1 WSH WSH Y
'06 5 Phil Kessel RW NCAA '06 0 BOS TOR N
'07 1 Patrick Kane RW OHL '07 0 CHI CHI Y
'07 2 James van Riemsdyk LW USDP '09 2 PHI TOR N
'07 3 Kyle Turris C BCHL '08 1 PHX OTT N
'08 1 Steven Stamkos C OHL '08 0 TBL TBL Y
'09 1 John Tavares C OHL '09 0 NYI NYI Y
'09 3 Matt Duchene C OHL '09 0 COL COL Y
'09 4 Evander Kane LW WHL '09 0 WPG WPG Y
'09 5 Brayden Schenn C WHL '11 2 LAK PHI N
'10 1 Taylor Hall LW OHL '10 0 EDM EDM Y
'10 2 Tyler Seguin C OHL '10 0 BOS BOS Y
'10 4 Ryan Johansen C WHL '11 1 CBJ CBJ Y
'11 1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins C WHL '11 0 EDM EDM Y
'11 2 Gabriel Landeskog LW OHL '11 0 COL COL Y
'11 3 Jonathan Huberdeau C QMJHL '12 1 FLA FLA Y
'12 1 Nail Yakupov RW OHL '12 0 EDM EDM Y
'12 3 Alex Galchenyuk C OHL '12 0 MTL MTL Y

  • Entry = First year the player had over 10GP in the NHL. For example, " '05 " means the 2005-'06 season.
  • D. Yrs. = "Development Years", or full seasons played at a minor league level before making the NHL full-time.
  • Same = Indicates if player is still with his draft team or if he has been traded/signed elsewhere.
One of the most striking things about this list are how few of them have been traded. Over 70% are still with their original draft teams, and the sooner they hit the NHL, the more likely they are to stick where they started. Only 4 of the 22 forwards that took 1 year or less of development time have been moved, and of those, J. Staal and Turris both asked for trades. On the other hand, only 1 (B. Ryan) of the remaining 5 forwards with 2+ years of development time have been retained by their draft teams.

Career Numbers:

Draft Pick Name Pos Team Exp GP G A Pts G/G P/G PIM/S MAG/S SHG S/G S%
'04 1 Ovechkin LW WSH 8 601 371 364 735 0.62 1.22 51 16 4 5.1 12.2
'04 2 Malkin C PIT 7 458 217 343 560 0.47 1.22 66 12 4 3.7 12.8
'04 4 Ladd LW WPG 8 532 138 166 304 0.26 0.57 38 3 2 2.3 11.4
'04 5 Wheeler RW WPG 5 372 93 139 232 0.25 0.62 46 3 3 2.2 11.3
'05 1 Crosby C PIT 8 470 238 427 665 0.51 1.41 52 9 3 3.4 14.9
'05 2 B. Ryan LW ANA 6 378 147 142 289 0.39 0.76 42 6 3 2.8 14.1
'05 4 Pouliot LW TBL 7 291 61 63 124 0.21 0.43 29 1 0 1.6 13.5
'06 2 J. Staal C CAR 7 479 130 149 279 0.27 0.58 38 3 13 2.1 12.6
'06 3 Toews C CHI 6 408 167 205 372 0.41 0.91 37 8 5 2.7 15.2
'06 4 Backstrom C WSH 6 413 109 306 415 0.26 1.00 34 6 1 2.2 11.7
'06 5 Kessel RW TOR 7 504 185 194 379 0.37 0.75 20 7 1 3.4 10.9
'07 1 P. Kane RW CHI 6 446 149 275 424 0.33 0.95 32 8 0 2.9 11.3
'07 2 van Riemsdyk LW TOR 4 244 65 66 131 0.27 0.54 29 4 0 2.5 10.7
'07 3 Turris C OTT 4 234 43 61 104 0.18 0.44 19 1 0 2.0 9.0
'08 1 Stamkos C TBL 5 373 208 178 386 0.56 1.03 50 14 1 3.2 17.2
'09 1 Tavares C NYI 4 291 112 137 249 0.38 0.86 30 9 0 3.0 12.8
'09 3 Duchene C COL 4 266 82 111 193 0.31 0.73 17 5 1 2.4 12.7
'09 4 E. Kane LW WPG 4 261 80 79 159 0.31 0.61 66 3 1 3.2 9.5
'09 5 B. Schenn C PHI 2 110 20 26 46 0.18 0.42 29 3 0 1.7 10.7
'10 1 Hall LW EDM 3 171 65 80 145 0.38 0.85 32 8 0 3.2 11.9
'10 2 Seguin C BOS 3 203 56 65 121 0.28 0.60 21 3 0 2.6 10.5
'10 4 Johansen C CBJ 2 107 14 19 33 0.13 0.31 18 2 0 1.7 7.7
'11 1 Nugent-Hopkins C EDM 2 102 22 54 76 0.22 0.75 12 3 0 2.1 10.4
'11 2 Landeskog LW COL 2 118 31 38 69 0.26 0.58 37 3 3 3.2 8.2
'11 3 Huberdeau C FLA 1 48 14 17 31 0.29 0.65 18 2 0 2.3 12.5
'12 1 Yakupov RW EDM 1 48 17 14 31 0.35 0.65 24 6 0 1.7 21.0
'12 3 Galchenyuk C MTL 1 48 9 18 27 0.19 0.56 20 0 0 1.6 11.4
Average 5 295 105 138 244 0.32 0.74 34 5 2 2.9 12.2

  • Exp = "Experience" or number of seasons played in the league.
  • G/G = "Goals Per Game"
  • P/G = "Points Per Game". Abbreviation altered to avoid confusion with "Power Play Goals" (PPG).
  • PIM/S = "Penalties in Minutes per Season"
  • MAG/S = "Man Advantage Goals Per Season", also called Power Play Goals. Name altered to avoid confusion with acronym of "Points Per Game" (PPG)
  • S/G = "Shots Per Game"

The career averages for this set of forwards are quite telling. 0.32 G/G translates to 26 goals in an 82-game season, and .74 P/G equates to 61 points. They take around 3 shots a night, and at a 12.2% shooting percentage, they're due for a goal approximately once every 3 games. Many of them, especially the 1st Overalls, are also big contributors on the power play.

It appears that for the most part, their draft rankings have been very accurate as well. Apart from RNH and to an extent, Yakupov, the first overalls have outstanding numbers. Malkin and Ryan also have incredible stats, but they are still below Ovechkin and Crosby respectively. The only "miss" was Toews at 3rd overall since his numbers are superior to Jordan Staal's (2nd overall in '06) in every category except short-handed goals.

Center Face-off Data

Draft Pick Name Team Exp Won Total FO/S FO%
'04 2 Evgeni Malkin PIT 7 1994 4607 658 43.3%
'05 1 Sidney Crosby PIT 8 4996 9637 1205 51.8%
'06 2 Jordan Staal CAR 7 3280 6988 998 46.9%
'06 3 Jonathan Toews CHI 6 4185 7363 1227 56.8%
'06 4 Nicklas Backstrom WSH 6 3117 6227 1038 50.1%
'07 3 Kyle Turris OTT 4 1102 2750 688 40.1%
'08 1 Steven Stamkos TBL 5 2129 4534 907 47.0%
'09 1 John Tavares NYI 4 2502 4964 1241 50.4%
'09 3 Matt Duchene COL 4 1795 3618 905 49.6%
'09 5 Brayden Schenn PHI 2 407 889 445 45.8%
'10 2 Tyler Seguin BOS 3 218 454 151 48.0%
'10 4 Ryan Johansen CBJ 2 348 677 339 51.4%
'11 1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM 2 453 1156 578 39.2%
'11 3 Jonathan Huberdeau FLA 1 11 33 33 33.3%
'12 3 Alex Galchenyuk MTL 1 59 138 138 42.8%
Average 4 1773 3602 703 46.4%

  • FO/S = "Face-offs Per Season"

The average for face-offs is a bit low at only 46.4%. Only 5 of the 15 centers have a career average above 50%, although Matt Duchene will likely join that group by next year based on how his numbers have been trending. Unsurprisingly, the centers with the most face-offs per season are also typically the ones with the best overall percentages.

2012-13 Season:

Draft Pick Name Team Pos GP G A Pts GPG PPG TSR-PPG TOI Corsi QoC OZS% OZC%
'04 1 Ovechkin WSH LW 48 32 24 56 0.67 1.17 1st 20:53 -1.83 -0.069 54.5 -2.4
'04 2 Malkin PIT C 31 9 24 33 0.29 1.06 4th 19:42 16.04 -0.173 63.6 -7.9
'04 4 Ladd WPG LW 48 18 28 46 0.38 0.96 1st 19:40 5.21 0.919 50.0 3.5
'04 5 Wheeler WPG RW 48 19 22 41 0.40 0.85 2nd 18:48 1.22 0.717 49.2 3.3
'05 1 Crosby PIT C 36 15 41 56 0.42 1.56 1st 21:06 16.10 -0.057 47.1 3.7
'05 2 B. Ryan ANA LW 46 11 19 30 0.24 0.65 3rd 16:35 -1.21 0.357 52.9 -2.1
'05 4 Pouliot TBL LW 34 8 12 20 0.24 0.59 6th 13:14 1.09 0.113 49.2 2.4
'06 2 J. Staal CAR C 48 10 21 31 0.21 0.65 4th 20:06 9.38 -0.012 48.8 2.9
'06 3 Toews CHI C 47 23 25 48 0.49 1.02 2nd 19:20 14.72 -0.460 55.1 -2.5
'06 4 Backstrom WSH C 48 8 40 48 0.17 1.00 3rd 19:54 2.80 0.522 49.9 -4.4
'06 5 Kessel TOR RW 48 20 32 52 0.42 1.08 2nd 19:48 -8.54 2.128 49.0 -2.1
'07 1 P. Kane CHI RW 47 23 32 55 0.49 1.17 1st 20:03 1.02 -0.525 55.1 -4.3
'07 2 van Riemsdyk TOR LW 48 18 14 32 0.38 0.67 4th 19:12 -9.46 2.274 48.8 -4.5
'07 3 Turris OTT C 48 12 17 29 0.25 0.60 1st 19:38 7.25 -0.406 53.5 -1.0
'08 1 Stamkos TBL C 48 29 28 57 0.60 1.19 2nd 22:01 1.99 0.593 54.2 2.4
'09 1 Tavares NYI C 48 28 19 47 0.58 0.98 1st 20:46 7.18 0.065 61.2 -8.1
'09 3 Duchene COL C 47 17 26 43 0.36 0.91 1st 20:55 -0.75 0.247 53.4 3.0
'09 4 E. Kane WPG LW 48 17 16 33 0.35 0.69 3rd 20:27 -0.61 0.474 53.9 -1.3
'09 5 B. Schenn PHI C 47 8 18 26 0.17 0.55 6th 15:31 -4.04 1.535 52.8 -0.3
'10 1 Hall EDM LW 45 16 34 50 0.36 1.11 1st 18:37 2.79 0.858 54.8 -6.9
'10 2 Seguin BOS C 48 16 16 32 0.33 0.67 4th 17:00 25.04 -0.625 53.9 -8.7
'10 4 Johansen CBJ C 40 5 7 12 0.13 0.30 14th 16:05 -11.36 0.896 50.6 1.1
'11 1 Nugent-Hopkins EDM C 40 4 20 24 0.10 0.60 5th 18:51 1.89 1.156 52.0 -3.5
'11 2 Landeskog COL LW 36 9 8 17 0.25 0.47 5th 19:19 6.30 1.705 48.0 1.8
'11 3 Huberdeau FLA C 48 14 17 31 0.29 0.65 2nd 16:55 2.74 0.413 62.9 -11.4
'12 1 Yakupov EDM RW 48 17 14 31 0.35 0.65 4th 14:33 -15.22 0.150 51.1 -0.1
'12 3 Galchenyuk MTL C 48 9 18 27 0.19 0.56 9th 12:19 2.04 -0.530 58.5 -8.1
Average 45 15 22 37 0.34 0.83 3rd 18:34 2.66 0.454 53.1 -2.1
  • Fancy stats = behindthenet.ca, regular stats = NHL.com
  • GPG = "Goals Per Game"
  • PPG = "Points Per Game"
  • TSR-PPG = "Team Scoring Rank by Points Per Game", or where the player finished in comparison to their teammates when sorted by points per game.
  • Corsi = A measurement of possession. Positive number = mostly on offense, negative number = mostly on defense.
  • QoC = "Quality of Competition". Positive number = faced opposition's top players, negative number = faced weaker players.
  • OZS% = "Offensive Zone Start Percentage", or how often a player was started in the offensive zone. Numbers above 50% = sheltered minutes, numbers below 50% = more defensive minutes.
  • OZC% = "Offensive Zone Change Percentage", or how much player gains or loses possession. Positive numbers = typically gains possession and transitions from defense to offense on their shift. Negative numbers = often lose possession and transition from offense to defense on their shift.
Just like with their defensive counterparts, these players can eat up a bunch of minutes. For a forward, anything over 18 is impressive, and 19 of the 27 fall into that category. Of those, 8 play the equivalent of a full period or more per game, a claim that only 24 players total could make this year. Additionally, 9 of these forwards were at or above a point-per-game pace, and 10 of the top 20 scorers in the league are on this list. Even their averaged stats (15G / 22A / 37Pts) would have placed 37th overall. Only 2 were not in their team's top 6 in scoring (by PPG, which removes the injury factor), and most of them created more shots than they faced while still playing tough competition. They were also somewhat sheltered and deployed primarily in the offensive zone to maximize their scoring, but unfortunately, many struggled to stay there.

Final Thoughts

When you take a forward this high, you know exactly what you're getting. Except for perhaps Schenn, Pouliot, Johansen, and Niederreiter, these are core players. These are game changers. These are the guys that other teams would kill to have and that teams can never have enough of. Many of them are probably future Hall of Famers. While there is always some risk associated with every prospect, these types of players - highly touted forwards - are about the safest bet there is.

There are two such forwards in this year's draft - Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Since the Avs have 1st Overall, they have first rights to them. Of the two, MacKinnon is typically rated higher, and as a center, he has more versatility. That's not to discount the skill of Drouin, but there have been questions raised about how well his game will translate to the NHL, especially the defense-heavy Western Conference. They're roughly the same size - MacKinnon = 6'0, 182lbs; Drouin = 5'11, 185lbs - but MacKinnon plays a more well-rounded game while Drouin is all offense. Of the two, MacKinnon is a safer pick while Drouin is a bit riskier.

The Avs certainly have a difficult choice ahead of them. Personally, I think their selection will boil down to how they feel about Jones. If they honestly believe that he's going to become an elite defenseman, they can't pass on that. True franchise blueliners are so rare that their market value alone justifies the pick, let alone the role he could play on this team. However, if they have any doubts, they should go with MacKinnon. Drouin will be in the conversation, but MacKinnon's versatility and all-around game make more sense for the Avs. While he plays a position we don't exactly need - we already have more top 6 centers than we know what to do with - he could be moved to wing, put on the trade market, or free up Stastny and/or O'Reilly to be moved. Unless there is a clear reason why Drouin is the best player available (which there might be), as a wing, his value is going to naturally be a little lower than the other two. That's not to say the Avs won't take him, but it's a bit more difficult to justify him as the 1st Overall with MacKinnon and Jones still on the board.

In the end, no matter who they select, the Avs are going to be a better team for it. Even though the debate will rage on right up until the draft, I can guarantee that an amazing player will be welcomed into our family on June 30th. As to who exactly that will be, well....

In Pracey We Trust.
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