Defensemen Development Myths: Part 2

Doug Pensinger

In this round of defensemen myths, we'll see if amateur team wins, playing in a different country, or age at the draft has an affect on a defenseman's long-term success. We'll also explore the frequency of late round gems.

The success of young defensemen is hard to predict.  This series aims to get to the bottom of a number of myths that have popped up about them over the years.  If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

Photo: Kevin Shattenkirk was the 1st round, 14th Overall pick of the Avs in 2007.  As a product of the USNTDP, he went on to play 3 years at Boston University before turning pro.  After only 13 total games in Lake Erie, he earned a call-up with the Avs and never went back.  He played a memorable 46 games in burgundy before a trade sent him to St. Louis, where he has since earned a comfortable role in their Top 4.

Myth 4:  Successful defensemen typically come from successful amateur teams.

It goes without saying that good teams usually tend to have a larger percentage of good players than bad teams.  But when it comes to predicting NHL success, are those players more likely to pan out than a standout from a down-on-their-luck squad?

Finding a good data set for this myth proved difficult.  Europeans jump between Juniors, Minors, and Pro so often that it's difficult to read how much impact an individual player had on the team.  NCAA players represented mostly overage players that would likely skew the data, plus it's trending to more of a post-draft developmental league than a pre-draft one.  High school records would have been next to impossible to find, and the USHL data is complicated by Team USA's additional collegiate play.  There was also no way I was messing with the fringe leagues from North America.

That left one choice:  Major Juniors.  Nearly half of all drafted players come from one of the three leagues, and they even play against each other at the end of the year.  I decided it was a large and consistent enough sample size to get a decent read on this myth.

From there, looked at the wins/GP of each team across the leagues, then broke them into Top teams (.550+ win %), Mid teams (.450 to .550) and Bottom teams (below .450).  I then counted the number of defensemen drafted in each round for each of the three categories, as well as the number of players who hit the 1+GP, 25+GP, and 200+GP marks. 

Type Count % 1st % 2nd % 3rd % 4th % 5th % 6th % 7th % Late %
Total 796 100% 131 16.5% 101 12.7% 115 14.4% 97 12.2% 88 11.1% 94 11.8% 83 10.4% 87 10.9%
Top (.550+) 296 37.2% 56 18.9% 43 14.5% 46 15.5% 41 13.9% 26 8.8% 31 10.5% 26 8.8% 27 9.1%
Mid (.450-.550) 227 28.5% 36 15.9% 33 14.5% 34 15.0% 28 12.3% 27 11.9% 18 7.9% 27 11.9% 24 10.6%
Bottom (.450-) 273 34.3% 39 14.3% 25 9.2% 35 12.8% 28 10.3% 35 12.8% 45 16.5% 30 11.0% 36 13.2%
Count 1+ GP % 25+ GP % 200+ GP %
796 323 40.6% 239 30.0% 138 17.3%
296 135 45.6% 98 33.1% 53 17.9%
227 96 42.3% 72 31.7% 37 16.3%
273 92 33.7% 69 25.3% 48 17.6%

As expected, successful teams produced more high pick defensemen.  Teams also tended to be willing to take more risks on players from weaker teams much later in the draft, usually from about the 5th round on.  Successful teams also tended to produce more defensemen who saw 1+ and 25+ games, but at the 200+ GP mark, all the different types of amateur teams were right around the same.

In many ways, this myth comes down to the definition of "successful".  If it's the likelihood of playing a single game in the NHL or even reaching Calder Trophy eligibility, then yes, this myth is confirmed.  However, when it comes to playing a long career, the record of the amateur team has practically nothing to do with it.  Since my personaly definition of "success" for defensemen falls more in line with the 200+GP mark, I'm going to call this myth mostly busted.

Myth:  BUSTED


Myth 5:  Players that leave their home nation to play amateur hockey are more likely than average to make the NHL.

The thought process with this myth is that it takes a certain amount of talent to justify playing in a foreign league.  That additional talent therefore makes it more likely that the player will succeed in the transition to the NHL.

Of the 1777 defensemen drafted since '92, fewer than 15% ventured to a different country for amateur play.  However, for all but the Europeans that came to the States, their numbers were consistently near or above average.  Europeans who changed leagues or came to Canada were especially successful.  On average, the defensemen who switched countries were significantly more successful than their domestic counterparts.

Nationality Total % 1+ GP % 25+ GP % 200+ GP %
NHL Average 1777 100.0% 668 37.59% 485 27.29% 267 15.03%
Same Country 1524 85.8% 554 36.35% 406 26.64% 222 14.57%
Switched Country 253 14.2% 114 45.06% 79 31.23% 45 17.79%
USA  CAN 72 4.1% 27 37.50% 22 30.56% 11 15.28%
Europe  CAN 72 4.1% 36 50.00% 24 33.33% 13 18.06%
CAN USA 53 3.0% 22 41.51% 13 24.53% 8 15.09%
Europe  USA 18 1.0% 6 33.33% 3 16.67% 2 11.11%
Europe  Europe 34 1.9% 21 61.76% 16 47.06% 11 32.35%
NA  Europe 4 0.2% 2 50.00% 1 25.00% 0 0.00%

It's very possible sample size might play a part in this assessment, but given the numbers we have, this looks like it falls pretty strongly into the yes category.

Myth:  CONFIRMED


Myth 6:  Younger players in their draft year are more likely than older players to be successful in the NHL.

There are two ways of interpreting this myth.  The first is based off the September 15 cutoff for the draft.  Players born after that date have to wait until the next year to be eligible, so they often play more minor league games than their slightly older counterparts.  The second interpretation is standard age vs. overage players - defensemen who were drafted a year or more after they were initially eligible.

First, let's look at the Sept. 15 cutoff category.  I was able to find birthdates for all 668 defensemen who have played at least one game in the NHL.  After splitting them by month and finding the percentage of players that went on to play 25+ and 200+ games, it became clear that the numbers were fairly all over the place.  I can provide the full chart if you're interested, but for the sake of simplicity and discovering trends, I decided to group the draftees into roughly 3 month chunks.

Birth Month Total Days Player/Day 25+ GP % Total 200+ GP % Total
All 668 365 1.8 485 72.6% 267 40.0%
Jan-Mar 229 90 2.5 165 72.1% 81 35.4%
Apr - Jun 167 91 1.8 117 70.1% 67 40.1%
July - Sept. 15 130 77 1.7 92 70.8% 56 43.1%
Sept 16 - Dec 142 107 1.3 111 78.2% 63 44.4%

As you can see, the bulk of NHL defensemen are drafted early in their calendar year.  For many minor leagues, the cutoff date is January 1st, so players born later in the year are far younger than the majority of their peers on those teams.  One guess is that many of those younger players are weeded out by the tougher competition along the way, so only the very talented few from those months stick around.

However, those that do make it to their first NHL game tend to find more long-term success than their younger peers.  The Sept 16 - Dec birthdays are draft eligible a year later, and it's pretty clear that they are by far the most successful group at the 25+ and 200+ GP marks as one might expect.  However, even the ultra young NHL draftees born July - Sept 15 have a very high 200+ GP success rate.  January - March players have a good chance of hitting at least the 1+ and 25+ GP marks, but tend to find less success long-term.

So, going back to the original myth that younger players are more likely than older players to make the NHL, by the Sept 15 cutoff method, the answer would be confirmed from a strict player-count standpoint, but busted-ish from a success one.  The best way to break this tie is by looking at overage vs. standard age players.

Since '92, of the 668 defensemen to play a game, 207 have been overage.  Pre-lockout, it was a very common trend, but only 26 of those overage players have been selected since 2005.

Overage Total % 25+ GP % 200+ GP % Jan-Mar % Apr-Jun % Jul-Sept 15 % Sept 16-Dec %
NHL Average 668 100.0% 485 72.2% 267 39.7% 229 34.3% 167 25.0% 130 19.5% 142 21.3%
All Standard 464 69.5% 337 72.6% 180 38.8% 166 35.8% 115 24.8% 75 16.2% 108 23.3%
All Overage 204 30.5% 148 72.5% 87 42.6% 63 30.9% 52 25.5% 55 27.0% 34 16.7%
Pre-Lockout Std. 283 42.4% 218 77.0% 142 50.2% 90 31.8% 79 27.9% 50 17.7% 64 22.6%
Pre-Lockout Overage 179 26.8% 133 74.3% 80 44.7% 55 30.7% 44 24.6% 47 26.3% 33 18.4%
Post-Lockout Std. 181 27.1% 119 65.7% 38 21.0% 76 42.0% 36 19.9% 25 13.8% 44 24.3%
Post-Lockout Overage 25 3.7% 15 60.0% 7 28.0% 8 32.0% 8 32.0% 8 32.0% 1 4.0%

It appears that if overage players are able to make it to the NHL, they're more slightly more likely than average to have a long NHL career.  Even 28% of the post-lockout overagers have hit the 200+GP mark, compared to only 21% of their standard age brethren.  There is a sample size caveat to that statement of course, but overall, it appears that older players seem to have better success if they can make the NHL.

Unfortunately, I don't have the birth dates for the 1100+ defensive draftees that haven't sniffed the NHL, but for the players who do make the show, it's clear that being older than your peers is typically a boost up instead of a hindrance.

Myth: BUSTED


Myth 7:  A team’s chance of finding a successful defenseman after the 3rd round is the same, regardless of the round.

No matter how great a prospect looks at the draft, there's always some uncertainty about how well his NHL career will go.  Amateur scouts are usually pretty good about spotting the solid picks, but after a while, the uncertainty factor really comes into play and prediction accuracy falls off a cliff.  The rule of thumb is that after about 90-100 picks in a standard draft year, the success of a player is anyone's guess.  But is that actually true?

In one word - yes.  Defensemen have roughly the same sub-standard chance of making the NHL in the 4th round on.  Also, the 2nd and 3rd round success rates across the board are surprisingly similar, while the 1st round success rate for defensemen is nearly 50% at the 200+GP mark.

Draft Round All % 1+ GP % 25+ GP % 200+ GP %
Total 1777 100.0% 668 37.6% 485 27.3% 267 15.0%
1st (#1-30) 218 12.3% 190 87.2% 164 75.2% 107 49.1%
2nd (#31-60) 203 11.4% 111 54.7% 76 37.4% 36 17.7%
3rd (#61-90) 209 11.8% 104 49.8% 72 34.4% 32 15.3%
4th (#91-120) 228 12.8% 60 26.3% 37 16.2% 18 7.9%
5th (#121-150) 214 12.0% 42 19.6% 25 11.7% 10 4.7%
6th (#151-180) 205 11.5% 41 20.0% 33 16.1% 22 10.7%
7th (#181-210) 228 12.8% 46 20.2% 27 11.8% 15 6.6%
Late Draft (#211+) 272 15.3% 74 27.2% 51 18.8% 27 9.9%
4th-10th Rnd Avg. 229 12.9% 53 22.9% 35 15.1% 18 8.0%

It is worth noting that the chart above includes even the 2009-13 drafts.  Many of those players haven't had the chance to hit the 200 GP mark yet, so the averages are a bit low for a standard mature draft.  If those years are taken out of the equation, the numbers start to look a bit more like this.

Mature Draft All 200+GP %
Total 1421 262 18.4%
1st (#1-30) 166 102 61.4%
2nd (#31-60) 157 36 22.9%
3rd (#61-90) 167 32 19.2%
4th (#91-120) 176 18 10.2%
5th (#121-150) 158 10 6.3%
6th (#151-180) 159 22 13.8%
7th (#181-210) 168 15 8.9%
Late Draft (#211+) 270 27 10.0%
4th-10th Rnd Avg. 186 18 9.9%

As you can see, there's about a 60% chance that a 1st round defensemen will go on to play 200+ games in the NHL.  In the 2nd and 3rd rounds, that percentage drops to around 20%, and from the 4th on, it hovers around 10%.  So, no matter how you look at it, this myth seems to be about as true as possible.

Myth: CONFIRMED

Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.

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