Analyzing Boston Bruins Drafts

Note: A lot has changed with regard to methodology since I wrote this post over on Medium, but I’m keeping it here just to have a full history. So in short, I do not stand by the methodology in this post. See subsequent posts for updates.

“Don Sweeney stinks at drafting!” and “Don Sweeney is the worst at drafting players! He has no clue!”

That’s the context that we’re going on here, the random Bruins fans (and even an occasional hockey blogger) who have said some variation of these statements. I ask those people for examples of NHL General Managers who draft well, and some of the usual answers are Colorado and Tampa. We’ll see why, in this context, those aren’t really true.

We also need to point out that since Don Sweeney became the GM of the Bruins in May of 2015, the team has the third-most points in the standings, trailing only Washington and Tampa Bay. When you have the most points, it means you’re a good team and when you’re a good team, your picks are later in the draft. Good teams aren’t just handed top ten or top five picks.

General Managers can remake their team with some good draft picks, especially in the first round. It should be noted that the Bruins have not had a first round pick in two of Sweeney’s years, 2018 (traded for Rick Nash) and in 2020 (traded to offload the David Backes contract).

The Eye Test

What really sticks out for most people is the 2015 draft. The draft was deep and full of talent and the Bruins could have done much better. They did get Jake DeBrusk, taken right around where he was projected (taken 14th, rated 19th). They selected Jakub Zboril 13th, one spot lower than where he was projected by NHL Central Scouting. Zboril was rated higher than even Thomas Chabot (16th) on the Central Scouting draft lists. The real issue was the overreach for Zach Senyshyn. Even at the moment the pick was made, virtually everyone was baffled. Senyshyn was rated 38th overall and the Bruins took him 15th, with players like Barzal, Connor, Chabot, Boeser, Konechny, Beauvillier and Eriksson Ek still on the board. So that was a big swing and miss. But how has Sweeney fared overall in his tenure in Boston at the draft, when he had a first round pick?

How Data Was Used

I compiled data for every NHL team from 2015 to 2020 to figure out how the teams have done. I chose 2015 as the starting point because that was Don Sweeney’s first draft. We can’t fault him for drafts where he wasn’t a GM. And there aren’t enough players from the 2021 draft in the NHL to make much difference. Even 2020 is pretty thin.

I had to figure out how to evaluate the players and the drafts. Anyone can argue with my methods or even suggest tweaks. I’d be totally open to that as I’m not even convinced that I did this the best way. I made a spreadsheet of all the players drafted in the first round for the time period and looked up their NHL games played. As I’m doing this during the season, the numbers may not be exact as they change day to day. I ranked teams by the number of games played by their draftees from 2015 to 2020. I chose to use games played instead of points because using point totals would favor forwards over defensemen and basically eliminate any value from goalies. One area that probably needs some tweaking is a little extra weight for goalies. A skater can play a full 82 game schedule. A goalie who plays 55 or more is considered to have a really heavy load.


This data only uses 2015 to 2020 NHL drafts, inclusive. I gave the drafting team credit for all games played, regardless of who they were played for. I’m figuring out teams’ ability to draft players, not their ability to keep them or how good the team is at trades. I only used first round picks. If a team didn’t have a first round pick one year, that’s a zero. For the purposes of averages, those years were ignored. So if a team had one first round pick each year except for one year, all averages used five as the denominator. If a team had more than one first round pick, all of those players were included.

The Data

Let’s see how the teams rank by cumulative games played by their first round picks from 2015 to 2020:

(Apologies for table images. Medium doesn’t support tables for some reason)

One of the first things that probably jumps out is Pittsburgh and 0 games played by their first round picks for the six years from 2015 to 2020. They actually only have one draft pick in that time, Sam Poulin in 2019, and he has not played an NHL game. The Penguins did not have a first round pick in any other season. The players chosen in the Penguins’ slot those other years include Mathew Barzal, Sam Steel, Klim Kostin, K’Andre Miller and Rodion Amirov.

The Bruins are 13th overall in total games played as they have drafted seven players in the first round. They have six players who have NHL games played with DeBrusk, McAvoy, Frederic, Vaakanainen, Zboril and yes, even Senyshyn have played NHL games. John Beecher, currently playing at the University of Michigan, is the remaining first round pick for this time period.

The Flyers lead this chart based on Ivan Provorov, Travis Konechny and Nolan Patrick already having a solid number of games played. They’ve drafted seven players who have appeared in NHL games so far. Winnipeg has six players and are largely boosted by Connor, Laine and Roslovic.

Adding Context

As I was putting the numbers together, I noticed that a team could be top-heavy where they have a player or two with a lot of games played and then a bunch of other misses, which could make them look better at drafting than they really are. So another way to look at the data is an average of NHL games played, using the number of players taken in the first round. That gives us this chart:

The Bruins are 16th overall for games played, bumped down three slots, but still right there in the middle. Their average isn’t helped by the small number of NHL games played by Senyshyn, Zboril and Vaakanainen, and carried by McAvoy, DeBrusk and Frederic.

Carolina is at the top as they have the Games Played leader in Noah Hanifin (449 vs. second place McDavid’s 420). Again, I did attribute all games played to the team who drafted them. Add in Svechnikov and you get your leader. Columbus gets the second spot based on Werenski and Dubois and Toronto comes in third due to Matthews and Marner.

Drafting Top Five is Easy

Another thing that I thought of here is the value of the pick. A GM doesn’t have to be particularly smart to draft Auston Matthews at first overall. That’s an easy pick. Even the top half of the draft can be easier to navigate. As teams get later in the round, it gets harder for a GM and scouting staff to pick out the hits. I wanted to give extra credit for getting games played from a player selected later in the first round. This is the part where my lack of experience in statistical analysis comes in. I don’t know what’s the best way to weight this, so I went for something easy. I chose to multiply the games played by the player’s draft position. It might be too much of a multiplier, but I am open to suggestions here. Anyway, here’s how that shook out:

The Bruins jump all the way up to sixth overall. The Islanders grab the top spot largely due to Anthony Beauvillier taken 28th overall in 2015. The Ducks do well in this area due to Jacob Larsson going 27th in 2015, Max Jones was 24th in 2016 and Sam Steel went 30th in 2016.

Average Draft Position

As referenced earlier, the Bruins have been a very successful team, in terms of standings points through Sweeney’s tenure. This usually means picking later in the draft. But teams do have the ability to move around and get different picks. I also calculated the average draft position for each team, using all of the first round picks that they made.

The Bruins average draft position is 19th overall, which is 24th best in the league. The Bruins are clearly drafting after the best players have been taken and it’s time to find some diamonds that need a little polishing.

Getting Value

The next thing I wanted to do is see which GMs are able to get value from their drafts. If we agree that games played has value and getting those games played from players selected later in the draft has more value in terms of showing which GMs can find those diamonds, I took it a step further. I multiplied the weighted games played in Table 3 by the team’s average draft position.

The Ducks do extremely well in this again due to the aforementioned three players taken at the end of the draft and their 25th average draft position. Yes, Bob Murray’s scouting and development have done very well in this time period. Similar for the Islanders with the Beauvillier pick. But this is also where we see the Bruins surge up the chart. They are in 6th place for the draft value. The argument here isn’t whether Sweeney is “best” at drafting, but based on this information, I think we see pretty solid evidence that compared to the rest of the league, he does not “suck” and it does appear that he does in fact, know what he’s doing. While there are teams who draft better, the results that the Bruins are getting is pretty good, relative to other teams. And when you combine this value with the fact that the Bruins also put a pretty good product on the ice, things are going well in Boston.

Two Teams Mentioned

Another common refrain is “Why can’t Sweeney draft like Colorado and Tampa! They know what they’re doing!” Let’s take a look at why “they know what they’re doing.” First, the Avalanche. During this time period, the Avs have an average draft position of 12, considerably higher than the Bruins 19. They do have more games played with 735 to the Bruins 612, but why? Who did Colorado draft in that time frame?

2015: Mikko Rantanen, 10th
2016: Tyson Jost, 10th
2017: Cale Makar, 4th
2018: Martin Kaut, 16th
2019: Bowen Byram, 4th, Alex Newhook, 16th
2020: Justin Barron, 25th

We can all agree that those first three picks are pretty great. But they’re also literally top 10 picks. Those are much easier to hit on. Once the picks get a little lower, the Avs got Kaut and Newhook. I’m not sure those are players that Bruins fans would be really excited about at this point. Based on this information, it doesn’t seem that Colorado is an apt comparison.

Let’s look at Tampa Bay next and their drafts. First, let’s look at how Tampa has drafted during the Don Sweeney tenure:

2015: No First Round Pick
2016: Brett Howden, 27th
2017: Cal Foote, 14th
2018: No First Round Pick
2019: Nolan Foote, 27th
2020: No First Round Pick

Howden, Foote and Foote. I’m not sure that Bruins fans would consider that a great outcome either, but again, Tampa is choosing at the back end of the draft, and they only have 219 games played from those players. But, Tampa does have two Stanley Cup championships in the last two seasons. It is also clear, the Cups have nothing to do with Tampa’s drafting during Sweeney’s tenure. Here’s why they have the Cups.

2014: Brayden Point, 79th Overall (3rd Round)
2013: Jonathan Drouin, 3rd Overall (Traded for Sergachev)
2012: Andrei Vasilevskiy, 19th Overall
2011: Nikita Kucherov, 58th Overall (2nd Round)
2010: Victor Hedman, 2nd Overall
2008: Steven Stamkos, 1st Overall

Let’s start with the obvious, Vasilevskiy was a great pick, no question. Arguably the best goaltender in the world right now and picked in the second half of the first round. Great job by Yzerman. So let’s look at the rest. I’ve already talked about how easy it is to get hits in the top 10 or the top 5, and Tampa shows that here with Stamkos, Hedman and Drouin/Sergachev. That leaves Point and Kucherov. Those picks turned out great for Tampa, no question there. But are they a sign that the team knows what they’re doing with those or there is a degree of luck involved? If we want to say “No, Yzerman is really good and knows what he’s doing, that’s why he made those picks!” then how would we also explain Dominik Masin, 35th overall in 2014, Jonathan MacLeod, 57th overall in 2014, Slater Koekkoek, 10th overall in 2012, Dylan Blujus, 40th overall in 2012, Brian Hart, 53rd overall in 2012. The point being that either we give the GM credit for the hits and blame for the misses, or we agree that anything in the bottom half of the first round or even from the second round on, is a high degree of luck. Tampa’s championship team was built from top 5 picks and a couple great hits later on.

Wrapping Up Sweeney’s Drafts

We peeled back a little further than the first round with a quick look at Tampa, so let’s see if Sweeney has had other hits after the first round:

2015: Brandon Carlo, 37th, Jeremy Lauzon, 52nd, Dan Vladar, 75th,

2016: Ryan Lindgren, 49th, Jack Studnicka, 53rd, Jeremy Swayman, 111th

No post-first round players after 2016 have appeared in the NHL but those six have appeared in 336, 90, 8, 130, 26, and 16 games respectively, for a total of 606 NHL games. I’m not going to go through all the teams to see how this compares, but it does show the Bruins have also had hits after the first round.

I’m open to tweaks and changes to the calculations and weighting, as I’m not certain that Jack Eichel’s games played have double the value of Connor McDavid’s, but I do think the Islanders deserve a lot of credit for getting a player like Beauvillier with the 28th pick. To summarize, this data puts the NHL drafts into context and shows how Sweeney’s counterparts have fared. No GM has consistent hits in the draft and every GM has some big misses. Hopefully this data gives Sweeney a little more credit than he gets from the Bruins fanbase.

Note: All statistics were compiled manually from sources including, and Wikipedia.