Which Team is Best at Drafting: Answered

This started with some Bruins fans exclaiming that the Bruins, and Don Sweeney in particular, are terrible at drafting players. So I decided to look at the facts.

I started out with this article, Analyzing Bruins Drafts, but then some suggested that just using games played is not a good metric for how good a team is at drafting. Games played is the not the goal when selecting a player, getting the best player available (BPA) is the goal. One way to do that is to analyze the draft by a particular metric and then rank all the players in a draft by that metric. I used Point Shares (PS) from hockey-reference.com. If someone doesn’t like PS and has a better suggestion on how to evaluate drafts, I’m open to suggestions.

First, I tested this out by looking at the 2015 and 2016 drafts and using PS, determined how each team did. In 2015, the Bruins did very badly, as one would expect, with the 28th best (out of 31) draft. DeBrusk and Carlo pulled some value out of it for the team. In 2016, the Bruins improved, largely by selecting Charlie McAvoy at 14, the fourth best player in the draft.

I didn’t continue forward with this for 2017, 2018 and more because players are still developing from those drafts and still making their debut in the NHL. But I did want more data and to know, somewhat historically, which teams are good at drafting and which teams don’t fare as well. So I went backwards. I used PS to rank every team’s draft from 2000 through 2016. Then I simply averaged out their annual result. If a team had the best draft one year and the worst draft the following year, they get a 1 and a 31 and end up with an average of 16. But I did that for all 17 years from ’00 to ’16. Here’s the result:

Ranking how teams did in all the draft years
Ranking How Well Teams Drafted

So one thing that will certainly stick out is that the Bruins, during this time period, definitely do not “suck at drafting.” That’s just categorically false. However, if they want to say the Bruins under Don Sweeney aren’t so good at it, he has two years rated with my system, and would get a 20. Which you can see above, 20 would be 29th overall, pretty terrible.

At some point, it will be fun to dive in and see why teams are ranked where they are and go through a few drafts, especially the teams at the top and the bottom. Now that I have all the data in a spreadsheet, I have a few other questions I’d like to answer like how do successful drafts correlate to finishing better in the standings? How long does it take for the draft results to show up in the season standings? How hard is it to get the Best Player Available? How often does the team with the #1 overall pick actually take the BPA? Should be easy, right? They can pick any player they want, anywhere on the board, it should be easy to take the best one. Does that happen often? How about from there, what order to players get selected? Or even redo some drafts using PS, and show what they’d look like and who would have been available at each team’s draft position. And I would also like to tie in GM names, and possible scouting director names, to the drafts, so we can see who is responsible for doing well or doing poorly in those years. Is there one GM who has been with a couple teams and done really well? That might be fun to see. And, I do think there is a degree of “crapshoot” to drafting 18 year old kids. So how many that are in the top 30 according to PS were drafted outside the first round? Monday morning quarterbacks seem to think it’s easy to just take a Patrice Bergeron or Kiril Kaprisov early, yet every NHL team passed on guys like that, multiple times.

Boston Bruins Drafts 2000 to 2016

How did the Bruins finish third overall in the draft scoring? Here’s how they did each year:

Bruins Draft Ranks

As I was calculating the average for each team, I was skeptical of the Bruins’ 12.29 average, so I checked it multiple times. Some teams who scored lower, appeared to be better when just using the eye test. But when I went back and checked why the Bruins did so well, it’s largely because they didn’t take a couple big numbers. They do have that glaring 28 in 2015 and the 24 in 2005. But other teams took a couple extra numbers in the high 20s, along with some single digit years.

What did the Bruins do well? How did they have the best overall draft in 2014? Easy. They hit a grand slam with the 25th overall pick in the draft:

David Pastrnak on Draft Day
David Pastrnak on Draft Day

According to PS, Pastrnak was the second best player taken in that draft, only behind the #3 overall pick, Leon Draisaitl. The way my ranking system works is teams get a score for every pick. That score is the BPA’s PS minus the draft pick’s PS. So for example, the top pick in the draft was Aaron Ekblad to Florida. Ekblad is a great player, a PS of 48.4 (when I ran the numbers). But Draisaitl was the BPA with a PS of 63.5, so Florida gets a -15.1 score for their pick. Buffalo chose Sam Reinhart second. Reinhart is 30.4, so Buffalo got -33.1 for their pick. Edmonton chose Draisaitl next, so they get a 0, which is actually a perfect score for a team’s pick. After that, the BPA was Pastrnak and his 58.4 PS, so every team’s pick is compared to that.

But, this system rates every single pick in the draft, not just the first round. To finish first overall one year, a team needs to have more than one good pick. And while some may look at the players and think “Eww, he’s not that good.” The system is rating players based on their PS score compared to the best player available at that moment. So the rest of the Bruins draft in 2014, with the player PS and their relative score was:

  • 2. Ryan Donato, 7.5, -31.1 (BPA: Brayden Point, 3rd Round)
  • 3. No pick
  • 4. Danton Heinen, 11.8, -3.4 (BPA: Kevin Lebanc, 6th Round)
  • 5. Anders Bjork, 3.7, -11.5 (BPA: Kevin Lebanc, 6th Round)
  • 6. No pick
  • 7. Emil Johansson, 0, -1.6 (BPA: Jake Evans, 7th Round)

In addition to Pastrnak, the Bruins hit on three NHL players out of their remaining four draft picks. That’s how you get a top score. When a team doesn’t get a pick, that does result in a 0. Maybe this is an area where the system can be improved, as earlier I noted that a 0 is a “perfect score” so for a team to get that in a round by not having a pick would seem to benefit teams to trade away draft picks. However, the goal here is to figure out who is good at drafting the best player available, it does not look at whether a team should have kept picks or anything like that.

How about in 2012? How did the Bruins have the second best draft? In short, it wasn’t a very good draft. Virtually everyone did really poorly. Look at the top five picks: Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Reilly. If we rank the BPA, the top five would be Freddie Anderson (Drafted at 87), Andrey Vasilevskiy (19), Connor Hellebuyck (130), Filip Forsberg (11), Morgan Reilly (5). To do well in a weak draft class just means don’t totally screw it up and get a decent player or two, maybe get the best player available at one spot, and that’s what the Bruins did. Here’s their draft, and keep in mind, this is about drafting, not whether the player has contributed to the Bruins:

Draft Round, Player, PS, Draft Score
1. Malcolm Subban, 10.2, -65.2
2. No Pick
3. Matt Grzelcyk, 17.6, -57.8
4. No Pick
5. Seth Griffith, 1.2, -20.8
5. Cody Payne, 0, -22
6. Matt Benning, 15.3, 0 (Best Player Available!)
7. Colton Hargrove, 0, -1.4

There’s more to come, but that’s at least a little bit about how the Bruins have drafted over the last couple decades, and gives us an idea how they compare to other teams. Choosing the right players on draft day isn’t easy, the Bruins have their share of hits and misses, but clearly all NHL teams do as well.