At the NHL trade deadline this season, we noticed very few teams were willing to part with their first round draft picks. That’s a growing trend since the salary cap was instituted in 2005 because teams realize a blue chip first-rounder can offer years of inexpensive labor and that’s something they don’t want to part with.
So the second round pick has become the currency of exchange in the NHL these days. Problem is, the vast majority of second round picks never play in the NHL and only about one in six go on to have substantial NHL careers (600 games or more). When teams eventually clue into this fact, they’re going to start demanding more for their Nik Antropovs and Ales Kotaliks and Cristobal Huets at the NHL trade deadline.
We studied the 30 selections taken from picks No. 31 to No. 60 in the 20 NHL entry drafts from 1980 to 1999. That’s 600 players in total. (We didn’t look at drafts after 1999 because many players haven’t yet completely reached their potential.)
The first thing we did was identify the skaters who have played or are projected to play 600 NHL games (400 for a goalie). Of the 600 players in this case study, only 94 fall into this category. In other words, just 15.7 percent of the second-rounders, or one out of six, became long-term NHLers.
Then we did a tally of how many second-rounders played between 200 and 600 games (between 100 and 400 for goalies) and that number was 87 out of 600. So another 14.5 percent, or one in seven second-rounders, played significant time in the NHL, but didn’t have the staying power to last more than two-and-a-half seasons.
In total, just 30 percent of second-rounders go on to play 200 or more games (100 for goalies). That’s just three players in 10, a very good average in baseball, but not a lot of return for a proven NHLer.
In doing this evaluation of the 600 second-rounders drafted between 1980 and 1999, we thought we’d do something else for fun. What’s the best drafting slot between No. 31 and No. 60?
We rated players into five groups (a 5 for an NHL star; a 4 for an NHL regular, meaning a second or third-liner or three-four defenseman; a 3 for a role player or five-six defenseman; a 2 for a player under 200 games; a 1 for a player with 25 or fewer games, a 0 for no games in the NHL).
You’d think over the course of a 20-year period, the No. 31 pick would stand out as the best. Not so, it wasn’t even in the top half of the group. For some odd reason, the No. 40 pick has been the most successful in the second round, churning out the likes of Chris Chelios, Michael Peca, Bryan McCabe, Mikael Renberg, Jozef Stumpel, John Chabot and Alex Auld.
Also finishing in the top five among second round draft slots was No. 44, No. 32, No. 36 and No. 33. You’d think No. 60 would be at the bottom of the heap, but the worst slots are actually No. 41, No. 46, No. 50, No. 51 and No. 54.
Of course, this is all mentioned strictly as a curiosity. Even though the facts suggest it, no team would ever consider trading the No. 31 pick for the No. 40 pick. It’s just an oddity.
What we can surmise from this study is the odds are stacked heavily against teams trying to get decent return in a trade in which it acquired a second round pick. Nevertheless, a second-rounder is the most popular bargaining chip in today’s circuit.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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