Anatomy of a Draft Pick: Understanding the Value of a Draft Pick

The trade deadline has come and gone. The Winnipeg Jets made one move, an expected one, and sent Johnny Oduya to the Chicago Blackhawks in return for a second and third round draft pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

This trade, especially the return the Jets received, got me wondering: what exactly comes of these draft picks? The terms are thrown around loosely, ‘You got to get a first rounder for him” or “You’d be lucky to get a third rounder for that guy”, etc. What happens to these picks once they go from a draft position to an actual person?

Looking back at a sample of draft classes, in this case looking at the 10-year span from 1996-2005, I looked specifically at the first four rounds. The second and third are what I’m interested in just for the sake of seeing of exactly what the Jets got in return from Chicago, and then the first and fourth just to be able to compare the numbers.

I knew that draft picks are a little like a lottery; you don’t really know what you’re getting. First off, of the players selected in the first four rounds of the ten drafts I looked at, 41 per cent never even play an NHL regular season game. An incredible 67 per cent (of 2nd rounders) and 74 per cent (of 3rd rounders) play less than a combined 82 games over the course of their NHL careers. Compare that to first round selections where only 29 per cent never exceed the 82-game mark and you can see why a first-round pick carries much more value for a franchise and in a trade.

Not every player selected is expected to be a part of your NHL team, you’re also drafting players who will end up on affiliates in the AHL and ECHL. If the players selected don’t end up making careers in either of those leagues, there are numerous leagues in Europe where players can make a living playing the sport they love.

However, not all that many of the players selected beyond the first round make a career out of the NHL: Twelve per cent of second round selections and 8.5 per cent of third round selections go on to have NHL careers that exceed the 400 games played plateau. Compare that to 40 per cent of first round selections that make a 400-plus game career in the top league in the world.

So the chances of an impact player coming out of these two picks aren’t very high, but that’s not to say it can’t happen. Franchise players like Zdeno Chara (3rd-rd, 1996) and Shea Weber (2nd-rd, 2003) have come from beyond the first round. In 2001, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Mike Cammalleri all came out of the second round and that same year Tomas Plekanec and Patrick Sharp were selected in the third round. So those impact players are there, you just have to scout well and hopefully what you see in their game in junior translates well to the NHL game.

What’s certain with second and third round picks is that if they ever do make an impact, it takes a few seasons. Those prospects usually have another year or two in junior and some seasoning in the minors before they can make the jump to the NHL. Only one player (Chicago’s Brandan Saad) selected from the second and third round in the 2011 draft has played in games (2) this season. In fact, in the last three drafts, 19 players (of the 181 selected in those two rounds) have played in a regular season game, with only one, Colarado’s Ryan O’Reilly, breaking the 200 games plateau.

The Jets got a great return for Johnny Oduya (himself, a 7th round pick in 2001) at the trade deadline. Oduya most likely would have not been re-signed at the end of the season, and with the depth at defence the Jets currently boast, they could afford to move him and bring in (potential) future assets. However, chances are those picks in 2013 won’t wear a Winnipeg Jets jersey until 2016 (if ever). That shouldn’t be a problem, Jets fans waited 15-years for NHL hockey; they can most definitely wait three or four years for a trade to pay off.

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Born and raised Winnipegger. A life long Jets fan, as well as a Pop-Culture and sports junkie. For thoughts on the Winnipeg Jets, the NHL and things irreverent follow him on Twitter.