Being Reasonable About Garth Snow’s First Rounders

A recent post here has focused on assessing Islanders General Manager Garth Snow’s drafting record. Because this is a topic that stirs up a lot of passion (300+ comments and counting), I thought it would make sense to assess just what fans should reasonably expect from the draft (keeping in mind of course that “reasonable expectations” is a loaded term for Islanders fans).

To determine what we should expect from a first rounder, I looked at the first round draft picks from the entry drafts in years 2003-2007. I did not include more recent years in my review on the basis that it is too early to make any reasonably assessment about the careers of players four seasons from their draft year (a principle otherwise known as the Josh Bailey Rule). I ranked each player using a very unscientific and somewhat subjective method of categorization: All-Star, for players who have made the All Star team in their careers, Key Players, for players who are either top six forwards, top 4 defensemen or the starting goalie for their team, NHLer, which includes any player who is an established NHL player, and Busts, which includes players who have failed to make the NHL with any permanence (e.g., perennial late season call-ups). Also, that while conceptually an All Star is also a Key Player, in my analysis below, I kept each category separate. So, for example, the Key Player category includes only Key Players who are not also All-Stars and NHLers include only NHLers who are not in the two categories above it. Here is the Google Docs spreadsheet with my assessments.

These categories aren’t perfect. First, a player’s position on a team isn’t just a reflection of his own talent – it’s relative to the team’s overall talent (e.g., a second liner on the Blue Jackets – or Islanders, for that matter – may be a third liner on the Bruins) as well as the player’s specific role on the team. I also used a depth chart website which is by necessity a snapshot of each player’s position on his team at a particular time. Second, a player’s selection to the All Star team is based in part on the voting public and therefore isn’t always a reflection of elite talent. Finally, players with immense talent might be deemed a “Bust” due to injury, untimely death or other unusual circumstances. Nonetheless, the system was useful as a rough and ready way to quickly go through 150 players. In practice, the system seemed to "work.” There is probably a “fancy stats” way of doing the same thing better by I don’t live in a basement with that Greenberg guy who thinks Varlamov and Neuvirth are better than Tavares. Sorry.

Here are the numbers and percentage of players that fall into each of the four player categories:

Picks 1-3 (15 total picks)
Allstars: 7 46.67%
Key Players: 8 53.33%
NHLers: 0 0.00%
Busts: 0 0.00%
Picks 4-8 (25 total picks)
Allstars: 6 24.00%
Key Players: 8 32.00%
NHLers: 8 32.00%
Busts: 3 12.00%
Picks 9-13 (25 total picks)
Allstars: 6 24.00%
Key Players: 4 16.00%
NHLers: 8 32.00%
Busts: 7 28.00%
Picks 14-18 (25 total picks)
Allstars: 1 4.00%
Key Players: 3 12.00%
NHLers: 9 36.00%
Busts: 12 48.00%
Picks 19-23 (25 total picks)
Allstars: 4 16.00%
Key Players: 5 20.00%
NHLers: 6 24.00%
Busts: 10 40.00%
Picks 24-30 (35 total picks)
Allstars: 3 8.57%
Key Players: 9 25.71%
NHLers: 6 17.14%
Busts: 17 48.57%

What’s fascinating about the above is the significant drop off after the first three picks, half of whom have become Allstars. After those picks there is a 50/50 chance or worse that the pick will be an All Star or Key Player.

For the most part, it is premature to judge Snow’s picks because all of them are four years from their draft year or less. But we can talk about what we should expect from his picks. Snow’s first rounders include:

Josh Bailey (2008, 9th pick)

John Tavares (2009, 1st pick)

Calvin De Haan (2009, 12th pick)

Nino Niederreiter (2010, 5th pick)

Brock Nelson (2010, 30th pick)

Ryan Strome (2011, 5th pick)

Tavares. Of these, the only player we can assess with some definitiveness is Tavares, who clearly falls into the “Allstar” category. While about half top three picks don’t reach this status, it’s hard to give Snow too much credit for picking Tavares given how highly he was touted.

The high first rounders. Aside from Tavares, there are four players who fall into the 4-13 range: Bailey, De Haan, Nino and Strome. What should we expect from this group? The percentages above would suggest 1 player in each category: one All Star, one top six F/top 4 D type, one bottom six/bottom pairing type and one bust. At this point in time, the most we can say that this crop yielded one player who is at least an NHL regular: Josh Bailey. It is simply too early to tell on the rest. However, it wouldn’t be unusual if one of the other three simply didn’t succeed as an NHLer. Or if Calvin De Haan – like 32% of other players picked in his range – developed into bottom pairing D. In contrast, slotting all four into top 6/top 4 roles – while not impossible – would represent a level of drafting success that is above average.

Brock Nelson. Based on our sample, number 30 picks have around a 50/50 chance of simply making it as an everyday NHLer. As a number 30 pick, history suggests that any NHL success for Brock would be a solid result.

I assume if you ran the same analysis for later rounds, the numbers would look even worse -- making picks like Matt Martins, Andrew MacDonald -- and even Travis Hamonics -- look really smart. And making the amount of NHLers (or those on the cusp) picked by Snow in the later rounds of the 2008 draft look like dumb luck or sheer genius.

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