Recent NHL history has pointed towards the 1st Round pick being the ultimate asset. The cure for a losing team. The key to the Cup if you will.
But has recent history fooled us all? Are first round picks really the golden grails they are made out to be?
Simply, the answer is no.
Now I realized before writing this, that many will disagree, and probably in a less than kind way. Before the vitriol and rants come, just read the article and the arguments. They are more than compelling.
I will present points and use them to make an argument. The points are based from the years 2000 and onwards.
Point 1: The last two Stanley Cup winners, have had players they picked in the first round.
Point 2: Considered top end generational (as described by the media and by popular perception) talents, Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin and Stamkos were taken with the first, first, second and first overall in their respective draft years.
Point 3: Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington all went through "tank" phases to accumulate those draft picks along with others.
Point 4: The commonly described most successful team of the decade, the Detroit Red Wings, never once drafted in the top 10, retained only five of the 11 first round selections in that time frame, and only have one impact player to show for those picks (Niklas Kronwall).
Do 1st Round Picks Really Directly Contribute to Stanley Cups?
Point 5: Atlanta drafted Kovalchuk, Lehtonen, Coburn, Valabik, Bourett, Kane, Bogosian, Little and Burmistrov with little success. Traded some, kept others, some worked out some didn't. They only have one playoff appearance to show for it. All but two picks were top 10 picks.
Point 6: Columbus kept every pick from 2000 - 2010 and with the exception of one pick drafted top 8 or higher. They averaged having a pick in the 6th - 7th range. The only players still with the club (those who were traded, were given up on) are Nash, Brassard, Voracek and Klesla. Only Nash has performed like a top 10 pick.Columbus also has only one playoff appearance to show for high drafting and is on pace for yet another top 10 pick season.
Point 7: Phoenix drafted in the top 10 five times and kept all but one first rounder, even getting an extra late first rounder in 2002, 2006 and 2008. They have no top line players to show for those picks, and only Hanzal can be considered a true impact forward.
Point 8: The LA Kings had three top 3 picks in 11 drafts, and accrued 5 extra draft picks. Brown, Kopitar, Bernier and Doughty are with the team and three of them are good impact players. Teubert, Hickey, Lewis, Mollar, Tukonen, Boyle, Tambellini, Grebeshkov, Karlsson and Frolov are either not with the team, or haven't made the team yet and are either considered busts or on their way to being busts.
Point 9: The New York Islanders have traded, acquired and kept picks in the past 11 drafts. They are arguably the worst managed franchise in the past decade and have only DiPietro, Okposo, Bailey, Tavares and Nino to show for multiple first round picks.
Point 10:The Minnesota Wild have varied success with first round picks. Good high picks like Koivu, Gaborik and PMB. Other busts like Pouliot, Sheppard and Thelen. They have varied success in the last few years with some playoff appearances but nothing lasting.
Point 11: The Nashville Predators have been possible the most successful team at first round, with only one pick traded away and have selected impact players in every year but two (2004 and 2005. 2004 could have been considered an impact year if Radulov had stuck with the Predators). They have been forced to trade away some first round players because of salary concerns.
Point 12: The Colorado Avalanche drafted 4 NHL players in the first round and only 3 remain. Of those 3 two can be considered impact players and one is on his way (Stewart, Duchenne and Shattenkirk). They only had one pick in the past 11 drafts that was higher than 14th overall and it was the 3rd overall pick (Used to pick Duchenne).
Point 13: The Vancouver Cancuks drafted only 2 times in the top ten and neither player is currently on the Canucks. They drafted only 3 players currently in the NHL and only 2 are on their team (Schneider and Kesler).
Point 14: The Philadelphia Flyers have 4 players on their roster that were drafted by them in the first round. Of those players, only one was a top 5 pick and he arguably is the least valuable to the team. They traded away almost all of the remaining picks they owned including their last three years picks.
Point 15: The Carolina Hurricanes drafted three years straight in the top 4 and have 6 players currently on their team that they drafted. Of the three they drafted in the top 4, only Staal remains. The other two have only just begun to reach the potential their high draft positions dictated.
Point 16: The Capitals only possess two impact players who was drafted in the top 5 of the draft (Ovechkin) although Alzner could become one soon enough. The other large team contributors were picked in the late first round (Green at 29, Schultz at 27, Varlamov at 23).
Point 17: Tampa drafted 4 times in the top 10 and have only two players to show for it at the number one and two spots of the 2008 and 2009 drafts respectively (Hedman and Stamkos). However they won a cup with a former 1st overall (although he wasn't chosen in the draft years examined here).
Point 18: The Boston Bruins have only one player they drafted in the first round on their team. The ironic part of that is the pick used to select him, was previously owned by another team and was acquired when the Bruins traded the only first round choice in the past 11 years they succeeded on to the Leafs.
Point 19: The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted 7 times in the first round in the past 11 drafts and have NHL players to show for all but two of those picks. However only one of those players is currently on the team.
Point 20: Since 2000, every single first overall pick has played in the NHL and only one cannot be considered an impact player (DiPietro, injuries). The second overall pick has similar success, but the impact of those players is a level below that of the first overall pick.
The third overall pick has considerable less success with only five players (Toews, Johnson, Gaborik, Bouwmeester and Duchenne) who can be considered impact players.Of the 11 picks, only the most recent five picks are with the teams that picked them.
The fourth overall pick produced more impact players, but little top-end talent with only Backstrom falling into that category. Pitkanen, Evander, Kane, Ladd and Weiss are mid-end talents or not fully developed yet.
The fifth overall pick produce five impact players in Luke Schenn, Ryan Whitney, Thomas Vanek, Kessel and Carey Price.
Point 21: Franchise players have been drafted only in the first three picks of the first round. This is based on Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Kovalchuk, Nash, Stamkos, Eric Staal, Gaborik and Doughty. The exception is Nicklas Backstrom in the 4th overall pick.
Conclusion Based on The Evidence
Using the above points, we can infer a few things.
First, the first overall pick is the best way to get a true impact player and it is all but guaranteed to be a player of top line quality (extenuating circumstances excluded). The second overall pick has a similar success rate but the probability of finding an elite player significantly decreases.
After that, the chances of finding a top line player in picks three through ten of any given draft significantly decrease. Therefore we can assume that getting multiple top 10 draft picks does not guarantee drafting a strong core.
Secondly, only two teams have successfully won the Cup with a team based around a core of their own first round players. Pittsburgh won the Cup with Fleury, Staal, Crosby, Malkin and Letang. Chicago won it with Toews, Kane and Seabrook. However, both teams had integral pieces to those teams that came in late rounds or through FA or trades and of those
Franchise players do not get picked outside the top four picks in any given draft, and the chances of finding one outside the top two picks are slim at best.
From draft history over the past 11 years, the chance at picking an impact player in the first overall pick is 100 percent. The chance of picking a top-end player is 90 percent. The chance of drafting an impact player second overall is 100 percent.
The chance of getting a top line player is roughly 80 percent. For third overall the chances of an impact player are 70 percent. The chances of getting less than that are 20 percent. The chances of getting an impact player in the third - tenth pick are 21 percent. The chances for the next 20 picks are 16 percent.
From these conclusions it can be seen that first round picks are not nearly as vital as popular perception has made them.
Outside the top two picks, the probability of getting an impact player are vastly reduced. Trades to improve a team that do not involve top two first round picks, can be beneficial to the team trading the first round pick as that pick is only a probability at an impact player.
This does not take into account second through seventh round picks. Teams that trade all their picks are foolhardy, as the most successful team in the past decade has succeeded through late round picks. However, they have proven that first round picks are not only not necessary, but not even needed to develop a cup winning team.