2011 NHL Draft Top Pick Boom or Bust?
Just a few weeks ago hockey held its annual 2011 NHL Draft where center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was chosen by the Edmonton Oilers as the first overall pick. As with most number one picks he had a stellar junior and amateur career, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will be able to transfer those skills to the professional level. It is always a big risk versus reward for any team with the top pick. That guy is going to cost a lot of money to sign and while he could become a superstar that carries the franchise for years, he could also be a bust. For every Michael Jordan there is a Sam Bowie.
So it begs the question: how often does a number one pick go on to be a great player and how often are they a bust? The answer might surprise you. Maybe it is just the way the sport is played that allows it to happen or maybe the NHL knows something that other sports don’t, but more often than not the NHL has a much higher rate of success than just about any other sport when it comes to picking a number one guy who will go on to be a big time player.
Going back to 2000 there have been 11 number one picks. The newest guys just taken this year have not played with their teams yet so we can’t judge them. That leaves us ten guys that have now been in their leagues doing what they were drafted high and paid handsomely to do. Of the ten guys chosen by the NHL all ten of them have gone on to be at the very least productive NHL players.
Among those ten there have been two goaltenders: Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury. DiPietro has had some years recently where he had some injuries, but when he is healthy is a quality NHL goaltender with a life time GAA of 2.84. Fleury has a Stanley Cup ring, a lifetime GAA of 2.45 and is among the best goaltenders in the game.
There has only been one defenseman drafted first in the last ten years, Erik Johnson. He too has had some injuries, but he has shown flashes of brilliance and is still learning his craft. He is a good defenseman now and could become a great one.
The remaining seven are forwards and they make up a who’s who of the NHL. Crosby, Ovechkin, Kane, Nash, Kovalchuk and Stamkos are all stars. Ovechkin and Crosby are clearly the two best players in the league. John Tavares and Taylor Hall the 2009 and 2010 number one picks are both still just getting started, but they have solid numbers and look to be well on their way to being very good players.
By contrast the NFL and NBA both have much lower rates of success. In the NBA there are big name number one guys like LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose, but there are just as many busts like Greg Oden and Kwame Brown. Much of the list is filled with guys who are average players. It is safe to say that the NBA has about 50% success rate with their number one picks doing well. The NFL is about the same. Of the past ten number one picks two of them are out of the league, two of them are QBs who are now backups and Michael Vick is lucky to even be in the league. Of those left Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Mario Williams are standouts and both Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford could be big stars, but it is still a little too early to tell. Needless to say it is not a stellar success rate.
As the Ghostbusters once said: Call it luck, call it fate, call it karma. Whatever it is that the NHL is doing to scout, evaluate and choose their number one picks they are doing it very well. When it comes to attendance and popularity the NHL is fourth of the big four leagues, but clearly they are the leaders when it comes to drafting. Maybe the other sports leagues should sit up and pay attention.