Yesterday I focused on the timeframe it takes for a prospect selected in the first and second round of the NHL Draft to give their team some return on investment. Today, we’ll dive into part two of my findings that focuses on the overall success rate teams have had with their selections.
The Buffalo Sabres have always seemed to have been that club that has looked to their cupboards full of draft picks as a sign for success in the future. While it’s good to have more darts to throw, but if you can’t hit the board it won’t do you any good.
The Sabres failed to utilize their draft capital
Even though Tim Murray traded draft picks like it was nothing, the Sabres still had the most first and second-round picks in the league from 2013 to 2016. They had 13 total picks over those four years; below you can see how many selections each team made over the same stretch.
Here’s where it starts to sting for the Sabres.
Of those 13 picks, only six of them have dressed in an NHL game for the Sabres. Only three of them have played at least 70 games for the blue and gold. Those three players are Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Making matters worse, only seven of those 13 picks still remain with the organization.
Here are the 13 picks in the first two rounds from 2013 to 2016 if you need a refresher. I highlighted the players that are no longer part of the organization.
Of the players that are no longer with the club, none are really anything that would change the course of the franchise to this point. J.T. Compher may develop into a nice bottom-six piece, Nikita Zadorov is on the trade block again for the Avalanche, and Brendan Lemieux has failed to stick in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets to this point.
The Sabres success rate over that stretch was amongst the worst in the league when you look at players that have contributed to the team. You can see on the chart below the Sabres were in the middle of the pack of how many “contributors” that got with their picks.
However, with the 13 picks and only six players dressing for the team so far they had a 46.2 percent success rate, which was fifth worst over that stretch. Only the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, and Tampa Bay Lightning have a worse success rate.
Don’t fear past failures
Buffalo finds themselves in a similar position as the past heading into the trade deadline and upcoming drafts. They have four first-round picks and one second-round pick over the next two seasons. Fans once again are holding tight to those future assets as hope for the future.
In reality, having an abundance of picks doesn’t in any way signify success in the future. First and foremost, a team would most importantly need to hit on those picks for them to be worth it. It’s safe to assume none of the four picks the Sabres possess will be in the top three of the draft barring a super lucky lottery situation.
The most likely scenario is they’ll end up with a late 20s pick from the San Jose Sharks, which results in an NHL contributor about 40 percent of the time in that spot based on the drafts from 2013 to 2016. You would also hope that the Sabres pick in 2020 is in the 20s as well.
It’s still a mystery what the St. Louis Blues pick will yield to this point, but it’s safe to assume it’ll be in the 11 to 25 range in one of the next two drafts. The Sabres pick this year is also likely to come in that 11 to 20 window.
The overall point here is at best, two of those four picks are going to be in the top 15 of the draft. The other two (hopefully in terms of the 2020 Sabres pick) will be in the mid to late 20s. It would be wise for them to trade at least one of those first-round picks for young pieces that can be part of the team moving forward and help right away.
Before you scream about making the same mistake Murray did by going that route let me provide some context here.
If the Sabres move any of those first rounder’s that they have in their pocket, they’ll need to follow the path of teams like the Predators and Lightning. Remember when I mentioned that the Predators and Lightning had a worse success rate from 2013 to 2016 above? Let me share how bad they were.
The Lightning have a 18.2 percent success rate based on the metric I’m using. Only two of their 11 picks from those drafts dressed for the Lightning. One is Adam Erne and the other has been traded in Jonathan Drouin.
They survived by hitting on their late-round picks. Players like Brayden Point (third round), Alex Killorn (third round), Ondrej Palat (seventh round), and Tyler Johnson (undrafted free agent).
The same story for the Predators with only three of their seven picks contributing (42.9 percent success rate) to the club and two of them (Seth Jones and Samuel Girard) were traded. Like Tampa, they hit on late rounders Viktor Arvidsson (fourth round) and Mattias Ekholm (fourth round).
Who is the last player outside of the second round that the Sabres have developed? Linus Ullmark was picked in the sixth-round in 2012, that may be the last player. We’ll see if 2014 seventh-round pick Victor Olofsson turns into something.
The good news is that Jason Botterill has shown some promise in his picks after the second round in his first two drafts. Oskari Laaksonen (third round in 2017), Matej Pekar (fourth round 2018), Jacob Bryson (fourth round 2017), and Linus Cronholm (2018 fourth round) have all shown early signs of promise.
Hitting on your draft picks helps a good team stay together in the future with entry level contracts when you have to pay your top players. That’s not exclusive to just first and second-round picks. Hitting on your mid to late round picks is equally as important. Picks in the top two rounds can be used as trade assets for immediate roster help if you can find the diamonds in the rough late in drafts.
Don’t fear using the first round picks to make your team better because of the past. If Murray would have hit on his other picks, the Sabres would have been in a good position regardless of moving those assets.