I was discussing hockey with a friend of mine, and an interesting point came up. Here is a chart of the top 10 scorers in the National Hockey League, and their draft position.
|1||Alex Ovechkin||1st Overall|
|2||Henrik Sedin||2nd Overall|
|3||Sidney Crosby||1st Overall|
|4||Nicklas Backstrom||4th Overall|
|5||Joe Thornton||1st Overall|
|6||Marian Gaborik||3rd Overall|
|7||Dany Heatley||2nd Overall|
|8||Patrick Marleau||2nd Overall|
|9||Martin St. Louis||Undrafted|
|10||Brad Richards||64th Overall|
|11||Patrick Kane||1st Overall|
|12||Steven Stamkos||1st Overall|
|13||Anze Kopitar||11th Overall|
|14||Evengi Malkin||2nd Overall|
|15||Ilya Kovalchuk||1st Overall|
This is fascinating to me. The process of scouting, drafting, and developing NHL players has led to a near-monopoly of the league’s top scorers concentrated among the first few teams in the draft. Teams have been able to take 18 year-olds and correctly determine, for the most part, who will and won’t be a star.
I don’t think that I need to provide a graph to tell you that baseball’s situation was dramatically different. The top parts of every draft are filled with failure – look at Brad Lincoln, Luke Hochevar, Matt Bush, Delmon Young (yes, I’m labeling him a failure), Bryan Bullington. And it still gets harder for teams as you get further in the draft. And baseball teams get to wait for players to go through 2 or 3 college years if they want to draft someone. NHL teams draft at 18 almost exclusively.
This is why I oppose hard slotting systems for draft picks. In hockey, you can rank the top players pretty clearly. In baseball, almost all players are worth more to certain teams than they are to others. The Braves may so certain that they want a guy that they’ll take someone whom no one else will take for 20 picks. That player’s value will probably be below-slot.
I don’t have any answers for why the NHL draft is so easy for teams and why the MLB is unbelievably difficult. Hockey is a much more physical/athletic sport, which makes it easier to identify who will be successful. But at the same time, hockey is not football, and contains a lot of non-physical elements. Injuries have a lot to do with it too, as do the long haul of minor league development. I guess I don’t really have much of a point in mind, other than to stop and stare at the astounding differences between the two leagues.
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