Approaching Draft Analysis: Which is right?

I don't think I am making a bold statement in saying the 2020 NHL Draft was a major point of debate in the Sens blogosphere. After the turbulence of the past few years, it goes without saying a nice simple win for the fanbase would have done wonders for the mood. The sheer value of draft picks we had was astounding. With the exception of a tremendous cameo (RIP Trebek :( ), the results were mixed. The most intriguing part is that they were highly polarized. How could one draft be so different in interpretation?

As it turns out, quite simply:

Type 1) Traditional Approach:

By pretty much all standards Ottawa knocked it out of the park with an A to A+ rating. This predominately comes from the fact the No.3 and No.5 picks are likely out-perform the entire draft class of other teams. The other picks (28, 33, 44, 61, etc.) will provide some level of decent depth even if most do not hit their ceilings. Overall the traditional approach highlights that Ottawa is likely to come away with multiple players with long careers in the NHL.

Type 2) Analytic Approach

As many who follow this blog will know, the Analytic community was pessimistic of the Ottawa draft. Potential value (high-ceiling players), especially in the late 1st/2nd round were ignored in favor of other picks. Even the later rounds were criticized for taking 20 years old players instead of younger players with more skill based toolsets. Simply put Ottawa left too much on the table when all was said and done.

Type 3) Hindsight

You don't need detailed charts or anecdotes to summarize the last decade of drafting in hindsight. Why is that? Most players don't make it. Hockey prospects are closer to the NBA than the NFL. The top ten picks are overwhelmingly skewed to be the best on an annual basis. The individual skillsets are not skewed by position (barring goaltending) and the drop off from Special->Elite->Good->Average->Replacement Level is stark. A couple dozen players of NHL value every year is the absolute max. Less than two players per team if one were to average the totals.

To be even more blunt: Less than 1 in 5 picks (Approximately less than 40 out of 200 draftees per year) are likely to have a meaningful NHL career and a fraction of that will be considered Good-Elite.

So what do these approaches tell us then about Ottawa's draft?

Type 1)

Pro: The traditional approach acknowledges the potential impact of the 3rd and 5th picks are expected to be greater than the majority of the other draft picks combined. Further it is very likely at least one of the four late 1st to late 2nd rounders will provide enough value to give Ottawa an above-average to a very good draft.

Con: Ottawa was expected even in a worst-case scenario to come out of the draft with significant value at 3 and 5. The success or failure was always going to be measured by the later picks, picks which are very much up for debate. The approach favors the potential floors of each pick, not their ceilings.

Type 2)

Pro: Acknowledges value in Ottawa's picks, but provides are clearer picture on the level of risk associated with the choices. Later round picks are observed far more critically, with concrete reasons for pessimism. A high ceiling player who reaches their potential is likely to have a higher floor than more conservative choices.

Con: Later round choices provide significantly less value than most models suggest. The approach favors the potential ceilings of each pick, not their floors.

Type 3)

Pro: 2 players in a given year is a success, 3 is above average, 4 is fantastic.

Con: Given the top five picks, Ottawa would be hard pressed not to have 2 winners. Anything less than 3 is a disappointment given the sheer number of picks they had going in.

In the end the Traditional approach and Hindsight have quite a bit of overlap. This isn't too surprising as scouts repeatedly make reference to the 200 games rule in drafting for a reason. Further traditional scouting overvalues the top end of the draft, where hindsight and analytics reminds us is where the majority of value is anyway.

The Analytic approach excels in breaking down the potential of players, and maximizing value between the top end of the draft and the later rounds. Where it comes short is differentiating between high ceiling and low floor players. The traditional approach dislikes draft picks without a safety projectable floor. The line between win or bust is much smaller. Consequently analytics tends to greatly overvalue later round picks.

In the end no approach is perfect. All hindsight tells us is the pot of winnings is much smaller than people think. Ottawa had a fine draft, it just could have done better.

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