With the latest rumors of Paul Fenton in the run for the vacant GM position at Vancouver and his draft record with the Predators mentioned as one of his accolades, I've noticed posts on OTF pointing out that Nashville has been drafting poorly. I guess, when assessing draft records hindsight and subjective evaluation play important roles. So, I tried an analytical approach to draft record evaluation by focussing on our success in obtaining top line talent via top draft picks, because that is what the current Preds roster seems to be lacking most, especially at the forward position.
The analysis concept is quite simple, and, admittedly, it's quite rough.
In order to put a starting formation together you need 3 forwards, 2 defensemen and 1 goalie. I'm subtracting the goalie, cause goalie drafting is a science of its own and the majority of goalie picks don't take place in the first round of draft... Unless you decide to take a chance with Brian Finley and Chet Pickard, but that won't be a point here, and you'll soon see why. With the goalie exclusion five players need to be obtained.
Then I assumed that first-line players can play for 10 years at an above average level. That's again a very rough estimation, but somewhere you have to start. There are 30 teams in the NHL in need of five players over a time span of 10 years. Quick math, and you get to 150 first-line players needed over 10 years. That again corresponds to 15 quality picks each year in order to obtain those 150 players for all teams.
Next, I assumed that the first 15 picks of each draft will be hits w/o any misses. That means that every team would need 5 picks within the top 15 of over a span of 10 years to obtain at least an average top starting five.
So, let's have a look at the Predators picks that could have yielded such an 'average' starting five since 2004 (last 10 years). During that span we had the following picks within the top 15:
2004 - Alexander Radulov (#15)
2008 - Colin Wilson (#7)
2009 - Ryan Ellis (#11)
2013 - Seth Jones (#4)
That's only four out of five players actually needed. Now it may be argued that we hampered our draft choices by trading away our 1st round picks in 2011 and 2012. Even though those picks would not have been within the top #15 (both came in at #21), we could have traded up for #15 or at least had a chance at a lucky compensation hit. Well, one of the two trades brought in Mike Fisher (2011), so for simplicity of the analysis, I'll just hijack Fisher as the 5th starting five skater obtained via draft.
Here we go: Radulov-Fisher-Wilson; Ellis-Jones.
Is that a cup contending starting five? No. But it's not a bad one either, especially considering that those top 15 picks have non-equivalent value, and we had just one pick inside the high-reward top 5. Still, Radulov and Jones can be safely considered elite talent, so they're definately hits (ignoring the side elements of the Radulov saga, but the pick itself was a hit). Fisher in his best years has been centering a very productive Senators first line with Heatley and Alfredsson as his wingers iirc, so I count him as a fringe first line player and if anything, he's been a steady do-it-all first-line centerman for the Preds since his arrival.
Ellis is a tough call. At this point he's not a first line D-man and might never be. On the other hand he has evolved into a good offensive 2nd liner with solid possession type numbers and room for further improvement. Also, going through the 2009 draft list, no other D-man drafted after Ellis strikes my eyes who is clearly superior to him. So, I'll give this pick a pass too, even if it's not a hit in terms of first-line talent.
Finally, there's Wilson. The what-could-have-been-if of the Preds community. Six seasons removed from his draft, he hasnt proven that he really is a first line forward. Right now he's centering the Preds' 3rd line and his numbers by the years have never reached first-line level. Might be, that he'll take another step upwards in the next years, but as of this day he's clearly not a hit and counts negatively in terms of this draft analysis.
So, with respect to obtaining first-line talent through the draft over the last ten years, we've got two hits, two narrow passes and one miss. Of course, a team is only as good as its weakest link. So in competition with the 29 other teams this one miss tilts this starting five to the below average side, assuming all other teams just score hits. But that's hardly the case.
Also, one final adjustment: Value of pick position. Assuming the value of each pick has a linear regression the average that separates valuable picks from lesser ones lies at #7.5. The average slot for those four Predators picks listed above is #9.25. Furthermore, taking into consideration that the fifth first-line player was obtained by turning a #21 pick into Mike Fisher (who, btw, was picked at #44 in 1998) the pick position average is further shifted to the less valuable side.
Regarding first-line talent via top pick drafting, the Predators record is not excessively good, but it's far from devastatingly bad either. It's exactly where we are: mediocre. With an upward tendency given the unfavorable draft positions in terms of value to work with. It would have been great if we had succeeded to obtain a true first-line by drafting only, but, fact is: the odds were against us. And it underlines the importance of total suckiness... and at that we have failed. Thankfully, that is, in my opinion. :)
If there is anything to be held against the Predators' record of drafting elite talent, it's the two 1st round goalie picks mentioned above. However, the 1998 draft, in which Finley was picked at #6, was historically weak apart from the Sedin twins which went at #2 and #3. Additionally, these picks are somewhat negated by the excellent goalie picks in lower rounds (Rinne, Lindback, and most recently Mazanec and hopefully Saros), but considering who could have been taken instead of Pickard (Jordan Eberle, John Carlson, Tyler Ennis, oh, and Michael del Zotto, all late 1st rounders) that one will always remain a blot in the Predators draft record book (but at least we picked up Roman Josi in the 2nd round of that draft).