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Is It Really Easier to Find Star Goalies Later in Draft?

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For every Joe Pavelski, there’s an Evgeni Nabokov.

That is to say, there are gems to be found in any round of the draft. The San Jose Sharks uncovered Pavelski — 1,086 games played and counting — in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Draft. They dug deeper for Nabokov, 697 big league contests to his credit, in the ninth round of the 1994 Draft.

Yesterday at San Jose Hockey Now, we looked at the first round of the NHL draft from a historical perspective, as we considered top goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt with the San Jose Sharks’ seventh pick.

Our conclusion? “The odds of getting a successful NHL’er — or a bust — in the first round seems fairly even whatever position you pick.”

Has Bias Against Drafting Goalie in 1st Round Gone Too Far?

This opposes draft groupthink that traditionally warns against selecting a goalie in the first round.

Today, we’re going to tackle the late rounds and another goaltending draft cliché: Namely, don’t spend a first-round pick on a goaltender because you can get a star goalie anywhere in the draft.

We’re going to use yesterday’s standard to study this: 1,000 games played for a skater and 600 games played for a goalie are our “success milestones.” This is obviously an inexact measure — Mario Lemieux suited up for 915 tilts, while Ken Dryden backstopped 397 contests — but you also wouldn’t call a player who has met either milestone a “bust.” It’s a worthwhile measuring stick that translates across every position: Bad players don’t reach that many games played.

So what percentage of non-first round skaters play in 1,000-plus games? What percentage of non-first round goalies play in 600-plus games?

  • 1.5 % of inactive non-first round skaters — 117 of 7,883 — dressed in 1,000 or more games
  • 3.6 % of inactive non-first round goalies — 33 of 923 — played 600 or more contests

That supports the traditional thinking.

Interestingly, the difference is especially pronounced in the second round.

  • 3.8 % of inactive second-round skaters — 37 of 975 — suited up for 1,000 or more tilts
  • 8.9 % of inactive second-goalies — 7 of 79 — played in 600 or more games
  • Sean Burke, Mike Richter, Jose Theodore, Dan Bouchard, Kelly Hrudey, Don Beaupre, and Felix Potvin are the seven aforementioned netminders

One reason for this? Perhaps the hesitation with selecting a netminder in the first round has allowed first-round talent keepers to slip into the next round? Anyway, that’s just an unsubstantiated aside.

But anyway — if your argument against drafting a goalie in the first round is that using a top pick on a netminder is a huge risk — I think we refuted that a little yesterday. However, if your argument is that you have a better chance of acquiring a premium keeper later in the draft as opposed to a premium skater — hence, don’t use your first on a goalie — the numbers support traditional thought.

  • 1.2 % of inactive non-first or second round skaters — 80 of 6,908 — suited up for 1,000 or more tilts
  • 3.1 % of inactive non-first or second round goalies — 26 of 844 — played in 600 or more games

Basically, after the second round, you have more-than-double the chance of picking a Nabokov than a Pavelski.

Or a Dominik Hasek (10th round in 1983), Henrik Lundqvist (seventh round in 2000), Miikka Kiprusoff (fifth in 1995), or Patrick Roy (third in 1984).

I don’t think that’s enough to dissuade the San Jose Sharks or any other franchise from investing their first on Wallstedt or Sebastian Kossa — and it shouldn’t — but it’s always productive to scrutinize the legitimacy of clichés.

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