Evgeny Kuznetsov poses with George McPhee and Ross Mahoney (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

Each off-season I catch up on my reading. I alternate between a Bill James’ Abstract (I have 1984-1989 to get through); something music related (currently Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, And Social Change and Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces); and one or two hockey books– including the new one called The Art of Scouting, which “delves into the secretive world of hockey prospecting.”

After only eleven pages, I got struck by what the authors claim is the consensus of a successful draft, summarized by Mike Futa, co-director of amateur scouting for the Los Angeles Kings:

“It’s the only job where you can be right 15 percent of the time and be ruled a Hall of Famer for success, You are going to be wrong 85 or 80 percent of the time, and if you hit on 2.5 home runs every Draft, you are par with some of the best scouts ever.”

Two NHLers out of seven players drafted, assuming no trades are made, seems like a low bar, so I decided to see how the George McPhee era has done in regards to scouting.

McPhee joined the Capitals in 1997, so the first draft we can attribute to him is in 1998. Since it takes about five years for a prospect to develop, we will look at his draft record from 1998-2006. Let’s consider a prospect a success if he has played in at least 200 games at the NHL level. That gives him five years of 40 games played to qualify.

Spoiler: The results are not great.

By the parameters we set above, only three of the nine drafts could be considered success:

2000: Brian Sutherby and Matt Pettinger

2002: Alexander Semin, Boyd Gordon and Steve Eminger.

2004: Alexander Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz and Mike Green

If we lower our standards to only 100 NHL games played, we could add in the draft class from 2001, which saw the Capitals select Nathan Paetsch (2nd round) and Johnny Oduya (7th round).

What makes the results even more concerning is that if we use our original parameter of 200 NHL games, most of the successes come in the first round:

Year Player Selected Round
1998 Krys Barch 4
2000 Brian Sutherby 1
2000 Matt Pettinger 2
2001 Johnny Oduya 7
2002 Alexander Semin 1
2002 Boyd Gordon 1
2002 Steve Eminger 1
2003 Eric Fehr 1
2004 Alexander Ovechkin 1
2004 Jeff Schultz 1
2004 Mike Green 1
2006 Nicklas Backstrom 1

They also rank close to the bottom third (Washington in red) for total “successes” drafted between 1998-2006.

I am sure Caps fans will not be happy seeing Pittsburgh at the top of that list, but it’s probably not surprising.

Looking ahead, there are sure to be some other bright spots for the Capitals’ scouts, like Carlzner, Neuvirth, Kuznetsov and perhaps Holtby, Eakin and Orlov. But if Washington wants to keep their “Cup window” open, they are going to have to do a much better job drafting after the first round.

  • Tim

    This does point out McPhee’s one major failing. As good as his 1st round picks have been, his later picks have been terrible. Right now, I believe Neuvirth is the only 2nd round or later pick on the Caps – and Perreault is the only other late round pick to play for the Caps this season. If just one more pick from each draft would work out, it would at least give the Caps more bargaining chips for trades. I don’t know if this is on the scouts or McPhee, but it needs to be fixed.

  • jeremiah

    weird how the goalies are totally left out of this despite good numbers. i will say until recently drafting after the first has been bad, but i would also have to say it has gotten better. Holtby 4th round, and some of the higher ranked prospects are coming from late rounds like Eakin 3rd, and Stan Galiev. a lot of late rounders that show promise are used as trade bait; Oscar Osala 4th to car, Stafan della Rovere 7th to stl, Tim Kennedy 6th, Sami Lapisto 3rd. I also notice Detroit lower than Washington and i wouldn’t think their window is closing yet either. and thanks for not bringing up the 1st round failures of Finlay, Gustofson, and Pokulok.

  • Sean

    Minor points first:
    @Tim
    Andrew Gordon (7th) and Braden Holtby (4th) both played for the Caps this year, too. So not just Perreault, though he was the most significant late round pick for the Caps this season. Patrick McNeill (4th) also was on the roster for 2 games, but was a healthy scratch.

    @Neil
    Eric Fehr has 230 NHL GP. He should be counted for 2003.

    More on topic:

    I think this is a case of playing with parameters. If we manipulate the window we’re examining or the games played cutoff, the results change. Why, for instance, did you choose 200 games played? Was there a reference in the book about that? Why no pro-rate games/season? Obviously a player drafted in 1998 has a higher chance of having reached 200 games than one drafted in 2006, regardless of the quality of selection. And this also suppresses goalies as they have less opportunities to play games.

    For instance, Sami Lepisto is almost certainly going to hit 200 NHL GP in his career unless he decides to hop overseas. He’s already at 150GP. You’d think that at least one of the goalies drafted in 2006 will also eventually hit that mark as well.

    These parameters notably hamper GMGM’s results, as the drafting has definitely improved from 2002 onwards. Even your results show that (1.6 successes/draft since 2002 compared to 1.0 before that).

    Ultimately, I think this speaks more to the skills of Ross Mahoney and his staff than GMGM himself (though these people are hired by McPhee). And perhaps even more interestingly, it speaks to the quality of farm systems and prospect development. It would be interesting to take a look at the development of players both in Portland and Hershey, in particular players picked after the 1st round. And perhaps compare ice time of our prospects to that of prospects on teams who have success developing later round picks.

  • Sean

    Oh, and Oduya has 382 NHL GP, so he meets the 200 game standard, not just the 100.

  • Sean

    Also, to continue my post monopoly of this thread, I suggest you read this next:

    http://www.amazon.com/Swedish-Death-Metal-Daniel-Ekeroth/dp/097961631X/ref=pd_sim_b_5

    A little bit biased towards the author’s experiences and tastes, but definitely a fun read.

    Also, this:
    http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Death-Improbable-History-Grindcore/dp/193259504X/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

  • Dark Stranger

    As Sean pointed out, yes, the Caps have had some drafting failures but our picture is a little less bleak. Fehr (1st round 2003 draft) has played over 200 games. Granted, he was the only pick in that draft that panned out.

    On Oduya, if I remember correctly, did the Caps not sign him but he made the NHL somehow?

    How do goalies fit in the analysis? Varly and Neuvirth were great picks for 2006, along with Backstrom, but as goalies, it’s harder for them to reach the 100 or 200 game threshold that it would be for a “regular” position player who makes the NHL at the same time.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Russian Machine Never Breaks

    @Sean Woops, not sure why Fehr got omitted, but good catch. I added him to the table. Still a first rounder, so it doesn’t change the gist, which is after round 1, things aren’t all glitter and unicorns.

    -Neil

  • Pingback: DMV: You Can Lead a Horse to Beer … | Mr. Irrelevant, a D.C. Sports Blog by the Brothers Mottram

  • Chris

    I’m not sure even the first round picks should be considered all that great. Other than Ovechkin (who was first overall), where do you place Eminger, Shultz, Gordon, Sutherby, and even Fehr. They’re ok, but no homeruns. Let’s also throw in his trades over the years…who has he traded for that’s been a huge success. Other than an aging Federov, who has made a big impact on this club? Five years ago I’d have said Arnott was a good trade, not this year (although it’s obvious something is needed in the locker room that it takes an outsider to point out), and Wideman was not a trade McPhee was going to make…the Panthers GM suggested it to him.

  • http://www.japersrink.com David

    “Two NHLers out of seven players drafted, assuming no trades are made, seems like a low bar”

    I disagree with that – that ratio assumes there are sixty guys good enough to regular NHLers out there every year for the draft as a whole, and I don’t think that’s unrealistic.

  • Slight of Hand

    Also, if a team is stacked – such as Detroit – the chances of a draft pick playing in the NHL is worse than if that player were drafted by a poor team. I think prospects in the farm system is a better barometer…

  • Devin Shannon

    I hope you do this post again in five years!

  • Evan

    If the ultimate goal is to win Stanley Cups, it looks like there is actually an inverse correlation between this measure of Draft Success and Stanley Cup Championships. Teams listed below the Caps on this list account for more than half of the Championships won during the time period despite only accounting for a quarter of the number of teams (Tampa Bay, Carolina, New Jersey, Detroit) And could be joined by Vancouver after this year (another team below the Caps in successes)

  • exwhaler

    The problem with this kind of review is that it ignores the fact the Capitals’ approach to player development changed drastically with the firesale in 2004. Nobody is denying that McPhee’s pre-lockout drafts were awful, but in 2004, they invested heavily in their scouting department. Apparently, it was one of the smallest ones before then and is now one of the biggest ones in the NHL. The Capitals drafts have notability improved from 2004 onward, with high-end talent found in the back end of the first round (something most teams do not do, since only about half to two-thirds of picks 11 to 30 actually become NHL regulars) and are starting to find players and good prospects in the later rounds (Neuvirth, Holtby, Orlov, Eakin, Wey, Perreault).

    Any analysis of McPhee’s draft history has to consider that change in approach, because how a GM picks at the draft is greatly determined by the work of his scouting staff. If the scouting department does not receive the support from ownership, then there’s a question about who is responsible for the bad years of drafting.

  • Sean

    @Chris
    For as much as Schultz is a whipping boy by Capitals fans, he’s definitely been a successful draft pick (especially when you factor in how late in the 1st he was drafted). He’s been an NHL regular for the last 4.5 seasons and has over 300 GP. He was picked 27th, but is 13th among the 2004 draft class in NHL GP.

    Similar applies to Gordon. Not everyone drafted in the 1st round is drafted to be a Top 6 player. Manny Malhotra was picked 7th overall, for example, and was never really anticipated to be a huge scoring threat (though his potential was higher than the end result).

    Fehr has been derailed by injuries, but the strength of the 2003 class is really the biggest case against him. There was simply so much talent in that draft to “only” come away with Eric Fehr does seem very disappointing.

    Eminger I think was more a product of butchered player development than being a draft bust. He was rushed to the NHL only to end up being sent back to junior hockey. Afterwards he spent a lot of time in the press box and getting small minutes in the NHL rather than building experience in the AHL. The fact that teams keep trading for him/signing him shows that people can see his potential, but he’s been derailed by awful player development and being forced into roles that don’t necessarily suit him very well.

    As for trades:
    Cristobal Huet
    Matt Cooke (as much as we hate him, getting him for only Pettinger is a steal)
    Scott Hannan
    Tikkanen was a big part of the cup run in 98.
    Almost all of the “firesale” trades resulted in good returns (aside of Jagr).
    ETC.

    McPhee is really good at “winning” his trades. Even the Corvo disaster is starting to look better now that Osala is going to play in the KHL.

  • @jacobware95

    I dont really like this though. McPhee has clearly gotten better as the years have gone on. This list doesn’t include Marcus, Carlzner, Orlov, Eakin, Neuvy, Varly, Holtby, Fehr and now Evgeny (Perreault too?). The listing would be totally different. + add on the fact that Johnny Oduya is obviously full time NHLer. Then you have Andrew Joudrey, Patrick McNeill and Francois Bouchard who were drafted in the mid to late rounds and who have developped into solid AHL players. You have Finley, Godfrey, DeSimone, Kugryshev, Lacroix still developping as solid prospects, not to mention the 09 and 10 guys. Then there is Oskar Osala as well…..

  • Dave B

    This is purely a quantity measure. How do we rank in terms of quality? We have four excellent/star players in that list. Ovie, Semin, Backstrom, Green.Not many teams have four players of that caliber, especially that have been drafted by that team

  • Will

    I don’t think anyone here is going to argue that GMGM and the Caps haven’t improved at drafting over the last few years, but Neil’s analysis is spot on: the Caps were pretty terrible at drafting over the first 8 years or so of GMGM’s tenure so they didn’t have anywhere to go but up. Over the second part of that time frame, they mitigated the fact that they aren’t great at drafting by accumulating a ton of first round picks. Throw enough darts at the wall and some are going to hit the target I suppose.

  • Sean

    @Will

    Since they started piling up first round picks (2004 and onwards with the firesale), how many of those “darts” have missed?

    Pokulok
    Finley
    Gustafsson

    Too early to call with Kuznetsov. So we “hit” with 8/11 first round picks from 2004-2009. That’s a terrific batting average to have, even with first round picks. Especially when you factor in that only 3 of those were early picks. Meaning 5/8 of our later 1st picks have worked out. I’ll take that.

  • Bill

    Solid post…

    On a different subject how’s it gonna look if Atlanta goes to Winnepeg?

    Winnepeg to Northwest
    Nashville to Southeast
    Minnesota to Central

    any other combos?

  • Rick

    Does anyone else remember GMGM punching out the GM of the Blackhawks (I think it was), after a pre-season game? That should count for some bonus points, and maybe Neil should watch his back too….

  • Carl

    No surprise who is last on that chart. I still have Mike Barnett nightmares.