Where Do NHL Draft Picks Come From?

Derek Zona
October 18 2012 09:45AM

Mikhail Grigorenko
A dying breed?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A couple of days ago, I looked at draft pick origins by league.  The most significant conclusion from that article concerned Eastern Europe:

The most obvious takeaway from the data is the slump from Eastern European leagues.  In 2003 and 2004, leagues in Belarus, The Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Slovakia accounted for 19% of all picks.  In 2011 and 2012 those same leagues accounted for just 5% and 4% of all picks.  In fact, since 2007, those leagues haven't combined for more than 5% of all selections.

One possible explanation raised by commenters, is that the distribution of picks by nationality hasn't changed, rather the reason for the shift in league distribution is the sheer amount of imports playing junior hockey in Canada. 

I sorted the data by birth country and found that explanation doesn't hold water either. 

  2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Alberta 16 14 18 10 19 12 9 13 16 17
Austria 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
Belarus 1 2 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
British Columbia 8 15 17 7 14 11 13 20 7 12
Czech Republic 14 16 12 10 5 3 4 5 8 6
Denmark 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1
England 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Finland 9 11 9 14 4 7 10 7 11 10
Italy 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Germany 4 1 1 4 4 1 1 5 2 0
France 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Japan 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Latvia 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 2
Manitoba 9 5 9 7 5 8 3 8 3 3
Nigeria 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Norway 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0
New Brunswick 0 4 1 0 2 3 0 1 2 1
Nova Scotia 2 2 2 6 3 1 2 1 1 1
Newfoundland 1 4 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
Ontario 30 34 33 32 38 50 46 37 37 44
Poland 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
PEI 3 0 1 0 2 1 0 2 1 0
Quebec 20 10 16 14 11 20 19 12 10 13
Russia 26 20 12 16 9 9 7 8 9 11
Saskatchewan 9 8 6 5 5 10 9 5 4 7
Serbia 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Slovakia 8 10 7 2 3 0 4 2 4 0
Sweden 16 14 15 18 18 19 25 21 28 22
Switzerland 4 3 0 4 2 1 0 2 2 2
USA 47 49 66 61 66 48 56 59 63 57

  • From 2003 - 2005, picks from Eastern European countries (Belarus, The Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia) accounted for an average of 20% of the draft.  From 2010 - 2012, those same countries accounted for 9% of the draft.  But even that isn't the full story.  In 2003 and 2004, Eastern Europe picks accounted for 22% of the draft.  In 2005, that dropped to 14% followed by 14% again in 2006, but since then, those countries haven't been above 10%.  Even including CHL and USHL imports, Eastern Europe has lost half of their draft "share", meaning on average, 27 less kids are being drafted from those countries each year.
  • Another significant trend is the fall-off in Quebec-born draft picks.  Though the QMJHL's raw numbers have remained constant (11% to 10% in ten years), they're actually being held constant by imports, not native-born players.  Quebec-born players have accounted for just 5% of picks over the last three years versus 8% from 2003-2005.  While it seems insignificant, It's an average of 6 fewer Québécois drafted each year.  At the same time, the Maritimes have experienced a 50% drop, from 7 picks per year to just over 3. 
  • The slack has been picked up by three primary sources: Sweden, The United States and Ontario.  Sweden's share has risen from 7% to 11% (8 extra kids per year), The United States' share has risen from 21% to 28% (14 extra kids per year), and Ontario's share has risen from 14% to 19% (11 extra kids per year).

Aside from the bump in the U.S. share, the explanations here aren't easy.  Why has the Eastern European share collapsed? What's going on with Quebec-born kids?  Is Sweden seeing an actual rise in talent level, or is scouting better?  And are GM's and scouts going with the safe alternative in Ontario-born kids? 

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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#1 Kent Wilson
October 18 2012, 10:14AM
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Is random variation a valid guess?

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#3 Matt
October 18 2012, 10:44AM
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By comparing results from World Jrs and U18 tournaments you might be able to see whether the issues in eastern Europe are with the quality of players being drafted or whether NHL teams are just avoiding drafting players for fear they won't sign in North America. I suspect it might be a bit of both or as Kent mentioned just random variance but it might be worth looking into.

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#4 Scott Reynolds
October 18 2012, 11:20AM
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With the "safe alternative" question, it might be interesting to see what happens if you isolate the top fifty picks from everyone else. I would guess that the "good Canadian boy" share is higher later in the draft.

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#6 Eric T.
October 18 2012, 11:40AM
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Quebec looks awfully random to me -- this looks like a threshold analysis problem, where you get a very different conclusion if you look at the last four years or five years instead of just the last three.

http://i45.tinypic.com/256bq6b.png

Same for the US -- R^2 for year versus number of picks is .07 for Quebec and .09 for the US.

But Eastern Europe being on the rise (R^2 of 0.63) and Sweden falling (0.71) seem more solid. They still could be random, but it's reasonable to speculate on why those changes might be occurring.

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#8 Steve
October 18 2012, 12:52PM
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Any chance the fall of communism would have something to do with it? I'm not sure how, but the timing lines up. As in, players born after the fall are less likely to be drafted.

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#9 Kent Wilson
October 18 2012, 01:09PM
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Other potential Europe-player issues: transfer agreement problems, growth of overseas leagues.

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#10 Casey
October 18 2012, 01:26PM
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Interesting to note that Sweden has been a medalist at 4 of the last 5 World Junior championships and made the medal round 5 of the last 6.

They hadn't medalled in 11 straight World Juniors prior to 2008 and only made the medal round twice in that span (2000 & 2007).

So there's definitely been a marked improvement in hockey talent in Sweden. If I recall correctly, didn't Sweden do a major overhaul of their amateur hockey program in the early 2000's?

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#11 Mantastic
October 18 2012, 04:30PM
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can anyone point out which "area"/league produces the great percentage of NHLers?

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