By Cipriansjr [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Over the last month or so, I have looked at where most NCAA draft picks come from and how often those picks turn into NHL-ers. From this, it was determined that most NHL draft picks come from schools out of the WCHA or CCHA conferences with Minnesota, North Dakota and Michigan leading the way. We know which schools most of the picks are coming from, but a way to expand this study is to see which rounds in the draft these picks are coming from and which schools are being targeted earlier than others.
If you look at some of the recent draft classes, one thing you may notice is that most of the earlier picks come from the major-junior ranks or a European league rather than the NCAA. This year, there were six NCAA committed players selected in the first round and only two the year before. It is understandable to see why there aren’t many NCAA players selected earlier in the draft because their commitment prevents them from making the NHL sooner than a junior hockey star who could possibly have a shot of making the NHL out of training camp. Most prospects aren’t ready at such an early age so this may not be as big of a factor but I’m sure it crosses some team’s minds.
How often are NCAA prospects taken in the first round? Are certain schools targeted earlier than others? How often do picks from the NCAA develop into regular NHL-ers? We will look at all of these issues after the jump.
Where in the draft were they taken?
NHL% = Percent of NCAA picks selected in that round who played in 100 or more NHL games, Pick% = Percent of total NCAA picks who were selected in this round
According to the table, only 5.5% of NCAA players or those who were committed to the NCAA have been selected in the first round of the NHL draft since 1960. You can also see that less than 10% of the draft picks from the NCAA were taken in rounds 2-4, so it can be said that college players are targeted less in early rounds. It appears that most NCAA players are selected between rounds 5-7 of the draft. I’m not sure what conclusions you can draw from this about certain GM’s drafting strategy, but it could suggest that a lot of teams are more comfortable selecting these players in the later rounds than they are spending an early pick on them. However, 59% of NCAA first round picks went onto play at least 100 NHL games, so most of the teams who selected a player from the NCAA early were at least able to get something out of them. It would be interesting to see how this compares to CHL and European players, though.
The proportion of draft picks in the first three rounds who went onto have at least somewhat of a career in the NHL is actually relatively strong, as over 20% of NCAA players selected in those rounds went on to play at least 100 games at the NHL level. After that round, you would fewer and fewer NCAA players selected went onto have at least somewhat of a career in the NHL. Although, it’s worth noting that least 10% of players selected in the 6th, 8th and 9th rounds played at least 100 NHL games which isn’t a lot but it’s still a little more than I expected from late-round picks.
Changes over time
Going by what has been presented so far, it’s fair to say that NCAA players are targeted more in the mid-rounds, but has this always been the case? Not necessarily. In fact, there have been more NCAA players taken earlier in the draft in recent years than they were before.
While there is still a low ratio of players taken in the first round overall, teams seem to be looking at NCAA players a lot more in the draft than they were in the 1980’s and 1990’s. During those decades, the majority of college player were taken in the later rounds but that has changed quite a bit since the turn of the millennium. The draft decreasing to nine rounds may have a slight impact on this, but you can also see that very few players have been selected in the final two rounds since the year 2000. Rounds 2-7 appear to be where the most NCAA players have been selected recently.
Which schools are targeted?
We know that most drafted NCAA players come from WCHA or CCHA schools and this reins true for players selected in the first round.
Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota have produced the most first round picks in the draft with Boston U and Boston College not far behind. Expand it to the first three rounds and you get a similar picture.
Switch around the two Boston schools and you essentially have the same order in the top 7, only Minnesota Michigan and North Dakota lead the rest of the pack by a much wider margin than they did before. These three schools are still the top dogs when it comes to producing draft picks.
The popularity of NCAA players in the NHL draft has increased by quite a bit in recent years as more players are being selected than they were before, but it appears that they are still behind junior hockey in terms of producing top prospects.