Sunday, 24 February 2013

Rielly Among Great Company: Impact Analysis of Top-10 Junior Defensemen

Recently, Curt from Blue Chip Prospects and I exchanged articles that looked into the Leafs' drafting record.  I argued that the Leafs' positional drafting strategy was undifferentiated and that draftee impact was weak. Curt, on the other hand, argued that the Leafs' drafting was quite strong, given their low bust rate and late median draft slot in the first round. As an avid reader of sports blogs, especially of those that cover the Maple Leafs, I respect and appreciate Curt's attention to detail and thoroughness. Also, as a rookie blogger, I welcome constructive criticism and he was kind enough to offer some feedback on my methodology.  Be sure to check out his insightful response and some cool data over at Blue Chip Prospects.

Prior to his response, Curt wrote another interesting piece on positional draft analysis by round and tweeted about Morgan Rielly's impressive performance, including a game-winner against Prince Albert on February 16th. In a nutshell, the article showed that, at least in the first three rounds of the draft, defensemen typically have a lower bust rate and a higher impact rate than forwards.

The tweet on Morgan Rielly and the article got me asking, if I had to pick a defenseman in the upcoming draft, where would I look?

Given that I'm not a pro-scout, I decided to apply the same criteria Curt used (All-Star, Impact, Replacement, Bust) and began my search with the top-10 defensemen in scoring across the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL, from 1999-2008. Once again, this analysis would have benefited from some added flexibility. Players like Seabrook (Stanley Cup and Olympic gold) and Pietrangelo (2011 2nd-Team All-Star) were relegated to the "Impact" category as they were not "All-Stars", per se, but an argument could be made for both. In any event, the following charts represent the the number and percentage of players who fall into the aforementioned buckets.

The OHL stands out as producing the highest number (19) and percentage (28.8%) of Impact+ players, and the lowest bust rate (54.5%). Also, from 1999 to 2008, there have been 66 unique defensemen in the top-10 of scoring. This means that no one player was double-counted if he was a top-10 scorer in multiple years. Some notable graduates include Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Giordano, Michael Del Zotto, and P.K. Subban.

The WHL stands out with the highest number (5) and percentage (7.8%) of All-Stars. As a whole, there were 10 Impact+ players, or 15.6% of all 64 unique defensemen from 1999 to 2008.  Furthermore, the bust rate for top-10 WHL defensemen was 68.8%. Some notable graduates include Alexander Edler, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green, Brent Seabrook, Josh Gorges, and Cody Franson.
The QMJHL also boasts 10 Impact+ players, including 2 All-Stars (2.8%). However, given that there were 71 unique defensemen in the top-10 of scoring, the "Q" lags the other two leagues in absolute and percentage terms. Also, the 81.7% bust rate is significantly higher than the other two. Some notable graduates include Kris Letang, Keith Yandle, Zybnek Michalek, Francois Beauchemin, and Johnny Oduya.

So, if we revisit my initial question on where to draft, it appears that the OHL may be the place to look. Obviously, other factors like international experience, size, translatable skills, and skating play a huge role in the overall player evaluation.

As of the writing of this article, Morgan Rielly is sitting in 5th place in scoring among defensemen, and Leaf fans should be ecstatic to have such a highly-touted prospect in the pipeline. I honestly can't remember the last time I've been this excited about a prospect. Now, the above data should not be used as a means to handicap the probability or likelihood of Rielly succeeding at the NHL level. However, what it does tell us is that Rielly is among good company.

Stay tuned for the next piece where we will cover the top-10 forwards from each league... 

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