Geoff Molson in his press conference explaining the firing of GM Marc Bergevin and assistant GM Trevor Timmins made a point of declaring that the Canadiens need to draft better.
That was a curious statement, and makes one wonder if he’s actually looked at any comprehensive studies of the draft, or is simply going by what he has read in the newspapers or saw on Antichambre.
There are no superscouts who get it right every time. Heck…there are none that get it right 50 percent of the time. Projecting the long-term upside of 17-year-old athletes is a task that scouts in no other sport are asked to do.
In February of 2020, after Jesperi Kotkaniemi was sent to the minors and Quebec newspapers exploded with negative stories about Timmins’s draft record, I decided to do some deep digging into the track record of each NHL team at the draft table since Timmins took over as Montreal’s head scout in 2003, with an emphasis on quality/quantity of picks, and the resultant number of picks that become regular NHLers at some point in their career. I was curious to see if this Timmins fellow was indeed as incompetent as Quebec media members had been suggesting.
There is no tried and true scientific formula I used – I took what I thought were the most pertinent factors in drafting, and started adding up each team’s totals
I began by tallying up how many picks in the top two rounds each club had between 2003 and 2016. I figured picks made after 2016 are still to be determined.
Why the top two rounds? Well – they are the most important rounds by a fair margin in every draft. More than half of NHL regulars come out of the top two rounds, and at least 75 percent of the stars. The success of a team’s draft can often be traced back to the number of top-60 picks a team had in a particular draft. A team that makes 30 top-60 selections over a decade has a distinct advantage over the team that makes 18 such selections – 12 more opportunities to select a Kucherov, Bergeron or Weber…to name a few.
Then I counted up the prospects drafted by each team since 2003 that have played at least 200 games. I find that to be a fair number for any NHL career – if you played in 200 games, you got at least three seasons under your belt.
I divided the number of established players by the number of draft picks each team had in the top two rounds to come up with a success rate percentage for each team. Here are those totals:
Using Montreal as the example – the club had 25 picks in the top two rounds between 2003-16, and in those 14 drafts, 24 players selected by the Canadiens in the entire draft played at least 200 NHL games by February of 2020. Some drafts in that time frame had more than 60 selections in the top two rounds because there were compensatory picks doled out for teams that failed to sign draft players.
Now you know why they say you had a successful draft if you picked two NHL regulars. Only one club averaged two regulars per draft, and that was Columbus. Mind you, they picked top 10 almost every draft.
Next step was to tally up how many drafted players played at least 300 games. That, for me, is the threshold for whether you became anything other than an average NHL player – if you played at least 300 NHL games…you were a solid pick, if not a star. I once again divided that number by the number of picks each team had in the top two rounds.
I also included the number of top 15 picks each club had in that period of time in this chart:
|MTL||25||20||80%||5 top 15|
|OTT||25||16||67%||6 top 15|
|SJ||26||17||65%||4 top 15|
|BUF||34||22||65%||11 top 15|
|NAS||28||18||64%||6 top 15|
|LA||28||17||61%||7 top 15|
|PHI||23||14||61%||5 top 15|
|MIN||26||15||58%||6 top 15|
|CBJ||33||19||58%||11 top 15|
|DET||23||13||57%||1 top 15|
|ANA||34||19||56%||6 top 15|
|STL||35||19||54%||4 top 15|
|NYR||26||14||54%||5 top 15|
|EDM||30||16||53%||10 top 15|
|CAR||27||14||52%||11 top 15|
|TO||27||14||52%||7 top 15|
|PIT||24||12||50%||5 top 15|
|VAN||22||11||50%||6 top 15|
|NYI||30||15||50%||11 top 15|
|CHI||37||18||49%||6 top 15|
|WIN||27||13||48%||11 top 15|
|FLA||33||15||45%||10 top 15|
|ARI||35||15||43%||10 top 15|
|WAS||33||14||42%||6 top 15|
|BOS||31||14||42%||8 top 15|
|CAL||25||10||40%||5 top 15|
|DAL||30||12||40%||7 top 15|
|COL||30||12||40%||6 top 15|
|TB||28||11||39%||5 top 15|
|NJ||24||7||29%||3 top 15|
This is where I combine the two numbers, and then subtracted two points for every top 15 pick a team has made. If you are picking top 15, you are expected to be getting a productive player, and since we will be adding points for production later, it makes sense to handicap the teams that have more high picks…they are SUPPOSED to be drafting the productive players.
Here’s where the clubs stood after that when you take the average of the two totals; in other words, divide by two :
At this point, I counted how many picks each team made over the course of those 14 drafts, to expand on the previous formula that focused on the top two rounds only. I then added up the number of points each team’s prospects have scored with picks made between 2003 and 2016. I divided the point totals by the number of picks to obtain the points per pick average of every team.
Points Per Draft Pick
*Handicap deduction of three points for first overall, 2.5 for second, 2.0 for third, 1.5 for fourth and one point for fifth.
Why handicap them? Here’s why. I calculated the total number of games played and points for each first-round pick from 2007 until 2016, and separated them into picks 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc. Here were the average games played and points over those ten drafts:
462 GP 350 pts
428 GP 228 pts
330 GP 145 pts
279 GP 122 pts
225 GP 102 pts
217 GP 101 pts
A top-five pick on average is 3.5 times more productive than a player selected at the end of the first round. A player picked between six and ten is more than twice as productive on average than a player selected between 21 and 25.
So a player picked eighth overall that scores 26 goals per year…if you picked a player at 22-30th overall…you would want him to average 13 goals per year to be equal in value.
A player picked second overall that scores 42 goals per year? If you made a pick at 27th overall…you would hope that he averages 12 goals per year to be equal in value.
Nine of the 13 players with 800 career points that have been drafted since 2003 were picked in the top five of the draft. As of Dec. 1, 2021, 21 of the top 30 scorers in the NHL were first-round selections, and 11 of those were top-five selections.
The first overall pick had to be docked something tangible. Pittsburgh has the second-highest point total among all NHL teams – yet one-fifth of their prospect point total is from Crosby alone, and there was not a scout on the planet that wouldn’t have drafted him first overall. Crosby and Malkin, picked back-to-back in the top two, combine for approximately one-third of Pittsburgh’s point total.
It is a similar situation for the most productive team: Backstrom and Ovechkin combine for almost one-third of Washington’s total…yet they account for less than 1/50th of the total picks by the Capitals in that period. In other words, two percent of their 103 picks have accounted for about 30 percent of their total offence.
The teams that picked in the top five of the 2016 draft weren’t penalized. It’s a little early to be docking those five teams for players who, at most, are only completing their fourth seasons in the league. McDavid is already pushing 500 points and Eichel 400, so we started in 2015 and handicapped each top-five pick from 2003 until 2015.
Goaltenders were rewarded a point for each NHL win they’ve had in their career. It probably could be two points per win. It’s hard not to argue that a 400-win goalie doesn’t equate to an 800-point player in terms of the value they have given. Montreal and Pittsburgh should probably have slightly better scores as they were penalized for having top-five goalie picks in Fleury and Price..but it is hard to argue that their value has equated to a pair of 400-point scorers in the NHL. Most likely equal to at least an 800-point scorer in that regard. So both Pittsburgh and Montreal’s scores should probably be higher.
The final total combined the two rankings – each team’s efficiency in picking prospects that play a minimum of 300 games added together with the adjusted points per draft pick.
This study reveals that Trevor Timmins is not a poor talent evaluator. In fact; since joining the Canadiens as head scout in 2003, his success rate of drafting NHLers is right at the top.
Detroit and New Jersey are the only clubs that had the combination of fewer top-60 and top-15 picks. When you also factor in the total number of picks, Montreal was essentially tied with Philadelphia for the 27th least favourable starting point for the drafts between 2003-16. Timmins had a lot of years that he picked once in the top two rounds, and only five times in the top 15, tied for fifth least in the league. Montreal had one pick in the top four in that drafting period, while Edmonton had six in a seven-year span.
Despite those obstacles, Timmins drafted the third-most players that have gone on to play at least 300 games in the NHL. He has done the most with the least of any talent evaluator since he joined the Canadiens.
“Sure”, his detractors say… “but how has he drafted lately?”
Quite well, in fact. As of Dec. 1, 2021, here were the games played by prospects drafted from 2016 to 2019.
It is also constantly suggested that Timmins drafted poorly in the first round because some players have busted. Interestingly enough…Montreal is tied with several other teams in having the least number of top picks from 2010-19 not playing in the NHL this season.
Top picks from each team’s draft 2010-19 who haven’t played at least five NHL games in 2021-22:
Well…it must be because since 2010 the Canadiens have had more top-15 draft picks than most clubs…right? Nope. Habs are tied for seventh least top-15 picks in the past 11 drafts:
Top-15 selections since 2010
Two teams are in the top eight in each category – Chicago and Montreal. In other words – despite both teams drafting very few times in the top 15…both clubs still managed to choose players that are playing in the NHL this season at a rate higher than just about all other teams. Montreal would be at the very top in first picks playing in the NHL if Noah Juulsen hadn’t suffered that orbital fracture that put him out of action for two years.
It has been argued in the past that, sure, Timmins has been able to draft NHLers, but he hasn’t picked stars like so many other teams.
Well – despite having the third-worst drafting position as previously noted, Montreal, as of Feb. 2020, was tied for fifth overall in producing 300-point scorers over the past 18 years with six, and Montreal was one of only four teams to draft a 300-win goaltender.
One team in the league drafted players who won the Hart, Vezina and Norris Trophy in the past 18 years. What team is that, you ask? Montreal.
The Habs are one of the few teams to draft a 400-point scorer outside of the top 20 (Pacioretty), and a 400-point defenceman after the first round (Subban). Pacioretty is one of only four players drafted since 2007 who has scored 300 goals. The other three were first overall picks.
The other major criticism is about Timmins is that he has completely bombed when given the chance to draft top five.
That certainly wasn’t the case in 2005, when he chose Carey Price fifth overall. One of only five top-five picks since 2005 to win the Hart Trophy, and the only one among those five that wasn’t a top-three pick. He also won a Vezina, carried his team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2020-21 and will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day.
The second time Timmins picked in the top three, he chose Galchenyuk, who is just one point behind Tomas Hertl for the second-most career points in his draft class. I’m not sure how Galchenyuk can be considered the draft’s big bust when the two players chosen in front of him, and the one chosen right after him ended up being much worse picks. Let’s face it – the 2012 draft was not an especially good one, as there has been one player from the whole draft who hit the 70-point mark, and that was on one occasion. If you want to single out a team from that draft for poor decisions it has to be Edmonton. Not only did they pick Nail Yakupov first overall but they later traded the 16th and 33rd picks in the 2015 draft for Griffin Reinhart, who went fourth overall. The Islanders would choose Matt Barzal with that 16th pick, and move up from 33 to pick Anthony Beauvillier with the 28th pick.
There have only been five players chosen third overall since 2004 who have scored more career points than Galchenyuk, so to say that he was a disastrous pick is disingenuous. And it’s not like they got no return for him when he was dealt. Max Domi scored 70 points in his first season with the Canadiens, and was eventually traded for Josh Anderson, who is Montreal’s leading goal scorer this season.
No NHL team has gotten more offensive production from their 2012 first-round selection than Montreal. Here are the top three:
Montreal 177 231 408*
Nashville 188 212 400
San Jose 159 177 336
If there’s no McDavid in your draft class when you are picking at the top…guess what? You don’t end up with a McDavid. All things considered…Montreal made the best of the situation. It should not be forgotten that Galchenyuk missed the entire OHL regular season with a knee injury either, so to end up with the highest point total of any team from one draft selection is pretty impressive. Two of the top five picks in that draft (Galchenyuk and Morgan Reilly) combined for 24 games played that season – giving you an idea of how thin it was talent-wise in that draft.
It is far too early to be judging the 2018 draft class but folks have been doing it for three years anyway. It is commonly stated that Montreal missed by taking Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall. Certainly up until now in their NHL careers, two players taken after KK…Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes, have outproduced KK, and for some, that means he was a flopped pick.
So far, KK has produced the fifth-most points in his draft class…which hardly qualifies him as a flop. The Canadiens were in desperate need of a center, and KK is the top-producing center from 2018. He has almost twice as many points as the second-most productive center (Barrett Hayton) in the entire draft class, and is one of the five most productive players in NHL history in terms of playoff goal-scoring before the age of 21, with ten goals. Even Crosby failed to score that many before age 21.
So far this year, Kotkaniemi has equaled the goal totals of Tkachuk and Hayton combined despite averaging only 12 minutes per game in ice time. Tkachuk is up over 18 minutes a game. I kept stressing to people that Tkachuk had matured a lot earlier and was also ten months older, so it would take a few years for KK to start catching up to him from a physical standpoint. It looks like he may be doing that this season.
As far as the Canadiens also wasting that pick because KK was dealt just as Galchenyuk was…the return for him was a second-line center who is their best faceoff man and playing 18+ minutes per game in Christian Dvorak. He has not lived up to expectations as of yet, but he is starting to get acclimatized and look more comfortable in recent outings.
Detractors are correct in noting that neither Galchenyuk nor Kotkaniemi are as good as Leon Draisaitl. Can you name another third-overall pick from the past 15 years that is as good as Draisaitl? You play the hand you are dealt, and it’s not always a Royal Flush.
Suppose for one moment that Montreal had ended up with the third overall pick just one year earlier in both 2012 and 2011. They would have ended up with Jonathan Huberdeau and Miro Heiskanen (Montreal’s top-rated player in both drafts). You draft what’s available to you…it’s hardly Timmins’ fault that the two years he had high picks in recent drafts, the pickings were slimmer than usual.
The bottom line with 19 drafts from Timmins is this – He drafted in the top ten on five occasions. Did he draft at least five players who would be strong candidates to be top-ten picks in their draft years?
2004: Mark Streit – This one will surprise some people, and he likely sits outside of the top-ten best players from the draft class if you argue that his defensive game wasn’t great, but the bottom line is that he has the ninth-best point total from the draft class, and that’s rather notable for a ninth-round defenceman. In a redraft of this rather underwhelming draft class, Streit would certainly be a top-20 selection, and that’s rather remarkable for a player that was picked 262nd overall. One player drafted in the final six rounds scored 400 points in the NHL….and that was Streit…picked in the last round.
2005: Carey Price – One of the three best players from that draft class along with Crosby and Kopitar. He sits 21st all-time in goalie wins with 360, and by the time his career is over, he’s a great bet to be top ten, perhaps top five in NHL history in wins. Crosby sits 33rd in points all-time, and Kopitar is 84th.
2007: Ryan McDonagh, PK Subban, Max Pacioretty – Most redrafts I have seen of this draft class have Pacioretty, Subban and McDonagh in the top five or six. Pacioretty is the third-best goal scorer and fifth-best point producer. Subban won a Norris and has the ninth most points in the entire draft class..impressive for a defenceman picked in the second round. McDonagh is McDonagh – an all-around blueline beast the past dozen years who sits 17th in total points from the draft class.
2010: Brendan Gallagher – The fifth-best goal scorer from his draft class was selected 147th overall, and is the first player always mentioned when describing the prototypical heart-and-soul smaller player. If NHL teams were making their picks again, he goes top six…perhaps even top four.
2012: Alex Galchenyuk – The third-best goal scorer and third-most points from this draft class, just one point behind Tomas Hertl. You would throw in a few defencmen and a couple of goaltenders into the top-ten mix ahead of Galchenyuk along with Hertl, Forsberg and Teravainen. Alex would be on the cusp of being a top-ten selection in a redraft today. Four years ago when he was still a Hab, he would still have gone top-five on most people’s redraft lists.
2016: Mikhail Sergachev – The “future Norris trophy winner” as Pierre McGuire dubbed him after the Canadiens traded him, sits one point behind the seventh-best point producer from the entire draft, and has made major strides in his all-around game while capturing two Cups with the Lightning. A 22-minute per night defenceman on the defending champs…he goes top ten in a redraft today, and is arguably a top-five candidate.
2018: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Alex Romanov – Kotkaniemi was the first center chosen, and if a redraft were to be held today, he’d be the first center chosen again. Fifth overall in points…he’s only just starting to scratch the surface when it comes to his full offensive potential, scoring at a 23-goal pace on the season as he has goals in his last three games since being moved back to center and given more ice time. Romanov is top ten in games played, and that’s impressive for a young defenceman, as they usually take longer to develop. Romanov has been averaging more than 20 minutes per game in four of the last six as he gets more and more comfortable in a shutdown role for the Canadiens. Already one of the best hitters in the league…I have little doubt that by pick eight in the draft if it was held today, teams would be looking seriously at drafting him.
2019: Cole Caufield – Top ten in games played, goals and points, last year’s Hobey Baker winner would have been a shoo-in to be chosen top ten in a redraft if it had taken place this past summer thanks to his dynamic showing in Montreal’s surprise playoff run. He’d still go top ten in a redraft today but closer to ten than to first.
That is 11 picks who are in the top-ten redraft discussion – eight who would be pretty sure bets – and 10 being surefire top-15 selections in redrafts. For a team that selected in the top ten just five times, and the top 15 seven times between 2003 and 2021, that’s well above average.
Here is an update as of Dec. 3, 2021, on how teams have fared picking prospects that have played at least 300 NHL games since the 2003 draft –
Despite having an average draft position of 18.8 for its first pick, in a 14-year span between 2003 and 2016, Montreal made 99 picks, an average of 7.07 picks per draft.
40 of those 99 picks were in the top three rounds. The top two teams Buffalo had 49 top-90 picks and Anaheim had 52. Buffalo and Anaheim each chose 34 players in the top two rounds in that time frame, while Montreal had just 25.
The only category where Timmins did not finish at the very top in drafting from 2003 until 2016 was points per pick (ninth overall), and there’s a reasonable explanation for that. The Canadiens picked just two forwards in the top 17. They had no opportunity to pick an Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, etc. to pad the stats. Teams like Boston and Washington that finished at the top in points per pick chose five or more forwards in the top 17, including Ovechkin at first overall. Edmonton picked seven forwards in the top six, with four being first overall. You could be the worst scout in the business and ended up with decent points per pick ratio with that starting point.
The vast majority of Montreal fans tend to look at draft results in a bubble. They see the top picks that didn’t pan out in Montreal and figure that it means the Canadiens were poor at drafting. What they fail to take into account is that every team has had multiple misses in the past 19 years with high picks. Less than 50 percent of top-50 picks become NHL regulars, and you’re lucky to get 50 regulars from each draft class. If 30 percent or more of a club’s picks make the NHL from one draft, it is a highly successful one.
Let’s take a quick look at Montreal vs. Boston as a good example of how Habs fans can fail to look at the overall picture. Plenty of fans have been praising Gorton to the high heavens for “picking” Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand in the 2006 draft in the top-three rounds. Montreal in that draft selected David Fischer, Mathieu Carle, Ben Maxwell and Ryan White in the top-three rounds.
Boston, rightfully so, deserves credit for having a great draft, no one will deny that. Here’s the thing though – one of my Twitter followers went so far as to suggest that it’s incontrovertible proof that Gorton drafts better than Timmins..and that all discussions on it should end there.
If Gorton had been Boston’s head scout that year and both Timmins and Gorton had never been involved in another amateur draft in their careers, then he would be right in suggesting that Gorton was a better scout…for one draft.
First of all; Gorton didn’t draft those players. He was the interim GM at the time (he served as GM for five months), and that is his one and only connection to those players being selected. Gorton didn’t come into the job halfway through the 2005-06 season and bring in his own amateur scouts, including head scout Scott Bradley. Gorton didn’t change any of the scouting staff in that short period of time. Gorton also wasn’t out scouting those players – Bradley and his staff scouted and drafted those players – they deserve the credit…not Gorton.
You know when you are watching a game and they invariably pan up to the team’s box and the GM is watching? That GM hasn’t been cloned – there is not another version of him that very night who is also out scouting draft-eligible players. A GM simply doesn’t have the time to be scouting draft-eligible prospects very often. They show up at the WJC and perhaps the Memorial Cup..maybe a few local junior games on an off night when the NHL club isn’t playing – that’s it. So to give Gorton all the credit for those picks is simply wrong; just as Bob Gainey doesn’t get all of the blame for Montreal’s poor result from that year.
Drafting Phil Kessel fifth overall was a no-brainer. There wasn’t a draft list that didn’t have him ranked in the top four, and it was a surprise to many that he dropped to Boston at five. A lot of folks expected Kessel to go first or second overall, so it was hardly genius for Boston to pick him at five – they were fortunate enough to have a top-five pick in a draft that had five elite prospects. As for the selections of Lucic and Marchand…those turned out to be great value, and a major reason why the Bruins were able to win a Cup in 2011. Without question, Bradley deserves plenty of credit for those picks.
Let’s not pretend that it was super genius drafting, however. It’s not like Boston had both Lucic and Marchand ranked in the top 20 while every other team was clueless. If the Bruins had any inclination that Marchand was going to be as good as he turned out, would they have picked Yuri Alexandrov and Lucic ahead of him? The same goes for Lucic – if they really liked him…why did they take Alexandrov at 37th overall instead of him? Like every other scouting staff in the NHL…Boston underrated Lucic and Marchand. Both should have been chosen in the top 15. So they get credit…but it was hardly like they knew something everyone else didn’t…they just happened to be picking in the right spot when their selections came up.
Further proof that Bradley and the Bruins’ scouting staff wasn’t any smarter than the rest was evident in the very next draft. Yes – the Bruins drafted better than Montreal in 2006..but in 2007 the tables were completely reversed.
Boston picked Zach Hamill at eighth overall and Tommy Cross at 35. Montreal selected Ryan McDonagh at 12, Max Pacioretty at 22 and PK Subban 43rd overall. Boston could have had McDonagh or Pacioretty at eighth overall and Subban at 35th overall. Whoops!
So where are the Habs’ fans zeroing in on that one draft and saying it’s the “end of the discussion” when comparing Montreal’s scouting to Boston’s? Well…because they remember Montreal’s misses in other drafts…but they don’t remember Boston’s. This is why full studies of every team are important when attempting to judge how a team fares at the draft table.
Habs’ fans frequently bring up Nikita Scherbak..and lament that Boston chose David Pastrnak right before him. Every scout I knew at the time had Pastrnak rated as a top-15 pick, but he fell to 25 and the Bruins reaped the rewards. The Canadiens were taking Pastrnak at 26 if he was there; he was not. So – again…good drafting by the Bruins…but proof that their scouts were smarter than everyone else? Hardly. In the very next draft…Boston had three picks between 13 and 15th overall..and instead of taking Matt Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot (the next three players chosen), they took Jakub Zboril, Jake Debrusk and Zach Senyshyn.
Which would the Bruins rather have today – Pastrnak, Zboril, Senyshyn and Debrusk or Shea Theodore, Chabot, Barzal and Connor?
Every scout I know scratched their heads over the Debrusk and Senyshyn picks. Many had Senyshyn ranked outside of the top 40. Turns out they were right. These are good examples of why you don’t just look at one draft class or a couple of picks from one class in judging a scouting staff – you need to study all of their picks, and I did just that for this study.
Anyway – Trevor Timmins’s time in Montreal is up. He almost made it two full decades, and there were ups and downs in drafting like with any team.
It’s an inexact science, and you hope over time that you end up with more hits than misses near the top of the draft. Timmins achieved just that in Montreal, and in five or ten years’ time when folks revisit his more recent draft picks and see just how successful they’ve been, I’m pretty sure history will be judging his draft record in Montreal quite favourably.
Other NHL teams know. They don’t judge him by comments made on Antichambre or in Quebec newspapers. He’ll be hired by another team very quickly, and don’t be surprised if he walks onto the stage in July of 2022 and announces his new team’s first pick at the Bell Centre. Here’s hoping it’s Tristan Luneau…just to rub a little added salt in the wound.
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