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Study in Building A Winner - Fla, Pit and Det - Does Draft Position Matter?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether the Senators should aim to go the route of the Edmonton Oilers or early 2000’s Pittsburgh Penguins and string together a number of pitiful seasons in order to build a winning team.  In theory, that would be a good plan, but in practice it doesn’t matter what slot you pick in, but the players you select.  In defense of the “do the best you can” theory, take a look at the Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings and their respective draft histories over the past 11 years since 2001).

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Year – Draft slot- Player selected

2001- 4th – Stephen Weiss

2002- 3rd – Jay Bouwmeester

2003 – 3rd – Nathan Horton

2003 – 25th – Anthony Stewart

2004- 7th – Rostislav Olesz

2005 – 20th – Kendall McArdle

2006 – 10th – Michael Folik

2007 – 10th – Keaton Ellerby

2008 – none (Traded for Tomas Vokoun)

2009 – 14th – Dmitri Kulikov

2010 – 3rd – Erik Gudbranson

2010 – 19th – Nick Bjustad

2010 – 25th – Quinton Howden

2011 – 3rd – Jonathan Huberdeau

11 years, 13 first round picks, including 8 in the top 10.  There could be 5 of those 13 round picks in the Panthers lineup this season (Weiss, Ellerby, Kulikov, Gudbranson, Huberdeau).

The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs in their last 9 seasons.

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

2001 – 21st – Colby Armstrong

2002 – 5th – Ryan Whitney

2003 – 1st – Marc Andre Fleury

2004 – 2nd – Evgeni Malkin

2005 – 1st – Sidney Crosby

2006 – 2nd – Jordan Staal

2007 – 20th – Angelo Esposito

2008 – none – (traded for Marian Hossa)

2009 – 30th – Simon Despres

2010 – 20th – Beau Bennett

2011 – 23rd – Joe Morrow

The Penguins have had  10 first round picks over the past 11 seasons, and they will likely have 4 first round picks of their own in the lineup this season.  They had the benefit of a 4 year stretch where they drafted the core of their team, and lucked out immensely in 2005 by winning the Sid the Kid lottery coming out of the lockout.  Their bad 2003-04 season netted them Malkin and Crosby, a feat which will never, EVER happen again.

 

DETROIT RED WINGS

2001 – none – (traded for Chris Chelios)

2002 – none – (traded for Dominik Hasek)

2003 – none – (traded for Mathieu Schneider)

2004 – none (traded for Robert Lang)

2005 – 19th – Jakub Kindl

2006 – none – (traded for 2 2nd round picks)

2007 – 27th – Brendan Smith

2008 – 30th – Thomas McCollum

2009 – none – (traded for a 2nd & 3rd rd pick)

2010 – 21st – Riley Sheahan

2011 – none – (traded to OTTAWA for 2 2nd round picks, Ottawa selected Matt Puempel)

The Red Wings, one of the top two or three franchises of the last 20 years, has made only 4 first round selections in the last 11 years.  None is expected to make an impact on the team this season.  The Red Wings have built their success on finding late round gems (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Fanzen), using their picks to build from outside, or trading down to get multiple picks and developing them properly.

 

OTTAWA SENATORS

By contrast, the Senators have had 13 first round picks, but only 4 top 10 picks.  The Senators could have as many as 7 homegrown first round picks (Phillips, Spezza, Foligno, Lee, Karlsson, Cowen, Zibanejad) in their lineup this season.  The Senators have shown a balance of drafting, signing free agents and trading to assemble the players that will make up the club.  Sprinkle in a couple of free agents that may or may not pan out (namely Gonchar), and this team is

This case study proves, if nothing else, that it doesn’t matter where you pick in the draft.  It comes down to what you do with the picks you have, and how you develop them that counts.  The Senators have shown that they are on the right track in terms of player development, and they have a Calder Cup to prove it.  The Ottawa organization has never been deeper in talent, and that is an impressive feat considering where they have drafted over the past decade.  This team is going to be fine this year.  I am not saying they will make the playoffs, but they will still be in the mix in April.  They are on the right track to return to contender status that they can maintain for a number of years once again, after they had been among the elite clubs but very thin on the farm.

There are no guarantees (as Florida has demonstrated) that consistent poor finishes will result in future success.  There is also no evidence to suggest that successful teams need to build strictly through the draft and have early first round picks (Detroit for example) to build a winner.  It also shows that luck can play a huge factor (Pittsburgh getting Crosby) in building a successful team.

Bottom line is, there is no need to finish in the bottom of the league to build a winner.

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