The value of first-round draft picks

As part of the RFA thievery to get Shea Weber, the Predators would acquire four first-round draft picks from the Flyers in compensation. Many people have argued that first round picks are worthless until proven otherwise, or that at very least the team will be OK without them.

<blockquote>I have confidence the Flyers soldier on and continue to be contenders with out those 4 first round picks. They have always found a way in the past.</blockquote>by UhOhSpaghettiOs on Jul 20, 2012 8:18 PM EDT

That may be an important point there. The team hasn't had much in the way of first-round picks in the last 15 years or so ... or have they? Let's see, and then let’s consider the value of those picks a bit.

1998 – selection #22, Simon Gagne

To date, Simon has played 781 NHL regular season games, amassing 283 goals and 298 assists for 581 career points. He has one year remaining on a contract with LA that pays him $3.5m a season, but last year was sidelined with concussion issues and played only 34 games. One cannot say this wasn’t a good pick, and the club was pained to see Simon go to Tampa a few years back in a cap-relief move.

1999 - #22 Maxime Ouellet

Maxime played a whopping 12 NHL games (last in 2006), posting a save percentage of 0.903 and a goals-against average of 3.08. It’s pretty safe to say this pick was a bust.

2000 - #28, Justin Williams

Thus far, Justin has played 707 NHL regular season games, posting 179 goals and 286 assists for 465 aggregate points. He has a contract with the LA Kings for another three seasons at $3.65m per, and last season played every game and exceeded 20 goals for the second straight year. Williams was slow to get his legs in the NHL, held back the injuries as well as club tumult, and was traded to Carolina in 2004 for Danny Markov. Solid low –first round pick.

2001 - #27 Jeff Woywitka

Jeff has been up-and-down his entire professional playing career, spending parts of most seasons in the NHL and parts in the AHL (or as a healthy scratch). He’s played 278 games in 7 seasons, notching 9 goals and 46 assists for 55 career points. He just signed a one-year UFA contract with St. Louis for $700,000. This is one of those picks that toes the line between decent and poor, although if it had been a second-rounder no one would question it.

2002 - #4, Joni Pitkanen

Joni has played 513 NHL regular-season contests thus far, and is under contract in Carolina for another two seasons at $4.5m per. He has 273 career points, composed of 56 goals and 217 assists. Pitkanen led the Flyers in ice time for the two seasons preceding his trade to Edmonton in 2007 (with Geoff Sanderson) for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul. A solid offensive defenseman, and a good pick.

2003 - #11 Jeff Carter AND #24 Mike Richards

Well, what can be said about Jeffie and Richie? We’ll start with the higher pick in Carter. Jeff was catapulted straight from the OHL into the NHL, and scored 23 goals in 2005 as a rookie. After that, he’s gone on to paste 202 goals and 175 assists for 377 points in 516 career regular season games. Jeff is under contract until 2022 at $5.72m a year. His 2011-12 season was marred by injuries and a pair of trades – first to Columbus (for Jake Voracek and picks) and later to LA (for Jack Johnson) where he got his name engraved on the Cup with … Mike Richards. The 24th overall pick in 2003 is one of the top two-way forwards in the game today (and frankly one of the reasons I am a Flyers fan today). After leading the AHL Phantoms to the Calder Cup in 2005, Richards joined the Flyers for the next season. Since then, he’s scored 151 goals and 242 assists (393 points) in 527 NHL games, as well as serving as the Flyers captain for three seasons. He was traded to the LA Kings to start the 2011 season for Wayne Simmonds, Bayden Schenn, and a 2nd round pick, where he has 8 more seasons in his contract at $5.75m each. Both picks in 2003 were excellent first round selections, no matter how you slice it.

2004 - none, highest pick was #92 Rob Bellamy.

2005 - #29 Steve Downie

The curious case of Steve Downie (the OBSC, or Original BatShit Crazy) started in the AHL, where he earned a reputation for reckless endangerment but solid hockey skills – scoring better than a point per game, but also averaging 5 penalty minutes a game to go with it. His NHL time with the Flyers was limited to 38 games before he was traded in 2008 with Steve Eminger for Matt Carle. Since then, he’s become a more effective winger, while still keeping a physical edge that earned him multiple suspensions over his 272 career NHL regular season games – but he balances that against 55 goals and 82 assists (137 points, about a half-point per game). Downie just signed a two-year contract extension with Colorado that pays him $2.65m a season. A serviceable low-first-round pick with the Flyers violence inherent in his game.

2006 - #22 Claude Giroux

This synopsis will be woefully understating Claude Giroux, since most expect his career to simply explode over the next few seasons. Claude came from the “Q” to the AHL in the 2008-09 season, but only stopped there briefly before being promoted to the NHL halfway through the season. Since then, he has risen to become one of the premier centers in the game, and is considered the third-most skilled player in the league today (by vote of his peers, no less). Claude has potted 78 goals and 165 assists thus far in 285 career regular season games, for 243 points in total and has exceeded a point per game on average the last two seasons. Claude signed an RFA extension last year that keeps him under contract for $3.75m until 2013-14 (another two years). Late first round pick? This would have been gold being a #1 overall pick.

2007 - #2 James Van Riemsdyk

The highest pick the Flyers have had over the past 15 years gets mixed reviews thus far, but is still early in his career (23 years old). James played two more years at UNH after being picked, infuriating many Flyers fans – a stigma he never seemed to fully escape. In his first season, Van Riemsdyk stepped in and scored 15 goals in a rookie campaign of 78 games; not bad for a 20-year old with only 7 AHL games preceding his debut. His next season was even better, netting over 20 goals and playing more and more solidly during the season. But last year, his season was marred by injury, keeping him from playing more than half the season. His career totals to date are 196 games played with 47 goals and 52 assists (99 points, half-point per game) all with the Flyers, but next season he will be under contract to Toronto as he was traded for Luke Schenn. That contract pays him $4.25m for the next six seasons. Hard to call this pick yet, but if Van Riemsdyk continues to play well or even improves, the pick will have been a success. Maybe not stellar return this far for the #2 overall, but a half-point player with room for improvement is a decent first round pick nonetheless.

2008 - #19 Luca Sbisa

Sbisa may be the poster child for letting defensemen mature before throwing them into the NHL. Sice his rookie half-season with the Flyers in 2008-09 as an 18-year old, he has steadily improved his NHL play, culminating in a contract from Anaheim for four seasons at $2.175m per ending in 2014-15. Thus far he has played 195 career NHL regular season games, and has 7 goals and 35 assists to show for it. His best season was his most recent (and already under that contract) and he appears ready to become a solid 2nd pairing NHL defenseman. Not a bad late-first round pick, really – although many feel high-pick defensemen should be more ready to play professionally than Sbisa was, I disagree, especially for European players.

2009 - none, highest pick was #81 Adam Morrison.

2010 - none, highest pick was #89 Michael Chaput

2011 - #8 Sean Couturier

Scooter was a Calder Trophy finalist as a 4th line center and as an 18-year-old. He jumped straight from the “Q” onto the Flyers roster, and produced 13 goals and 14 assists in 77 games while playing what was regarded as one of the best shutdown roles in the league last season, denying the likes of Malkin and Crosby and doing significant penalty-kill time as well. This kid has great expectations of himself and from the club, and all indications are he will meet them in the mold of a Mike Richards sort of player.

2012 - #20 Scott Laughton

Obviously this draft’s pick hasn’t got any playing time yet, but his numbers from juniors indicate he is a defensive center with an edge. His projection is third-line or possibly second, according to Hockey’s Future. If he pans out, not bad for the pick.

Alrighty then, so it looks like the Flyers pick a lot around and after the #20 spot in the first round. And what has it brought them, over the 15 picks? Well, three were non-picks, so we have to throw them out of the average (mostly because I do not feel like tracking down who that pick became – if someone has free time to do so I’d love the additional info). So out of the twelve remaining selections, the Flyers got one bum pick. Let me repeat that: of the 12 first round picks the team has made in the last 15 years, only ONE has not been an reasonable NHL player at all. There is also one that has been a sub-par NHL player over his career, so let’s say two that were not worth their first-round value. The other ten selections? All regular NHL players. Of the 8 forwards, only Couturier isn’t (yet?) at least a half-point per game performer, which is commonly considered a good top-six player. Of the three defensemen, one is/was a first-pairing player, one is growing into a good second-pairing slot, and one is a #6 guy.

So of 12 active selections, the team landed the equivalence of 10 NHL players. Of those who were selected more than 5 seasons ago (the average length of a player’s career), all except Ouellet are still playing – exceeding the expected career with their on-ice skills. The return on these picks is exactly the influx of new talent a team needs to survive, especially since the entry level contracts or the restricted free agent extensions (like G’s) are a fraction of market value for players of their caliber, saving against the cap. If your roster contains 23 players, your average salary must be about $3m each maximum. Without young players entering each season to balance the players outgrowing their ELCs and RFAs, and producing sufficiently to fill real roster holes and not just fourth line filler, you cannot succeed in the salary-cap NHL.

This is why draft picks are so critical to a team, and why giving up at 4 first round picks (late or not) can cripple the franchise in the future. This is why, even in the face of Shea Weber being one of the best defensemen in the league today, I will continue to argue that this RFA offer sheet was a mistake and an ill-advised gamble. I'd rather have any four players off the list above in exchange for one Shea Weber.

This item was written by a member of this community and is not necessarily endorsed by <em>Broad Street Hockey</em>.

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