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How low can the Coyotes go? The quest for No. 1 overall

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With Connor McDavid as a potential prize, should the Coyotes be competitive or lousy?

Dennis Pajot

The now Arizona Coyotes have just missed the playoffs two years in a row. They were four points shy of the playoffs in the lockout shortened 2012 season and finished two points short last year. By just missing the playoffs, the Coyotes earned the 12th overall selection in the NHL Draft in both of those years. In 2014, they selected Brendan Perlini who looked like he might be a steal before a slash broke a bone in his hand ending his preseason early in late September. The 2013 draft saw the Yotes select Max Domi, the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi. On Thursday, Domi was sent back to his junior team. It was a move that came as somewhat of a surprise, but makes a lot of sense in the current NHL climate.

With Domi squarely in the news cycle and the idea of a Coyote youth movement jettisoned in favor of competing for a playoff spot with older players, it's time to ask an important question. Should the Coyotes continue to be just good enough to stay in the playoff picture while not having enough talent to actually finish in the top eight? Or would this team be better off playing for a high draft pick in the 2015 NHL draft, aka the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes with special guest appearance from Jack Eichel?

Let's start with looking at the success or lack thereof of players selected with the number 12 pick in the NHL entry draft. Since this an analysis of the Coyotes need for forward talent, only players drafted as forwards were used for these numbers. To make the sample size manageable but large enough to be meaningful, I looked at 30 years of NHL drafts from 1980 to 2009 (ignoring the last five drafts, since the majority of those players may not have even made the NHL or reached their athletic prime yet). With that in mind, here are the forwards selected with the 12th pick since 1980.

Year Player Games played (GP) Goals (G) Assists (A) Points (P)
1981 Tony Tanti 697 287 273 560
1983 Dave Gagner 946 318 401 719
1984 Gary Roberts 1224 438 472 910
1985 Jose Charbonneau 71 9 13 22
1986 Warren Babe 21 2 5 7
1987 Keith Osbourne 16 1 3 4
1989 Rob Pearson 269 56 54 110
1990 Turner Stevenson 644 75 115 190
1991 Tyler Wright 613 79 70 149
1992 Sergei Krivokrasov 450 86 109 195
1994 Wade Belak 549 8 25 33
1995 Teemu Riihijarvi 0 0 0 0
1996 Josh Holden 60 5 9 14
1997 Marian Hossa 1090 464 531 995
1998 Alex Tanguay 938 253 520 773
1999 Denis Shvidki 76 11 14 25
2000 Alexei Smirnov 52 3 3 6
2003 Hugh Jessiman 2 0 0 0
2006 Bryan Little 486 122 169 291
Totals 8204 2217 2786 5003

In an effort to filter out any noise and account for any outliers, I also used calculations that eliminated the two highest values for each category and the two lowest. Here's how that shakes out for those players selected 12th now.

Year Player Games played (GP) Goals (G) Assists (A) Points (P)
1981 Tony Tanti 697 287 273 560
1983 Dave Gagner 946 318 401 719
1984 Gary Roberts X X 472 X
1985 Jose Charbonneau 71 9 13 22
1986 Warren Babe 21 2 5 7
1987 Keith Osbourne 16 1 3 4
1989 Rob Pearson 269 56 54 110
1990 Turner Stevenson 644 75 115 190
1991 Tyler Wright 613 79 70 149
1992 Sergei Krivokrasov 450 86 109 195
1994 Wade Belak 549 8 25 33
1995 Teemu Riihijarvi X X X X
1996 Josh Holden 60 5 9 14
1997 Marian Hossa X X X X
1998 Alex Tanguay 938 253 X 773
1999 Denis Shvidki 76 11 14 25
2000 Alexei Smirnov 52 3 3 6
2003 Hugh Jessiman X X X X
2006 Bryan Little 486 122 169 291
Totals 5888 1315 1735 3098

Now that we have those totals, lets go ahead and break them down into averages.

  • All forwards drafted 12th: 431 GP, 116 G, 146 A, 263 P
  • Forwards minus the extremes: 392 GP, 87 G, 115 A, 206 P

Basically, the 12th overall pick gives you a player similar to Nikolai Zherdev on broad averages or someone comparable to Kevin Todd when narrowed down a bit further. Both are useful players, but neither are franchise changers.

That's the 12th pick, what happens with the 11 pick? Well, with the 11th pick the numbers go up across the board.

  • Totals for all forwards picked 11th: 9684 GP, 2648 G, 3179 A, 5827 P
  • Forwards minus the extremes: 7113 GP, 1746 G, 2153 A, 3899 P
  • Averages for all: 538 GP, 147 G,176 A, 323 P
  • Averages for all minus extremes: 508 GP, 124 G, 153 A, 278 P

The extremes in the case of the 11th overall selections are Brian Rolston from the 1991 class (1256 GP, 342 G, 419 A, and 761 P) and Jarome Iginla from the 1995 draft class (1310 GP, 560 G, 607 A, 1167 P and still counting) for the high end. The low end extremes are 2004 pick Lauri Tukonen (L.A. Kings) who appeared in five NHL games without scoring a point and 2008 Blackhawks pick Kyle Beach who never made it above the AHL level and is currently playing in Europe. The Kings would redeem themselves on the Tukonen pick the very next year in the very same spot by drafting Anze Kopitar.

The 11th overall pick on average yields a player comparable to Paul Holmgren and narrowing the field for clarity deposits a player who would perform similarly to a John Gould. But forget about comparing them to players, how do the numbers stack up against themselves?

The stats all increase from the 12th pick to the 11th, and the increase is fairly substantial. In games played, the increase is 24.8% from the 12th pick to 11. Goals and assists also see increases of 20% with 26.7 and 20.5 respectively. The jump in points for an 11th overall selection is 22.8% higher than the 12th. When the sample size is narrowed and condensed, the percentages are even higher. Games played jump 29.5%, goals increase a whopping 42.5%, assists go up 44.0% and therefore points see a rise of 34.9% Those are pretty tough numbers to ignore and that's for only moving up one pick in the draft. What happens at the 10th pick?

Well, at the 10th selection in the draft, here's what you are getting from a forward historically from 1980 on:

  • Totals: 10548 GP, 2462 G, 3098 A, 5560 P
  • Total minus extremes: 7723 GP, 1449 G, 1894 A, 3343 P
  • Averages: 620 GP, 144 G, 182 A, 327 P
  • Averages minus extremes: 594 GP, 111 G, 145 A, 257 P

The extremes for the 10th pick include one of the all time greats in 1988 draftee Teemu Selanne (1451 GP, 684 G, 773 A, 1457 P) and the following years choice Bobby Holik (1314 GP, 326 G, 421 A, 747 P). The low end extremes actually both saw NHL action, albeit less than a year combined for 1985 pick Dan Gratton (7 GP, 1 G, 1P) and year 2000 selection Mikhail Yakubov (53 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 12 P). In fact, 2000 was a tough year to pick a Russian born player in the first round as Yakubov joined Pavel Vorobiev (11), Smirnov (12), Artem Kryukov (15), and Alexei Mikhnov (17) in the group for Russians who didn't play at least 60 NHL games.

On average the 10th pick nets you a player who may give you a career similar to Kevin Miller or perform along the lines of Sergei Zholtok when adjusted for extremes.

What do the numbers look like when compared against the 12th pick? It's an increase very similar to what you see in the 11th spot. The biggest increase comes from games played as that jumps up at 43.8% and at 51.5% when adjusted. The goals see a decent uptick, 24.1% normally and 27.5% adjusted. Assists rise 24.6% and 26.0% respectively and the overall points go up 24.3% and 24.7%. The tenth pick suffers when clearing out the extremes because of how very amazing Teemu was against the rest of the pack. But the 10th overall pick almost always nets you a productive and lengthy career.

At this point you probably aren't surprised that there is an increase in moving up picks from 12 to 11 to 10 and so on. But the increase seems modest enough. Well, now look at what happens when you go from 12 all the way to number 1.

Year Player GP G A P
1980 Doug Wickenheiser 556 111 165 276
1981 Dale Hawerchuck 1188 518 891 1409
1983 Brian Lawton 483 112 154 266
1984 Mario Lemieux 915 690 1033 1723
1985 Wendal Clark 793 330 234 564
1986 Joe Murphy 779 233 295 528
1987 Pierre Turgeon 1294 515 812 1327
1988 Mike Modano 1499 561 813 1374
1989 Mats Sundin 1346 564 785 1349
1990 Owen Nolan 1200 422 463 885
1991 Eric Lindross 760 372 493 865
1993 Alexandre Daigle 616 129 198 327
1997 Joe Thornton 1207 342 852 1194
1998 Vincent Lecavalier 1106 403 508 911
1999 Patrik Stefan 455 64 124 188
2001 Ilya Kovalchuk 816 417 399 816
2002 Rick Nash 783 336 292 628
2004 Alex Ovechkin 679 422 392 814
2005 Sidney Crosby 550 274 495 769
2007 Patrick Kane 515 178 315 493
2008 Steven Stamkos 410 233 193 426
2009 John Tavares 350 136 179 315
Totals 18300 7362 10085 17447

Those are all the forwards taken No. 1 overall from 1980 to 2009. Really outside of four picks, Wickenheiser, Lawton, Daigle and Stefan, all are tremendous players. Plus, even those four "flops" had decent NHL careers playing between 450 to 620 games while adding 180-300 points. For a low end, that's not shabby. In fact, let's look at the totals minus the extremes.

Year Player GP G A P
1980 Doug Wickenheiser 556 X 165 276
1981 Dale Hawerchuck 1188 518 X X
1983 Brian Lawton 483 112 X X
1984 Mario Lemieux 915 X
X
X
1985 Wendal Clark 793 330 234 564
1986 Joe Murphy 779 233 295 528
1987 Pierre Turgeon 1294 515 812 1327
1988 Mike Modano X 561 813 1374
1989 Mats Sundin X X 785 1349
1990 Owen Nolan 1200 422 463 885
1991 Eric Lindross 760 372 493 865
1993 Alexandre Daigle 616 129 198 327
1997 Joe Thornton 1207 342 852 1194
1998 Vincent Lecavalier 1106 403 508 911
1999 Patrik Stefan 455 X X X
2001 Ilya Kovalchuk 816 417 399 816
2002 Rick Nash 783 336 292 628
2004 Alex Ovechkin 679 422 392 814
2005 Sidney Crosby 550 274 495 769
2007 Patrick Kane 515 178 315 493
2008 Steven Stamkos X 233 193 426
2009 John Tavares X 136 179 315
Totals 14695 5933
7883
13861

That gives you a "career" average of the following line:

  • 831 GP, 334 G, 458 A, 793 P
  • 816 GP, 329 G, 437 A, 770 P (adjusted)

An average No. 1 pick gives you player eerily similar to Alexei Yashin (who was actually a number two pick) while adjusting the stats from the outliers gives you a player that would crossbreed Craig Janney with Wendell Clark mainly because no one player in NHL history has put up a career line close to 329 goals and 770 points in 816 games.

Let's study the difference between the stat line of the No. 1 overall picks against the No. 12's and get to the meat of this article. All the stats take huge leaps and bounds and the numbers are staggering. Games played increase 92.8% and 108.1%. Goals fly off the page, increasing 187.9% and 278.2% respectively. Assists rise 213.7% on average and go up a ludicrous 402.3% when adjusted. Points are increased 201.5% and 273.8%. The increase of the adjusted numbers show why I wanted to eliminate the extremes for comparative purposes. Mario Lemieux is a hockey god, no one should be expected to follow in his footsteps. So by balancing the numbers to reach a closer median, you get a clearer idea of the truth. And the truth of the matter is that drafting a forward in the number one overall slot greatly, almost ridiculously so, increases your chance to find a franchise player. Picking in the number 12 spot consistently gives you plenty of chances to find a nice second line player.

Now, I am not advocating for the Coyotes to be bad year after year after year along the lines of the Edmonton model. But when a player like Connor McDavid is the light at the end of the tunnel, this would be a good year for Arizona to be bad. Real bad. Because the turnaround to really good would be just around the corner.

*author's note - I would like to thank hockey-reference.com for their excellent player season finder tool for providing the means with which to come up with the career comps. All draft data also came from them as well.