Draft Inefficiencies: Overage Prospects

By Zac Urback

Introduction

The overwhelming majority of players selected in the NHL draft are first year eligible players, but there are typically a handful of players in their second or third year of eligibility that are selected. My initial research suggests that NHL teams routinely undervalue players that were passed over in their first year of eligibility. There are a few potential explanations for this phenomenon, but from speaking with hockey executives and scouts, there appear to be two main reasons: scouts are unable to properly quantify overage players value in a draft dominated by first year eligible prospects (interestingly enough, we observe this effect, to a lesser degree, with players who have early vs late birthdays, which is why DEV age adjusts all data) and NHL teams, due to a type of loss aversion mentality, are hesitant to select a player in the mid-rounds that they could have taken in the late rounds the year before.

 

Historical Analysis

Occasionally NHL teams properly value overage players, such as Tanner Pearson who was selected by the LA Kings 30th overall in his 3rd year of draft eligibility (DEV had him ranked as a pick from 20 - 24 that year, and as a 6th round pick the year before), but more often than not, overage players are severely undervalued. For instance, Ondrej Palat was drafted after his 2nd year of eligibility 208th overall. Had the Lightning not selected him as the 4th last pick in the draft, he likely would have gone undrafted. What makes Palat so interesting is that DEV had him valued as a pick from 41 - 48 that year. Another example is Tyler Johnson, who went undrafted completely, but was ranked by DEV as a 6th round pick his draft year, and a 3rd/4th round pick in his second and third years of draft eligibility. Naturally, scouts should be skeptical of an overage player who has one big season, but oftentimes, overage players were worth drafting in their first-year of eligibility. I previously wrote about the limitations of DEV and the importance of assigning context to results.

 

2016 NHL Draft - The Top 10 Overage Players Available

Looking forward to the 2016 NHL draft, I ran the DEV numbers for all draft eligible overage players. One player in particular that I want to discuss is Adam Brooks. Brooks is relatively undersized at 5'10, but in his 3rd year of draft eligibility DEV suggests he's worth selecting with a pick from 28 - 33 overall. Brooks was valued as a pick from 55 - 82 last year, demonstrating two things: 30 NHL teams passed over a prospect worth selecting in the 3rd round with their late round picks last year, and Brooks has improved considerably since last year. Some of Brooks' successful comparables include players like Claude Giroux, Derek Roy, Ondrej Palat, Patrick O'Sullivan, Martin Erat & Jordan Eberle. I suspect he will not be selected as high as DEV values him, but if he's available in the mid-rounds, Brooks seems like the obvious candidate to draft if a team is looking for a value selection. Obviously Brooks is not a lock to be a successful NHL player, but DEV indicates that he's just as likely to be an impact NHL player as any other player who is optimally selected in the top of the 2nd round.

 

These are the top 10 overage CHL forwards according to DEV:

 

Conclusion

If you view the NHL as a marketplace, the most undervalued commodity is legitimate NHL prospects who were passed over in their first year of draft eligibility, otherwise known as overage players. Thus, the natural way to game the NHL draft is to exploit the aforementioned inefficiency. DEV exclusively compares players with other prospects in the same year of draft eligibility. As a result, perhaps the most practical usage of DEV is for identifying overage draft eligible prospects and quantifying where they should be selected.