Charlie McAvoy. Zach Werenski. Kyle Connor. Brock Boeser.
The NHL is turning college, and that’s evident by some of the NHL’s brightest young stars. 31.5% of NHL players played in the NCAA, and that number is rising.
So which teams draft and develop college hockey players best? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Which Players are Used?
358 players were used to show which teams develop college players best. Here’s which paths were included or excluded. A player is “developed” by the team that signs him to his entry level contract (ELC):
- All players drafted between 2010 and 2014 who either signed an ELC with their drafted team, or did not sign an ELC at all.
- Players who were drafted between 2010 and 2014 who either signed their ELC with a different team, either via trade or signing via free agency (College Free Agent – CFA) (i.e. Kuraly, Hayes, Vesey).
- Players who signed as an Undrafted Free Agent out of college (UDFA) between 2010 and 2014 (i.e. Krug, Tanev).
- Players drafted or signed before 2010 who are still with the team that he signed his ELC with (i.e. Toews, Zajac, Pavelski).
- Players drafted or signed after 2014 who are currently with the team that he signed his ELC with (i.e. McAvoy, Iafallo).
- All players drafted before 2010 or after 2014 not on their developed team’s current roster.
- Players who played in college prior to being drafted, then went right to the NHL after being drafted. (i.e Eichel, Hanifin
- Players who played in college, then transferred to the CHL. Charlie Coyle is an exception to this due to a unique situation. (i.e. Khaira, Schultz)
- Players who played in University in Canada. (McGill, University of Alberta, etc.)
Formula and Methodology
If you just want to read the rankings, this is probably the part you want to skip, it’s a lot of math, but I’d love it if you stuck around. Big shoutout to @fivethirtybait for the help here.
I essentially tried 4 different variations of the same formula before getting results that I was finally happy with. In words, it’s games played by included players, divided by the added pick value of that players, which I will explain in a second, multiplied by the normalized weighted average of xGF%rel of all the included players who have played at least 50 games. Add 1 for each player drafted or signed that was included in the data. The number that comes out of this formula is what I called the Development Score, which is what I used to rank each team. Call it Dev. Score for short
Games played by developed players
———————————————————– X xGF%rel + 1 for each player
Games played is simply the added number of NHL games played by included players. The pick value is not a difficult concept either. I assigned each draft round a value, so a first round pick is worth 7, and second round pick is worth 6, down to a seventh round pick, which is worth one and a free agent signing is worth 0. Add each players pick value together and that’s what you divide into games played. Players drafted prior to 2010 count towards pick value, but players drafted after 2014 do not, as they have not yet accumulated enough games.
Finding the xGF%rel value is not as simple and involves a good bit of math. Quickly, xGF%rel is the difference of expected goals for his team when “x” player in on the ice. Read more about it here from Hockey Graphs. Using the excellent corsicahockey.com, I found each players xGF%rel at 5v5, and after realizing that players with a small sample size skewed the data, I set a minimum of 50 games. Using a standard normalization formula, I got the xGF%rel value between 0 and 1. The range of the normalization was -5 to 5, as that was the smallest that satisfied the data. Just Boston’s Danton Heinen, New Jersey’s Will Butcher, and San Jose’s Joakim Ryan were over 5, and New Jersey’s Steve Santini, Nashville’s Anthony Bitetto, and Philadelphia’s Harry Zolnierczyk were under -5. Then, multiplying the normalized xGF%rel by that players percentage of games played by the group of players with at least 50 games, I got that players value. Each players value was then added to get the number that is multiplied.
(normalized xGF%rel value)*(% of games played, min. 50 games) = Players Value
This was a late add, but I then added 1 to each teams Dev. Score for each player that was drafted or signed. This dropped teams who don’t draft very much out of college, like Columbus and Colorado, down the list, so that one players with a lot of games played did not automatically make them a top tier team.
Here’s the document and spreadsheet I used to do all my work and calculations with all 358 players listed, so seeing it may help understand it better: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-bWogPAqz3FHpE9C3M6_v5DL682MfgG1bkAAbcQN3Lw/edit
Now, to the rankings. Let it be know that a “hit” is a successful draft pick, and a “miss” is a failed draft pick. A couple of disclaimers before we start:
- This formula isn’t perfect. It wasn’t meant to be perfect and it’s impossible to make it perfect. I’m sorry if your team isn’t where you had hoped.
- The formula works better with larger sample sizes, so my biggest issue was having teams with just a couple of big hits who don’t draft and develop much out of college near the top, but I avoided it the best I could.
- Quality of players are more valuable than quantity of players. Less picks with less misses is more valuable than more picks and more misses.
- The stats are only from the regular season. The playoffs are a different animal with different strategies at times, so playoff stats do not impact the rankings.
- The Vegas Golden Knights are not part of these rankings because, well, they didn’t exist in the time period that I used.
Let’s do this, Shall we?
- Dallas Stars – 5.389 Dev. Score
The worst team at developing College Hockey players: The Dallas Stars. They made just 3 picks who played college hockey in the 5 year window between 2010-2014, and though Devin Shore has turned into a consistent NHLer, he hasn’t grown into any sort of high impact player. Shore is actually a decent player who would fit nicely into most teams bottom 6, but not enough to boost Dallas’s Dev. Score. Ultimately, just not enough quantity for Dallas.
- Arizona Coyotes – 9.925 Dev. Score
Some teams simply just don’t draft out of college hockey, and the Coyotes are one of those teams, drafting heavily out of the WHL. They made just 3 picks on college players in the 5 year range, none of whom played an NHL game. They signed Hobby Baker winner Andy Miele, but he didn’t live up to expectations, appearing in just 15 NHL games. Their value comes from 2016 7th overall pick Clayton Keller, who despite having a fantastic rookie season, has work to do on the defensive side of the puck, as his xGF%rel is in the negative.
- Montreal Canadiens – 11.135 Dev. Score
Max Pacioretty, despite the drama surrounding him currently, has been a franchise player, and one of the best scorers in the league since he entered. He’s put up five 30 goal seasons and a 4.56 xGF%rel over his 625 game career. DELETE. The Habs were actually 5th because of Pacioretty up until, well, about 1am on September 10th. Now… yikes. Daniel Carr was a nice little free agent signing and has contributed nicely when in the lineup, but he, along with Pacioretty, are now in Vegas. 2014 7th rounder Jake Evans is looking to prove his success at Notre Dame wasn’t a fluke in his first pro season, though he just suffered what appears to be a serious head injury in the Habs rookie games. They haven’t missed higher than the 4th round, but of the 6 guys they drafted, just Morgan Ellis has appeared in NHL games, with 3. Pacioretty covered up the Habs blemishes when it comes to college development, but no longer, as the Habs are right at the bottom of the league.
- Philadelphia Flyers – 13.247 Dev. Score
The Flyers drafted or signed 10 players from 2010-2014, but just 3 appeared in NHL games. Mark Alt has played 16 and is realistically a minor league player, and Harry Zolnierczyk, who has somehow found himself playing in 84 NHL games, is not very good. In fact, Zolnierczyk had by far the worst xGF%rel of all the players used at -9.18, horrific. Their big hit was on Shayne Gostisbehere, who was a steal as a third rounder and has turned himself into a legitimate star. Unfortunately for the Flyers, Gostisbehere stardom doesn’t make up for their 9 other whiffs when developing college players.
- Washington Capitals – 19.250 Dev. Score
The Capitals were a great story as Stanley Cup Champions, but none of their players were developed through the NCAA. Nate Schmidt was a huge hit as an Undrafted Free Agent in 2013 and has become a top pairing defenseman for the Golden Knights, but outside of him, nobody else has made an NHL impact, but there are a few potential late bloomers. Travis Boyd was a black ace during the playoffs, Riley Barber was once a highly touted prospect, Zach Sanford was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis to Washington, and Shane Gersich will be entering his first pro season after 3 seasons at North Dakota and appearing in 5 games for the Caps. As of now, the Caps haven’t done a good job of developing players out of college, but it’s possible that if we look back at this in 3 years, the results are different.
- Calgary Flames – 20.459 Dev. Score
Location can be a big factor in this, and the Flames are at a disadvantage because of that, seeing how Calgary is near… nothing, except for Edmonton I guess. The Flames took a big leap when taking Mark Jankowski in the first round, and while they knew he would be a project and has turned into a NHL player, his 73/7 games/pick value and -2.08 xGF%rel hurts the Flames Dev. Score. Johnny Gaudreau was obviously the Flames biggest hit. A 4th rounder in 2011, Gaudreau has turned into a legitimate star, and one of the best draft picks of the 2010s. If not for Gaudreau, the Flames may be bottom dwellers as they simply have gotten zero value out of too many picks.
- St. Louis Blues – 20.935 Dev. Score
With 2 first rounders, 2 second rounders, and 4 third rounders, between 2010 and 2014, the Blues drafted college players higher than any other team. The results were a mixed bag, as they hit big on core players Jaden Schwartz and Colton Parayko, but missed on at least 7 of the other 8, including a 4th and 7th rounder. Jordan Schmaltz’s legacy is still up in the air. The 2012 1st rounder hasn’t been able to stick in the NHL thus far, but has a good chance of making the Blues out of camp this year and could boost his value higher than 22 games, but he did have a 6.77 xGF%rel in those game, which could foreshadow a good rookie season for the late-bloomer.
- Buffalo Sabres – 22.000 Dev. Score
The Sabres are heavy college drafters, but haven’t developed any high impact players. Obviously, Jack Eichel played at BU, but never played in college after being drafted. They haven’t yet reaped the benefits of Casey Mittelstadt, but will be for sure in the next decade. 2013 second rounder Connor Hurley was out of hockey last year in order to transfer from Notre Dame to U. of Minnesota, and is their biggest miss, at least until this point. Jake McCabe has been their biggest hit as a good 4th or 5th defensemen, and Evan Rodrigues has shown that he can score goals in the NHL, but neither has a particularly high ceiling. They let Tim Schaller walk, and Boston turned him into a useful player, and Chad Ruhwedel has found himself in a nice spare defenseman role in Pittsburgh. The Sabres have produced a handful of solid NHLers, and have Mittelstadt on the way, but have yet to develop the star to boost their Dev. Score.
- Anaheim Ducks – 23.500
The Ducks draft *a lot* out of college, but would likely be lower if I hadn’t added the +1 for each included player. Of the 14 players drafted or signed in the 5 year range, just 3 have played more than 25 games. 2015 5th rounder Troy Terry could make the team out of camp, and projects to be a middle 6 scoring threat. 2012 second rounder Nic Kerdiles has only appeared in 3 games, and was recently traded to Winnipeg for Chase De Leo, and 2013 third rounder Keaton Thompson looks like a miss as well. Chris Wagner has found himself 174 NHL games, despite being placed on waivers twice and having a -4.33 xGF%rel and slightly boosts the Ducks value, and Brandon Montour has a bright future ahead of him after a strong sophomore season, but their biggest hit is Josh Manson. The 6th rounder has appeared in over 200 games with a spectacular 4.09 xGF%rel, and has truly become one of the best pure defensive defensemen in the game. Ultimately just too many misses for Anaheim, and Manson isn’t enough to make up for them.
- Florida Panthers – 22.213 Dev. Score
Similar to Anaheim, Florida drafts a lot of out college, but with a low success rate. Nick Bjugstad has become a good 2nd line center with size and scoring, and accounts for most of Florida’s value with 363 games played. Mike Matheson has become a staple on the panthers blue line over the past 2 seasons, yet not super effectively with a -1.92 xGF%rel. Former Denver Pioneer Henrik Borgstrom is a Calder Trophy candidate this year, entering his first pro season after a cup of coffee at the end of the year. It’s a make or break year for 2013 second rounder Ian McCoshen, as the 23 year old will try to stick around for his first NHL season after injuries derailed his rookie season in 2018. 2011 wasn’t good for the Panthers in terms of developing college talent, as 4 players combined for just 81 games, including second rounder Rocco Grimaldi and third rounder Kyle Rau. They need players like McCoshen and Matheson to improve in order to raise their Dev. Score in the future.
- Edmonton Oilers – 24.762 Dev. Score
Here’s a situation of a team doing one thing really well, and another thing terribly. Between 2010 and 2014, the Oilers drafted 9 players who went on to play college hockey, and Dillon Simpson was the only one to play in an NHL game when he appeared in 3 games in 2016. Though none of the picks were higher than a 4th rounder, that’s quite bad, and is a good reason as to why the Oilers have been stuck as bottom dwellers for a majority of the decade. However, they’ve been very good when in comes to signing Undrafted and College free agents. Brad Hunt, Jordan Oesterle, Drake Caggiula have combined for 420 NHL games and all have carved themselves out some sort of role in the NHL, and the Oilers spent nothing to get them. It’s a good way to help build a team, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t draft well.
- Pittsburgh Penguins – 25.589 Dev. Score
7 of the 16 players the Penguins drafted or signed in the 5 year range have played at least 50 games in the NHL, but they haven’t been particularly effective players. 2010 first rounder Beau Bennett has had his career derailed by injuries, as he makes fun of himself for on twitter, and has fled to the KHL. Josh Archibald, Jayson Megna, and Bobby Farnham all have made something of their NHL careers, but ineffectively to their teams as all 3 support an xGF%rel well into the negatives. The surprising one is Jake Guentzel, who’s 22 goals and 48 points have made him a household name in Pittsburgh, but he clearly still has defensive deficiencies, as his xGF%rel is -2.09 in his first 2 NHL seasons. Bryan Rust has been a good source of secondary scoring for the Pens, and Scott Wilson has bounced around a bit, but has been a decently effective bottom 6 player. The Penguins have had no problem churning out NHL players out of college, especially offensively, but the quality of players isn’t high enough to be higher on the list.
— Beau Bennett (@BeauBennett19) November 19, 2016
- New York Islanders – 25.626 Dev. Score
The Isles aren’t heavy college drafters, but enough that they’ve drafted a couple good players. Brock Nelson has become a real good power forward for the Isles in a middle-6 role, playing just about 400 games. Anders Lee has been one of the best goal scorers in the league over the past 2 seasons, and was a diamond in the rough out of the 6th round in 2009. Scott Mayfield was one of the few inexplicably long contracts handed out by the Isles, playing in 83 games primarily as a bottom pairing defender. 2014 pick Devon Toews hasn’t appeared in the NHL yet, but the 24 year old is still regarded as somewhat of a prospect with a chance to make an impact. Lee is really the only high impact player the Isles have developed and they have their fair share of misses, but it’s enough to put them ahead of teams who have failed to develop that impact guy,
- Colorado Avalanche – 26.620 Dev. Score
To be honest, this is one of the results that I wasn’t happy with, but I guess it makes some sense. The Avs draft less out of college than any other team in the league. In fact, they barely do it at all. They drafted Lee Moffatt in the 7th round of the 2010 draft, and Ben Storm in the 6th round in 2013, and that’s all. The signed Toronto draft pick Domanic Toninato as a College Free Agent, who has gone on to play 37 NHL games, and New Jersey draft pick Alex Kerfoot, who had a great rookie year. Kerfoot makes for essentially all the Avs value, and technically because the Avalanche have a high success rate in developing college players with minimal misses, they jump ahead of teams who have drafted heavily with a lower success rate.
- Columbus Blue Jackets – 27.058
The Blue Jackets don’t draft out of college much either, but have two big hits outside of the 2010-2014 range. They drafted just 5 players in the 5 year range, with TJ Tynan being the only one to appear in NHL games, with 3. Que Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski. The two have combined for 602 NHL games, and both have become stars with the Jackets. The Jackets really haven’t done much when it comes to developing college hockey players, but their two big hits have become staples of their franchise and make up for all but 3 games of the Jackets’ Dev. Score, boosting them above teams who haven’t developed those stars.
- Winnipeg Jets – 27.780 Dev. Score
The Jets are a little bit of a weird scenario here, because in 2010 they were just Thrashers, under a completely different ownership and from office, but they didn’t do much it that year anyway. But what they did do was hit big on a couple of college players who are now apart of their core. Goalies don’t count towards the Dev. Score, but you can’t go without mentioning Connor Hellebuyck. The former Umass Lowell star led the team to back-to-back Hockey East Championships and is now one of the best goalies in the league, thanks to patience in developing by the Jets. Jacob Trouba was also a huge hit in the first round of one of the worst drafts of all time. Andrew Copp, surprisingly to me, has actually been a really good NHLer as well, having a 3.02 xGF%rel in 224 NHL games. There’s more talent coming too, as Kyle Connor had a fantastic 30 goal rookie season, and Jack Roslovic entering his first full NHL season. What separates the Jets from some of the higher teams, however, is their misses. They drafted 7 guys in the 5 year range who have yet to play an NHL game, including 2 third rounders. If Connor and Roslovic develop into top 6 players, and Trouba continues on his very solid career path, we could look at the Jets a lot higher on this list a few years down the road.
- Minnesota Wild – 28.453 Dev. Score
The Wild have 4 huge college hockey programs essentially in their backyard, so it makes sense that the Wild are heavy college drafters. 14 is actually a perfect spot for them, as they’ve been pretty bang average at developing those players. Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker were big hits out of the 2010 draft, though Coyle was acquired via a trade they probably regret for Brent Burns. Alex Tuch has turned into a star in Vegas out of the expansion draft, and top prospects Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin are looking to break out in their first full NHL seasons. Though they’ve developed a handful of real good players, the 9 players they drafted between 2011 and 2013 have combined for just 81 games, the majority coming from Gustav Olofsson with 56, and the rest from Nick Seeler with 22 and Carson Soucy with 3. The Wild have too many misses to be near the top of the list, but with their location advantage and young players yet to make a big impact yet, their Dev. Score could rise in years to come
- Nashville Predators – 29.120 Dev. Score
The Preds draft very heavy out of Europe actually, and not much out of college, but one big hit moved them up the list. They spent just a 4th rounder on Craig Smith in 2009, and he’s gone on to play 519 games with the team over 7 seasons, scoring 20 goals 4 times, and putting up a 3.39 xGF%rel. Smith isn’t quite a star, but he’s been a staple in one of the best and most well run teams in the league. Their only other NHL games comes from Anthony Bitteto, who despite playing 96 game, has been ineffective and has the second worst xGF%rel of players used who have played in at least 50 games with a -6.74 difference. Just 4 late round misses and one big hit puts the Preds ahead of teams who missed more.
- Los Angeles Kings – 29.255 Dev. Score
The Kings have done a really good job at not missing on their high picks, and have really only missed on late round picks, through a good amount. 2010 first rounder Derek Forbort took a while, but has finally become a mainstay on the Kings blueline over the past two years, and Nick Shore is a good bottom 6 forward and a favorite among the analytics community, and Alex Iafallo, a UDFA, scored 25 points in his rookie season, getting time with Anze Kopitar. But their biggest hit came outside of the 2010-2014 range. Stanley Cup winning goal scorer Alec Martinez has played almost 500 games for the team with a positive xGF%rel. Mitchell Mersch, Jonny Brodzinski, and Paul LaDue are fringe NHLers and have played as replacement players, but haven’t made a real impact for the team, and Joel Lowry and Steven Johnson were complete misses, but all 5 were 4th round or later, which really saves the Kings Dev. Score.
- Carolina Hurricanes – 30.918 Dev. Score
Despite their close to middle of the pack ranking, the Hurricanes might have the best group of 3 players of any team. Justin Faulk was an all star and has been a top pairing defenseman in Raleigh, averaging over 22 minutes in every season of his career and scoring 15 goals three times as a power play weapon. However, it’s Faulk’s D partner who was Carolina’s biggest hit. They snagged Jaccob Slavin in the 4th round of a weak 2012 draft, and it’s paying huge dividends. Slavin has one of the highest xGF%rel of included players at 4.39 over 227 games. He’s criminally underrated, partially because he’s playing in Carolina, but he got his payday, signing a 7 year, $37.1M contract last summer. Brett Pesce was a great find in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft as well, as he’s become a valuable rock for the Canes on the back end. Carolina would have liked to have gotten more than the 126 games and 37 points that they’ve gotten from 2nd rounder Phil Di Giuseppe, and 10 games from 2010 3rd rounder Danny Biega. Outside of those two, however, the Hurricanes have just a few late round misses. Ideally, I would have like the Canes to be higher on these rankings, but their lack of college drafting hurt them a bit, as well as the misses on Di Giuseppe and Biega, but Faulk, Slavin, and Pesce were all huge hits.
- Ottawa Senators – 33.014 Dev. Score
Ottawa is an interesting one, because they’ve used a lot of late round picks on NCAA players, and rarely have they worked out. A lot of their value comes from players outside of the 5 year window. Shifty scorer Ryan Dzingel is their biggest hit as a 7th rounder in 2011, scoring 23 goals last year and having a positive 0.90 xGF%rel in his career. The rest of their hits came before 2010. D-man Chris Wideman burst onto the scene late after a 19 goal, 61 point season in the AHL, and has been effective in the NHL with a 3.03 xGF%rel despite missing most of last season with a torn hamstring. Mark Borowiecki has been ineffective as an NHL player and is far from the epitome of a clean player, so his positive xGF%rel is likely a result of playing on some bad teams over his 269 game career. 2015 first rounder Colin White will be looking to make in impact in what will likely be his first full NHL season, and the same goes for first year pro Christian Wolanin. Though the Sens have their fair share of misses, 2014 3rd rounder Miles Gendron is the only pick higher than the 4th round who hasn’t worked out so far. They’ve taken risks on late picks, boosting their Dev. Score on that alone, and using those picks and Dzingle, Wideman, and Wolanin have worked out. Though the +1 for each player was a major reason for boosting their Dev. Score over teams who may have drafted higher and missed, or simply less.
- Detroit Red Wings – 34.591 Dev. Score
The Red Wings have one of the highest success rates when in comes to developing their college draft picks into NHLers, but rarely have they turned into impact, or even good NHLers. Now remember, the Red Wings had a 25 year playoff streak, so they didn’t have great draft picks, and actually did a pretty good job with what they had. Riley Sheahan has made himself a nice career playing in 365 games, and had a historically unlucky season in 2016-17, but has been a negative player in almost every possession and shot category including xGF%rel at -1.30. Sheahan was a first rounder, but the Wings’ value comes from the 743 combined games from Danny DeKeyser and Luke Glendening. Glendening is truly not an NHL player with a -4.62 xGF%rel over his career and only helps the Wing’s Dev. Score because of his UDFA status, while DeKeyser, one of the biggest UDFA signings in recent memory has been a top 4 defenseman for his entire career, but not a super effective one. Justin Abdelkader signed an inexplicably long 7 year deal in 2015, and is entering his 10th full season with the team, playing in 619 games thus far. They seem to have a star in Dylan Larkin, however, breaking out with 63 points in his 3rd season, and has already played 242 games as a 22 year old. Detroit’s high amount of games played and not spending anything of DeKeyser and Glendening bumps them up the list despite not developing the best players, but credit to them for getting their draft picks to the NHL level and giving them a chance to play.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – 34.656 Dev. Score
Why pay when you don’t have to? That’s Tampa Bay’s logic here. They made 4 UDFA signing in 2012 and 2013, and all 4 have gone on to become NHLers, and, similar to Detroit, boost the Lightning’s games played without putting any value in the denominator as the pick value. Andrej Sustr is, to put it simply, in the NHL because he’s a big human and can penalty kill. His -4.25 xGF%rel (always at 5v5) is quite bad, but the Lightning found enough value in his size and 4v5 abilities to play him in 318 games. Luke Witkowski has actually played both forward and defense in 85 NHL games, and has been serviceable as a replacement player. Cory Conacher has bounced around, but ultimately has played his best hockey with the Bolts and is a positive player, and JT Brown has provided bottom 6 scoring effectively. Their other hit was prior to 2010 with the pick of Alex Killorn who has played 435 games as a middle 6 staple for the Bolts. They’ve missed on 2nd rounders Brian Hart and Johnny MacLeod, which eliminates them from the upper echelon on these rankings, but their high success rate and their great success on UDFAs puts them in the top 10.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – 34.682 Dev. Score
What does ranking 8th ACTUALLY mean for the Leafs? Well, not much, but don’t tell Toronto media. They don’t draft much out of college at all. In fact, they made just 3 picks in the 5 year window, but two trades where they made out like bandits catapults the Leafs into the top 10. Zach Hyman was quietly acquired from Florida for Greg McKegg after his senior year at Michigan when he would have become a free agent, and has gone on to play 180 games, most of which being glued to Auston Matthews’ left wing. Jake Gardiner was acquired as part of a trade with Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin, and has played almost 500 games with the Leafs and eclipsed the 50 point mark for the first time in his career in 2018, shining an effective 1.60 xGF%rel in his career, putting a cherry on top of one of the best trades for the Leafs in a time where not very many good trades were made by them. The other thing going for the Leafs is that they really haven’t missed. Just two 5th rounders and a 7th rounder haven’t cracked the NHL, and that’s sure to help the Dev. Score. They hit big on 2 of the 5 players they spent anything on, and that success rate is what puts them high on the list.
- Chicago Blackhawks – 35.285 Dev. Score
The Blackhawks drafted more college players than any other team between 2010-2014, and were the biggest beneficiaries of me adding 1 for each included player, because outside of a few hits, they’ve actually done a pretty bad job at developing. In 2014 the Hawks drafted or signed 9 (!!!) players who played in college, and 1st rounder Nick Schmaltz is the only one to crack the NHL regularly, though 5th rounder Dylan Sikura will make the jump from Northeastern this season. Of the rest, Stephen Johns has become a solid 4th or 5th defenseman for Dallas, Vinnie Hinostroza was an excellent bottom 6 player last season, and may have a higher ceiling this season after being shipped to Arizona with Marian Hossa’s contract, Adam Clendening has bounced around on 6 teams as a spare defenseman, and John Hayden’s ceiling may be a bottom 6 scorer who can hit. So how did the Blackhawks end up 7th? Simple: Jonathan Toews. Though he’s definitely not a top 100 player of all time and far inferior to Patrice Bergeron (I’m sorry I had to), Toews has unquestionable been one of the best and most consistent players of the last decade. 791 games played since his two years at North Dakota, never scoring less than 50 points, and sustaining an incredible 4.50 xGF%rel over his 11 year career. Hits like that deserve a boost into the top 10, even if it is a #3 overall pick.
- New Jersey Devils – 35.347 Dev. Score
The Devils have consistently developed solid NHLers, but like Chicago, one franchise staple boosts them. Travis Zajac isn’t exactly Jonathan Toews, but they were teammates at North Dakota in 2006, and Zajac has played 842 games games at a very good 2.42 xGF%rel as more of a shutdown center for some really good Devils teams. Zajac makes up for the majority of their Dev. Score, but Jon Merrill, Blake Coleman, Miles Wood, and Will Butcher have all become solid if not spectacular NHL players. Butcher was a Colorado draft pick, choosing New Jersey and going on to have a very good rookie season, one of three included players to have an xGF%rel over 5 at 6.70. They’ve been good at avoiding high round misses too, just 2014 2nd rounder Joshua Jacobs has yet to play in the NHL, and Steven Santini has played 75 games, but very ineffectively and actually took away from their weighted xGF%rel average. Zajac is what puts the Devils where they are, but consistently developing NHLers is a great trend.
- New York Rangers – 35.925 Dev. Score
Contrary to teams like New Jersey and Chicago developing one great player, the Rangers have developed multiple very good players. They’ve lured 2 huge college free agents to come to the Big Apple in Chicago 1st rounder Kevin Hayes and Nashville 3rd rounder Jimmy Vesey combining to play in 469 games without the Rangers having to spend a pick. Calgary pick John Gilmour got a trial at the end of last season and could look to crack the Rangers’ lineup come October. Their biggest hit comes from 2009 1st rounder Chris Kreider, putting up 4 straight 20 goal pace seasons and an excellent 3.89 xGF%rel in 381 career games. They don’t draft a ton, which is surprising given their Northeast location, so they’ve only really missed on 2012 2nd rounder Boo Nieves, who got a trial in the NHL last season, and 2011 3rd rounder Steven Fogarty. They hit on 2012 first rounder Brady Skjei, however, and with the trade of Ryan McDonagh is likely the Rangers new #1 defenseman, and seems capable after showcasing a 1.31 xGF%rel over his first 2+ NHL seasons. The Rangers may want to draft more out of college, because they’ve done a real good job of it in years past.
- Boston Bruins – 38.515 Dev. Score
You see, the Bruins has a massive advantage over other teams by essentially having 4 farm team in their backyard and having them all play in a tournament every February. They’ve made good of it too, drafting and signing the second most out of college behind Chicago. They’re biggest hit in the 5 year window actually comes from Free agency, and was actually the spark of the idea for this project. Is Torey Krug the best free agent signing of all time besides Marty St. Louis? It’s possible, maybe even factual. Krug has more than certified himself as one of the premiere offensive defenseman in the NHL, falling just one point short of 60 points in 2017-18 and is one of the best power play QBs in the league, proving that from the very first of his 398 games. Kevan Miller was also a hit out of free agency as “Strong Beast KM 86” as Zdeno Chara referred to him has been a defensive stallion for Boston over the past 5 years. Sean Kuraly was a find as a San Jose draft pick thrown into the Martin Jones deal, Danton Heinen really broke out in his second pro season scoring almost 50 points, as did Matt Grzelcyk, cilitifying himself as an NHL defenseman and was one of the league’s best possession players last season, albeit against lesser competition. Charlie McAvoy is likely going to end up being the best of the group, as the rookie sensation posted a 2.18 xGF%rel as a 20 year old. 2019 Calder Candidate Ryan Donato is the only pick higher than a 4th rounder to not yet make it full time, but that’s a given this year, and Anders Bjork could be poised for a big 2019 after losing his rookie season to injuries. With the talent they’ve developed, and lacking high round misses, the Bruins are a legit top 3 team and possibly could be number 1 on paper. They can thank having the biggest location advantage of any other team in the league for that.
- Vancouver Canucks – 43.971 Dev. Score
The formula likes quality over quantity, and minimal misses, and it’s almost as if the Canucks drafted players to fit my formula. They’ve only missed on two 4ths, two 6ths, and a 7th, and have acquired Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, and Troy Stecher while only spending a 5th round pick. Tanev has been a stalwart on the Canucks defense for the last 6+ seasons over 390 games, posting an excellent 3.81 xGF%rel and though constantly swirling around in trade rumors, may be someone the Canucks want to build around. Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher have both burst onto the scene over the past 2-3 years with strong rookie seasons, but haven’t been able to build on it as anything spectacular, though both are effective defensemen. Adam Gaudette is entering his first full NHL season and Hobey Baker winner is sure to make an impact. The Canucks late roun9d and free agent gambles have payed off and their success rate is high, but in all honesty they should probably be behind teams such as Boston or the Rangers.
- San Jose Sharks – 49.739 Dev. Score
We made it, folks. The best team at developing players out of college hockey? The San Jose Sharks, in large part to stealing Joe Pavelski out of the 7th round. What separates the Sharks from other teams drafting franchise keystones out of college like Chicago and New Jersey is that pick value. Jonathan Toews and Travis Zajac were both 1st rounders, and Pavelski was a 7th. A great (and truthfully in that round, lucky) draft pick deserves high praise, but Pavelski’s 888 games (leads all included players) and 4.79 xGF%rel isn’t all the Sharks have developed. Justin Braun was another 7th round steal, playing in 529 games with the Sharks, he’s never been a star, but a good number 4 on one of the most consistent teams of the last decade. Ryan Carpenter was an out of nowhere contributor for the Golden Knights after being claimed off waivers. 2011 2nd rounder Matt Nieto has played in 338 games and has been a fine bottom 6 scorer while not having great possession and shot metrics, and 2012 7th rounder Joakim Ryan was excellent in his first NHL season. For their misses, Maxim Letunov was a 2nd rounder of St. Louis acquired via trade who has yet to make an impact professionally, and 2010 3rd rounder Max Gaede never panned out, along with a handful of 5th-7th rounders. Joe Pavelski is a superstar and was a huge hit in the 7th round, shooting the Sharks to the top spot, and Justin Braun was a steal as well, but the Sharks were a big a beneficiary of having +1 added to their Dev. Score. They’re still a deserving #1.
So there it is, your rankings for which teams develop players out of NCAA college hockey best. Are these rankings objectively 100% correct? No, of course not. I was happy with the way 90% of the rankings turned out, and many of them were very close in Dev. Score, but there are some teams at the top that probably shouldn’t be as high as they are. Boston realistically is probably number one, and Carolina is a team that should be higher as well, but you can nit pick it all day. Avoiding teams like Nashville and Toronto with one or two big hits was tough, and the reason for adding the +1 for every included player to drop teams like them, but raised teams like Chicago. So, no it’s not perfect.
That said, overall, I’m very happy with how this project turned out. I truly thank you if you stuck around and read until the end, it means a lot to me, and I’d love it if you reached out. I hope to get around to doing Canadian Junior and European rankings sometime and compare the three leagues in how each team does.
Anyway, thanks for reading, and please come back to The Intersection for more.
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