The 2010 NHL Entry Draft takes places in Los Angeles, California, on Friday and Saturday, and in anticipation of this event, I'm taking a look at what the draft says about the quality of junior hockey around the world. There are two major international tournaments for junior eligible hockey players, the famous (well, in Canada at least) U20 World Junior Hockey Championships that occur in December and January, and the more draft appropriate U18 World Junior Hockey Championships every April. The players that play in these tournaments are more likely to be draft picks of NHL teams, or go on to some kind of minor professional career, whether in Europe or North America. The very best players at these tournaments are even more likely to represent the men's national team at international tournaments like the World Championships, World Cup of Hockey, and the Olympics. While the draft is not perfect, the majority of the high end players are selected early, in the first two rounds (there are seven rounds for around 210 picks total each year).
What I'm doing here is quite simple... I'm looking at the results of the Entry Drafts from 2005-09, and the results of both the U20s and U18s from 2007-10 in a way that is consistent with how the IIHF calculates their world rankings, and trying to see the relation between the two.
|Country||U20||U18||Combined||Drafted 05-09||First 2 Rounds||% High Picks|
|United States of America||2825||2950||5775||285||81||28.42%|
That's all 17 countries that have had a player picked in the NHL Entry Draft over the past five years (I included Nigerian born, Ukrainian immigrant Akim Aliu with Canada), and all of those countries rank within the top 19 nations in international junior hockey competition. The USA sits on top of the rankings, thanks in part due to a double gold this past year, but also by operating from a bit of an advantage at the U18 level, as the US National Team Development Program allows a lot of the U18 entry to play together for the full season. Canada also isn't able to send their best team, as not unlike the NHL who holds their playoffs at the same time as the IIHF World Championships, major junior playoffs coincide with the U18 Championships.
Picks in the first two rounds make up 28.53% of all draft picks, so anyone above that is performing a bit higher in terms of producing quality players than would be expected, at least in a perfect world. NHL teams are less likely now to use a late pick on a Russian prospect, fearing they'll choose to stay in Russia because of salary concerns. The real outlier here is Finland, and their poor performance in producing top quality junior players perhaps explains their distant 5th place finish in the rankings. In this time frame, Finland has not played for a medal at the U20 World Juniors. This shows how key of a prospect Mikael Granlund is for the country (read Defending Big D's profile on him here), as he is the top ranked European skater in the 2010 Entry Draft by Central Scouting.
The Czech Republic's numbers look respectable here, but they have been in decline throughout the 5 year period. The Czechs have not had a player selected in the top two rounds in each of the past two drafts, and went from 12 total draft picks in 2005 to 3 in each of the past two years. Contrast their totals to Sweden, who also had 12 draft picks in 2005. Sweden upped their total number of draft picks to 24 last year, and an astonishing 12 picks in the first two rounds. These two countries once battled for European supremacy, but now Sweden has clearly leapfrogged them.
Canada's dominance at the U20 World Juniors over this period is pretty easy to understand. Canadians make up nearly half of the total draft picks, and a little more than half of the players taken in the first two rounds. Canada's U18 performances have been lacking, especially this past year's mediocre 7th place team, but clearly by sheer volume they are producing the best young players, and should continue to be seen as the international hockey standard bearer as a result.
In the coming days, I'll look at the source leagues for these draft picks, and see if we can spot some trends as to where the better players come from for each country. And just because I know you'll ask about it, here's the rest of the Junior Hockey World Ranking, starting at 20th place Hungary: