We are now within four weeks of the NHL Entry Draft. This means we are close to the return of the Sound Of Hockey Big Board. Last year, we compiled public rankings from 19 draft reporters and scouting services and ranked 675 prospects.
In the coming weeks, I’ll have a bit more information on how the Big Board performed last year as a predictive tool. In short: It was a strong indicator of consensus in the top 100, but less so after that. The Big Board was particularly strong predicting first-round prospects. It accurately “predicted” 28 of 32 first-rounders, and the player the Big Board listed No. 32, Owen Beck, was selected with the first pick of the second round (No. 33). The other three players that “fell” out of the Big Board’s top 32 were No. 26 Jagger Firkus (whom Seattle scooped up at pick 35), No. 29 Ryan Chesley (drafted at pick 37 by the Capitals), and No. 30 Calle Odelius (drafted at pick 65 by the New York Islanders).
I’m hoping that the Sound Of Hockey Big Board will be better than ever this year. One respect in which I have tried to improve it is by lengthening the board. The board missed almost two dozen drafted players last year, and I wanted to get that number down into the single digits this year. That meant going beyond the players ranked on public lists and directly gathering data on players from more than 20 leagues around the world from Elite Prospects.
After gathering that data, I encountered a question: How was I going to “rank” the players that don’t appear on any public rankings? The best solution I could come up with was to create a purely data-driven ranking of my own to supplement the public rankings and provide some type of order for the additional prospects.
My baseline for this work was the concept of an “NHL equivalency.” What is an equivalency? To oversimplify, an equivalency is projected point production at the NHL level based on a conversion of the player’s point production in another league, such as the WHL. By studying the performance of players historically, analysts can come up with relative league strengths and then use those strengths for a per-game conversion. This is a very crude metric, but a draft pick’s historical point production has been proven again and again to be a strong indicator of future NHL point production. (For goaltenders, save percentage tends to be the metric used.)
While many have worked in this space, I built off of the work of TopDownHockey. I then tweaked the gross equivalencies I created with directional adjustments based on the draft eligible player’s (1) age, (2) height, and (3) redraft status. I did not choose these factors at random–all have been proven significant in projecting draft prospect success or failure. I also made position-based adjustments, since a point-per-game defenseman is rarer and arguably more valuable than a point-per-game forward.
This gave me a crude data-only “ranking” of thousands of draft eligible prospects. While it’s primary purpose will be, as I mentioned, to supplement the Big Board, I figured it would be fun to share it as a stand-alone list too, since we are in draft ranking season.
Before I get to that ranking, three more notes. First, this list does not contain any qualitative evaluations or adjustments from me. I have watched some of these players and have personal preferences, but I haven’t incorporated those here. Would I personally rank Connor Bedard No. 1? Yeah. When it comes to the draft, data is only a piece of the puzzle. Most importantly, the team needs scouting conviction on the player.
Second, the aspect of all of this I feel least confident about is the positioning of goaltenders relative to skaters. I normalized the goaltender scores so that the number of goaltenders ranked within the top 224 would approximate historical norms, but this process won’t account for whether this is a “good” goalie class or not. So, at the end of the day, the order of the goaltenders may be illuminating, but perhaps take their placement relative to the skaters with a grain of salt.
Third, before sharing this, I ran last year’s Big Board through the same equivalency process. The sample size of last year’s Big Board was smaller, but it still captured the vast majority of top prospects. The results were intriguing, particularly with respect to the Seattle Kraken.
Seattle had six picks in the top three rounds of the 2022 draft. Five of those six picks ranked within the top 40 overall in my equivalency calculation, with goalie Niklas Kokko being the only outlier. Later in the draft Tucker Robertson and Kyle Jackson were two of the very highest ranked re-entry candidates too. Beyond that, only the high schoolers (Barrett Hall and Ben MacDonald) were, somewhat predictably, not data-driven picks since their competition level was so low compared with other draft-eligible prospects.
All of this gives me confidence that the Kraken, at least, are using similar data to support their draft process. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the top-100 in this equivalency ranking on draft day when it comes time for selections by the Seattle Kraken.
Without further preamble, here is our data-only top 250 for the 2023 NHL Draft:
The full list will be part of the Big Board, but if you have a question about where a player not listed here is ranked, feel free to reach out in the comments below or on Twitter @deepseahockey.