Sunday, June 23, 2013

When are the Best Goalies Drafted?

james reimer ben scrivens leafs
After setting the club record for highest save percentage last season, you would think James Reimer could feel safely entrenched as the Leafs' No. 1 goalie. But with the Leafs trading Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, and a second-round pick for the Kings' Jonathan Bernier, it seems like Reimer will have another summer looking over his shoulder. 

Acquiring Bernier, despite how little sense it makes, must have been an alluring option for Dave Nonis because the 25-year-old LA King has first-round pedigree. As an 11th overall pick, Bernier exudes the type of upside that GMs drool over.

But just because Bernier was once a high draft pick doesn't mean he holds any more promise than a fourth-round pick, like James Reimer, or even an undrafted goalie, like the departed Scrivens.

There is little, if any, correlation between a goalie's save percentage and where he was drafted. In other words, the goalies taken earliest in the draft don't outperform those picked later and even those not picked at all.

I looked at the goalies who played in at least 20 games in any one season over the past five years and produced a save percentage above .910 (pretty much the minimum acceptable level of play for a starting goalie). I then looked to see where these players were drafted. (This is an extension of the one-year sample Jonathan Willis did over at Backhand Shelf in 2010).

Those requirements were hit 142 times since the 2008-09 season, but it didn't really matter if a goalie was drafted early in the first round or much, much later. Roughly 27.5% of those .910 seasons were produced by goalies drafted in the first round; in comparison, close to 37% of those seasons were registered by goalies taken outside the top 100 draft picks. Sure, Henrik Lundqvist's name comes up a lot among post-100 draft picks, but Pekka Rinne, Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, and Jaroslav Halak were all taken outside the top 100 as well. Plenty of elite goalies are drafted late.

Furthermore, there are more undrafted goalies (20), including this year's Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky, that posted at least a .910 save percentage over the last five years than there are top-10 picks to do the same (16).

Combined, nearly 50% of all goalies to post a .910 save percentage or better over the past five years were taken outside the top 100 draft picks or weren't even drafted. That's much different than the top forwards in the league, who almost exclusively come from the first round of the draft. A few years ago, Jonathan Willis showed that among the 25 forwards to top 70 points in 2009-10, 80% were first round picks.

It doesn't matter if we only look at the best goaltending performances either. Cutting the sample in half and examining the 71 best save percentages over the last five years produces nearly identical results.

DraftedAll .910+ SV%Best SV%

These stats don't mean Bernier will fail to develop into a good goalie (his numbers in both the minors and limited NHL action indicate he at least deserves a shot at a starting job, although he is at best a 1B in Toronto), it just means that he holds no more promise than someone like Ben Scrivens or James Reimer, two goalies with equal or better career numbers, just because he was a higher draft pick.

Worse, the Leafs just spent plenty of assets on fixing a non-problem. Let the summer begin.

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