Breaking down each NHL team’s roster by draft selection

As scouting has evolved in the NHL, teams are relying on the draft to build championship calibre rosters. Usually, teams are willing to give up high draft picks at the trade deadline and in the offseason to improve their teams, but that trend is changing. At the most recent 2023 NHL Draft, exactly zero trades were made in the first round, a very significant change to what we’re used to seeing at one of the most critical days on the NHL calendar.

It’s always nice when your team does well on the backs of players who were drafted and developed internally. I wanted to dive into the trends and break down each NHL team’s opening night 2023–24 roster by draft choice. We’ll go through a breakdown by draft round, draft slot, draft team, internal versus external draft picks, and undrafted players as well.

Total players by draft round

No surprises here as first-round picks are the most prevalent in the NHL. 310 players on opening night rosters were taken in the first round, with a steep drop off to 135 second-rounders. Third place is actually held by undrafted players—101 players on opening night rosters were undrafted, more than the combined total of players taken in the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds. There are more undrafted players than those drafted in the third round.

Total players by draft slot

This chart isn’t the easiest to read, but the trends are clearly shown. First round picks are the most prevalent but a steep drop-off occurs as you move into the second half of the first round. There is an odd bump in the middle of the second round around 55th overall, but after that, each pick is essentially the same.

Some draft slots have zero players in the NHL right now, but those are exclusively after the third round. The start of the second round, (early 30s overall), seem to be underrepresented in this year’s data. I’m not sure exactly why, but teams tend to take larger risks when they know they’ve already secured a high-value player with their first-round pick. Perhaps this is a reflection of those risks not panning out as often as they would have if teams just took the best player available.

Pick breakdown by team

In all the charts in this section, the blue bars indicate players who were drafted by that team in that specific round, and red bars indicate players drafted by other teams in that specific round. For example, Anaheim has eight first-round picks on their opening night roster they drafted, and another two first-rounders on their roster who were drafted by a different team. The axis scales have been kept the same to illustrate the relative totals between rounds.

First rounders

  • Most first-round picks: BUF (16), WSH (14)
  • Fewest first-round picks: VGK (4), SJS (6)
  • Most first-round picks internally drafted: ANA (8), BUF (8), PHI (8), WSH (8)
  • Fewest first-round picks internally drafted: VGK (0), SEA (1), NSH (2), PIT (2), STL (2)
  • Most first-round picks externally drafted: SEA (9), MTL (8)
  • Fewest first-round picks externally drafted: ANA (2)

It’s interesting that the youngest team in the league in Buffalo, and the second oldest team in Washington, are the leaders in total first-round picks on their rosters.

Second rounders

  • Most second-round picks: ANA (7), NSH (7), STL (7)
  • Fewest second-round picks: EDM (1), OTT (1)
  • Most second-round picks internally drafted: ANA (4), CBJ (4), NSH (4)
  • Fewest second-round picks internally drafted: DET (0), FLA (0), LAK (0), MIN (0), OTT (0)
  • Most second-round picks externally drafted: DET (6), MIN (5), NJD (5)
  • Fewest second-round picks externally drafted: DAL (0), EDM (0), PHI (0), WPG (0)

Two of the top teams in the Western Conference in the Stars and Oilers have zero second-round picks they drafted themselves on their rosters, and are among the teams with the fewest second-round picks in general.

Third rounders

  • Most third-round picks: VGK (6), NYR (5), PIT (5), STL (5)
  • Fewest third-round picks: BUF (0), LAK (1), NJD (1), OTT (1), SEA (1), VAN (1), WPG (1), NSH (1)
  • Most third-round picks internally drafted: BOS (3), CBJ (3), MIN (3), PIT (3), TBL (3)
  • Fewest third-round picks internally drafted: ARI (0), BUF (0), CGY (0), FLA (0), OTT (0), SEA (0), SJS (0)
  • Most third-round picks externally drafted: VGK (5), NYR (4)
  • Fewest third-round picks externally drafted: BUF (0), COL (0), LAK (0), MIN (0), NJD (0), VAN (0), WPG (0), WSH (0)

Most notable third-round picks include Kris Letang, Brad Marchand, Vincent Trocheck, Pavel Buchnevich, Jake Guentzel, Carter Verhaeghe, Ilya Sorokin, Brayden Point, and Adam Fox.

Fox is the most interesting story as the Flames originally drafted him, but Fox refused to sign with any team other than the Rangers. He has gone on to become one of the best defencemen in the league and a Norris Trophy winner, yet yielded almost nothing for the team that smartly drafted him, though he was involved as a throw-in in the Dougie Hamilton/Elias Lindholm/Noah Hanifin trade between the Flames and Hurricanes. Flames fans rain boos down on Fox every time he visits Calgary as a result.

Fourth rounders

  • Most fourth-round picks: COL (5), DET (4), VGK (4)
  • Fewest fourth-round picks: NJD (0), PHI (0), WPG (0), WSH (0)
  • Most fourth-round picks internally drafted: NSH (2), STL (2), VGK(2)
  • Fewest fourth-round picks internally drafted: ANA (0), COL (0), DAL (0), DET (0), EDM (0), FLA (0), MTL (0), NJD (0), PHI (0), PIT (0), SEA (0), SJS (0), TBL (0), TOR (0), VAN (0), WPG (0), WSH (0)
  • Most fourth-round picks externally drafted: COL (5), DET (4)
  • Fewest fourth-round picks externally drafted: ARI (0), BOS (0), BUF (0), CGY (0), NJD (0), PHI (0), STL (0), WPG (0), WSH (0)

Interesting that the Avalanche have the most third-rounders with five, but drafted none of them themselves.

Most notable fourth-rounders include Alec Martinez, Mattias Ekholm, Johnny Gaudreau, Nicholas Paul, Juuse Saros, Devon Toews, Igor Shesterkin, and Jeremy Swayman.

Fifth rounders

  • Most fifth-round picks: VAN (4), PHI (3)
  • Fewest fifth-round picks: BOS (0), CAR (0), DET (0), LAK (0), NSH (0), NYR (0), SEA (0), STL (0)
  • Most fifth-round picks internally drafted: VAN (4), TOR (3)
  • Most fifth-round picks externally drafted: VAN (4), TOR (3)

Most notable fifth-rounders include Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, Zach Hyman, Brendan Gallagher, Gustav Forsling, Troy Terry, Kirill Kaprizov, and Yegor Sharangovich.

Sixth rounders

  • Most sixth-round picks: WPG (4)
  • Fewest sixth-round picks: ANA (0), BUF (0), DAL (0), DET (0), FLA (0), NSH (0), OTT (0), PIT (0), SEA (0), TOR (0), VAN (0)
  • Most sixth-round picks internally drafted: NYI (2)
  • Most sixth-round picks externally drafted: WPG (3)

Most notable sixth-rounders include Pat Maroon, Cam Atkinson, Jared Spurgeon, Anders Lee, Mark Stone, Linus Ullmark, Andrew Mangiapane, Brandon Hagel, and Jesper Bratt.

Seventh rounders

  • Most seventh-round picks: MTL (3), BUF (2), LAK (2), MIN (2), NJD (2), OTT(2), SEA (2)
  • Fewest seventh-round picks: ANA (0), ARI (0), BOS (0), CAR (0), CBJ (0), COL (0), DET (0), NYR (0), PHI (0), PIT (0), TOR (0), VAN (0), VGK (0), WPG (0)
  • Most seventh-round picks internally drafted: MTL (3), LAK (2)
  • Most seventh-round picks externally drafted: (NJD (2), SEA (2)

Most notable seventh-rounders include Joe Pavelski, MacKenzie Weegar, Devon Levi, Erik Haula, and Ondrej Palat.

Undrafted players

  • Most undrafted players: SJS (7), TBL (6), CGY (5), CHI (5), LAK (5), VGK (5)
  • Fewest undrafted players: BOS (0), BUF (0), MTL (0), NYI (1)

Most notable undrafted players include Chris Tanev, Alexandar Georgiev, Sergei Bobrovsky, Evan Rodrigues, Tomas Nosek, Artemi Panarin, Torey Krug, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Iafallo, Neal Pionk, and Nate Schmidt.

Each team’s draft picks playing on any team

  • Most own draft picks on any team opening night rosters: STL (32), ANA (30), CBJ (29), LAK (29), BUF (28)
  • Fewest own draft picks on any team opening night rosters: SEA (1), VGK (9), VAN (11), DAL (17), CGY (18), NYR (18), SJS (18)

Other than new expansion teams, it’s shocking to see the Canucks so low on this list.; a true testament to their drafting prowess over the past decade or two.

The Blue were not an obvious choice to lead in this stat, but are ahead of the Ducks by two players.

The most important day of the year

The NHL Draft is the most important day of the calendar for teams trying to construct championship calibre rosters. As scouting has improved, the ability for teams to find value in later rounds has gotten better, but it has also resulted in teams needing to hit on their high picks even more so than before. With all teams more dialled in, the chance that elite talent falls down the draft board has drastically reduced.

First-round picks are still king, and that likely won’t change any time soon.

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