Does An NHL First Round Pick Guarantee An Everyday Player?

Does An NHL First Round Pick Guarantee An Everyday Player?
By Mark Keast
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

The Edmonton Oilers completed a seemingly under-the-radar trade today across the Ontario sports betting landscape, especially in light of all the bigger-scale deals we have seen on the NHL front the past week – sending forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Finnish forward Patrik Puistola.

On the surface, it makes sense for the Oilers, since they just freed up $3 million in cap space, with the trade deadline coming this Friday at 3 p.m. They now can add to their team for the playoffs. Puljujarvi had just five goals this year and nine assists in 58 games played. Let's just say his departure won't affect the Oilers' +1400 odds to win the Stanley Cup at Caesars Ontario Sportsbook.

But this raises an interesting question for all those NHL teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks, who are dumping assets (like Monday’s trade that sent defenseman Jake McCabe and forward Sam Lafferty to the Maple Leafs with fringe prospects and drafts picks, including a first rounder in 2025, coming back to Chicago). The idea is to stockpile draft picks in the hopes that it's the best way to pave a path to a Stanley Cup.

No one is saying teams shouldn’t constantly be bolstering their farm systems, developing players and building a truly sustainable system in the event players leave as free agents or are traded away.

But Puljujarvi is example No. 968,865 on how being a first-round pick in the NHL is a guarantee of nothing for the team that drafts him.

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Proof Is In The Pudding

Edmonton selected the highly skilled, 6-foot-4, 201-pound winger with the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. The sense from those deep thinkers in hockey was that Puljujarvi was NHL ready, even at age 18. Matthew Tkachuk and Alex DeBrincat were a few of the notable players taken behind him.

Well, Puljujarvi wasn’t ready. There were times he didn’t want to play in the NHL, so he went home and played in the Finnish league – for three seasons. When he joined the team for 2020-21, the Oilers did their best to find a spot for him, even playing him with superstar Connor McDavid. But nothing ever worked. Simply put, Puljujarvi never figured it out in Edmonton – and has been a trade and waiver candidate all season.

How could it have gone so badly? Because death and taxes are the only certainty, as someone famous once said. Hockey players, wherever they are drafted, are a crapshoot, no matter the quality of a team’s development system.

There's a reason that teams with the No. 1 overall pick rarely generate Stanley Cup notice across Ontario sports betting apps the following season. 

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NHL 1st Round Picks To Become Everyday Players

NHL Draft Pick Slot % Of Everyday NHL Players
Picks 1 to 591.1%
Picks 6 to 1084.4%
Picks 11 to 2077.8%
Picks 21 to 3060%

Puljujarvi Still An Anomaly

Still, Puljujarvi aside, the odds of landing an everyday player are better the higher a team picks. With first rounders being thrown around in NHL trades at this year’s deadline, utilized HockeyReference to skim through the 2010 NHL Draft to the 2018 NHL Draft to see how often first round picks pan out. 

What did we find? 

Over the time period of our research, 91.1% of players chosen No. 1 to No. 5 in the draft became everyday NHL players. For players chosen sixth through 10th, that percentage goes down to 84.4%. Those chosen 11th through 20th, the number is 77.8%. And No. 21 to 30, it goes down to 60.0%.

Which makes Puljujarvi that much more of a head scratcher. That aside, maybe the Blackhawks have the right idea – toss as many picks as you can into your hat, because someone is going to pan out. Chicago, currently last in the Central Division and tied for the worst odds at DraftKings Ontario Sportsbook to win the Western Conference, now has six first-round picks over the next three drafts.

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Mark Keast has recently covered the sports betting industry in Canada for The Parleh, and is a long-time sportswriter and editor, most notably with the Toronto Sun.

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