With all this talk of trading a glut of high draft picks for Phil Kessel (1st round, 5th overall), discussion of 'draft pick value' seems to be the rage. I can't really beat the work Scott Cullen at TSN has done in analyzing the statistical odds a draft pick will make the 'big show' but I can throw in my two cents as to the value of draft picks to the Leafs.
When people start talking about drafting and developing talent they tend to mention the Red Wings as THE example of how its done without needing high picks. Lets do a case study of the Red Wings, likely the team best at drafting after the initial thirty picks:
Abdelkader 2nd round, 42nd overall
Datysuk* 6th round, 171th overall
Flippula 3rd round, 95th overall
Franzen* 3rd round, 97th overall
Helm 5th round, 132nd overall
Hudler 2nd round, 58th overall
Zetterberg* 7th round, 210th overall
Ericsson 9th round, 291st overall
Kronwall* 1st round, 29th overall
Lidstrom* 3rd round, 53rd overall
Howard 2nd round, 64th overall
So with the notable exceptions of Datysuk, Zetterberg, Ericsson and Helm all of Detroit's 'homegrown' players are within the first three rounds and first 100 picks of their respective draft year. This would tend to corroborate with (TSN) Scott Cullen's analysis of draft talent's NHL chances steeply declining with every subsequent round... especially after Round 3. Datysuk and Zetterberg are clear cut examples of why the Wings have been able to stay near the top for so long. Hakan Andersson deserves as many cup rings as the Wings can deliver for his invaluable work. Not included: Tomas Kopecky (2/38), Darren McCarty (2/46)
Second up, lets look at the reigning champs: the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a team that was very bad for a long time (sound familiar Leafs fans?) but has turned a corner largely through drafting some of the best players on the planet.
Crosby* 1st round, 1st overall
Kennedy 4th round, 99th overall
Malkin* 1st round, 2nd overall
Staal* 1st round, 2nd overall
Talbot 8th round, 234th overall
Bissonnette 4th round, 121st overall
Caputi 4th round, 111th overall
Jeffrey 6th round 171st overall
Goligoski 2nd round, 61st overall
Letang 3rd round, 62nd overall
Orpik* 1st round, 18th overall
Fleury* 1st round, 1st overall
The only remotely core player the Pens have developed not drafted in the first 100 picks is Maxim Talbot. The rest of the Penguins' homegrown core seems to have been first round picks which would bely the value that first round picks (especially lottery picks) hold. Crosby and Malkin represent two of the premier talents in the world while Fleury, Staal and Orpik are all very strong players with an integral role in the Penguins success. Not included: Ryan Whitney (1/5), Rob Scuderi (5/134)
and now the universally adored Maple Leafs:
Kulemin 2nd round, 44th overall
Mitchell 5th round, 158th overall
Ponikarovsky 4th round, 87th overall
Stajan 2nd round, 57th overall
Tlusty 1st round, 13th overall
Kaberle* 8th round, 204th overall
Oreskovic 3rd round, 82nd overall
Schenn* 1st round, 5th overall
White 6th round, 191st overall
Kaberle is an impact player and a late-round steal being drafted 204th overall in 1996. The jury is still out on the future upside of guys like Tlusty and Kulemin but the trend is still the majority of the homegrown talent are drafted in the first hundred. It could be argued that the Leafs have been severely set back through the trading of draft picks since the first Fletcher term. Not included: Justin Pogge (3/90), Anton Stralman (7/216), Nik Antropov (1/10), Jay Harrison (3/82), Jeremy Williams (7/220).
So of the three teams examined, 66% of the homegrown talent to play last season (while still being under team control) was drafted in the first hundred picks of the NHL Entry Draft. In a more subjective analysis, 75% of these homegrown players that I dub 'impact players' (denoted by *) are drafted in the first 100 picks.
This would seem to suggest that the particular cost being bandied around for Phil Kessel of two 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick would be fairly substantive in terms of future NHL players. In today's NHL where cheap, young talent is at a premium it would seem to be more drastic. True, one can compete without a few high draft picks but given draft history, and the very middling cupboard in Toronto it is extremely debatable whether the Leafs are at such a point in the rebuilding plan where they would be able to part with so many future assets. It would almost be more worthwhile to test the Bruins mettle in matching an offer sheet than to start negotiations at such a high water mark, especially for a player injured until November and without any salary headed the other way.
Ultimately though, it may be up to players like Viktor Stralberg, Christian Hanson, Chris DiDomenico, Dale Mitchell and Mikhail Stefanovich to convince Brian Burke that he has the depth to enable such a move.