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There's the first round of the NHL draft, and then there's everybody else

It's no big secret that many of the NHL's best players come with a first-round pedigree, but the numbers are still surprising
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It seems that I’ve stumbled on a theme, so I’m sticking with it. It started a few weeks ago with a country-by-country breakdown of NHL players.Then it was a draft breakdown.Then a goalie breakdown.

This time around, I've highlighted five key statistical categories through the opening month of the 2018-19 NHL season – top 50 scorers, top defensemen scorers, players averaging at least a point per game, and forwards and defensemen who were leading in average ice time – and then looked at what round these players were drafted in. (Spoiler: The first round. If a player ranks in the top 50 in any of the aforementioned categories, he was most likely a first-round pick. Game recognize game.)

Spoilers aside, though, here’s a more in-depth analysis of the results. (Note: Stats through games played as of Nov. 2.)

Top 50 NHL scorers (13+ points)
1st round: 40
2nd round: 4
3rd round: 2
4th round: 1
5th round: 0
6th round: 0
7th round: 0
Undrafted: 3
Notable: If this doesn’t illustrate the importance of the first round of the NHL draft, nothing does. Entering Friday night’s games, 50 players had scored at least 13 points this season -- and 40 of those 50 players were first-round picks. Another way to look at it ­– there were only three players who were drafted in the third round or later among the league’s top 50 in scoring (third-rounders Brad Marchand and Brayden Point and fourth-rounder Johnny Gaudreau). And there’s not a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round pick to be seen. There were, however, three undrafted players in the top 50: Calgary’s Mark Giordano, Columbus’ Artemi Panarin (originally signed by Chicago) and Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault (originally signed by Tampa Bay). Giordano was also one of only five defensemen to crack the league’s top 50 scorers, and the other four (Toronto’s Morgan Rielly, San Jose’s Brent Burns, Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot and Washington’s John Carlson) were all first-rounders.

Top 48 NHL defensemen scorers (6+ pts)
1st round: 25
2nd round: 8
3rd round: 3
4th round: 4
5th round: 2
6th round: 2
7th round: 1
8th round: 1
Undrafted: 2
Notable: First things first – we went with the “top 48” highest-scoring defensemen rather than the top 50, because the “top 50” was actually the top 69 due to the glut of defensemen tied at five points. Of the 48 defensemen with at least six points entering Friday night’s action, a little more than half were first-round selections (25 of 48), including most of the big names (Burns, Carlson, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Morgan Rielly and others). But there were definitely some good finds spread throughout the subsequent rounds – P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Duncan Keith were second-rounders, Kris Letang was taken in the third round, Mattias Ekholm in the fourth, John Klingberg in the fifth. And don’t forget Dustin Byfuglien in the eighth round in 2003, a round that doesn’t even exist anymore after the NHL cut the draft back to seven rounds in 2005.

Players with points-per-game average of 1.00 or higher (minimum 5 GP): 70
First round: 51
Second round: 6
Third round: 4
Fourth round: 3
Fifth round: 1
Sixth round: 1
Seventh round: 0
Undrafted: 4
Notable: Of the 608 players who have appeared in at least five games this season, 70 were averaging at least a point per game. That number is sure to drop as the season unfolds – only 24 players averaged a point per game last season (minimum 40 GP) – but it’s a good sample size for our purposes here. Once again, the vast majority of the NHL’s most productive players have a first-round pedigree – 51 out of 70, to be precise. The sixth-rounder, in case you’re wondering, is newly minted Islanders captain Anders Lee. With 12 points in 12 games, he was right on the 1.00 PPG number, just a glimmer behind former Isles captain John Tavares (14 points in 13 games, 1.08 PPG).

Top 50 defensemen in ice time per game
First round: 30
Second round: 6
Third round: 4
Fourth round: 4
Fifth round: 1
Sixth round: 1
Seventh round: 1
Eighth round: 1
Undrafted: 2
Notable: Really, what better way to gauge a defenseman’s worth than his average ice time? Of course goals and points are great, but ice team speaks to how much value a player’s team – and coach – places on him. After crunching the numbers, the NHL’s 50 busiest defensemen were playing at least 21:59 per game, with L.A.’s Doughty (27:07), Minnesota’s Ryan Suter (26:01) and Edmonton’s Oscar Klefbom (26:01) leading the way. All three of those blueliners were first-round picks. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman was in 50th place in average ice time (21:59), and Stralman also represents the seventh round in this exercise after being drafted 216th overall by Toronto in 2005.

Top 52 forwards in ice time per game
First round: 39
Second round: 3
Third round: 4
Fourth round: 1
Fifth round: 1
Sixth round: 1
Seventh round: 0
Undrafted: 3
Notable: A total of 52 forwards were averaging at least 19:06 in ice time per game (three forwards were tied at 19:06, hence the “top 52” instead of “top 50”). Do the math, and nearly 80 percent of the NHL’s forward ice-time leaders were first-round selections (39 out of 52). Dig a little deeper, and we see that four No. 1 overall picks rank among the top 10 -- Connor McDavid (first, 23:11), Nathan MacKinnon (fifth, 22:11), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (sixth, 22:05) and Patrick Kane (10th, 21:05).

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