Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow went to work trying to figure out how the Ottawa Senators could maximize their trade return (subscription required) for Erik Karlsson, should the team decide to move the all-world defenseman prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on February 26th or at least before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft on June 22nd. Dellow surmised that in order to get anywhere near a fair return for Karlsson, Ottawa would need to acquire draft picks that could give them the best chance of finding a “franchise cornerstone” to replace him. The best-case-scenario for the Sens would obviously be to land the #1 overall pick in the lottery and the opportunity to draft the consensus top pick, Karlsson clone Rasmus Dahlin – a scenario that would not even require moving Karlsson. However, with the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres likely having better lottery odds and another 12 teams having a chance at the top pick as well, its unlikely that the Senators choose first overall. Dahlin’s generational talent also means the lucky team that lands #1 isn’t moving it, even for Karlsson. So what then is the chance of finding a superstar in the draft? Dellow’s analysis produced these results:
- First pick: 90 percent,
- Second pick: 60 percent
- Third or Fourth pick: 15 percent
- Picks 5-20: 5 percent
- Picks 21-30: 2 percent
- Picks 31-60: 1 percent
- Picks 61+: .07 percent
While there is a considerable drop-off from the first pick to the second and the second to the third, it’s clear that picks #2 and #3 still hold immense value. Dellow goes on to describe the infrequency with which those picks are moved, citing Alexei Yashin-for-Jason Spezza and the drafting of Henrik and Daniel Sedin are rare recent examples. Dellow’s thesis continues that the current Vancouver Canucks could be a rare team willing to part with a high pick, if it meant landing Karlsson.
However what if Karlsson isn’t traded by the Draft – a situation that is far more likely than the media would make it out to be – would the normally untouchable top three picks be back off the table? Obviously, the results of the draft lottery matter immensely and the #1 pick will surely not be moved this year. More likely than not, #2 is going nowhere as well. Yet, the status of the 2018 draft class leads to much intrigue over the #3 pick, which historically has a 15% chance of landing a superstar. Unlike past years, there is no consensus second-best player in 2018. In some order, Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick were going 1-2 in 2017, as were Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in 2016, and no one was going right behind Connor McDavid other than Jack Eichel in 2015. This year’s crop offers a situation unlike the last few seasons, wherein Dahlin is guaranteed to go first overall – and will be off the draft board of everyone but the lottery winner before the draft even begins – but the following picks are unpredictable. At #2, it could be Russian sniper Andrei Svechnikov, sleek Czech forward Filip Zadina, big, skilled Americans Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom, or a D-needy team with the second pick could even go off the board for a defenseman.
The decision on the second overall pick in 2018 will undeniably result in the top player on many teams’ board being selected, but the top player on many other teams’ board falling to #3. If that team at third overall was hoping to take the player selected at #2, now things could get interesting. According to Dellow’s results, the team at #3 has now lost a 45% chance of finding their next franchise player, but could trade out of the pick and still end up with one (or more) top 20 pick(s), each with a 5% chance of becoming a star, as well as possibly an established pick or player. If you put trust into a model like Dellow’s, a deal like this becomes much more about math and odds than simply taking the risk of trading back out of disappointment with the draft order.
Going back to the Karlsson-to-Vancouver hypothetical, imagine that the Canucks land the #3 overall pick while the Senators have a pick in the 5-20 range, either by the lottery or an additional pick from an upcoming trade. Vancouver hypothetically wanted Zadina, who went #2, while the top player on Ottawa’s board was Tkachuk (or maybe a defenseman like Adam Boqvist). Vancouver could, as Dellow proposes, offer the Sens the third pick – and a 15% chance at a star – and a prospect like Olli Juolevi, the fifth overall pick in 2016 – who holds a 5% chance of becoming a star himself – as part of a larger package for Karlsson and a first. Ottawa nets a 20% chance of adding a cornerstone player, including at least one potential replacement on the blue line, and Vancouver holds onto a 5% chance of finding a star of their own with the later first rounder. The 10% loss for Vancouver is more than made up by the gain of a bona fide star in Karlsson. Could a deal like this happen? For sure. Will it? Probably not, but Dellow’s analysis of draft pick values and a seemingly volatile draft board in 2018 helps to illuminate the possibilities of some fascinating, unprecedented deals early on at the 2018 Draft.