Canucks 2013 NHL Draft Preview: Size Matters

Laurence Gilman and Vancouver’s Scouts Meet to Discuss Draft Strategy.
Screencap via Canucks TV

Hey did, you know the NHL has an Entry Draft this weekend? Yup, not joking. On the Sunday morning of a Monday-long weekend, no less. Count teh ratingz, suckas.

Anyway, the draft is always a lot of fun, though generally not as much fun for the Vancouver Canucks, who usually pick pretty low. This year, the Canucks pick 24th overall in each round except for the second, as that pick is owed to the Dallas Stars. It makes this year’s instalment slightly more exciting than last year’s (five picks), 2010’s (five, with none in the first three rounds) and 2008’s (five), though not as enticing as 2011’s (eight picks) or 2009’s (seven).

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I highlight those years, of course, because those are the five drafts that have taken place under the rule of General Manager Mike Gillis. Drance did a nice job breaking down Gillis’ draft history by league earlier this week, and I’m here to follow up on Lord of the Drance’s 2012 piece on Gillis’ preferences by player size.

But first, some background on why people tend to discuss the size of players in the NHL, specifically at draft time.

Does Size Matter in the NHL? What About in the Draft?
Even though, as noted by the excellent Bill Barnwell on Grantland in 2012, big teams don’t tend to perform any better or worse than small or neutral teams in the playoffs, Alvin Chang of ESPN found in 2011 that the heaviest five percent of draftees tend to outperform other groups. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2012, as shared by Scott Cullen of TSN, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli made reference to an organizational finding that weight had a better correlation to NHL success than height.

Then again, as the Army’s Four-Star General pointed out last year, “One of the important things to remember about the draft is that there are very few executives who are good at it. That isn’t reflective of 30 General Managers drafting players incorrectly necessarily, it’s just that drafting eighteen and nineteen year-olds (outside of the top-ten, essentially) is a total crap-shoot.”

But it’s a crap-shoot worth examining in greater detail because, as teams themselves would attest, hitting on draft picks who also come with the benefit of cost-certainty, can be a huge boost to a team’s line-up and cap situation. So let’s have a look at some NHL and Mike Gillis trends from 2008-2012.

Canucks Draft History Under Mike Gillis
Gillis has drafted 30 players during his tenure, including 26 skaters, which are our focus here. 16 of those players were forwards and ten were defensemen, with the forwards hinting at a potential strategy on the part of Gillis.

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Of the 16 forwards Gillis has selected, their average height and weight are both above the NHL draft average for forwards, measuring at 72.7” (6’ 0.5”) and 190.5lbs compared to 72.5” and 187.1lbs for the league. While the difference in height is small, Chiarelli and Chang believe weight is more important – perhaps the Canucks do, too.

Specifically, the Canucks have used their picks from the second round onward on heavier forwards. Drafting 10 forwards in that range, they’ve averaged 191lbs (the league average for players from the third round onward is just 186lbs). The evidence, albeit in a sample size limited enough that you could just shout “randomness” and not necessarily be wrong, shows that the Canucks like slightly bigger forwards than the average team.

This has especially been the case in the last two drafts, when they’ve drafted nine forwards overall at an average weight of 193lbs, even though the average weight for drafted forwards has dropped to just over 185lbs. Perhaps Gillis has found his team wanting in the physicality department, or alternatively uncovered some of the same research cited earlier.

The Canucks, though, have actually gone the other direction with defencemen. While they do like them slightly above-average for height (6’ 2” compared to the draft average of 6’ 1.5”), the 10 blueliners drafted under Gillis have averaged just 187.2lbs, well below the draft average of 193.2lbs. In fact, if you take out Yann Sauve, the 2008 second round pick measuring 6’ 3” and 209lbs, the defensemen drafted average just 184.8lbs. This trend hasn’t changed, unlike the forward one, with the drafted back-end guys being below average weight in each of the past four drafts.

It should be noted that, like with the forwards, we’re dealing with a small enough sample here that it could just be random distribution at work. Though the fact that forwards show a change to an external stimuli and the defence show a four-year pattern lends credence to the idea that there may be a strategy at play here…

The Impacting of Picking Late
This analysis wouldn’t be complete without noting that the Canucks have had fewer high selections than the average team over this span, having given up a first, two seconds, two thirds and a fourth in that span. The average overall selection is the 106th pick, but the Canucks’ average pick has been the 123rd pick. This isn’t negligible when it comes to the size of players, as teams have shown a distinct preference for drafting smaller players in rounds four through seven.

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That is, if the Canucks are picking heavier forwards with average picks that are later, and thus come with a pool of smaller talent available, the idea that this is strategy-based becomes more attractive.

This year, with picks averaging 125th overall thanks to no second rounder, the Canucks could once again be looking at a smaller pool of forwards to draw from.

What to Expect on Sunday
Other than me complaining about the date and time of the draft, it’s hard to say. Perhaps they take bigger forwards later on, but there’s always the chance that smaller players they like a lot happen to be available to them. Different mocks have the Canucks taking Ryan Pulock (D, 6’ 1”, 211lbs), Kerby Rychel (LW, 6’ 1”, 200lbs) and Madison Bowey (D, 6’ 1”, 194lbs). Rychel is the only one that really fits the notion we’ve discussed here, and he’d fit in with the team’s last two first round picks, Nicklas Jensen (2011, 6’ 2”, 202lbs) and Brendan Gaunce (2012, 6’ 1”, 207lbs). Then again, things change in a hurry on draft day.

A Cool Table for your Reading Pleasure, Because I Like You
If you care to draw your own conclusions or just peruse the data, the tables below show the data that I collected (it might be available elsewhere, but I pulled I from’s draft history and self-calculated) and referenced here for the 2008-2012 drafts.

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Skater Draftees by Round and Size
  F D
Round Height Weight # Height Weight #
All 72.5 187.1 579 73.6 193.2 364
Top-10 72.7 190.8 30 74.3 201.0 20
1 72.8 191.0 89 74.1 195.6 55
2 72.5 188.2 91 73.9 195.0 50
3 73.0 188.1 84 73.6 190.9 46
4 72.4 186.4 83 73.3 192.3 55
5 72.1 184.9 81 73.6 191.1 53
6 72.1 185.4 79 73.7 195.7 46
7 72.5 185.0 72 73.3 192.3 60
1-3 72.8 189.1 264 73.9 193.9 152
4-7 72.3 185.5 315 73.5 192.8 214
Skater Draftees by Year and Size
  F D
Year Height Weight # Height Weight #
All 72.5 187.1 579 73.6 193.2 364
2008 72.5 188.8 110 73.4 196.1 78
2009 72.9 190.9 119 74.0 196.0 70
2010 72.7 185.0 121 73.9 192.4 68
2011 72.4 186.4 119 73.7 190.4 72
2012 72.0 184.5 110 73.2 191.3 77

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  • Very interesting read.

    In addition to looking at height, weight, round and year, it might be useful looking at average age as well.

    Because if the Canucks are drafting slightly older players on average, it may explain part of the weight discrepancy as some of these prospects have had a little more time to fill out their frames.