How Many Draft Picks Make It to the NHL?

One of the all-time great draft steals: Luc Robitaille, selected 171st overall in 1984.
One of the all-time draft steals: Luc Robitaille, selected 171st overall in 1984. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Over 200 players are selected in every NHL draft. Some go on to have NHL careers, but some do not. The prospects for a player selected in the first round of the NHL draft are considerably better than those of a draft pick selected in later rounds.

To properly evaluate a draft, you need a few years' distance from it. Looking at players drafted in the 1990s and setting a threshold of 200 NHL games played, an analysis shows that of all players drafted in those years, 19 percent played in at least 200 games by 2007. Of the 2,600 players called in the NHL Entry Draft, 494 had appeared in at least 200 NHL games, making them at least low-level career players, if not stars.

Success Rate of First-Round Draft Picks

Of course, not all draft picks are created equal. The guys picked in the first round are a cut above the rest.

  • Of the 494 career players drafted in the 1990s, 160 were selected in the first round.
  • Of those 160 career players, over half have played more than 500 NHL games.
  • Among the older players (those drafted from 1990 to 1994), six first-round picks had made it to 1,000 games. Another couple of dozen were still active in 2007 and within reach of 1,000.
  • Based on the 1990s sample, a first-round draft pick has a 63 percent chance of being a career player.

Results can vary widely from year to year.

  • The 1993 NHL draft produced 22 career players from 26 first-round picks.
  • In 1999, less than half of the first-round selections went on to become career players (12 out of 28).

Beyond the First Round

When you look at players drafted in later rounds, the NHL dream begins to fade in a hurry.

  • From 1990 to 1999, about a quarter of the players selected in the second round turned into NHL career players.
  • Those drafted in the third round and beyond are really up against it. From over 2,000 players selected in the third round and beyond during the 1990s, just 261 made it as NHL career players. That's about 12 percent.

Another Analysis With Similar Results

Canada's The Sports Network (TSN) did a similar analysis with similar results, looking at draft picks from 2000 to 2009. Based on that analysis, TSN concluded that 80 percent of first-round picks become at least low-level NHL players, while 44 percent of those players selected in the second round make the NHL a career. Just 30 percent of third-round picks become NHL players, and the percentages continue to drop in the later rounds.

These statistics show that NHL teams do their homework and are pretty good at selecting players with the best chances of succeeding. But there are exceptions. Players selected in later rounds who went on to star in the NHL include hall-of-famers

  • Luc Robitaille (9th round)
  • Doug Gilmour (7th round)
  • Brett Hull (6th round)

Pavel Datsyuk (6th round) is likely a future hall-of-famer. In 2017, he was honored as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history.