Dale Tallon had a very good Saturday. While his Florida Panthers stumbled in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the general manager executed three trades in rapid succession. In his first deal of the day, Tallon acquired forward Jiri Hudler from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Florida’s second-round draft pick in 2016 and their fourth-round pick in 2018. Next, the GM added a right wing, plucking Teddy Purcell from Edmonton for Florida’s 2016 third-round pick. Finally, the Panthers swapped their 2016 sixth-round pick for Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl.
With those three trades, Tallon addressed three of the Cats’ most pressing needs: power play help, puck possession and defensive depth. Though the 32-year-old Hudler has had a disappointing season in Calgary, he’s still managed to rack up one goal and seven assists with the man-advantage. Purcell can also help out on the power play, but his main contribution to the Cats will be as a possession driver: Per war-on-ice.com, Purcell’s even strength Corsi-for percentage is 52.24, which is better than any Florida forward with more than five games played this season. Kindl, too, is a puck possession driver, though his ice time could be curtailed when team captain Willie Mitchell returns to the lineup.
Some might express concern over Tallon trading away so many draft picks for players who, in the cases of Hudler and Purcell, may only be with the club until July 1. Cries of “Tallon’s mortgaging the future!” are undoubtedly muted by two factors: First, Florida is playoff-bound for the first time in four years and has a good shot at winning at least one postseason round for the first time in twenty years. Second, the team is loaded with talented youngsters and has several more in the pipeline. A third factor deserving consideration is the seldom-acknowledged truth that, more often than not, draft picks beyond the first round are worth more unused.
Draft Picks and Wayne Gretzky’s Rookie Card
A draft pick is much like an unopened pack of hockey cards from the 1979-80 season, Wayne Gretzky’s first in the NHL. Because of the value of The Great One’s rookie card, unopened packs from that season sell for upwards of $75 today. Not every pack contains a Gretzky, of course, but the potential is there, which drives the price upward. Once the pack is opened, the combined value of the cards within (assuming Gretzky’s isn’t one of them) will almost always be less than the purchase price of the pack itself. So it is with NHL draft picks.
The value of draft picks is based almost entirely on an unknown commodity: the prospect who may be acquired with said pick. What is known, however, is that picks in the second through seventh rounds turn into NHL-caliber players at shockingly low rates. As Scott Cullen wrote in 2014, just 34 percent of prospects selected in the second round play 100 or more NHL games. That percentage drops to 29.3 for third round selections and 19.3 for fourth rounders. A sixth round pick, like the one Tallon sent to Detroit for Kindl, will play 100-plus NHL games just 15.5 percent of the time.
The Panthers traded away their 2016 second, third and sixth round picks, and their fourth rounder in 2018. Combining the above percentages to get an average means (if I did the math correctly) there’s a 24.5 percent chance any one of those draft picks will eventually play at least 100 games at hockey’s highest level. In effect, Florida traded one future NHLer of unknown quality for three proven veterans who can help the team immediately. Should one of those picks turn into, say, the next Jamie Benn (a fifth-round steal for Dallas back in 2007), Saturday’s deals might not look so good. It’s far more likely, though, that one of those picks will be the next Kamil Kreps. Time will tell. Meanwhile, the Panthers have turned four potential draft picks into three proven NHL-caliber players, beating the odds by a wide margin. Dale Tallon had a good Saturday, indeed.