Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Which draft year makes the best starting lineup of players taken from different rounds?

A year ago we tried to figure out which team could build the best six-man roster out of players they’d drafted, without using anyone they’d picked in the same round. It was a fun little exercise, even if the winning team was the one everyone probably figured it would be.

Reader Jacob B. had a similar question, but with a twist: Instead of finding the best team, let’s find the best draft year. It’s still a limit of one player per round, but we’re basing this on the full league’s work in a given year instead of a specific team’s entire history. Nice and simple, let’s do this.

But first, a few ground rules:

  • We’re sticking to positions for this one, meaning our forwards need to be a center, a left winger and a right winger. In cases where somebody moved around, we’ll emphasize the position a guy played most of his career at. We don’t get care about handedness on defensemen, though.
  • We’re going back to the start of the entry draft era in 1979. Sorry, amateur draft completionists.
  • I’m not actually sure we need any other ground rules, but this section always has at least three bullet points so here we are. How are you doing? Good? That’s good. Me too, thanks for asking.

OK, let’s get started. And as is often the case, it probably makes sense to begin at the beginning. In our case, that means 1979.

Team 1979

The 1979 draft is often mentioned as the best ever, and rightly so. With a double cohort (due to lowering the draft age from 19 to 18), this class includes stars like one of the greatest defensemen of all time in Ray Bourque, a 700-goal guy in Mike Gartner, plus two more Hall-of-Famers in Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe.

But here’s where we run into a problem that will plague us throughout this challenge – all four of those guys were first-round picks, so we can only take one. It’s a reasonably easy call to go with Bourque, but right off the bat we’re leaving about 1,250 goals on the table. Look, we never said this would be easy.

The Oilers give us some strong options up front with Mark Messier in the third and Glenn Anderson in the fourth. While I’m tempted to sneak in Messier as a left winger, where he played his first few years in the league, his best years came as a center so we’ll play him there, costing us guys like Dale Hunter, Guy Carbonneau and Thomas Steen.

We still need a goalie, a defenseman and a left winger, and here’s where we realize the big problem with 1979: That year’s draft was only six rounds long, so we have zero wiggle room. Another problem that we’ll probably run into a few times is that we’re low on options for left wing, especially if we don’t count Mike Krushelnyski, who played more center. This leads to a dilemma where we either go with a decent goalie in round two and take a no-name left winger, or we use our second round slot on Brent Ashton and have to settle for Marco Baron in net.

I don’t like either option, and eventually settle on an answer I wasn’t expecting – we have to cut Glenn Anderson. That lets us use our fourth-round pick on 400-goal man John Ogrodnick on the other side, then fill out our roster with Dirk Graham, Pelle Lindbergh and Doug Crossman.

Forwards: C Mark Messier (3), LW John Ogrodnick (4), RW Dirk Graham (5)

Defense: Ray Bourque (1), Doug Crossman (6)

Goalie: Pelle Lindberg (2)

That’s a good team, but not a great one, and if it’s the best we can do with one of the best draft classes ever then we may be in trouble. The good news is the draft expands by several rounds starting in 1980, so we have more to work with from now on.

The next few years offer up some solid drafts that are too top heavy for our purposes. But soon we get to one that has a late-round pick we can build around…

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