Evaluating the early 2009 draft returns

Updated: February 1, 2012, 4:32 PM ET
By Alvin Chang

In 2009, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Nazem Kadri No. 7 overall, and almost immediately there were signs the Leafs would get good early returns on their selection. He played well enough in training camp that some people said Kadri should join the Leafs' rotation for the season opener. He was a bit small, but he looked like a future stud who would contribute early.

But fast-forward to present day and Kadri has yet to establish himself as a regular in the league. He could still be a very good player one day, but thus far the Leafs have gotten a mediocre return on their No. 7 overall pick. There is reason to be disappointed.

It's a bit too early to judge the ultimate worth of players from the 2009 class. But, as the NHL skews younger and teams emphasize the early contributions of draft picks, it's worth looking to see which picks have provided the most early value to their teams.

The 2009 draft class has already had two full seasons to reach the NHL, and they're in the midst of Year 3. Historically, about 10 percent of drafted players make their NHL debut within two years of being drafted; about 20 percent of players debut within three years.

Obviously it's not time for a final verdict, but it's certainly time for an evaluation of which players have performed the best, relative to their draft position.

A few ground rules:

1. 41 games: Most players from the 2009 draft have played a minimal number of games, which isn't enough to do a decent evaluation. So I'm including only players who have played at least 41 games -- half a season's worth.

2. Expected performance vs. actual performance: I'm evaluating the 2009 class using Tom Awad's GVT value stat. For the unfamiliar, GVT incorporates a variety of offensive and defensive statistics to provide a final player value score. I'm calculating their expected GVT per season, which is based on draft slot. But those expectations are normalized for players who have had two years to develop.

3. Pressure on top-five picks: Most players are allowed time to develop. But players drafted in the top five are expected to contribute a lot more a lot earlier. So these rankings take that into consideration.

Here are the rankings in descending order, from No. 10 to No. 1:

10. Jared Cowen, D
Ottawa Senators, No. 9 overall

Cowen is one of the bright young defensemen in the league and, when all is said and done, he could easily move up this list. With the ninth pick, you might think you can easily find a top-pairing defenseman. But guys like Brian Lee, Ladislav Smid and Ruslan Salei are among the blueliners previously selected at No. 9 -- and they are the middle of the pack in terms of NHL contributions, so it's hardly a sure thing. This is Cowen's rookie season and though he's taken his tumbles on the Senators' young blue line, it should only get better from here.