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New NHL drafting model suggested by GVSU researcher


Patrick Center
July 4, 2013 | WGVU   The Grand Rapids Griffins are the 2013 American Hockey League Champions. On the ice a show of size, speed and desire.  

Much of the roster is stocked with players drafted by its parent club, the Detroit Red Wings, through the National Hockey League’s annual draft.   

“In general, the higher you’re drafted the more likely you are to succeed in the NHL.”  

That’s the overwhelming belief. Researcher Robert Deaner took a closer look at the past 26 NHL drafts to discover teams could do a better job picking future all-stars if they’d make their selections based on a player’s date of birth.  

“Yeah it’s been there since the 1980’s that the NHL teams have been making this mistake, this bias we call it, in drafting. They’re over selecting their relatively older players or under selecting their relatively younger players, whichever way you want to look at it it’s the same thing.”  

Deaner’s recently released study called “Born at the Wrong Time: Selection Bias in the NHL Draft” focused on Canadian youth hockey and its impacts on player development and ultimately the draft.  

Of Canadian skaters drafted since 1980 there’s a trend Deaner and his colleagues Aaron Lowen and Stephen Cobley uncovered.  

“So Guys born in the first three months, they are 36 percent of the draftees. Guys born in the last three months are only about 14 percent. So they’re not being drafted nearly as much. But those 14 percent they produce as many All-Stars as the 36 percent from the first three months.”  

It’s called relative age effect and in Canadian hockey it has long-term effects.  

“The kids that look the best are the ones that are a little bit bigger, a little bit faster a little bit more developed. And the ones that are typically better like that are usually the ones that are a little bit older than the ones that are, you know, 12 years and nine months as opposed to 12 years and one month of age.”  

Those slightly older kids are selected to play on the better teams, receive more ice time and get more attention in practice while those relatively younger players don’t and begin to lose confidence.  

At a Grand Rapids Griffin’s practice I asked the team’s Canadian born center if he buys into the theory?  

“I’m Riley Sheahan, 21-years old born on December 7th 1991. I was drafted 21st overall by the Detroit Red Wings...Obviously there are statistics to prove that being born earlier in the year helps but I never knew or really heard of this theory but I guess it makes sense.”  

But Tom McCollum who was born in December of 1989 and drafted 30th overall in the 2008 draft says there’s more to it than the cosmic wheel of fate. 

 “As far as over the course of a lifetime I feel like there are a lot of other factors that could affect things rather than when you were born.” 

 “Unique players are born around the calendar year certainly this study I’ll keep it in mind for the future...I’m Jiri Fischer, Detroit Redwings Director of Player Development. Born on the last day of July 1980.”  

That makes him a ‘tweener. He was drafted 25th overall by the Red Wings in the 1998 draft.  

“Relative age does make certainly some difference in some cases but when you look through the youth some of the talented players play three years up. And that’s talking about the Gretzky’s and Jamir Jager’s and then there are the majority of others that obviously it does make a difference maybe in early years to be a little bit older than others.” 

When it comes to return on investment Deaner maintains those players born later in any given year outperform their peers based on the career milestone of 600 games played.  

“If you’ve played that long you’ve probably made an All-Star game or two. You’re a solid player. I think maybe about 15 percent of guys born in the last few months of a year make it there, 15 percent of the draft picks. Whereas it’s only about seven percent of the guys born in the first three months. The relatively younger guys are always much more likely to make it to the career milestones.”  

Deaner argues there’s an underdog effect. The relatively younger players may have a quiet demeanor but worker harder to achieve greatness.

The study is a stepping stone to other areas where relative age effect may have long-term impacts. Deaner and his team are looking into education implications and age bias in the classroom?

Patrick Center, WGVU News.

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