The article states that the players born early in the year are more likely to be drafted because of their good resumes, but they can be very misleading when used to predict future success. The author argues that these good resumes are simply the result of size and muturity advantage older players have on younger players who are born later in the year. While younger players do not have the physical advantage on older players, they generally work harder to stay competitve. As these younger players mature, they tend to develop better work ethics because many of them have been under harder competition throughout their midget and junior hockey careers. Statistics have shown that players born later in the year are more likely to have more successful NHL careers than those born early in the year.
Some of our noticible draftees in recent years:
Nicklas Jensen - born in March
Cody Hodgson - born in February (traded for Zack Kassian - born in January)
Brendan Gaunce - born in March
Michael Grabner - born in October
Jordan Schroeder - born in September
Frankie Corrado - born in March
Kevin Cannauton - born in February
Patrick White - born in January
Our core group: (drafted or discovered out of nowhere by Canucks)
Henrik Sedin - born in September
Daniel Sedin - born in September
Alex Burrows - born in April
Ryan Kesler - born in August
Alex Edler - born in April
Kevin Bieksa: born in June
Cory Schneider - born in March
Chris Tanev - born in December
As you can see, with the exception of Cory Schneider, none of our core group players are born in the first three months of the year, unlike most of our young prospects. Of course I want all of our prospects to develop very successful careers with Canucks, but their early success in Junior hockey do not necessarily guarantee success in NHL over a long term.
I am not saying that all the future drafts shall be spend on players born later in the year, but the concept in this article sure can be applied to help our management and scouting staff make better decisions.
These hockey heavyweights all have a few things in common: they're born later in the year but are top NHL point leaders, a contradiction to a 'birthday bias' that exists in sports.
A new study looking at Canadian hockey players drafted into the NHL over the course of nearly three decades suggest that while the birthday bias exists, it doesn't accurately predict talent or success. Turns out, players born later in the year end up scoring more points and playing more minutes on the ice compared to their counterparts born earlier in the year.
"There's no doubt that drafting professional athletes is an inexact science. Plenty of sure-fire first-round picks fizzle while some late-round picks unexpectedly become stars. But our results show that, at least since 1980, NHL teams have been consistently fooled by players’ birthday…," said Dr. Robert Deaner, lead researcher in the study.
“They greatly underestimate the promise of players born in the second half of the year, the ones who have always been relatively younger than their peers. For any given draft slot, relatively younger players are about twice as likely to be successful,” he said.
Deaner is a professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
All Canadian-born skaters drafted into NHL included in study
Deaner and his team studied all Canadian-born skaters drafted into the NHL between 1980 and 2006 for their study. There were over 2,700 in total — half played at least a game while another quarter played at least 200 career games, or three to six seasons.
At first, Deaner meant to look into aggression in NHL players, but after reading popular journalist Malcolm Gladwell's take on relative age effects in his novel Outliers, Deaner studied birth month and aggression.
Instead, he noticed a relationship between birth month and career length.
Results showed that on average, NHL draft picks born between July and December are much more likely than those born in January, February or March, to have successful careers.
Those born in the first three months of the year make up 36 per cent of all draftees, but they only played 28 per cent of games and only scored 25 per cent of the points.
On the other hand, players born in the last few months of the year played 42 per cent of the games and scored 44 per cent of points accumulated by those studied.
Birthday bias, underdog effect at play in hockey
Previous research has already pointed to this birthday bias, in which athletes on the older end of their age group are more likely to get picked.
In elite Canadian youth ice hockey – the CHL or the CJHL – about 40 per cent of players are born in the first three months of the year while only 15 per cent are born in the last three months, for example.
This bias starts early on in an athlete’s career, from special coaching time to more opportunities to be seen by key scouts.
“One possibility is that relatively young players are less likely to play in the top junior leagues, and the NHL teams generally prefer to draft from the top leagues,” Deaner told Global News.
The boys born earlier in the year may be taller and slightly more experienced than their counterparts, giving them an edge.
Still, that leaves the younger players with a knack for fighting harder to get noticed and to catch up with their peers.
“It’s called an underdog effect. This would involve relatively younger individuals developing better work habits so that they improve their skills more in adulthood,” Deaner explained.
“The idea is that they’ve always had to find a way to make it against older, larger players.”
Right now, it’s unclear if this effect exists in sports but it’s been studied in academics.
Birthday bias starts early on
Andrew Mercer, an Ottawa-based goalie coach who’s trained players for about 15 years, says he sees younger players foster these hardworking habits early on.
“As you’re growing up you’re constantly playing against those players born later in the year,” Mercer said.
He’s owner of Andrew Mercer Hockey Development, a year-round, full-time goalie training school.
“You see this effect right in front of you,” he explained.
Players born earlier in the year are more physically developed, and because they’ve had a history of getting more ice-time or opportunities from coaches, they have a fleshed out resume.
“NHL teams are looking at your midget stats and what you’ve done throughout and they’ll see this person has done quite well and he’s a good size,” he said.
“In drafting, they’ll try to do projections of what the player will turn into in a number of years but you have to take the best player available. That’s why I think those players go earlier in the draft or get drafted in the first place.”
Meanwhile, the younger players stick it out in smaller leagues. But they’re working hard to catch up, and because they’re a bigger fish in a smaller pond, they get more time to hone their skills.
Deaner focused his study on Canadian players because in Canadian youth ice hockey, there is a Jan. 1 cut-off date – players born later in the year would have been consistently younger than their age group.
But the bias isn’t unique to Canadian players, he said, noting that it’s the same in drafting players from most European countries.
Deaner says his next steps are to explore if NHL teams generally prefer to draft from the top leagues, excluding players in smaller pools.
His complete findings were published Wednesday in the journal Public Library of Science or PLoS ONE.
Read it on Global News: Global Saskatoon | Is the NHL drafting the wrong players because of a hockey birthday bias?