CPL-U Sports Draft: Post-2021 Season Update

Last year, I published a series of analyses on the Canadian Premier League-U Sports Draft.  I used data to answer questions like whether higher-drafted players play more minutes; which teams play their draftees the most; etc. But the draft and CPL itself are pretty new, so most of the answers were basically “meh, not enough data to say for sure.”

  1. What is the CPL-U Sports Draft?
  2. Does draft position matter?
  3. Which clubs succeed at the draft (and which one fails)?
  4. Which player positions get drafted (and which ones succeed)?
  5. How can the draft be improved? 7 ideas from people smarter than me

We now have another year of data. Let’s see if some of those mehs have turned into solid answers, just in time for the 2022 draft! [update: the 2022 draft will be January 20]

Does draft position matter?

Teams try to draft the best players first. In other leagues, you thus find higher-drafted players being more successful (more games played, etc.) than later-drafted players.

But CPL isn’t like that.

Last year I found no relationship between when a player was drafted and how many minutes they played in their post-draft season. Which is weird. So it’s probably just because there aren’t yet enough data to allow the signal to shine through. Maybe?

So let’s see the relationship with another season’s data folded in.

Scatterplot showing all players drafted in first two years of the draft. Draft order is on the x-axis, and minutes played by the player is on the y-axis. Players' dots are also colour-coded by the team on which they played. There is no obvious pattern to the data - lots of zeros at most draft positions, and quite a few draftees playing high minutes.

Early-drafted players (on the left side) still aren’t really playing more minutes than later-drafted players (right side). See the original article for several potential reasons why, but I think it’s just a matter of time, and two seasons being pandemic’d.


Which clubs succeed at the draft (and which one fails)?

When I ran the analysis last year, two teams stood out for playing draftees a lot: the Halifax Wanderers and FC Edmonton. And one team stood out for barely playing their draftees at all: Forge. Did that pattern hold true this year?

Stacked bar graph showing the minutes played by each team's draftees. Within each team's bar, individual draftees' names appear in stacks representing that player's minutes. HFX has a much bigger bar than any other team.

The Wanderers continued their pattern of playing draftees with Stefan Karajovanovic and Kareem Sow earning big minutes in 2021.

FC Edmonton drafted Thomas Gardner first overall last year, but he didn’t play much. Edmonton changed coach from Jeff Paulus to Alan Koch after the 2020 Island Games, and seem to have changed their draft strategy too (see my article from last year with quotes from Jeff Paulus about his unique draft strategy). Edmonton no longer seem to stand apart from other teams in terms of playing their draftees.

Wow, Forge drafted a player then actually played him! Garven Metusala played in almost all of Forge’s games, including the CPL final. As stated in his CPL Next Gen profile, he’s a defender on the rise. Forge is hereby no longer a failure at the draft!

Atlético Ottawa drafted two players last year (Cristopher Malekos 2nd overall and Reggie Laryea 15th overall), but didn’t sign either of them. The pandemic messed with Atlético’s pre-season, so I can’t judge them harshly … but I will note they conceded the most goals in the league so maybe they shouldn’t have dismissed these two defenders. Let’s see how their draft goes this year under a different head coach.


Which player positions get drafted (and which ones succeed)?

Last year this analysis was a whole lot of meh. Too small a sample size to detect trends reliably. One thing that stood out was the only two goalkeepers ever drafted had both succeeded wildly, with Connor James and Christian Oxner becoming first-string ‘keepers for Edmonton and Halifax, respectively. Another goalkeeper was drafted last year, with Valour taking Yuba-Rayane Yesli 3rd overall. He did not play this season. So goalkeepers probably aren’t some market inefficiency or anything – it’s just the lucky scatter of small sample sizes.

Graph showing minutes played by draftees, sorted by playing position. On the x axis is player position, as 4 categories (GK, D, M, F). On the y-axis is minutes played. Each draftee is a dot, coloured by club colours. There are no obvious trends.

There are no obvious trends here. Midfielders tend not to play much, but that’s probably just due to sample size.

UPDATE

After publishing this post, I received some kind feedback from Steven Marc Scott, former CPL Data guru.

I like this idea of a simpler way to visualize draftee playing time by playing position. So I’ve now done that. Instead of classifying players as having “hit” on a given % of playing time, I’ve binned players into a few categories of playing time. The more blue (and the deeper its hue) at a position, the more its draftees tend to play.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/9mgjB/2/

This visualization more clearly shows that drafted midfielders generally play few if any minutes. Even more alarming when one of the few midfielders in that dark-blue high-minutes category wasn’t really a midfielder – Joel Waterman was drafted as a midfielder (thus considered that here) but played in the CPL as a defender. So midfielders play even less than is conveyed here.


Conclusion

The draft (and league itself) is still new, and its patterns of success are still emerging. Most of last year’s conclusions remain the same after another year of data: “meh, not enough data to say for sure.” Draft order doesn’t matter much. Playing position doesn’t matter much. Team, however, does seem to matter: Halifax consistently plays their draftees.

And it’s nice to see Forge finally playing a draftee. Atlético Ottawa, you are now on the clock!

Thank you to the CPL for making data freely available to allow analyses like this!