Player development seems to always result in more questions than answers. How likely is it for a top pick to pan out? What makes a player a “steal”? Last Word On Hockey will be starting a new series on how to properly develop prospects from all different spots throughout the draft. This week’s piece involves top-10 picks and how they were used early in their careers.
Player Development of Top 10 Picks
In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 40 total selections made between fourth overall and tenth overall on forwards playing in North America. Of those 40 selections, two players were given some patience. What that entails is, they were given an opportunity to grow at the junior level longer than most other prospects, for good reason. Those two players were Timo Meier and Nazem Kadri.
Player Development of Timo Meier
Meier, drafted ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2015, is a player having a breakout campaign this season. Before the NHL, however, Meier was a highly-touted prospect. In his DY-1 season, his first season in North America, Meier played for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. There, he scored 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points in 66 games, good for 0.515 points per game. That ranked 34th out of those 40 forwards in DY-1 production. He followed that up with 44 goals and 46 assists for 90 points in 61 games for his DY, a massive step forward. That gave him a point per game rate of 1.475, which ranked 10th out of those same 40 forwards in DY production.
Given an additional season despite the DY success, Meier would split the year between the Mooseheads and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. He would score 34 goals and 53 assists for 87 points in 52 games, a point per game rate of 1.673. That rate would rank ninth out of 28 forwards still playing at the junior level for DY+1 production. That performance finally earned him a call-up to the NHL level.
How was Meier used?
Meier would split his time between the AHL and NHL in his first professional season, playing 33 AHL games and 34 NHL games. At the AHL level, he would score 14 goals and nine assists for 23 points. At the NHL level, he would record three goals and assists for six points. In those 34 NHL games, Meier would average 12:28 time on ice per game, a small role for the young forward. In that small role, Meier would have a minor, but mostly positive, impact. Offensively, he struggled more than just with the raw totals. His even-strength offence goals above replacement (EVO) was -0.2, which is essentially a hair below replacement level. His even-strength defence goals above replacement (EVD) was solid, as he recorded a 1.0. All-in-all, his overall wins above replacement (WAR) was at 0.1 and his goals above replacement (GAR) was at 0.7.
In his second professional season, Meier would stick at the NHL level. He would play 81 games, recording 21 goals and 15 assists for 36 points. His EVO raised in a big way to 6.5, while his EVD took a hit, falling to -0.2. His WAR and GAR both rose substantially to 1.9 and 9.8, respectively. He did that while averaging a much better time on ice of 14:52 per game.
Meier Continues Steady Ascent thanks to Good Player Development
Heading into his third NHL season, there was optimism. He improved a lot from year one to two and scored over 20 goals in his first full taste of the NHL. In his third season, Meier would play 78 games, scoring 30 goals and 36 assists for 66 points, while getting another raise in ice time to 16:58 per game. As for advanced analytics, Meier saw continued growth in every aspect. His EVO (10.9) saw a big jump, while his EVD (0.5) returned to above replacement level. His overall impact improved as well, with his GAR growing to 14.0 and his WAR improving to 2.6.
Currently, as stated, Meier is in the midst of a breakout season with the team that originally selected him, the Sharks. In the two full seasons following the end of his entry-level contract, Meier combined for 34 goals and 46 assists for 80 points in 124 games, due to COVID-shortened seasons. This season, Meier has recorded 21 goals and 25 assists for 46 points in just 37 games. That gives him a pace of 101 points in an 82-game season. It’s clear that the patient approach and the gradual inclination of ice time helped lead to Meier becoming the player he is today.
Player Development of Nazem Kadri
Kadri, drafted seventh overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009, is a solid player who is also in the middle of a break-out season. His career ultimately started in his DY-1 season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, where he produced 25 goals and 40 assists for 65 points across 68 games. That was good for a point-per-game pace of 0.956, ranking 18th among those 40 forwards in DY-1 production. In his DY, now playing with the London Knights, Kadri scored 25 goals and 53 assists for 78 points in 56 games, a pace of 1.393 points per game. That pace ranked 16th among those 40 forwards in DY production. Rather than getting an NHL opportunity following a strong junior season, Kadri would remain with London.
In his DY+1 season, Kadri would play 56 games with the Knights, scoring 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points, a pace of 1.661 points per game. That would rank 10th among the 28 forwards still playing in juniors for DY+1 production. Following that season, Kadri would play at the professional levels.
How was Kadri used?
Kadri would mostly play at the AHL level, with 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points in 44 games with the Toronto Marlies. However, he also drew into 29 NHL games, scoring three goals and nine assists for 12 points. He did that while averaging 15:47 time on ice per game, a decent role for a young forward. His advanced stats were not great, however, as he would record below or at replacement level. His EVO (-0.9), EVD (-0.3) and GAR (-0.1) were the analytics below replacement level, while his WAR (0) was exactly at replacement level.
In his second professional season, Kadri would see almost the exact same AHL and NHL split, with 48 AHL games and 21 NHL games. In the AHL, Kadri recorded 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points. At the NHL level, Kadri scored five goals and two assists for seven points, a slight decline from the season prior. His role at the NHL level diminished slightly too, however, dropping to an average of 14:10 time on ice per game. His advanced stats took a step in the right direction, however, finishing above replacement level in all four analytics looked at. Kadri’s EVO (1.4) and EVD (0.5) were both decent for a player with only a handful of NHL experience. His WAR (0.8) and GAR (4.7) were pretty impressive in terms of improvement from year one.
Kadri Meets Relatively High Expectations Thanks to Good Player Development
In year three, Kadri would still spend time in the AHL, but not nearly as much. Also, the reason he played in the AHL was due to the NHL lockout in 2012-13. That meant the NHL season would play just 48 games (of which, he played every game). In the AHL, Kadri recorded eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 27 contests. In the 48 NHL games he played, Kadri had a very impressive stat line of 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points. His first (technically) full season at the NHL level was so impressive that he actually received votes for the Selke trophy (finishing 38th in voting, per hockey reference). All of that was accomplished in 16:03 average time on ice per game, his biggest role yet. As for advanced stats, Kadri had a massive jump, with his EVO and EVD landing at 11.4 and 2.4, respectively. Meanwhile, his GAR and WAR were at 19.6 and 3.6, respectively, a very high total to have.
Similar to Meier, the very patient approach to Kadri certainly paved the way for him to make an impact at the NHL level. Following those first three years, he would remain in Toronto for the next six seasons. Totalling 135 goals and 159 assists for 294 points in 462 games played. He would then be traded to the Colorado Avalanche following the 2018-19 season, where he has remained since. As of today, January 26th, 2022, Kadri has played 144 games with the Avalanche. He has scored 46 goals and 74 assists for 120 points. This season has been his best season thus far. Kadri has recorded 16 goals and 36 assists for 52 points in just 37 games.