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 Developments 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, three players were given way too much patience and over-developed in juniors and minors. Those players took until their DY+3, DY+4, or DY+5 years before making it to the NHL, respectively. Those players were Ryan Strome, Cody Hodgson, and Michael Dal Colle. In this piece, we will look at Dal Colle.
Player Development of Michael Dal Colle
Dal Colle, drafted fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2014, came out of the Oshawa Generals organization in the OHL. In his DY-1 season, Dal Colle scored 15 goals and 33 assists for 48 points in 63 games. That’s good for 0.762 points per game, ranking 27th out of 40 forwards in DY-1 production. He followed that up with 39 goals and 56 assists for 95 points in 67 games played in his DY. That’s a pace of 1.418 points per game, ranking 14th out of the same 40 forwards in DY production. Upon getting drafted, Dal Colle would return to the Generals.
In his DY+1 season, Dal Colle would score 42 goals and 51 assists for 93 points in 56 games, which is a pace of 1.661 points per game. That ranked 10th among the 30 forwards outside of the NHL in DY+1 production. He would again stick in the OHL for another season. In 60 games, split between the Generals and the Kingston Frontenacs, Dal Colle would score 80 points, which was a pace of 1.331 points per game. That ranked sixth out of 12 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+2 production.
AHL Experience Used for Dal Colle’s Player Development
In his DY+3 season, Dal Colle would play 75 AHL games, scoring 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points. That’s a pace of 0.547 points per game, ranking third out of five players still outside the NHL in DY+4 production. The following season, Dal Colle would get an additional 60 games in the AHL. This time around, he would score seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points, a rate of 0.4 points per game. That rate ranked second out of three players still outside the NHL in DY+5 production. He was a third of the remaining players out of the 40(!) that were drafted, despite posting NHL-ready numbers in the OHL for several seasons.
After the long wait, Dal Colle would make the Islanders NHL squad in his DY+6 season.
How Was Dal Colle Used?
In his first true taste of NHL hockey, Dal Colle would play 28 NHL games. But he also played 34 AHL games, scoring 18 goals and 16 assists for 34 points. Meanwhile, in the NHL, he averaged 12:07 time on ice per game, he scored three goals and four assists for seven points. While his counting stats in the NHL aren’t anything to write home about, his advanced analytics are impressive, especially defensively. His even-strength offence goals above replacement (EVO) were at 0.7, barely over replacement level. But where his value truly shined was defensive, as his even-strength defence goals above replacement (EVD) was an impressive 3.4. Thanks to his strong defensive metrics, his wins above replacement (WAR) and goals above replacement (GAR) were up at 0.7 and 4.0, respectively.
In his second NHL season, he would slot into 53 NHL games, where he averaged 11:48 time on ice per game. In that small role, Dal Colle would record just four goals and six assists for 10 points. His advanced stats took a massive nosedive. His EVO (-2.7) and EVD (-0.5) both dipped below replacement level. That led to his WAR (-0.6) and GAR (-3.4) dropping exponentially, almost the complete opposite of his rookie year totals.
Michael Dal Colle Bounces Back… Sort Of
In his third NHL season, Dal Colle would see just 26 games. He didn’t even play in the AHL. Averaging 11:54 time on ice per game, Dal Colle was yet again limited by the Islanders. In that role, he recorded just one goal and three assists for four points. His advanced stats, however, were much improved. While his EVO (-0.6) remained below replacement level, his EVD (0.5) bounced back. With his EVD going above replacement level, Dal Colle would see his WAR and GAR land on exactly 0, replacement level, this season.
After those first three seasons, he would play just one NHL game and 39 AHL games. Still with the Islanders organization, Dal Colle would not record an NHL point, while posting nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points in the AHL. After looking over his career thus far, it’s clear the Islanders are the clear blame for Dal Colle falling flat after turning pro.
The Islanders Player Development Was Terrible for Michael Dal Colle
In juniors, he dominated, scoring 131 goals and 175 assists for 306 points in 246 games, and should’ve turned pro sooner. Once entering the NHL, he was given a small role to start and succeeded. He displayed that his long wait before an NHL shot was worth it, as he was reliable defensively. But the Islanders coaching staff never let him take that next step. Dal Colle was a really good player that was simply wasted by an organization who played players such as past-their-primes Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov, and then only one game played on a team that finished just over .500, finishing fifth in their division.
Dal Colle still has a chance to turn into a bottom-six pivot, all things considered. If he can be given more than 12 minutes a game, consistently, and play a role that suits his style, he can be a key player defensively. He is a restricted free agent this off-season and he should get the first ticket out of there. Joining a team who is good at finding the right niche for players who are looking for a fresh start could do wonders for Dal Colle.
Junior league stats via Elite Prospects, NHL stats via Hockey Reference, NHL analytics via Evolving Hockey.