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-15 picks and how they were used early in their careers.
Player Developments Of Top-15 Picks
In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 21 total selections made between 11th overall and 15th overall on forwards playing in North America. Looking at all 21 forwards, they were split into different categories. Today, we’ll look at the category of “Too Much Patience”. In the study of these 21 forwards, there were none that landed in “A Little Patience,” thus leading to skipping ahead to this category. This category had two players. Those players were Ryan O’Marra and Jaden Schwartz.
Player Development Of Ryan O’Marra
O’Marra, who was drafted 15th overall in the 2005 NHL draft by the New York Islanders, came out of the OHL’s Erie Otters organization. In his DY-1 season, he recorded 16 goals and assists for 32 points in 63 games, which was good for 0.508 points per game. That ranked 13th among those 21 forwards in DY-1 production. He followed that performance up with 25 goals and 38 assists for 63 points in 64 games, for 0.984 points per game. That ranked 15th among those same 21 forwards in DY production. After being selected in the top-15, O’Marra would play two more seasons in the OHL.
In his DY+1 season, he would record 27 goals and 50 assists for 77 points in 61 games as the Otters captain, for 1.262 points per game. That ranked 11th out of 20 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+1 production. Then, O’Marra would score a combined 51 points in 46 games between the Otters and the Saginaw Spirit, for 1.109 points per game. That ranked 6th out of 12 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+2 production
AHL Time For O’Marra
The following year, O’Marra would play most of his games in the AHL, though he did see ECHL time as well. In the AHL, he would score two goals and seven assists for nine points in 31 games, for 0.29 points per game. That ranked last out of seven forwards still outside the NHL in DY+3 production. O’Marra would play another two seasons in the AHL. In his DY+4 season, he scored one goal and nine assists for 10 points in 62 games, for 0.161 points per game. That ranked last out of four players still outside the NHL in DY+4 production.
Finally, in his DY+5 season, O’Marra would go on to score 12 goals and six assists for 18 points in 74 AHL games, for 0.243 points per game. Again, he would rank last among four players still outside the NHL in DY+5 production. Finally, after a very long wait that generally leads to the demise of just about all prospects, O’Marra would reach the NHL.
How Was O’Marra Used?
In his first professional season, O’Marra would split between the AHL and NHL. In the AHL, he would play 53 games, scoring two goals and 20 assists for 22 points, his best professional season yet. O’Marra would play 21 NHL games, scoring one goal and four assists for five points. He did that while averaging 11:01 time on ice per game. Analytically, O’Marra was a below replacement-level player. His even-strength offence goals above replacement (EVO) was the only stat above replacement level, at 0.3. That said, his even-strength defence goals above replacement (EVD) was down at -0.8. That led to his wins above replacement (WAR) and goals above replacement (GAR) to both be below replacement-level at -0.2 and -1, respectively.
His poor underlying numbers led his second professional season to be a step back, combining for just nine NHL games with two teams, compared to 58 AHL games. In the AHL, he recorded nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points. Meanwhile, in the nine NHL games, he would score just one assist, averaging just 9:17 per game. In the small NHL sample, his underlying stats actually improved, for the most part. His EVO (-0.4) would regress from his first season, but his EVD (1.1) was much-improved. That led to his WAR (0.1) and GAR (0.4) also improving.
O’Marra Netting His Travel Rewards
His decent underlying stats were all for naught, as O’Marra would pack his bags and head overseas. In 2012-13, following his nine game NHL stint in year two, he played in three different leagues, in Finland, Italy and Norway. In Finland, O’Marra would play in eight SM-Liiga games, scoring one assist for the Pelicans. Then, in Italy, he would play nine games, scoring six goals and seven assists for 13 points for Fassa. Finally, in Norway, he would play nine games scoring two goals and six assists for eight points for Valerenga.
Following that season overseas, O’Marra would play just four more years before retiring in 2016-17. In that time, he would play in Italy and England in the EIHL, before returning to North America to play in the ACH in Canada for two seasons. In Italy, he played 37 games, scoring 26 points. Then, in England, he would score 38 points in 47 games. Finally, he would combine for 27 games, scoring 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points, before calling it quits. O’Marra’s player development did not go well. He barely got ice time at the NHL level. Even then, in his second season, he proved to be a reliable defensive forward at the least. But, it goes deeper than just ice time. That is a story for another day.
Player Development Of Jaden Schwartz
Schwartz, who was drafted 14th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2010 NHL Draft, came out of the USHL’s Tri-City Storm organization. In his DY-1 season, however, he played in the SJHL with the Notre Dame Hounds, where he scored 34 goals and 42 assists for 76 points in 46 games, for 1.652 points per game. That ranked first amongst the 21 forwards in DY-1 production, albeit in a weaker league. He followed that up with 33 goals and 50 assists for 83 points in 60 USHL games with Tri-City, for 1.383 points per game. That ranked fourth among those same 21 forwards in DY production.
It’s Jaden Schwartz many days until the start of the 2020-21 NHL season! pic.twitter.com/y5zi4Z3dRV
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) December 27, 2020
Following those very solid seasons, Schwartz would play two NCAA seasons before getting his NHL shot. In his DY+1 season, with Colorado College, he would score 17 goals and 30 assists for 47 points in just 30 games, for 1.567 points per game. That ranked third among the 20 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+1 production. Yet, he would play another year, scoring 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 30 games, for 1.367 points per game. That ranked third among the 12 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+2 production. He would, finally, get his chance after a few years of providing near-NHL-ready stats.
How Was Schwartz Used?
In his first season, Schwartz would play between the AHL and NHL. In the AHL, he would play 33 games, scoring nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points. Meanwhile, he would also play 45 NHL games, averaging 12:28 per game in ice time, scoring seven goals and six assists for 13 points. His analytics were solid, with an EVO of 1.5 and an even better EVD of 2.0. With solid, but not excellent, even-strength numbers, his WAR (0.7) and GAR (3.7) were really solid for a rookie in a limited role.
Following that rookie season, Schwartz would play exclusively in the NHL. In 80 games, he would average 17:32 per game, and score 25 goals and 31 assists for 56 points. His analytics were elite, with an outstanding EVO (10.8) and excellent EVD (4.5). Those great even-strength numbers led his WAR (3.4) and GAR (18.2) to be excellent as well. All-in-all, Schwartz player development with the Blues has gone very smooth to this point.
Schwartz Remains Solid, But Takes Step Back In Player Development
In his third season, Schwartz would play 75 games and average 18:15 per game. In that role, he would score 28 goals and 35 assists for 63 points. His raw stats were better in his larger role, but his underlying stats did not reflect that improvement. S analytics would drop across the board. His EVO (3.4) and EVD (0.5) were closer to his rookie season totals. That led to his WAR (1.4) and GAR (7.3) to drop, although he was still really strong in those areas as well.
Since that third season, in 2014-15, he has played seven seasons. That includes six with the Blues and one with the Seattle Kraken. In those final six seasons with the Blues, he would score 92 goals and 158 assists for 250 points in 353 games. Last season, his first with Seattle, he recorded eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in just 37 games. So, despite the fact he likely could have played in the NHL a year or two sooner, the Blues’ patience paid off. The player development of Schwartz went about as well as anyone could have asked.
Junior league stats via Elite Prospects, NHL stats via Hockey Reference, NHL analytics via Evolving Hockey