NHL Player Development Of First-Round Picks: Part 24

nhl player development

NHL 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 draft picks in the back half of the first round and how they were used early in their careers.

NHL Player Development Of First-Round Picks

In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 84 total selections made between 16th overall and 30th overall on forwards playing in North America. Looking at all 84 forwards, they were split into different categories. Those categories were “Forwards Deemed NHL-Ready and Brought In Immediately When Ready,” “Forwards Near NHL-Ready and Brought In Immediately When Near-Ready,” “Forwards Rushed Slightly,” “Forwards Rushed,” “Forwards Forced,” “A Little Patience,” “Patience,” and “Too Much Patience.” 

There were 16 forwards who fell into the fourth category, “forced,” on the list. Of those 16 players, six made their NHL impacts in their DY+3 seasons. Those players are Louis LeBlanc, Kyle Palmieri, Jack Roslovic, Nicklas Jensen, Carter Ashton, and Rickard Rakell. Today, let’s look at Roslovic and Jensen. 

In this piece, we will be using stats from eliteprospects (raw stats) and hockey-reference (ice time). Additionally, the analytics we are using are as follows: even-strength offence goals above replacement (EVO), even-strength defence goals above replacement (EVD), wins above replacement (WAR) and goals above replacement (GAR). Those analytics are from evolving-hockey (subscription required). 

NHL Player Development Of Jack Roslovic

Roslovic, drafted 25th overall in the 2015 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets, came out of the US National Team Development Program. In his DY-1 season, playing with the U17s, he scored 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points in 54 games, for 0.593 points per game. That ranked 54th amongst the aforementioned 84 forwards in DY-1 production. The following season, now with the U18s, he scored 27 goals and 52 assists for 79 points in 65 games, for 1.215 points per game. That ranked 35th amongst those same 84 players in DY production. Following that season, Roslovic would move on to the NCAA with Miami University (Ohio) for one season, then one season with the Jets AHL affiliates, Manitoba Moose, for one season. 

In the NCAA, Roslovic scored 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 36 games, for 0.722 points per game. That ranked 64th among the 82 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+1 production. After that single NCAA season, Roslovic made the move to the AHL with the Moose. He scored 13 goals and 35 assists for 48 points, for 0.739 points per game. That ranked 48th out of the 70 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+2 production. Roslovic would see the NHL the following season. 

How Was Roslovic Used

In his first shot at NHL action, Roslovic would split the year between the AHL and NHL. That said, he played 32 AHL games, scoring 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points. With those impressive AHL numbers, he earned a 31-game NHL stint, averaging 12:19 time on ice per game. In that role, he scored five goals and nine assists for 14 points. With those decent raw stats, it’s clear Roslovic has some upside. But his analytics painted an even better picture. Roslovic recorded great analytical numbers, with his EVO (3.9) and EVD (1.6) showing an incredible ability at both ends as a rookie. With those solid even-strength numbers, Roslovic was able to record very solid WAR (1.1) and GAR (5.5) numbers as well. 

Following that very successful rookie season, Roslovic would see a full-time NHL role. Playing in 77 games, he averaged just 9:45 per game. Despite the bigger sample size of games, his regression in role was a big one. Despite that, he still recorded nine goals and 15 assists for 24 points. A modest statline. Analytically, however, he did fine. While his EVO (0.9) declined, his EVD (2.1) took a small step up. The improvement defensively at even strength was enough to keep his WAR (1.1) the same. His GAR (6.2) increased slightly as well, though that was due more because of special teams play. 

Role Upgrade, NHL Player Development Regression In Year Three

In his third season, Roslovic again would play exclusively in the NHL. This time, he played 71 games and averaged a much better 14:54 per game. That bigger role, however, did not lead to an increased statline. Roslovic scored 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points, only a slight increase from the previous season. Analytically, he would see a big change. His EVO (3.0) improved in a big way in year three, but his EVD (-1.2) saw a substantial drop. With his EVD taking that massive hit, his WAR (0.5) and GAR (2.6) also saw regression. 
Embed from Getty Images
After that third season in 2019-20, Roslovic would leave the Jets organization. Getting traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, his hometown team, and he still remains there today. In two seasons with the Jackets, he scored 34 goals and 45 assists for 79 points in 129 games. He’s expected to be a big piece on the Jackets for the upcoming season. Although he may not be an elite player to this point in his career, the trade from Winnipeg to Columbus may have helped his NHL player development. The Jets were using him in a limited role, and once he left, he seized a top-six opportunity and looked good in it. Now, he could play alongside Johnny Goudreau and really break out in a big way. 

NHL Player Development Of Nicklas Jensen

Jensen, drafted 29th overall in the 2011 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks, came out of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals organization. In his DY-1 season, however, he played in Denmark with the Herning Blue Fox. There, he scored 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points in 34 games, for 0.765 points per game. That ranked 43rd amongst the 84 forwards in DY-1 production. Joining the OHL in his draft season, he scored 29 goals and assists for 58 points in 61 games, for 0.951 points per game. That ranked 66th among those same 84 forwards in DY production. Following that season in the OHL, Jensen would play one more season there before going on loan to the Elitserien (Sweden) and getting some AHL time. 

In his final OHL season, Jensen scored 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points in 57 games, for 1.018 points per game. That ranked 47th out of the 82 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+1 production. The next year, the NHL had a lock-out and Jensen was loaned to Sweden, playing in the Elitserien with AIK. There, he scored 17 goals and six assists for 23 points in 50 games, for 0.46 points per game. That ranked 66th out of the 72 forwards still outside the NHL in DY+2 production. He also saw 20 AHL games, scoring two goals and four total points. Jensen would see his shot at the NHL the following season. 

How Was Jensen Used

Jensen would see a split between the AHL and NHL the year he got a look at the NHL. In the AHL, he scored 15 goals and 21 total points, across 54 games. Meanwhile, he got 17 NHL games and averaged 15:38 per game, a strong role in a small sample. In that role, he scored three goals and assists for six points. Analytically, he was decent. His EVO (1.1) and EVD (0.1) were solid, though nothing to write home about. Overall, his WAR (0.3) and GAR (1.5) were also decent, but nothing special. 

Embed from Getty Images

The following season, Jensen would see his role slip away. He would again split between the AHL and NHL. In the AHL, he scored 14 goals and assists for 28 points in 59 games. Meanwhile, he would only see 5 NHL games and average just 9:33 per game. That tiny role led to him scoring zero points. He also didn’t play enough games for his analytics to get tracked.   

Complete Role Regression, Backwards NHL Player Development

In year three, Jensen would not see the NHL a single time. He also got dealt to the New York Rangers mid-season, playing with their AHL club, the Hartford Wolf Pack. He scored 19 goals and 18 assists for 37 points across 68 games. 

Following that third season in 2015-16, Jensen would play one more season with the Rangers, which was his last in North America. Playing in seven NHL games, he didn’t record a single point. Instead, he once again saw the AHL, scoring 32 goals and 23 assists for 55 points in 70 games with Hartford. Jensen would leave for Europe, playing the next five seasons in the KHL. In total, Jensen scored 92 goals and 74 assists for 166 points in 220 KHL games. He currently plays in Switzerland, in the NL, with the SC Rapperswil-Jona Lakers, where he has so far scored eight points in eight games.

For his NHL player development, Jensen was given less and less of a role with each passing season. On the surface, he didn’t play particularly badly that first year, and the team could be blamed for the lack of player success. But there is a lot more to this story, which will be saved for another day. Rickard Rakell was taken a pick later in the 2011 draft and had nearly the same production in the OHL as Jensen did. Maybe he was the wrong pick, and the Canucks scouting department made a mistake. Or, again, the development aspect was as bad as it appears, and the team could have done better. 

Junior league stats via Elite Prospects, NHL stats via Hockey Reference, NHL analytics via Evolving Hockey