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NHL Player Development Patterns: The Conclusion

NHL Player Development of first round picks.

,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. With all forwards drafted in the first round, out of North American hockey leagues, coming to an end, let’s reflect on what was found. 

NHL Player Development Of First-Round Picks

In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 168 total selections made on forwards playing in North America in their draft years. After covering some of the 168, who made their NHL impacts, what patterns were discovered? Let’s reflect. 

147 forwards were able to make it to the NHL from the aforementioned span, coming out of North American leagues. Looking at top-10 selections, going all the way back to May 28th, 2022 when the conclusion article was released, it was determined that patience led to better results. Here’s a piece of that article: 

“Giving players some patience makes sense just on the surface. In the case of some of those players given patience, they were on teams that already had a fairly established roster… Waiting for said prospects to establish themselves above the rest in their developmental years gives an organization a better idea of what to expect. Thus, leading to a better idea of what role to give a player early on.”

Top-15 Picks Had Same Development Results

Moving on to the top-15 picks, the results were the same. Here’s a blurb from that piece: 

“Similar to the top-10 picks, bringing prospects up to the NHL quickly generally didn’t stunt someone’s player development. However, giving players a little bit more patience and an extra year or two gets more out of the players. If anything, an extra year of player development in a lower level of hockey helps. Whether it is juniors, the NCAA or the AHL.”

Again, more patience actually does wonders, in some cases, for player development. Now, what about the late first-rounders? Assuredly, these players are getting drafted by better teams who do not need their services as soon as a team selects them in the top 10 or top-15. Did that help, hurt, or have little impact on the patterns that have been established?

Late First-Rounders Who Were Brought In Immediately

In total, there were 14 forwards who were brought in immediately or almost immediately. That means they were brought into the NHL in their DY+1 (called up directly following the draft) or DY+2 season (one season of development before call-up). Those players are David Perron, Stefan Matteau, Kyle Connor, Max Pacioretty, Tanner Pearson, Robby Fabbri, Travis Konecny, Anthony Beauvillier, Jared McCann, Nick Foligno, Curtis Lazar, Jordan Caron, Tom Wilson, and Colton Gillies

Not including the current season, these players averaged in their respective careers, in a span from 2007 to 2022, 0.702 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) per season. Additionally, they average 0.466 points per game in their respective careers. That equates to about 38 points across an 82-game season, which is about the impact of a third-line forward or low-end second-liner. 

Players Who Were Brought In After Some Player Development Years

The next tier of players made their NHL impacts in their DY+3 or DY+4 seasons. Or, two to three seasons after being drafted. That tier included 40 players, which won’t be listed for obvious reasons. But some notable players are Charlie Coyle, Brock Boeser, Kyle Palmieri, Jack Roslovic, Claude Giroux, Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, T.J. Oshie, and more. 

Not including this current season, these players averaged, in their respective careers, 0.621 WAR per year. That was 0.081 WAR per season less than what the previous grouping of players had. As for points per game averages? These 40 players averaged 0.435 points per game in their careers. That’s good for about 36 points in an 82-game season. That puts them just two points back of the 38-point projection for the previous grouping of players. Generally, however, the impacts of players with some extra development versus straight into the NHL are minimal. 

Players Given A Bit Too Much Developmental Time

The next grouping of players is those who maybe stayed in juniors or the AHL for a little while. Those players did not make their respective NHL impacts until their DY+5 or later seasons. There were 13 players who fell into this category. Those players were Kevin Hayes, Jason Dickinson, Matt Puempel, Phillip Danault, Kendall McArdle, Jim O’Brien, Joe Colborne, Evgeny Svechnikov, Mark Jankowski, Nicholas Merkley, Stefan Noesen, Austin Watson, Riley Nash

Once again, not including this year, those players averaged 0.238 WAR per season. That was 0.383 WAR per season less than the previous grouping. That is a massive difference. Meanwhile, for points per game, they averaged 0.31 points per game. That puts this group on about a 25-point pace in an 82-game season. That’s 11 and 13 points behind the previous two groups, respectively. Again, that’s quite a large margin. 

Conclusion Of Player Development In A Nutshell

Of course, there is a whole lot more to player development than just points per game, WAR (an analytic that isn’t the single-most telling stat by any means), and how long it takes before a player makes their NHL impacts. It doesn’t always matter what league they played in before they were drafted, either. There are many things that this article did not take into account. That includes pre-draft observations and player traits (strengths, weaknesses, playing style), who their coaches were at the NHL level, and whether or not they were traded (which has a bit of an impact on its own). 

There is so much that goes into a player’s development. However, simple observations like whether a fan should remain patient versus getting a little antsy that their favorite prospect isn’t on the roster yet still display patterns. If a team is drafting in the first round, they trust that whoever they pick is one of the best in the world at his age. Each and every first-rounder is supremely talented. If the option is available, it’s clear calling a player up straight away or, at the least, shortly after being drafted, won’t always negatively impact a prospect.

But, it’s also clear that, if a team does not have the roster space or the adequate role to give to a player, it’s best to let them play an additional season or two in juniors. A little bit of patience does not hurt, especially when it comes to the NHL and its young draft prospects. 

Per game stats via Hockey-Reference

WAR via Evolving-Hockey (Paid subscription required)

Main Photo: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports


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