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NHL Player Development Of Euro Forwards Reflection

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 forwards drafted out of North American hockey leagues between 2005 and 2015, in the first round, covered, let’s shift to forwards drafted out of Europe. 

NHL Player Development Of Top-Ten Euro Forward Draft Picks Reflection

In the span of 2005 through 2015, there were 11 total players selected within the top-ten out of Europe. Aleksander Barkov was the only one to get selected in the top-three in the aforementioned span. What patterns can be divulged from these 11 players?

First, let’s look back. Having studied forwards drafted out of North America in the same 2005-2015 span in the first round, what patterns were found? Generally, there isn’t a massive need to get players into the NHL sooner rather than later. That was the case with top-ten North American picks, top-15 picks, and late-first round picks (click the links to see those stories in depth). There’s also the caveat that a little bit of patience is actually beneficial for the players, as well, in their NHL player developments. Does that still hold up with European forwards?

Players Who Were Brought In Early

Of the 11 European forwards drafted in the top-ten, there were three who made their NHL impacts immediately following the draft (DY+1 season). Those players were Barkov, Elias Lindholm, and Valeri Nichushkin. Those three forwards would go on to average 17:55 time on ice per game, collectively. They also averaged 0.707 points per game, which averages out to roughly 58 points in an 82-game season. As for the more analytical readers, these three players averaged a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) per season of 1.48, which is excellent. Essentially, combined, these three players equate to a high-end second-line forward. 

Of course, Barkov could easily be considered elite, as he has the most ice time, with almost two full minutes per game more than the next closest (Lindholm, 18:23). He also averaged 0.24 points more per game (about 20 points more, over the course of an 82-game season) than the next best (Lindholm, 0.7). Finally, he also averages 2.32 WAR per season, which is 1.22 WAR per season more than the next closest (Lindholm, 1.1). But, then there’s Nichushkin, who averages third line minutes, a 0.48 point per game pace (39 points per season pace), and just a hair over 1.0 WAR per season. But together, that’s what they are. A high-end second liner, basically. It’s clear that the NHL player development paths were ultimately aided by the quick call-up. 

Players Brought In After One Developmental Season

The next wave of players are those that were brought in after one season of development before their first NHL impact (DY+2 season). There were five players that fell into that category. Those players were Mikko Rantanen, Nicklas Backstrom, William Nylander, Mika Zibanejad, and Magnus Paajarvi. Those players averaged 17:32 per game, which is 23 seconds less per game than the grouping of players brought in immediately. Within that collective role, those five players also averaged 0.772 points per game, which equates to roughly 59 points in an 82-game season. That was actually a better pace than the previous grouping, but only slightly. Finally, these three players averaged 1.42 WAR per season, putting them slightly below the previous grouping. 

Now, similar to the players brought in immediately, the numbers are skewed a bit. There’s only one player amongst these five that had less than 1.4 WAR per season, 17:10 per game, and 0.79 points per game. That player was Paajarvi, who alone averaged 13:03 per game, 0.27 points per game, and a 0.09 WAR per season. Without him, these numbers trump those that the players brought in immediately had. But still, they managed to be on par, at the very least, despite that anchor. 

NHL Player Development Using Patience

Finally, there was only one more group: players given two extra seasons of development before making their NHL impacts (DY+2). That group included three players. Those players were Michael Frolik, Mikael Granlund, and Nikita Filatov. Those players averaged 14:41 per game, which is about three minutes less per game than either of the previous groups. Within that ice time, they averaged 0.453 points per game, which is roughly 37 points in a full season. That’s over 20 points less over a full season than the previous groups as well. Finally, they average 0.59 WAR per season as well, which is almost an entire Win below the previous two groups. 

Generally speaking, there are still some numbers being skewed. But the best player, Granlund, averaged 18:20 per game, 0.45 points per game, and 1.29 WAR per season, which is comparable, but doesn’t stand out amongst the players who were brought in sooner. They also have Filatov, who had a below replacement-level WAR per season, around 10 minutes per game, and 0.26 points per game (roughly 21 points in a full season). But the grouping here is still not up to par with any other players looked at. 

Player Development Time Frames

Generally speaking, it is better to get players to the NHL before it is too late. But giving players some extra time should not hurt too bad. While European forwards in this piece clearly show that patience maybe is not the key in NHL player development. This is only the first time where it was this clear. Patience is usually positively reflected. That’s until it gets to players who still haven’t made their NHL impacts until their DY+4 season or later. 

But then again, these forwards were drafted while they were still in Europe. They didn’t have a season or more of experience playing in North American rinks. Does that mean they need to be thrust into NHL level action sooner to get fully acclimated? Is playing too long in Juniors or Minors a negative for players drafted out of Europe? A larger sample size may be needed, as the series continues. This time, looking at the NHL player development paths of top-15 picks drafted out of Europe. 

Raw stats from Hockey-Reference

WAR stats from Evolving Hockey

Main Photo: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports


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