Kukla's Korner

The Waiting Game

Still waiting for Jordan Staal to be a superstar? What about that Stamkos guy in Tampa Bay? Those two and guys like Kyle Turris have lofty expectations thrust upon them, but how long should fans wait to actually get a return on their investment?

I’ve taken a look at the top-drafted forwards dating back to 1997 and made note of how many seasons it took them to get over the .80 points-per-game (PPG) mark and what age they were when they began the season where they achieved it. There’s a pretty consistent through-line with these players. Check it out:

1997: Joe Thornton (.99 PPG) - 4 years, 21 years old
1998: Vincent Lecavalier (.84 PPG) - 2 years, 20 years old
1999: Patrik Stefan (Never made it)
2000: Dany Heatley (.82 PPG) - 1 year, 20 years old
2001: Ilya Kovalchuk (.83 PPG) - 2 years, 19 years old
2002: Rick Nash (1 PPG) - 3 years, 21 years old
*Nash is a tricky situation. You can’t deny 41 goals in his second season, but his points-per-game weren’t that great that season. An injury cut short his third season where he got 54 points in 54 games as a more well-rounded player.

2003: Eric Staal (1.22 PPG) - 2 years ), 21 years old
*Staal is kind of in that gray area because he played juniors during the lockout year and he came back to become a 100-point guy. Would things have been the same if he spent that season in the NHL? We’ll never know.

2004: Alexander Ovechkin (1.25 PPG) - 1 year, 20 years old
2005: Sidney Crosby (1.24 PPG) - 1 year, 18 years old

Every generation has a draft dud and the past decade can mark Patrik Stefan as it (though I’m sure he’s a nice fellow). Taking Stefan out of the equation and here’s what we’ve got:

Average length of those that made it: 2 years
Average age of those that made it: 20 years old

Several players (Heatley, Crosby, Ovechkin) were able to do well right off the bat. Joe Thornton took the longest to develop but I think it’s safe to say that the Bruins brought Big Joe along really slowly.

So if your favorite team has a highly touted forward still waiting in the wings, how long should you go until you get impatient with him? Part of the issue is consistency, as it doesn’t always come along with achieving that .80 PPG level. It’s important to note that Lecavalier suffered through two awful seasons while the Lightning transitioned from hapless also-ran to Stanley cup contender. I think it’s obvious to say that Lecavalier came out of that as a much more complete player. Staal and Nash have also struggled with consistency after breaking through.

However, Thornton—who took the longest to come along—has had a pretty steady progression upward. And Crosby and Ovechkin are simply in a class of their own.

The lesson to learn from all of this? While most of these highly touted draft picks became impact players by their second season, waiting for a third or even a fourth year isn’t terribly unusual. What you want is for the player to appear coachable and willing to learn the rigors of being defensively responsible. When they do that, they can still contribute even when their offense suffers.

Filed in: NHL, | Mike Chen's Hockey Blog | Permalink
  Tags: draft

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