April 11 2009 10:56AM
Edmonton Oilers prospect Chris Vande Velde seems likely to return to college rather than sign a professional contract for this upcoming season. The prospect was quoted as saying that there was a “75 percent” chance he would return to NCAA play.
He explained his decision this way:
”I still have holes in my game that I think I can get better… I think (staying) would help me out.”
Let’s take a quick look at how his college career has unfolded:
- 2006-07: 38GP – 3G – 6A – 9PTS, +4
- 2007-08: 43GP – 15G – 17A – 32PTS, +10
- 2008-09: 43GP – 18G – 17A – 35PTS, +10
At a glance, it would seem that there was a large improvement from the 06-07 season to the 07-08 season, and then very little thereafter, but I’d suggest that’s incorrect. Fortunately, with college players we have a much better statistical read on them than we do junior players, so we can get a better idea of what was happening over those three seasons from the Fighting Sioux’s official site.
In any case, here are some more detailed statistics from each season.
- Overall: 28GP – 3G – 6A – 9PTS
- Plus/Minus: +4 (tied for 10th-best on the team)
- Shooting: 36 shots, 8.3 SH%
- Faceoffs: 150 for 282 (53.9%)
- Powerplay Numbers: 38GP - 0G – 1A -1PTS
Points of Interest: There’s a fun way to break down Vande Velde’s season that shows how much power opportunity and the coach’s biases have over statistical performance. Here’s what Don Cherry said about it in Hockey Stories and Stuff:
I hate to say it but coaches can make a guy look good and they can make a guy look bad.
Cherry made that statement in reference to a contest between two of his players: one player the coach wanted, the other the G.M. wanted. So during the exhibition season, Cherry played his candidate (Bobby Miller) “to death”; used him in all situations and fed him a ton of minutes. He scored a lot of points and he made the team as a result.
In any case, near the end of the season Vande Velde was elevated up the lineup, with some interesting results:
- First 29 games: 2 points
- Last 9 games: 7 points
That isn’t to say that Vande Velde didn’t get better as the season went on, or that the coach was intentionally driving his numbers down (the coach’s responsibility, of course, is to the entire team rather than individual players). But that late season outburst showed what he could do in an offensive role, and was undoubtedly largely responsible for his use the following season.
- Overall: 43GP – 15G – 17A – 32PTS
- Plus/Minus: +10 (tied for 7th-best on the team)
- Shooting: 87 shots, 17.2 SH%
- Faceoffs: 366 for 665 (55.0%)
- Powerplay Numbers: 43GP – 6G – 3A – 9PTS
Points of Interest: While Vande Velde’s point totals are impressive, some context is important. He played much of the season with two of the top players in college hockey – T.J Oshie, who is having an excellent rookie year in St. Louis (39 points in 56 games), and 2007 Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan (the Hobey Baker Award is given to the best player in college hockey). His +/- was impressive to look at, but taken in context was no better than average given his minutes played and the strength of his team.
It was also worrisome to see that he didn’t take many shots; his shooting percentage doubled season-to-season, and with that kind of exponential increase there’s always fears that it is unrepeatable. His faceoff numbers were good for the second year in a row, and again most of his points were scored at even-strength.
- Overall: 43GP – 18G – 17A – 35PTS
- Plus/Minus: +10 (led the team)
- Shooting: 118 shots, 15.3 SH%
- Faceoffs: 479 for 863 (55.5%)
- Powerplay Numbers: 43GP – 8G – 6A – 14PTS
Points of Interest: Also managed a short-handed goal and was used in all situations. With T.J Oshie departed, it fell to Vande Velde, Ryan Duncan, and Brad Miller ot lead the offense and all three put up excellent numbers. Vande Velde’s +/- remained the same, but on a much weaker team which seems to show some good development as a two-way player. His faceoff numbers, always good, improved for the third season in a row, and he fired more shots on goal, resulting in three more goals on the year. His shooting percentage dropped off a little but was still excellent; at this point it seems likely that he’ll be able to sustain high shooting percentages.
It’s worth noting that his offensive totals only improved on the power-play; at even-strength/short-handed they were largely static:
- 2007-08: 43GP – 9G – 14A – 23 PTS
- 2008-09: 43GP – 10G – 11A – 21 PTS
Given that North Dakota went from scoring 89 even-strength goals to 90 even-strength goals over those two seasons, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that Vande Velde didn’t gain anything in the offensive zone at evens; but given where his +/- ranks on the club we can also say with some certainty that his defensive game likely took some big steps forward.
One other thing worth noting: Vande Velde has never taken many penalties (37 and 38 PIM over the two seasons prior), but something happened in 2008-09 because he nearly doubled his total to 69 PIM.
The Right Choice?
Staying in college for another season seems unlikely to hamper Vande Velde’s development; it remains to be seen where his offensive game will top out at and hopefully he can take a step forward in that area this season. When he does turn professional he’ll be a key prospect for the Oilers – he’s listed at 6’2”, 206lbs, he can win faceoffs, and because he’ll be older than most prospects when he turns pro he has a better chance of being able to contribute right away.
The Fargo-Moorhead Forum, which got the “75 percent” quote from Vande Velde, notes one other effect of Vande Velde staying in school for a final year:
His return to school would help provide the Sioux with a productive scoring threat. It could also add some significant leverage to contract negotiations down the road with the Oilers. NHL draft picks can become free agents if they have not signed by Aug. 1 of their senior year in college.
Which means that if Vande Velde and the Oilers can’t hammer out a contract next summer, Vande Velde will become an unrestricted free agent, ala Blake Wheeler.