Robin Brownlee made a comment a few posts down suggesting that Tom Gilbert, as an older rookie, likely had a lower ceiling than many fans (myself included) were projecting, and presumably lower than the Oilers brain trust was projecting (feel free to step in if I misrepresent your viewpoint, Robin). I think most of us can agree that a 24-year-old who scores 30 points isn’t as promising as a 19-year-old who manages the same.
Still, I think that college players, and particularly defencemen, have a habit of emerging as older rookies and still showing decent progress as time goes by. Since I have no proof of this, I thought I would try and find some players who have had a similar career curve to Gilbert’s, just to get an idea of what other players in similar situations have done.
For starters, the player needs to be big (Gilbert is listed at 6’3” and 206lbs) but not overly physical, and be a college-trained defenseman. He should also have a similar career path to Gilbert’s, illustrated below by age and points-per-game:
18: .49 PPG, USHL (drafted #129 overall by Colorado)
19: .51 PPG, NCAA
20: .54 PPG, NCAA
21: .41 PPG, NCAA
22: .72 PPG, NCAA
23: .63 PPG, AHL
.50 PPG, NHL (only 12 GP)
24: .40 PPG, NHL
25: .44 PPG, NHL (through 34 games)
With that in mind, here are the active players I found with similar curves:
Adrian Aucoin – 6’2”, 210lbs
18: .38 PPG, NCAA (drafted #117 overall by Vancouver)
19: .43 PPG, Intl.
20: .27 PPG, Intl.
.23 PPG, AHL (only 13 GP)
21: .44 PPG, AHL
22: .62 PPG, AHL
.37 PPG, NHL
23: .30 PPG, NHL
24: .17 PPG, NHL (only 35 GP due to injury)
25: .41 PPG, NHL
Aucoin isn’t a perfect comparable, since he turned pro earlier on, but he is close. His breakout NHL performance came in his second full NHL season, at age 25. He’s been troubled by groin problems for most of his NHL career, but when healthy has produced well, if not much better than he did at 25. Here’s his career the rest of the way:
26: .42 PPG, NHL
27: .38 PPG, NHL
28: .42 PPG, NHL
29: .48 PPG, NHL
30: .54 PPG, NHL
31: .43 PPG, SEL (NHL lockout, only 14 GP)
32: .18 PPG, NHL (only 33GP due to injury)
33: .27 PPG, NHL
34: .46 PPG, NHL
35: .34 PPG, NHL (through 35 games)
Aucoin has consistently put up between 22 and 44 points when healthy; in other words, there wasn’t much improvement following his breakout year, at least in terms of offensive production.
Joe Corvo – 6’1”, 210lbs
18: .73 PPG, NCAA
19: 1.03 PPG, NCAA (drafted #83 overall by Los Angeles)
20: .53 PPG, NCAA
21: .40 PPG, AHL
22: .63 PPG, AHL
23: 1.00 PPG, AHL
.24 PPG, NHL
24: .35 PPG, NHL
25: .61 PPG, AHL (NHL lockout, only 23 GP)
Corvo isn’t a perfect comparable either, but again he’s very close. Tom Gilbert comes out a bit ahead of him at this point; probably due to the NHL lockout more than anything. Here’s Player B’s performance to date:
26: .49 PPG, NHL
27: .49 PPG, NHL
28: .65 PPG, NHL
29: .43 PPG, NHL (through 37 games)
Corvo’s offensive performance has spiked since his first full NHL season; over full seasons he’s been on pace for between 40 and 53 points.
Tom Poti – 6’3”, 215lbs
18: 2.52 PPG, High School (drafted #59 overall by Edmonton)
19: .55 PPG, NCAA
20: 1.11 PPG, NCAA
21: .29 PPG, NHL
22: .46 PPG, NHL
23: .40 PPG, NHL
24: .38 PPG, NHL
25: .60 PPG, NHL
Poti’s career path hasn’t been similar to Gilbert’s, but he is a very similar player in terms of size, style and results. Poti jumped to the NHL much quicker than Gilbert did and put up his first good offensive season at a much younger age.
26: .36 PPG, NHL
27: .32 PPG, NHL
28: .56 PPG, NHL
29: .41 PPG, NHL
30: .43 PPG, NHL
Poti’s offence has never been as high as it was in his breakout season; he’s been on pace (over an 82-game season) for between 26 and 49 points since.
This is a rough study at best, given the small sample size and the potential for variation. That said, it’s probably enough for us to say that expecting massive improvement in Gilbert’s offensive totals would be a mistake –- he’s much more likely to experience modest improvement in his offensive game, with peaks and valleys, from this point on.
Is a consistent 35 point defenceman worth $4 million a season if he isn’t bringing a physical game? I’d say it depends on how much his defensive game improves -– if he can handle the toughest opposition (i.e. top pairing minutes) while putting up that kind of production, than I would say yes. I would also argue that Gilbert would be very likely to receive an offer greater than the one he signed with the Oilers if he were an unrestricted free agent.
In other words, it probably isn’t going to be a steal, but it’s probably not going to be a boat anchor either.