The mind is a funny thing. It selects portions of events for storage, so that years down the line our memory "plays tricks on us." Many years from now, fans might check out Oilers draft history and think "boy Doug Lynch was a poor pick" without knowing (or remembering) his major injury and how it impacted Lynch’s career.
Men who spend their time examining prospect development agree that the period from age 17-19 are the key years. A player can take a step forward at age 20+, but most of that development has to do with getting comfortable with the speed of the game at high levels married to being placed in ideal circumstances by a smart coach/organization.
Put into today’s terms, Taylor Hall may not have been the most impressive player at this week’s prospect camp, but he has miles and miles of brain and physical development in the next two seasons. Jordan Eberle–just a little older–has developed more physically and is more mature in all areas.
Those 24 months are huge.
Injuries can have a mammoth impact on an NHL organization. Consider a few selected injuries from the last decade:
- Doug Lynch: A wrist injury that was not properly addressed and then a knee injury after being dealt to the Blues organization derailed a promising NHL career. That wrist injury came on the heels of a very impressive AHL season. Injuries had a major impact on his career; making the AHL All-Star game as a rookie defenseman (at age 20) is a very good career arrrow.
- Dan Baum: Was a long shot prospect who had an agitator style and fell victim to concussions. Injuries ended career.
- Jesse Niinimaki: Niinimaki showed a lot of promise until a (Guy Flaming described it as a "devastating injury") severe shoulder injury 10 games into the 2003-04 season ended his year. There were other factors (he didn’t get any stronger) but it had an impact on his development. .
- JF Dufort: Suffered a career ending concussion late in 2002-03. Injuries ended career.
- Marc Pouliot: His development was slowed by numerous injuries beginning at the 2003 Prospects game (the Phaneuf hit). It continued unabated through his junior career and Pouliot has had some significant injuries and illnesses as a pro. Most notable was a bout with mono that kept him from being a part of the Stanley run, spring 2006.
- Mikhail Zoukov: Suffered a "serious injury" that wiped out his 04-05 season. Unkown impact on career.
- Rob Schremp: Suffered a serious knee injury at the end of the 06-07 season and required surgery. His recovery impacted his TC performance that fall and may have contributed to his inability to crack the roster.
- Alex Plante: Back and concussion problems after he was drafted slowed his development a great deal. Plante has re-set his career and things are looking up, but there’s no doubt he lost some very important developmental time due to injury.
This isn’t an effort to excuse Kevin Prendergast or to find a way to justify Marc Pouliot’s 1st round selection in 2003. It is an effort to impress on fans that luck will have an enormous impact on the Taylor Hall draft. Good health, good coaching, discipline and desire will be major players in the equation over the next 24 months. We should expect a talented player who can deliver quality offensive seasons. The number one thing we should hope for is good health.
History tell us it is a big part of player development.