Griffin Reinhart is at something of a crossroads in his NHL career. Recent history suggests that he’ll either establish himself as an NHL player this season, or he won’t do it at all.
Top 15 Defencemen
The following graphic shows the development of every 6’2”-or-taller defenceman drafted out of Canadian major junior with a top-15 pick at the NHL Draft between 2001 and 2011. The number in each case indicates the 82-game scoring rate of the player, and the colour of the box indicates league (white, blue and orange representing major junior, the AHL and the NHL, respectively). The league each player played the most games in is pictured.
If the chart seems familiar, it’s likely because I’ve posted less elaborate versions of it before. Back in 2014, when the idea of swapping Edmonton’s third overall pick (Leon Draisaitl) to New York for Reinhart’s rights was bouncing around the media echo chamber, I argued that such a deal would be a terrible idea. I brought it out again in the summer Reinhart was acquired, noting that several good NHL defencemen had faced similar developments curves.
This is the first time I’ve included every player, though, to provide an idea of what the expected development curve should be for a defenceman picked in this range.
The players boxed off in the middle represent the group that has had a similar development curve to Reinhart. The players in the top-third can be safely ignored because they were all firmly established NHL players by this point in their respective careers. The players in the bottom-third can also be ignored, as they didn’t come close to matching Reinhart’s offence as an AHL rookie.
That leaves seven others. Here’s where they were at the end of their respective Draft+4 seasons:
- Karl Alzner: Played 20+ minutes per game in nine of his 10 final NHL games. High: 30:13; Low: 18:19.
- Braydon Coburn: Played 20+ minutes per game in seven of his final 10 NHL games. High: 25:26; Low: 18:18.
- Jared Cowen: A unique case because he was hurt for a good chunk of the year. He played 20+ minutes in three of his final 10 NHL games. High: 26:04; Low: 14:41.
- Keaton Ellerby: Played 20+ minutes per game in two of his final 10 NHL games. High: 22:05; Low: 15:32.
- Griffin Reinhart: Played 20+ minutes per game in zero of his last 10 NHL games. High: 19:27; Low: 12:45.
- Jamie Oleksiak: Played 20+ minutes per game in zero of his final 10 NHL games. High: 16:53; Low: 12:21.
- Colten Teubert: Played 20+ minutes per game in zero of his final 10 NHL games. High: 14:31; Low: 8:23..
- Brandon Gormley: Played just five NHL games. High: 19:04; Low: 11:49.
Reinhart has time here. An AHL assignment is a temporary thing, and he’ll almost certainly be back on the other side of the trade deadline if not earlier. He has a few months to continue to develop before he’ll be at the same place that the list above was for their final 10 games in the NHL of their Draft+4 seasons.
But the message here seems pretty clear. If he’s to keep up with the Coburn/Alzner duo, the last two guys on this list to make the cut as top-four NHL defencemen (though the window is perhaps not entirely closed for Cowen and Oleksiak) he needs to be playing 20+ minutes per game regularly by the end of the season.
If he isn’t a top-four defender by that point, he starts looking a lot more like Ellerby than a player with a bright NHL future.
Update: There’s been lots of push-back to the sentiments expressed in this piece, and I’ve asked readers who think I’m wrong on this to find an example of a player who was drafted early and wasn’t a top-four defenceman by his Draft+4 season but who went on to have a top-four NHL career.
Ed in PV (comment no. 39) suggests Thomas Hickey. Hickey (picked 4th overall in 2007) took a long time to arrive in the NHL and still hasn’t been a top-four defenceman in the majors, but he was a solid No. 6 for a very good Islanders team last year.
Saytalk (comment no. 109) has some strong counter-arguments here. He went back prior to 2001 and dug up some older players – Nick Boynton, Ron Hainsey and Bryan Allen – who were picked early, took a long time developing and still managed to play some seasons as top-four defencemen. We don’t have any more recent examples, but these players certainly demonstrate that it’s possible to both be an early pick and be a late-bloomer.
Further suggestions are welcome.