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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings: Does Birth Month Impact NHL Potential?

In the opening chapter of his 2008 book Outliers, journalist Malcolm Gladwell mentions how the majority of elite Canadian hockey players were born in the first few months of the year. The reason, he deduced, is minor hockey determines eligibility by calendar year, which means kids born on January 1st compete against children born on December 31st of the same year. It becomes more complicated in Canada, as some provinces like Ontario make players only compete against players in their birth year (one year), where provinces like Alberta tier by two years.

Hockey Alberta needs to realize this does not help kids, and more players would keep playing if they only played against their birth years growing up. And please don’t tell me that elite seven year olds need to compete against elite eight year olds to have success. Ontario produces many superstars in the NHL and the vast majority of them grew up only playing against those in their birth year.

But I digress. Today, I’m curious to see if NHL success due to birth month has changed over time.

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Courtesy of QuantHockey.com, I was able to see NHL players separated by birth month. Let’s look at the end of each of the past five decades to see if anything has changed.

1979/80 Month Players GP G A P PIM
1 January 73 3077 580 932 1512 2538
2 March 62 3428 732 1011 1743 2824
3 April 61 2663 472 772 1244 1996
4 February 61 2423 440 663 1103 2022
5 September 60 2812 549 868 1417 2671
6 October 55 2447 501 870 1371 1935
7 May 54 2438 527 801 1328 1911
8 June 53 2297 394 729 1123 2025
9 July 51 2331 498 786 1284 2003
10 August 42 2164 413 793 1206 1572
11 December 41 2317 436 794 1230 2464
12 November 41 1779 360 573 933 1144

The first four months produced the most players, while November and December produced the least.

1989/90 Month Players GP G A P PIM
1 January 75 3279 581 970 1551 4677
2 April 75 3015 446 987 1433 4177
3 June 75 3504 801 1349 2150 3569
4 March 72 3408 556 1040 1596 4115
5 February 71 3214 681 965 1646 4077
6 May 67 2726 474 818 1292 3853
7 July 55 2307 505 803 1308 2718
8 August 55 2451 546 872 1418 2955
9 October 52 2389 492 793 1285 2669
10 September 49 2345 544 789 1333 2882
11 December 44 2018 377 600 977 2633
12 November 35 1411 186 361 547 1635

June moved into the top four, while the the final third months were all at the bottom of total NHL players.

1999/00 Month Players GP G A P PIM
1 January 99 4430 621 991 1612 3596
2 February 96 4724 860 1306 2166 3380
3 March 90 3890 490 905 1395 2791
4 April 89 3916 476 831 1307 2691
5 June 83 4121 563 1060 1623 3000
6 July 82 3962 620 1136 1756 2903
7 May 80 3595 486 786 1272 3004
8 September 69 3235 415 669 1084 1883
9 October 69 3516 544 814 1358 2346
10 August 57 2928 444 791 1235 1979
11 December 54 2885 444 770 1214 1999
12 November 53 2592 343 588 931 2273

In 2000, NHL expansion was almost complete and had 921 players compared to 725 in 1979/1980. To that point, most players were born in January, including 11.1% of the players in 1980 and 10.7% in 2000, while November was at bottom each year — 6.2% in 1980, dropping to 5.7% in 2000.

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2009/10 Month Players GP G A P PIM
1 March 105 4563 531 987 1518 3300
2 February 96 4495 719 1115 1834 2703
3 January 89 4099 537 872 1409 3092
4 June 86 4161 544 869 1413 2733
5 April 86 4491 679 1200 1879 3338
6 May 80 3854 537 973 1510 2117
7 September 78 3871 642 1093 1735 2550
8 July 76 3855 628 1099 1727 2552
9 December 71 3645 537 1032 1569 2371
10 October 71 3455 507 890 1397 2044
11 August 68 3524 542 899 1441 2340
12 November 56 2917 400 748 1148 1841

By 2010, January wasn’t first — for the first time — having dropped to third, while December for the first time wasn’t 11th, and now ranked 9th.

2019/20 Month Players GP G A P PIM
1 March 103 4027 589 1017 1606 1757
2 May 102 4307 677 1145 1822 1727
3 July 100 4400 662 1249 1911 1752
4 February 99 3804 512 904 1416 1970
5 April 90 3738 575 878 1453 1480
6 January 86 4044 525 1023 1548 1694
7 October 77 3270 586 996 1582 1449
8 June 68 2766 398 676 1074 1259
9 August 64 2831 485 774 1259 1120
10 December 63 2823 474 779 1253 1260
11 September 61 2713 510 737 1247 967
12 November 57 2532 455 638 1093 1147

Most recently, January moved to sixth and now made up 8.8% of NHL players, but November was still 12th at 5.8%. But this is only for games played. Now let’s look at point totals to see the differences.

POINT TOTALS BY MONTH…

1979/80 Month Players GP G A P PIM
2 March 62 3428 732 1011 1743 2824
1 January 73 3077 580 932 1512 2538
5 September 60 2812 549 868 1417 2671
6 October 55 2447 501 870 1371 1935
7 May 54 2438 527 801 1328 1911
9 July 51 2331 498 786 1284 2003
3 April 61 2663 472 772 1244 1996
12 December 41 2317 436 794 1230 2464
10 August 42 2164 413 793 1206 1572
8 June 53 2297 394 729 1123 2025
4 February 61 2423 440 663 1103 2022
12 November 41 1779 360 573 933 1144

It is interesting to see how February had the third most players, but was 11th in points. While April had 20 more players than December, but only 14 more points.

1989/90 Month Players GP G A P PIM
3 June 75 3504 801 1349 2150 3569
5 February 71 3214 681 965 1646 4077
4 March 72 3408 556 1040 1596 4115
1 January 75 3279 581 970 1551 4677
2 April 75 3015 446 987 1433 4177
8 August 55 2451 546 872 1418 2955
10 September 49 2345 544 789 1333 2882
7 July 55 2307 505 803 1308 2718
6 May 67 2726 474 818 1292 3853
9 October 52 2389 492 793 1285 2669
11 December 44 2018 377 600 977 2633
12 November 35 1411 186 361 547 1635

January and June had the same amount of players, but June’s players scored 600 more points. November is consistently at the bottom.

1999/00 Month Players GP G A P PIM
2 February 96 4724 860 1306 2166 3380
6 July 82 3962 620 1136 1756 2903
5 June 83 4121 563 1060 1623 3000
1 January 99 4430 621 991 1612 3596
3 March 90 3890 490 905 1395 2791
9 October 69 3516 544 814 1358 2346
4 April 89 3916 476 831 1307 2691
7 May 80 3595 486 786 1272 3004
10 August 57 2928 444 791 1235 1979
11 December 54 2885 444 770 1214 1999
8 September 69 3235 415 669 1084 1883
12 November 53 2592 343 588 931 2273

January produced the most players, but their point totals were fourth.

2009/10 Month Players GP G A P PIM
5 April 86 4491 679 1200 1879 3338
2 February 96 4495 719 1115 1834 2703
7 September 78 3871 642 1093 1735 2550
8 July 76 3855 628 1099 1727 2552
9 December 71 3645 537 1032 1569 2371
1 March 105 4563 531 987 1518 3300
6 May 80 3854 537 973 1510 2117
11 August 68 3524 542 899 1441 2340
4 June 86 4161 544 869 1413 2733
3 January 89 4099 537 872 1409 3092
10 October 71 3455 507 890 1397 2044
12 November 56 2917 400 748 1148 1841

January was third in players, but down to 10th in points, while December was ninth in players, but up to fifth in points produced. But most notably, the gap between April (most points produced) and November (fewest produced) was only 673. But was it just a bit of an outlier?

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2019/20 Month Players GP G A P PIM
3 July 100 4400 662 1249 1911 1752
2 May 102 4307 677 1145 1822 1727
1 March 103 4027 589 1017 1606 1757
7 October 77 3270 586 996 1582 1449
6 January 86 4044 525 1023 1548 1694
5 April 90 3738 575 878 1453 1480
4 February 99 3804 512 904 1416 1970
9 August 64 2831 485 774 1259 1120
10 December 63 2823 474 779 1253 1260
11 September 61 2713 510 737 1247 967
12 November 57 2532 455 638 1093 1147
8 June 68 2766 398 676 1074 1259

November wasn’t last in points produced, it was June-born players. Actually, the 2018/2019 season it was also June.

This is only five seasons, so I will need to look at more to see if anything has changed significantly. The reason I originally looked at it was due to late birthdays for the draft, and how I think that can be an advantage for different reasons, and now I want to start looking more in-depth at birth month.

One main question I have is: Are we seeing elite scorers coming from specific months, or countries?

TOP SCORERS…

Mar 14, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) watches the puck as he is defended by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser (65) during the third period at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports – 12347833

Here are the top-20 scorers from the past three seasons combined.

Connor McDavid: 321 points, January 13th.
Nikita Kucherov: 313 points, June 17th.
Nathan Mackinnon: 289 points, September 1st.
Leon Draisaitl: 285 points, October 27th.
Brad Marchand: 272 points, May 11th.
Patrick Kane: 270 points, November 19th.
Artemi Panarin: 264 points, October 30th.
David Pastrnak: 256 points, May 25th.
Steven Stamkos: 250 points, February 7th.
Blake Wheeler: 247 points, August 31st.
Evgeni Malkin: 244 points, July 31st.
Alex Ovechkin: 243 points, September 17th.
Johnny Gaudreau: 241 points, August 13th.
Claude Giroux: 240 points, January 12th.
Jonathon Huberdeau: 239 points, June 4th.
Sidney Crosby: 236 points, August 7th
Aleksander Barkov: 236 points, September 2nd.
John Tavares: 232 points, September 20th.
Mitch Marner: 230 points, May 5th.
Jack Eichel: 224 points, October 28th.

Some other young players who are emerging as top-end scorers include:

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Auston Matthews: September 17th.
Elias Pettersson: November 12th.
Kyle Connor: December 9th.
Sebastian Aho: July 26th.
Brayden Point: March 13th.

Of these 25 scorers, nine were born after September 15th, so they were drafted in their 19-year-old season, and 17 of them were born after July 1st.

Some top D-men:

Victor Hedman: December 18th
Roman Josi: June 1st.
John Carlson: January 10th.
Alex Pietrangelo: January 18th.
Drew Doughty: December 8th.
Quinn Hughes: October 14th.
Cale Makar: October 30th.
Shea Theodore: August 3rd.
Shea Weber: August 14th.
Thomas Chabot: January 30th

Four of them were late birthdays, while six of them were born in the back half of the calendar.

Top goalies and some young up-and-comers:
Carey Price: August 16th
Andrei Vasilevskiy: July 25th.
Connor Hellebuyck: May 19th.
Jacob Markstrom: January 31st.
John Gibson: July 14th.
Frederik Andersen: October 2nd.
Jordan Binnington: July 11th.
Tuukka Rask: March 10th
Sergei Bobrovsky: September 20th.
Carter Hart: August 13th.
McKenzie Blackwood: December 9th.

Three were late birthdays and seven in the second half of the calendar.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

I will need to look at more data to make any sort of accurate conclusion. It is interesting to see the point production compared to players and their birth months. Do forwards born later in the year have an advantage? I have started looking at the development model in Canada, as Ontario and other provinces have young players only play those in their birth year, while Alberta and other provinces have players from two years compete in the same divisions. I strongly believe it would help more players, and likely develop more players, by having 2012 birth years only compete against 2012 up until they are 15 or 16 years of age. Sure, there might be the odd exception, but those are very rare and unnecessary for 99% of the players.

PARTING SHOT…

I’ve long argued the benefits of moving the draft age back one year, which technically would only impact players born between January 1st and September 15th, as those born after are already being drafted in their 19th year.

It would help teams, but it would also help players?

Compare Dylan Holloway and Carter Savoie.

Holloway was drafted 14th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2020, while Carter Savoie was taken 100th overall by the Oilers. Holloway was born September 23rd, 2001, while Savoie was born on January 23rd, 2002. They are exactly four months apart, but Holloway’s birthday meant he wasn’t draft eligible until the 2020 draft.

I consider a player’s 17-year-old season the year he turns 17. Hockey begins in September, so if you turn 17 in January or in November, that is still your 17th year.
Now let’s look at their 17-year-old seasons.

Holloway scored 40-48-88 in 53 games for Okotoks in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
Savoie scored 53-46-99 in 54 games for Sherwood Park in the AJHL.

Holloway had a late birthday and wasn’t drafted, and then went to play at the University of Wisconsin and produced 8-9-17 on a deep team. He was drafted 14th this past October.
Savoie, after scoring 99 points in 53 games was drafted 100th overall.

Now in his 18-year-old season he has 4-1-5 in his first three NCAA games and people are raving about him.

If Savoie was entering his draft year this season, how much higher would he have gone?

Last year 25 players born in 2001, and two in 2000, were drafted before Savoie. So that would jump him up to 72nd right away. If he continues to score like this in NCAA, he probably would have moved up even higher and teams would have had a better read on him and other 2002 born players. Moving the draft to a 19-year-old draft helps both organizations and players.

With so few games being played this season, there is no better time for the NHL to strongly consider altering the 2021 draft in some form. I’d move the cut off to April 30th, and then next year slide it back to December 31st.

MONTH OF GIVING…

Friday we raised an amazing $20,000 in our Pyramid of Giving. Huge thank you to Nex Gen Transportation who offered to match the original $7,100 we planned to reach for the pyramid. We reached in two hours and listeners kept donating, including a listener, who wanted to remain anonymous, donating $2,900 in the final minute of the program to push us to $20,000. Unreal.

DAY FIVE: Five Course Meal at Chop Steakhouse

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  • Dinner for six at Chop Steakhouse Ellerslie. You  and five of your friends will dine with Jason Strudwick, Connor Halley and me along with our significant others.
  • This will occur in the 2nd half of 2021
  • It will be a five-course dinner with wine pairings and your choice of beverages in their private room.

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau.

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