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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Realistic Comparisons and Expectations

The 2021 NHL draft is on July 23rd and 24th and for 223 players, and their families and friends, it will be an incredibly exciting two days. It is a big deal to get drafted, and a nice reward, yet it is still just one step in the long process of becoming an NHL player.

Making it to the NHL is more difficult than getting drafted. There were 210 players drafted in 2010. This past season, 49 skaters and six goalies from the 2010 draft class were in the NHL. So 26.1% of the players were in the league 11 years later. And a total of 105 players have played at least one game since being drafted. Which means 50% of the draft class played one game and only 80 players (38%) have played 40 NHL games.

The 2011 draft class had 211 players. A total of 124 (58.7%) played at least one game and 87 (41.2%) have played 40+ games. Only 54 players (25.6%) played one game this season. It illustrates the challenge of not only getting to the NHL, but then remaining there a decade later.

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Here is a chart outlining draft picks, those who played one game, those who played 40+ games and 400+ games.

Year # of picks Play 1 GP Play 40+GP 400+
2000 293 116 69 35
2001 289 122 89 44
2002 291 103 76 39
2003 292 129 90 54
2004 291 128 86 44
2005 230 111 70 36
2006 213 91 65 34
2007 211 97 68 34
2008 211 107 79 35
2009 211 116 83 42
2010 210 105 80 37
2011 211 124 87 41*

In 2001, the draft had 289 players selected and 124 played one game, 87 played 40 games and 44 played 400+ games. In 2011 there were 211 players drafted and 124 played one game, 87 played 40 games and 41 (projected a few players based on current totals) will play 400 games.

Having more draft picks wasn’t leading to more picks becoming NHL players. There are only so many roster spots available. In 2011 there were 30 teams, and for the 2021 draft there are 32 teams, so players picked this year will have a slightly better chance to play a game in the NHL simply because there will be 40 more spots available per game.

Over these 12 seasons, an average of 40 players from each draft year played 400 games. The 2003 class stands out as the best class by a large margin, and I wonder how much of that was due to players not being rushed to the NHL due to the lockout. More players from that draft class got to spend an extra year in junior or in the AHL gaining confidence. I believe it played a factor in having such a higher number of players play 400+ games. It is why I’d be in favour of moving the draft age back one year, but I digress.

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While making, and sticking, in the NHL is difficult, it is extremely important if you want to build a contending team. Look at Tampa Bay’s roster. Even if you dislike how they manipulated the salary cap this season, many of their key players were there last year as well.

Alex Killorn (77th pick, 2007), Steven Stamkos (first pick, 2008), Viktor Hedman (second pick, 2009), Nikita Kucherov (58th, 2011), Ondrej Palat (208th, 2011), Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th, 2012), Brayden Point (79th, 2014) and Anthony Cirelli (72nd, 2015) are key players for the Bolts. Also they traded Jonathon Drouin (third, 2013) for Mikhail Sergachev.

The team’s main core was built through the draft and they have elite players in goal, on defence and up front. They won the Cup 12 years after Stamkos was drafted, 11 years after Hedman and nine and eight respectively for Kucherov and Vasilevskiy.

If Edmonton hopes to do the same, then I’d say the Oilers’ core began in 2013 with Darnell Nurse, followed by Leon Draisaitl in 2014 and Connor McDavid in 2015. They will need a few of Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Dylan Holloway, Evan Bouchard, Ethan Bear, Philip Broberg, Dmitri Samorukov and Ryan McLeod to be impact players in the coming years.

Edmonton would need to go to the Stanley Cup final this year to match the Lightning, who lost the Cup final in 2015, so that might be unrealistic. But the next five seasons should be years where Edmonton wins a round or two in the playoffs. There are various paths to becoming a champion, but the Oilers will need some of its young players to emerge and become impactful secondary players behind the Oilers’ main leaders.

In saying that, I think the expectations on players needs to be realistic. The good news is the Oilers don’t need another elite offensive forward. Of course it would be great if one could emerge in the next few seasons, but they have the two leading scorers. They need a few 50-60 point players up front and a few top-four D-men.

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And Vegas is proof you don’t just need to draft well to be competitive. You need to make good trades and be aggressive, even if not every trade works.

There are always different ways to approach building a winner, but since the Oilers won’t be an expansion team anytime soon, I still believe drafting and developing quality players is the best route for success. I’d be leery of dipping into the free agent market for big fish, because that is where you have to overpay more often than not. If you can sign an elite player then I understand going long term, but long deals on less-than-great players rarely works out.

And the Oilers need to not only continue to build through the draft, but they also have to develop prospects properly, too. That’s why this year’s draft is important. With no second or third round picks, they have to hit on the first rounder and then hit on one of their late round picks.

DRAFT EXPECTATIONS…

Admittedly, I look for more good-case scenarios, rather than best-case, when looking at young players — whether it is draft picks or players, only one or two years into their careers. Elite players are rare, so comparing a young player to one is often unrealistic. Of course projecting Connor McDavid to be great was easy, but many years I see people comparing draft picks to really good or elite players and I find that leads to unrealistic expectations.

Fans read about a young prospect, and suddenly they have an expectation of that player. I’ve followed and read Byron Bader and Lowetide for years. Both have unique perspectives on young players and really good breakdowns. However, I’d disagree with a suggestion that Marty St. Louis would be a quality outcome — it would be freaking unbelievable, but I don’t think it is possible.

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They are similar players in height, but their weight is much different. St.Louis played at 180 pounds. Yamamoto isn’t at 160 yet and weight is a big factor. There is a reason we have weight classes in boxing, MMA and weight lifting, and not height classes.

St. Louis had three trunks for legs. He had a lot of weight in his legs, and loads of strength, which allowed him to become a dominant player.

This picture of his legs illustrates how genetically gifted he was. Of course he worked extremely hard to build muscle, but 95% of NHL players, regardless of height and weight, can’t get legs like that. He was an extremely powerful player, not to mention highly skilled.

For 11 seasons from 2002/2003 to 2013/2014, St. Louis averaged 1.03 points/game. His 886 points were the second most in the league behind Joe Thorton’s 947. It is very rare for a player to average 1.00 points/game for a decade. Only the truly top scorers can do that.

Since 2012 only 10 players have played  300 games and averaged over a point/game (PPG):

McDavid (1.41 PPG), Sidney Crosby (1.20), Evgeni Malkin (1.17), Patrick Kane (1.10), Artemi Panarin (1.09), Draisaitl, Stamkos and Kucherov (1.06), Auston Matthews (1.05) and Mitch Marner (1.01).

It isn’t fair to even think Yamamoto could become a player who averages 1.03 PPG for a decade. That doesn’t mean Yamamoto can’t be a solid NHL player, but I think there are better and more realistic comparisons.

Tyler Ennis was drafted 26th overall in 2008. He scored 20 goals three times, had 40+ points three times and had three other 12-16 goals and 31-34 point seasons. Ennis has played 643 games and has 136 goals and 322 points. If that is the floor for Yamamoto that would be great for him.

Andrew Cogliano was drafted 25th in 2005. He scored 20 goals once, had 40 points twice, but he has played 1,066 games and has 170 goals and 410 points.

Jaden Schwartz was the 14th pick in 2010. He scored 20 goals four times, and had five 50+ point seasons. He has 154 goals and 385 points in 560 games.

Jordan Eberle was drafted 22nd in 2008. He’s scored 30 goals once, had 20+ five times and has 241 goals and 551 points in 779 games.

Claude Giroux was the 22nd pick in 2006. He’s had one 30-goal season, six 20-goal campaigns and had five seasons averaging over 1.00 points/game.

Those are a few of the smaller, skilled forwards drafted in mid to late first rounds recently. If Yamamoto has a career like Ennis that would be great, and matching any of the others would be even better. Scoring 20 goals in three seasons is nothing to scoff at, and Ennis was a very skilled player for many years. I understand why often first round picks are compared to top-end players. It is exciting and garners more attention, but personally I try to find more realistic ones.

When you look at this year’s draft class, it seems likely the Oilers will pick a forward or a goalie with the 19th pick. There are some D-men ranked around the 19th slot, including Beaumont product Corson Ceulemans, but it seems there might be more forward options when Edmonton walks up to the podium.

Players like Matt Coronato, Chad Lucius, Zachary Bolduc, Oskar Olausson, Feder Svechkov, Fransesco Pinelli, Xavier Bourgault and Samu Tuomaala could be available. They are all quality young players, and Edmonton needs more top-six scoring potential in the organization. So it would make sense they draft a forward, but if goaltender Sebastien Cossa is available I could see them taking a long look at him as well.

Whomever the Oilers pick, I recommend looking for plausible comparisons, not the utopian-scenarios, because those give fans an over-inflated initial expectation of what the player might become.

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