Friday, June 27, 2008

The patience of development

"Patience is the companion of wisdom."

-- Saint Augustine

With as many of our species as there are in Caps Nation, it is bound to happen from time to time that certain blogging topics will overlap (or collide, if you prefer). Such is the case this morning. The folks over at On Frozen Blog posted an entry yesterday on the time it takes for draftees to make the big time and make a difference. The money quote there is…

“Brooks Laich is the norm in NHL development. Mike Green is not.”

Over the past couple of days, as time allowed, we took a look at first round draft picks since 1999. We were curious to compare the number of regular season games they played at each step of the way before making their debut at the next level and then, when they finally “made it” – defined here as playing in at least 40 games at the NHL level. Here are the results…

Some of the interesting aspects of the results…

- Only one first round pick went from being drafted to being in uniform for opening night of the next season – Steve Eminger. He played in 17 games with the Caps before being returned to Kitchener.

- There is the expected apprenticeship served by most picks – particularly the North Americans -- and it goes something like this…the player is drafted, then they spend the next year with the club they were with when drafted. The following year they get a taste of NHL play (though not enough to crack the 40 games-played threshold), then they stick with the club the next year. Using that benchmark, John Carlson should be a reasonably stable fixture on the Caps blue line for the 2010-2011 season.

- There aren’t enough Europeans in this group to draw strong conclusions, and the three that have been drafted and dressed with the club have taken different paths to get here – Semin had some bumps along the way, Ovechkin stepped right in after the lockout, Backstrom paid his year of dues in Europe. It would be hard to predict what will happen with Anton Gustafsson other than he’ll be in Europe this coming season (way to step out on that limb, Peerless).

- You can see the effect of injury on the progress of Eric Fehr. Last season might have been his first with at least 40 games played with the club, but not for an injury that robbed him of a full season. If healthy, this should be his year to reach that level of play.- As you will note, the first three Caps in that list are no longer with the club (Beech with Pittsburgh, Sutherby with Anaheim, and Eminger with Philadelphia). However, all of the subsequent picks remain with the club.

This is a representation of the progress of first round picks. Even for such picks, development cannot be (and, in the Caps’ experience, isn’t) rushed. One might and should expect to perhaps add a year, perhaps two, in the development schedule for players drafted after the first round. For fans wondering when a Francois Bouchard (a second round pick) or a Mathieu Perreault (a sixth rounder) might crack the lineup, be patient. It takes time.


Anonymous said...

Player development is an individual process. It has more to do with games played than age--Backstrom's two seasons in the Swedish pro league certainly helped his transition--as well as type of talent--a Karl Alzner will have a faster progression to the NHL than, say, an Eric Mesterly; one's a top-end pick whose calm mental approach can help him adapt, while the other is a post-first rounder who has aspects to his game to work on. I've never understood the tendancy of fans either to dismiss a young player because they haven't turned into a productive NHLer by their early 20s, or to view a young player's value on their current play, when that player is still developing, both physically and mentally. I don't think modern Capital fans have ever really been through a rebuilding process, and they've been forced to follow the sometimes hairy progress of prospects, which suddenly became the hope of the franchise.

GM said...

the information in your chart is somewhat misleading. take Boyd Gordon for example. You have him "making" the nhl in 03-04. But in 05-06 he played 58 games for the Hershey Bears in the ahl. So while he did debut already it is hard to say that he had "made" it at that point.

Hooks Orpik said...

gman, I think that's further evidence on the uneven and usually unpredictable road of a given prospect's development in professional hockey.

Even a young player who can crack an NHL lineup for 40 games in one season could be back in the minor leagues in following seasons.