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Are Players Who Start in the NHL as Teenagers More Susceptible to Injury?

After watching both Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suffer moderate injuries in their 18 year old season, I couldn't help but think of players like David Perron and Victor Hedman who also suffered some pretty serious injuries in their teenage years while playing in the NHL.

This lead me to question whether players who come into the NHL at 18 or 19 tend to get hurt more than players who are kept out of the NHL until they are 20 and older. I went from the 2005 draft until this season for my data and only looked at players who were picked in the first 2 rounds.

I only went to 04-05 because the lockout in 04-05 prevented some players from playing as 18 or 19 year olds who might otherwise have. I also only focused on the first 2 rounds because there were no 3rd round picks to play as 18 year olds, but there were several 2nd round picks who did. The other criteria that I used was that a season had to consist of more 10 or more NHL games to count as a first season.

In order for an injury to count, it had to be documented by TSN in the player’s bio. Illness (such as Kessel’s cancer), or injuries that occurred outside of the NHL (i.e. an AHL injury or Erik Johnson’s golf injury) are not factored in.

There have been 72 players drafted since 2005 who played their first NHL season at 18 or 19, and 59 players who started at 20 or older. Players who started at 18 or 19 have combined to play 14116 NHL games. Players who started at 20 or older have combined to play 11188.

18-19 15767 14116 1651 10.47%
20+ 12135 11188 947 7.80%

  • TPG (total potential games) is GP (games played) + GINJ (games injured), this allows for healthy scratches and AHL assignments, so it’s only games the player could have played in the NHL if healthy.
  • GINJ% (games injured percentage) is the amount of GINJ divided by TPG.

As we can see, players who start at 18 or 19 have missed, on average, 10.5% of all total potential games. Players who start in the NHL at 20 or older have missed, on average, 7.8% of all total potential games. Before reading too much into this, there are other factors at play. For instance, if you play 100 games at 16 minutes per night, there’s a greater chance to get hurt than you would if you played 100 games at 8 minutes per night. There’s also of course the argument that these players could have suffered the same injuries if they started at 20 instead of 18 or 19.

Just for fun, I wanted to look at some of the bigger contributors to each sides respective numbers. For the 18-19 group, these are a few of of samples that really stand out:

David Perron 355 96 27%
Peter Mueller 376 143 38%
James Sheppard 356 132 37%

For the 20+ group, there are a bunch of guys who have limited GP but have missed a lot of games because of injury:

Patrice Cormier 50 23 46%
Marco Scandella 85 28 33%
Kendall McArdle 75 33 44%
Taylor Chorney 102 41 40%

I was curious as to whether one side or the other was being unfairly penalized for players who only played a limited of NHL games and happened to get hurt. I used 150 games as an arbitrary number and got the following:

18-19 12940 11797 1433 10.83%
20+ 7764 7167 597 7.69%

The numbers don't move all that much and it seems pretty consistent. So while the link isn't necessarily that strong (based on the factors I listed above), I think it’s something that NHL teams should start paying attention to. If I was a team who had a lot of young players coming in, it’s a study I’d probably want to invest in.