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#fearofrushing vs ‘overriping’

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NHL: NHL Draft
When the Oiler’s say ‘welcome to the NHL’ they really mean it!
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been meaning to finish an article about how every Oiler we draft in Round 1 ends up in the NHL within 5 months of the June draft. Then I saw that the Cult had an article about bringing propsects to the NHL.

My first thought was ‘damn, this will be better than mine’. Then I read the article and realized that a very important detail was left out. I thought it’d be a good opportunity to finish my own article while referencing this one. I do like the article and respect the writer. However, I see it very differently as the focus seemed to be on AHL games for development.

Here is the quote that caught my attention:

Of the top 180 point-scoring forwards, 118 played at least one game in the minor leagues, but some only played a few games. Phil Kessel played just two AHL games. Draisaitl just six. Alexander Radulov got 18 points in 11 games, Joe Pavelski 26 points in 16, Ryan Getzlaf 33 in 17 and Nikita Kucherov 24 in 17 games, then they were rapidly promoted. Again, true talent most often announces itself loud, clear and early when it comes to attacking forwards.

Everything in this quote is true. All of these superstars spent very little time in the AHL. However, it is where they were 5 months after the draft that interested me. I’ve highlighted the year the player was drafted and where they were before making the NHL in yellow. To clarify:

Draft year - Jack Hughes is in his draft year right now.

Draft + 1 year - Evan Bouchard is in his draft + 1 year now.

Draft + 2 year - Kailer Yamamoto is in his draft + 2 year now.

Draft + 3 year - Jesse is in his draft + 3 year.

For the purposes of this article, I will bold the year the player first enters the NHL. See if you can spot a trend between Oiler prospects and non Oiler propsects.

Radulov was drafted in 2004.

Draft + 1 - QMJHL

Draft + 2 - QMJHL

Draft + 3 - AHL/NHL

hockeydb.com

Pavelski was drafted in 2003.

Draft + 1 - USHL

Draft + 2 - WCHA

Draft + 3 - WCHA

Draft + 4 - AHL/NHL

hockeydb.com

Getzlaf was also drafted in 2003.

Draft + 1 - WHL

Draft + 2 - WHL

Draft + 3 - NHL

hockeydb.com

Kucherov

Draft + 1 - KHL

Draft + 2 - QMJHL

Draft + 3 - AHL/NHL

hockeydb.com

Kessel was drafted in 2006. He was in the NHL after 2 AHL games and never looked back. His Stanley Cup Hot Dog photo remains a favourite of mine.

Draft + 1 - NHL (with 2 games in AHL somewhere)

hockeydb.com

Summary:

Of the 5 examples given:

1 guy went straight to the NHL after being drafted (Kessel)

3 guys went to the NHL in their third year after being drafted (Radulov, Getzlaf and Kucherov).

1 guy went to the NHL in his fourth year after being drafted (Pavelski).

So all these players have minimal AHL experience but they were definitely ‘ripened’ before hitting the NHL for 2 to 3 years. They all (except Kessel) played at least 100 games somewhere other than the NHL after being drafted before joining the NHL.

Of the 180 guys referenced. How many do you think were in the NHL directly after the draft as 18 year olds?

Let’s see how the Oiler’s do things:

I’ll start with Drai because he was mentioned specifically as having only played a handful of AHL games. Again, I’ll highlight in bold the first time that player sees the NHL.

Draisaitl was drafted in 2014.

Draft + 1 - NHL then WHL

Draft + 2 - AHL/NHL

I hope you’ve noticed the difference in Drai’s path and everyone else? This NHL to Junior to AHL to NHL path is very much a Oiler’s staple of ‘development’ and makes absolutely no sense. The other guys on this list went from Junior/Varsity to AHL to NHL in a nice logical fashion. To simplify:

hard league —> harder league —> NHL.

The only exception being European players that were playing pro before being drafted. However, in these examples, they all went to play Junior after playing in the KHL.

How about the other Oiler’s first round picks? I’ll bold when they hit the NHL.

Our last 12 first round picks were:

2018 - 10. Bouchard

Draft + 1 - NHL then OHL

2017 - 22. Kailer

Draft + 1 - NHL then WHL

Draft + 2 - NHL then AHL

2016 - 4. Jesse P

Draft + 1 - NHL/AHL

Draft + 2 - NHL/AHL

Draft + 3 - NHL/AHL

2015 - 1. Connor McDavid

Draft + 1 - NHL (no doubt in this one)

2014 - 3. Leon Draisaitl

Draft + 1 - NHL to WHL

Draft + 2 - NHL/AHL

2013 - 7. Darnell Nurse

Draft + 1 - OHL then AHL

Draft + 2 - NHL then OHL then AHL

Draft + 3 - AHL then NHL

2012 - 1. Nail Yakupov

Draft + 1 - NHL (also, the right call as 31 points in 48 games is an excellent year)

Draft + 2 - NHL

2011 - 1. RNH

Draft + 1 - NHL (the right call)

Draft + 2 - NHL/AHL (due to a lockout)

2010 - 1. Taylor Hall

Draft + 1 - NHL (of course)

Draft + 2 - NHL

2009 - 10. Magnus Paajarvi

Draft + 1 - SEL

Draft + 2 - NHL

Draft + 3 - NHL/AHL

2008 - 22. Jordan Eberle

Draft + 1 - WHL/AHL

Draft + 2 - WHL/AHL

Draft + 3 - NHL

2007 - 6. Sam Gagner

Draft + 1 - NHL

Draft + 2 - NHL

This is an extremely diverse set of players that includes 1st overall picks, generational players, eventual Hart Trophy winners, Centres, Left Wings, Right Wings, Defenceman, late first round picks, middle first round picks, tall players, short players, Europeans and North Americans. The only thing missing is a Goalie.

9 out of 12 were playing in the NHL within 5 months of being drafted.

This is very much an Oiler’s tradition that is unique to the Oiler’s ‘culture’.

While the typical model is:

Hard league —> Harder League —> NHL

Our model has been:

NHL —> Hard league —> Harder League —> NHL

or

NHL—> label bust —> run out of town —> question ‘character’ —> magic beans

We don’t make our prospects climb the mountain like everyone else. We take them to the top and throw them off.

You might also notice that 4 are no longer with us (Hall, Yakupov, MPS and Eberle). Gagner was also gone for 5 years. Jesse is a huge question mark and RNH seems to be constantly brought up as a trade chip along with Nurse (note: do not trade either).

Here is a simple graph to illustrate our ‘development strategy’ over the last decade:

Too much AHL?

I’ve thought about it a lot this season and I agree there is such a thing as ‘too much AHL’. I doubt there are too many forwards in the Top 100 in the NHL today that spent more than 80 games in the AHL. I suspect there would be a lot more Dmen and Goalies who’ve spent more time in the AHL as those positions have a different learning curve.

There are always exceptions to every rule but I would say once a player has hit 100 games in the AHL then their NHL window is closing dramatically and their chances of long term NHL success is dwindling (Ty Rattie comes to mind here).

Every player is different but I’d like to see some kind of consistent mantra like Nashville has where they tell all their players that ‘the road to Nashville is through Milwaukee’. Something simple like 100 games or 50 points for forwards (whichever comes first). D should always spend the first full season in the AHL. I obviously wouldn’t apply this to generational players or Top 3 picks. Every player is different but the Oiler’s have put every player in the NHL right away so they’re not differentiating at all.

My concern with the Oiler’s is that we are constantly putting 18 year olds in the NHL as if it is some great development strategy. It’s akin to tossing your kid in the deep end of the pool and then bragging about how he learned to swim. 18 to 20 year olds should be playing a LOT of minutes and dominating. Pressboxes, Nacho’s and 10 minutes a game is not the way to develop high end talent.

Here is a list of all the guys from last year’s draft to play in the NHL this year. That was a very strong draft class and the first 4 picks were the only guys to make it full time. Oh look, there is Oiler’s pick Evan Bouchard getting a crack in the ‘Oiler’s tradition’. Zadina was brought in ‘garbage time’ to get a taste and I like that strategy as well. I’ve suggested we do the same for Tyler Bensen.

#fearofrushing is definitely a thing but not here in Edmonton. 9 of the the last 12 guys drafted in round 1 were in the NHL after being drafted is far from a fear of rushing. One playoff appearance in those 12 years also speaks to how poorly we develop (and potentially draft) players as well.