Too Much too Soon

The following tables represent team depth charts based on where each player was taken in the NHL Entry Draft. The top 30 picks take place in the first round, hence 1-30 overall is a first round pick, 31-60 is *generally a second round pick, 61-90 is a third round pick, etc.

*Sometimes teams are awarded additional compensatory picks for failing to sign top draft picks, and so the later rounds may occasionally include extra selections.

TEAM A
LW C RW LD RD G
4th overall ’04 12th overall ’06 5th overall ’04 239th overall ’03 245th overall ’03 41st overall ’05
4th overall ’09 8th overall ’10 10th overall ’98 13th overall ’00 3rd overall ’08 122nd overall ’95
50th overall ’01 30th overall ’02 Undrafted 221st overall ’01 21st overall ’03
265th overall ’03 54th overall ’08 Undrafted Undrafted

Team A has 10 players drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. Collectively, they make up the entire top-6 group of forwards, and half the defence.

Team B has only 4 players drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. And apart from the 1st line right winger, the rest play depth roles – back-up goaltender, 4th line winger, and 13th forward.

TEAM B
LW C RW LD RD G
50th overall ’06 63rd overall ’04 3rd overall ’03 56th overall ’96 172nd overall ’01 217th overall ’94
71st overall ’06 45th overall ’03 67th overall ’88 204th overall ’96 61st overall ’02 21st overall ’05
94th overall ’99 Undrafted 216th overall ’98 208th overall ’97 55th overall ’05
20th overall ’02 67th overall ’02 190th overall ’97 173rd overall ’94
2nd overall ’10

Based on this information alone, one might assume that Team A is better because they appear to have a more talented group. But that would be quite wrong. Team A finished 24th in the league, while Team B won the Stanley Cup.

This is a quick lesson on player development. Looking at the draft years (denoted by ’04, ’06, etc), you’ll notice that Team A is very young. Most notably, the two best centres on the team are 24 and 20 years old. Centre ice is a particularly demanding position, as a centre has more responsibilities in the defensive zone, and must also take faceoffs. Putting players that young in key positions is generally a license to fail.

The Detroit Red Wings are the model for development because they typically don’t let anyone into the lineup full-time until they’re completely ready to contribute. Now that’s partly because they’ve had the luxury of easing players into the lineup since they’ve had such strong teams (11 straight seasons with 100 points!); however, their continued success may be equally due to the successful development of those players.

Conversely, teams like Florida, Columbus, Atlanta, and the New York Islanders have been rushing players to the NHL for years, and ruining promising young careers in the process. Since those teams didn’t have enough quality veterans to deny their young phenoms a roster spot, their top draft picks have been playing in the NHL at 18 and 19 years of age. Elite players like Crosby, Toews, Doughty and Duchene can handle the NHL as teenagers, but players of their caliber are few and far between. The best thing for most young players is to go back to junior or stay in college, and then play a season in the AHL. Rather than keeping 18 year old defenceman Zach Bogosian in the NHL as Atlanta did, he should have been with the Peterborough Petes playing 30 minutes a game in all situations (pp, pk, ev), and representing his country at the World Junior Championships.

They say it takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to ruin it – it’s the same thing with player development. You can’t harm a player’s development by keeping them in junior or the AHL for too long, but I’ll show you a laundry list of players who have been harmed or destroyed by rushing them to the NHL. Here’s hoping that the Jets don’t rush Scheifele no matter how good he looks in training camp.

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