Past top picks, can teams find a scorer in this year’s draft?

Travis Flynn, special to Hockey Prospectus. Flynn is a contributor to Lighthouse Hockey.
Make no mistake about it: the top four 2014 NHL draft prospects deserve every bit of attention they are receiving, as each has been suggested worthy of being chosen 1st overall. Sam Reinhart has scored 13% more points-per-game than any pre-draft WHL forward 2002-03 through 2012-13, smashing Ryan Nugent-Hopkin’s pace. Leon Draisaitl also surpassed RNH’s mark, while leading his team in scoring by 32 points.
In the OHL’s Eastern Conference, Sam Bennett racked up votes in the coaches’ poll for Smartest Player (1st), Best Playmaker (1st), Best Stickhandler (1st), and Best Defensive Forward (3rd), while scoring at a very impressive clip for both points-per-game and even-strength goals-per-game. Meanwhile, Aaron Ekblad was voted  Best Offensive Defenseman and Best Defensive Defenseman in the conference.
But while the top prospects draw the majority of the attention, what is more notable regarding this draft is the extraordinary amount of scoring talent available outside of these four prospects, even simply focusing on the OHL and WHL.
For example….
Jake Virtanen
 Virtanen’s season has been overshadowed by the dominating performances of Reinhart and Draisaitl in the WHL, yet Virtanen is the only pre-draft forward in the past 12 seasons to break 0.40 even-strength goals-per-game in the league, finishing at 0.46. His blazing speed, dazzling hands, and physical style of play has to be tempting to teams selecting early in the upcoming draft, regardless of any holes in the rest of his game. Virtanen is one of the youngest draftees available. Although there are indications that he has received more offensive support from teammates than other top forward prospects, his goal-scoring ability is second to none.
Nick Richie 
While Bennett has run away with many of the individual accolades in the OHL this season, Nick Ritchie’s numbers indicate that he has serious top-5 talent. His 0.44 even-strength goals-per-game place him sixth in an elite group of OHL forwards the past 12 years who have broken 0.40: Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Gabriel Landeskog, Ritchie, Bennett, Jeff Skinner, and Nail Yakupov. What is more, of his 35 assists, 27 have been primary, and only eight of his 35 assists have been scored on the power-play. Another compelling statistic for Ritchie: he has already cleared 6’2″ and 220 lbs. There have been four OHL/WHL forwards over 6’2″ selected top-10 in the NHL draft since 2003. Each of the four has been selected higher than his pre-draft scoring would indicate, and each has been successful at the NHL level: Eric Staal (2nd overall), Jordan Staal (2nd), Andrew Ladd (4th), and Ryan Johansen (4th). Of the four, only Eric Staal achieved more points-per-game than Ritchie his pre-draft season.
Michael Dal Colle
While Dal Colle has not dominated even-strength scoring, he has regularly been ranked ahead of Virtanen and Ritchie, according to scouting organizations. This is perhaps because his combination of points-per-game (1.42), age (one of the youngest), and team goal-support (similar to Ritchie, there wasn’t all that much) places him toward the top of a group of OHL forwards who have largely been selected top-3 in the draft and have impressed at the NHL level: Stamkos (1st overall), Seguin (2nd), Bennett, Ryan Strome (5th), Yakupov (1st), Eric Staal (2nd), Logan Couture (9th), Bobby Ryan (2nd), Skinner (7th), Nathan Horton (3rd), and Matt Duchene (3rd). Simply put, the great majority of under-18 high-scoring OHL forwards the past 12 years have performed very well at the NHL level.
Others
There are others outside the OHL/WHL who will help fill out the rest of the top-10 and perhaps even push Virtanen, Ritchie, or Dal Colle to 8th or 9th overall. Nikolaj Ehlers’s 1.65 points-per-game in the high-scoring QMJHL this season is brushed aside by some, who say that many of his points have come due to teammate Jonathan Drouin. Do note that in a stretch without Drouin in the lineup, Ehlers’s production shot up to 14 points in seven games. Kasperi Kapanen (FIN), Brendan Perlini (OHL), Haydn Fleury (WHL defenseman), and William Nylander (SWE) also deserve mention, as each could hear his name called top-10 in June.
While it would be surprising to see Virtanen, Ritchie, or Dal Colle chosen in the top-4, the scoring ability of each WHL/OHL forward is rarely available outside of the top four picks in the NHL draft, especially considering none of the three are undersized. The 5th, 6th and 7th overall picks in this draft belonging to the Islanders, Canucks, and Hurricanes, respectively, appear especially valuable compared to the majority of drafts.
The chart below shows that six 2013-14 OHL/WHL forward draft prospects finished their pre-draft seasons in the top-19 of even-strength goals-per-game, since 2003. Virtanen, Ritchie and Bennett find themselves with (the under-sized) Skinner among 1st and 2nd overall goal-scoring talent, breaking 0.40.

 

Forward
Pre-draft Yr
Age
EV goals/game
NHL draft
League
Team Goals
PKane
2006-2007
17Y11M
0.62
1st overall
OHL
311
Seguin
2009-2010
17Y9M
0.56
2nd overall
OHL
243
Tavares
2008-2009
18Y1M
0.55
1st overall
OHL
    ~240
Stamkos
2007-2008
17Y8M
0.49
1st overall
OHL
251
Virtanen
2013-2014
17Y2M
0.46
TBD
WHL
287
Landeskog
2010-2011
17Y11M
0.45
2nd overall
OHL
256
Ritchie
2013-2014
17Y10M
0.44
TBD
OHL
233
Bennett
2013-2014
17Y4M
0.44
TBD
OHL
301
Skinner
2009-2010
17Y5M
0.44
7th overall
OHL
286
Yakupov
2011-2012
18Y0M
0.43
1st overall
OHL
243
Hall
2009-2010
17Y11M
0.39
1st overall
OHL
331
EKane
2008-2009
17Y2M
0.39
4th overall
WHL
319
Draisaitl
2013-2014
18Y0M
0.39
TBD
WHL
243
Niederreiter
2009-2010
17Y1M
0.38
5th overall
WHL
266
SReinhart
2013-2014
17Y11M
0.37
TBD
WHL
235
Horton
2002-2003
17Y5M
0.35
3rd overall
OHL
243
EStaal
2002-2003
18Y0M
0.35
2nd overall
OHL
222
BRyan
2004-2005
17Y7M
0.35
2nd overall
OHL
245
Dal Colle
2013-2014
17Y4M
0.34
TBD
OHL
232

One thought on “Past top picks, can teams find a scorer in this year’s draft?

  1. Quick correction to the chart: this is out of players drafted top-10. Other OHL/WHL forwards 2003-2013 selected 11th-30th who have broken 0.35:
    Tanner Pearson 0.42, though he was over-age, so unfair to compare to players on the chart.
    Michael Grabner 0.42, very few assists and was/is under-sized, but very good EV forward in NHL now.
    Tyler Ennis 0.40, under-sized, very good NHL forward now at even-strength.
    Nicklas Jensen 0.38, other stats not great pre-draft. For instance, only scored 17.4% points of the top 5 players on his team.
    Jordan Eberle 0.36, under-sized, but became a very good forward in the NHL.
    Hunter Shinkaruk: drafted 2013, so very much TBD. Pre-draft stats looked great, though.

    So throwing out Pearson (age) and Shinkaruk (TBD), three of the four selected 11th-30th have succeeded at NHL level…. And Jensen’s others stats weren’t nearly as promising as Ritchie, or the majority of the players on the chart above.

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