Monday, September 23, 2013

Should Sean Stay or Should He Go? A Historical Look at Draft Picks That Jumped Immediately to the NHL

Given how impressive Sean Monahan has played since being drafted sixth overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the swirling question on the mind of everyone is should he stay or should he go?
  • That’s stay as in remain with the Calgary Flames for the 2013-14 season. 
  • That’s go as in return to the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s where he’s played the past three seasons.
At this point, I'd say it’s academic that he will open the season with the Flames. The bigger question is will he play just the nine or fewer regular season games that the CBA permits a player to play before returning to junior and delaying by one year the start of their three-year entry level contract. Or, will the 6-foot-2, 200 pound centre stick around Calgary for the winter and refine his game while practicing with and playing against the best players in the world.

I took some time to go back to the 1997 NHL draft and then back through every draft since, to see what history has to say on this polarizing topic. I researched specifically how often players have made the jump to the NHL the same year they were drafted.

Here are my findings for you to add into the conversation the next time you’re discussing the topic over some salt and pepper ribs and a couple of pints.


General Trends

Expectedly, the greater percentage of players that made the jump to the NHL the year they were drafted (defined as played in 10 or more games) was the first overall pick. In fact, in the past 15 seasons, just once – in 2006, did the first overall pick not play the jump and play a full NHL season the next year.

The player in question that year was current Colorado Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson. He was selected as the top pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2006, who passed on Jordan Staal (second overall to Pittsburgh) and Jonathan Toews (third overall to Chicago). That winter, Johnson played what would turn out to be his only year at the University of Minnesota.

Here is a summary of how many players, by draft slot, have made the jump to the NHL the year after they were drafted. Again, this means they played 10 or more games. As you’ll see, a majority of them have been players chosen in the top three and the drop-off after that is what you'd expect if we were plotting this data on the bell curve -- with two exceptions -- 8th pick and 12th pick.

For reference, I have included the names of the players selected starting with pick No. 4.

Rounds 1-30

1st14
2nd
3rd6
4th3 (2003 – Nikolai Zherdev Clb, 2009 – Evander Kane Wpg, 2011 – Adam Larsson NJ)
5th3 (1999 – Tim Connolly TB, 2006 – Phil Kessel Bos, 2007 – Luke Schenn Tor)
6th3 (1998 – Rico Fata Cal, 2000 – Scott Hartnell Nsh, 2007 – Sam Gagner Edm)
7th2 (1998 – Manny Malhotra NYR, 2010 – Jeff Skinner Car)
8th5 (1997 – Sergei Samsonov Bos, 2002 – Pierre-Marc Bouchard Min, 2008 – Mikkel Boedker Phx, 2010 – Alexander Burmistrov Atl, 2011 – Sean Couturier Phi)
9th1 (2008 – Josh Bailey NYI)
10th1 (2001 – Dan Blackburn NYR)
11th0
12th3 (2002 – Steve Eminger Wsh, 2010 – Cam Fowler Ana, 2012 – Mikhail Grigorenko Buf)
13th 1 (2003 – Dustin Brown LA)
14th1 (2009 – Dmitri Kulikov Fla)
15th0
16th1 (1999 – David Tanabe Car)
17th1 (1997 – Robert Dome Pit)
18th0
19th1 (2008 – Luca Sbisa Phi)
20th 1 (2003 – Brent Burns Min)
21st0
22nd0
23rd1 (2003 – Ryan Kesler Van)
24th0
25th0
26th 1 (2007 – David Perron Edm)
27th 0
28th 2 (2000 – Justin Williams Phi, 2008 – Viktor Tikhonov* Phx)
29th1 (2012 – Stefan Matteau NJ)
30th 0

Beyond the First Round

2nd Round, 33rd – 2009 – Ryan O’Reilly Col
2nd Round, 45th – 2003 – Patrice Bergeron Bos
5th Round, 139th – 2011 – Andrew Shaw Chi*

*was a 20-year-old


Sixth Overall History

Since Monahan was drafted sixth, that was the one draft slot I took an in-depth look at.  I learned that as noted, two sixth overall picks have made the jump to the NHL and stayed the entire season:
  • 2007 – Edm C Sam Gagner (79 gm, 13 g, 36 a, 49 pt)
  • 2000 – Nsh LW Scott Hartnell (75 gm, 2 g, 14 a, 16 pt)
Meanwhile, there was one sixth overall pick that started the year in the NHL and played more than 10 games. In fact, he played 20 games for the Calgary Flames before returning to junior. It's a familiar name and a familiar story in this city and somehow after scoring 43 goals in 64 games for London in his draft year, he simply could not produce in the slightest at the NHL level.
  • 1998 – Cal LW Rico Fata (20 gm, 0 g, 1 a, 1 pt) – Returned to London (OHL)
Lastly, there were five players selected sixth that had a cup of coffee in the NHL but played the great majority of the season back in junior.
  • 2002 – Nsh RW Scottie Upshall (8 gm, 0 g, 1 a, 1 pt) – Returned to Kamloops (WHL)
  • 2003 – SJ LW Milan Michalek (2 gm, 0 g, 1 a, 1 pt) – Went to Cleveland (AHL)
  • 2005 – Clb C Gilbert Brule (7 gm, 2 g, 2 a, 4 pt) – Returned to Vancouver (WHL)
  • 2008 – Clb LW Nikita Filatov (8 gm, 4 g, 0 a, 4 pt) – Went to Syracuse (AHL)
  • 2011 – Ott C Mika Zibanejad (9 gm, 0 g, 1 a, 1 pt) – Returned to Djurgardens (Sweden)


Calgary Flames History

Having never had a top five pick, the occurrences of Flames draft picks jumping straight to the NHL the next year have been rare, happening on only three occasions since 1997. In two of the occasions, it was only a handful of games. In Baertschi's case, it was a mid-season emergency call-up that enabled him to get in five NHL games.
  • 1998 – 6th overall, LW Rico Fata (20 gm, 0 g, 1 a, 1 pt) – Returned to London (OHL)
  • 1999 – 11th overall, LW Oleg Saprykin (4 gm, 0 g, 1 a, 1 pt) - Returned to Seattle (WHL)
  • 2011 – 13th overall, LW Sven Baertschi (5 gm, 3 g, 0 a, 3 pt) – Returned to Portland (WHL)
In terms of other players on the Flames, one other played a game in the NHL the year he was drafted. Matt Stajan, selected by Toronto in the second round in 2002, 57th overall, got into a game at the end of the Maple Leafs season after Stajan's season with Belleville concluded. Stajan scored a goal in that one game, beating Ottawa Senators goalie Martin Prusek.


Conclusion

As you can see, many have made the jump to the NHL without issue and are enjoying prolific NHL careers. While generally, the odds are very slim if you're not a top three pick, it has been done by others. One trend that has helped has been the player's age. Lower draft picks like Williams, Perron, Kesler and Tanabe were 19 years old by the time the season began and not 18. Meanwhile, others like Bailey, Fowler, Brown and Kulikov all turned 19 within the season's first couple months.

In that regard, Monahan has an age advantage on his side as he'll turn 19 on Oct. 12, less than two weeks into the 2013-14 season.

That said, there are others on this list like Dome and Burmistrov, whose NHL careers either never took off or in the case of the latter, is already on hold. However, those that crashed and burned versus those that turned out just fine are certainly in the minority.

What will Calgary General Manager Jay Feaster ultimately decide? We'll find out for sure in late October if not before. Either way, I don't see playing in the NHL this season or not having a long term effect one way or another on Monahan. More than anything, it's a matter of  how the Flames want to handle him as a treasured asset.

The sooner the clock starts ticking on Monahan's ELC, the sooner he's into that next big contract and if that happens simultaneously with many players on this club, the sooner this team will find itself back into a salary cap problem. These are issues that are three years away but decisions made today can have a significant impact.

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