Photo source: www.londonknights.com
Warning: this post is a “The Trade” discussion-free zone.
This post is about Bo Horvat, the player the Vancouver Canucks selected at 9th overall at Sunday’s draft. I think the basics we already know about Horvat. He is a size-y two-way centreman for a very good hockey club. His scoring wasn’t as good as some prospects’, but his defensive and finishing games are well above average.
In short, he’s the sort of exciting prospect the Canucks need that could rejuvenate the cabinet. One really good prospect makes them all look good, and Horvat is the highest-drafted Canuck since Henrik Sedin went 3rd overall in 1999. He will compete for a spot on Team Canada in December as an 18-year-old, a year behind most players on the team, and has been a key player on two OHL championship teams.
But that doesn’t matter. How soon can he play in the NHL?
High picks are very valuable commodities in the NHL for a reason. If you look at recent Stanley Cup winners, only the Boston Bruins didn’t have a lottery pick as either their top centreman, defenceman, or goaltender since the Detroit Red Wings won in 2008. The Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of good supporting pieces, but they’re held together by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The Pittsburgh Penguins can do no wrong as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their primes. Two of the best defensive clubs in the Western Conference, St. Louis and Los Angeles, have their back ends fronted by high picks Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Doughty.
Horvat is not a lottery pick, but he is a high pick, and he is at the age where being an NHL player is not just a possibility, but a probability. I went through each draft since 2005 (I did not include 2013 or 2012) to see how many games were played, for instance, by a 9th overall pick relative to a 22nd overall pick.
The results weren’t particularly surprising. My methods were to look at the total number of games played by players drafted at a certain slot, divided by the available number of games for that prospect (for instance, Jordan Schroeder, selected at 22 in 2009, has played 31 regular season games in the time that the Canucks have played 294. That’s a percentage of 10.5.
I did this for each slot since 2005, then averaged out each pick to be accompanied by an average of 11 different picks, including the five above and the five below. In the case of Horvat, taken 9th, the figure includes the percentage of games played of available games of every pick taken from 4 through 14, just to smooth out our graph.
Oh, you didn’t think there would be a graph? Think again?
What this shows is how valuable picks at the top of the draft are relative to the bottom. Once you get to the 85th pick or thereabouts, as you can see, any number of games played seems to be random. There’s possibly a “best fit” line we could use, but it doesn’t tell you how long it takes for a player to become a regular NHLer. Still, if you played about 30% of available games since your draft day in 2009, you’ve played 88 games, and are probably coming off your first full season, even if it’s shortened.
The cut-off point appears to be about the 22nd or 23rd pick, but guys taken at the high end just play more. There are a variety of factors: selling tickets to a lottery club with a new star, the fact that teams that end up in spots where they’re taking in the Top 10 have nothing else to fill their roster with, and also the junior hockey hype machine that buys in managers.
Once you look around those factors, the draft appears kind of random. 85 seems to be the cutoff point for total randomness, but a player taken at 35 isn’t doing so hot either. If the average player taken at 35 was selected in 2009, he’d have played 25 games by now. He’s barely the first option into the minors.
Drafting… is difficult it would appear. There aren’t ways of objectively measuring a players contribution, and going through the list subjectively to separate good players from the bad seems like a grand old waste of time. Games played is a good indicator, because eventually, even high picks play themselves off rosters, if it’s due to lack of effort or lack of good development.
The second thing I did was isolate forwards drafted between 4 and 14 from 2005 to 2009 to see when they first cracked an NHL roster. There were 34 names to parse through, ranging from the brilliant (Anze Kopitar, Phil Kessel) to the poor (Kyle Beach, Marek Zagrapan). Right in the middle you have Peter Mueller and Jiri Tlusty, who are productive if anything.
It takes an average of just over two years for a forward in this range to become a regular player (regular defined by 75% of games, in the first of two consecutive seasons). I held my sample to four years because you can’t go earlier to 2004 because nobody knew what the cap looked like, and from later than 2009 because there are still some Fs in the 2010 draft who haven’t been given enough chance to make it or break it.
Remember, that’s the absolute average. You’re not only including the Evander Kanes, Colin Wilsons and Brandon Sutters, but also the Scott Glennies, Zach Hammills and—dare I say—Cody Hodgsons (Zack Kassians?)
So if Horvat continues along that path, he ought to be a regular NHLer midway through the 2015-2016 season. The average year it took that particular crop of players to make the NHL was 2.76 years, and 2.17 if you ignore those that didn’t make it at all. 27 of the 34 players held a regular NHL spot last season, and 20 of the players, so slightly over 50%, I would consider key Top Six forwards.
Horvat is no lock, but he’s the top prospect the Canucks have had in the Canadian major junior system in quite some time. Most of the key players taken in the draft are shoved into the top 20, and after that it’s a bit of a crapshoot.
What kind of player does Horvat project as? I don’t know. I’ve watched him play about a dozen times, like his game, but a lot of things change over two years. Craig Button and Pierre McGuire aren’t doing Horvat any favours by likening his game to current two-way players in the NHL.
I’d peg it about two-thirds a chance at becoming a regular NHLer, and a little over half a chance of being a key player on roster in 2016, given the way that players selected in this part of the draft tend to develop. There are lots of real good young forwards, but a few busts that bring down the average. You just don’t know how players will develop.