“But I thought we were rebuilding…..”

By , September 10, 2010 3:16 pm
Growing Pains.. prepare to go through them...

Growing Pains.. prepare to go through them...

I did a bit of quick research because I’m interested in the question of “should you put kids into winning situations” (i.e. wait until your team is good before introducing the rookies) or do you throw them in the water and see if they sink or swim.

Now before people get too excited, I obviously don’t expect that this team in Edmonton is a winning team yet. That is NOT my argument. I think there is a very good chance that this team is going to be a lottery team, yet again, if enough things go wrong. If enough things go right, I still think there is a good chance we miss the playoffs. My entire argument in all of this is whether this environment is the right environment for the kids or not.

However, it is interesting to see how the supposed masters of the rebuild handled their rookies:

Team Rebuild Examples


The Chicago Blackhawks…

Previous to Kane and Toews’ first years, the Blackhawks were out for 4 straight out of playoffs.

In 2007, Patrick Kane was drafted 1st overall by the Hawks, and injected into the team immediately, along with Jonathan Toews (drafted 3rd overall the previous year). This was in addition to youngsters Duncan Keith (then 23 with 1 year of NHL experience under his belt), and Brent Seabrook (then 22 with 2 years of NHL experience).

Once they had the core group of these 4 players, they played a year together in which they did not make the playoffs (ironically finishing tied in points with the Oilers, just barely out of a playoff spot). The next year they went on to finish with a remarkable 104 points and lost in round 3 of the playoffs. The following year (last year), they finished 2nd in the conference, 1 point behind San Jose, and of course won the cup.


The Pittsburgh Penguins…

Previous to Sid the Kid being drafted, the Penguins missed 3 straight years of playoffs action (but actually had not too bad a run before that, all things considered).

When Crosby was drafted in 2005, like Patrick Kane, he was also immediately inserted into the NHL. At this time, Marc-Andre Fleury (then 20/21) and Ryan Whitney (then 22) were also breaking into the NHL (note: Fleury had already played 22 games before this though). In this year, the Penguins missed the playoffs, finishing dead last in their conference and 2nd last in the league.

The following year, 20-year old, 2004 #2 pick Evgeni Malkin came over from Russia to join the crew, as did yet another youngster, their draft pick from that year – Jordan Staal. This year with this core group of 4, the Penguins made it to the playoffs, but lost out in round 1. However, they did finish the regular season with a very respectable 105 points.

The following year, the group made it to the finals. And the year after (08/09), the Penguins won the cup.


The Washington capitals…

Previous to Alexander Ovechkin playing for the caps, the Capitals were out of the playoffs or loast in the 1st round for the past 6 years.

Once Ovechkin was drafted, he of course had to wait a year due to the lockout before he could play NHL hockey (but let’s face it… this guy was going straight into the show). In Ovechkin’s draft year, the Capitals were also lucky enough to draft Mike Greene. The Capitals however didn’t have the same draft luck that other tank-teams have had, and hadn’t amassed a group of budding superstars by the time Ovechkin was ready to go. In fact, by the time he was ready to go, this team appeared to still be in tank mode… refusing to complement their superstar with players of good caliber.

However, the following year (06/07), 2002 1st rounder Alex Semin decided to make his NHL debut (surprise, surprise). Aside from the trio of Greene, Ovechkin and Semin, the Caps seemed to be organizing a group of surrounding players with a little less flair, and perhaps more of what Quinn refers to as jam. In this year with this trio, the caps finished out of the playoffs again. I think they had a good one-two punch of Ovechkin and Semin (and they looked good on the PP together), but they didn’t really have enough around them, I would say.

The following 3 years, the caps have made the playoffs, but struggled to get too far. They’ve had some tough opponents eliminate them though, such as the Stanley cup winner the one year (08/09), as well as a Montreal Canadiens last year that was just absolutely stellar in the playoffs. The Capitals also did win the league’s Presidents trophy last year by a pretty safe margin. So things are looking up for the Capitals.

Well, due to length of this post, I cut it short, but it would be good to also include Phoenix and Colorado, perhaps, as other examples. But I think with the teams above, while they definitely had some good surrounding players (a KEY for us too), we can say that handing the reigns over the young kids did them all some good.

1st overall examples

So, on the note of Taylor Hall alone, Steve-O was going to compile some reasons as to why 1st overall picks shouldn’t be brought into the league right away. Not knowing the answer, I “helpfully” suggested researching way back to see how many 1st overall picks played in the NHL full time for their draft year. And well, much to our surprises, it was pretty overwhelming… especially for forwards.

Draft Year Player Position Next Season in NHL? first year stats GP-G-A-P (year if not the next)
2010 Hall F NA NA
2009 Tavares F Y 82-24-30-54
2008 Stamkos F Y 79-23-23-46
2007 Kane F Y 82-21-51-72
2006 E. Johnson D N 69-5-28-33 (07-08)
2005 Crosby F Y 81-39-63-102
2004 Ovechkin F N (Lockout) 81-52-54-106 (05-06)
2003 Fleury G Y (but then sent to Q followed by 3 years of AHL) 22-3.64-0.896
2002 Nash F Y 74-17-22-39
2001 Kovalchuk F Y 65-29-22-51
2000 DiPietro G Y (but then sent to ihl, then 3 years in and out of the AHL) 20-3.49-0.878
1999 Stefan F Y 72-5-20-25
1998 Lecavalier F Y 82-13-15-28
1997 Thornton F Y 55-3-4-7
1996 Phillips D N 72-5-11-16 (97-98)
1995 Berard D N 82-8-40-48 (96-97)
1994 Jovanovski D N 70-10-11-21 (95-96)
1993 Daigle F Y 84-20-31-51
1992 Hamrlik D Y 67-6-15-21
1991 Lindros F N (Held out…dick) 61-41-34-75 (92-93)
1990 Nolan F Y (6 games in the AHL) 59-3-10-13
1989 Sundin F N 80-23-36-59 (90-91)
1988 Modano F N (2 playoff games though) 80-29-46-75 (89-90)
1987 Turgeon F Y 76-14-28-42
1986 Murphy F N (5 games) 50-10-9-19 (87-88)
1985 Clark F Y 66-34-11-45
1984 Lemieux F Y 73-43-57-100
1983 Lawton F Y 58-10-21-31
1982 Kluzak D Y 70-1-6-7
1981 Hawerchuk F Y 80-45-58-103
1980 Wickenheiser F Y 41-7-8-15

* – thanks Steve-O for the fine table above.

As a quick summary, of the forwards listed.. 20 forwards had opportunity to play in the NHL in their first year. Ovechkin I’ve counted out of this due to the lockout, and Lindros as well, since his stupid ass refused to play for the Nordiques (therefore he went to junior). Well, 17 of those 20 players debuted in the NHL for their draft year. Of those draftees, I’m going to make a subjective opinion here and say that only Daigle and Stefan are the more modern era players that didn’t work out. It could have been to being rushed.. possibly. Or it could just have been that they weren’t very good players. But really, for the remainder of those players to go on to have pretty good careers, says a lot. Of the guys that DIDN’T play in their first year, we have Mats Sundin, Mike Modano and Joe Murphy. I would say that for Sundin and Modano especially, they did have pretty strong careers. However I think the evidence suggests that playing these other guys in the NHL for their draft year didn’t result in these players turning into bad players. They may not all have had great years in year 1, but they all seem to have had some great years over their careers.

So with this table of the 1st overall picks, and my post on the big re-build.. what am I getting at? Well, while I think it’s optimistic to compare to any of these teams, I just wanted to point out that these rookies did each go through a year or two of non-playoff hockey and suffer their own bit of growing pains early on. So it isn’t necessarily so true, the school of thought that “if we’re going to lose anyways, we should just send these guys to development teams (AHL/CHL/College)”. These players got a team handed to them that was climbing out of the ashes, and they helped make them the teams they are today. You might even say, you have to taste rock bottom to really appreciate what the top feels like.

I know I’ll take some heat because it’s Crosby, Ovechkin, Kane, and Toews, and you just don’t compare players to them… but I think that there are still comparisons between the Oilers and these teams. We’ve got our young core of Gagner, Eberle, MPS, and Hall for forwards that are developing (also Omark and Rajala are considerations for skilled forwards). For existing NHL skill players, we have Penner and Hemsky. For guys that are uncertain, but have potential, we have Cogliano and Brule. We’ve got a solid NHL defensive group in Whitney, Gilbert, Smid and Foster. Plus we still have Petry, Plante, Chorney, Belle (arguably) in development. In net, this is perhaps our bleakest, at least in the present. We have JDD and Dubnyk who are big question marks, and of course that veteran, oft-injured, soon to be prisoner, Khabibulin. But in the future, we can look forward to Olivier Roy and possibly Tyler Bunz. Add Martin Gerber as a bit of a question mark, as it’s uncertain where he’ll be yet.

Really, aside from goaltending, I’m going to say it… I think the group we have is incredibly enviable. Teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh definitely had the higher end players, but I think we do have a pretty deep talent pool to choose from. For all we know, MPS really is Forsberg 2.0 and Hall is Patrick Kane, and Eberle is all he’s cracked up to be too. This all remains to be seen. Of course they could go the other direction, but we have a bit of a comfort zone in that if one or two don’t work out, we still have one or two prospects that could surprise in Rajala and Omark.

We’ve paid our dues, going through 4 straight years with no playoff hockey. This, like the other teams mentioned above, has given us ample time to build up a solid prospect base and future for the team.

Oh and Steve-O would like to say something… “there you have it…apparently I’m wrong. Or at least have nothing to go on.” He does however feel that Taylor Hall should go back to junior, and was one of few people that can legitimately say that in 2006, they wanted Sam Gagner to go back to Junior. He also feels that being rushed into the NHL hurt Sam Gagner’s development.

For me, I don’t think it helped in fast tracking him in, but I think we’ll see a new Gagner soon… things might have gotten off to a bad start, but that guy we thought we drafted will come out soon.

Conclusion

Anyways, to sum up…. I think we should play Hall, for SURE this year now. As for MPS, Eberle, and Omark… there are arguments there either way. I think it would be good to have at least one of them up here. I think pairing Hall up with another young kid, be it Gagner, Eberle, MPS or another, would be wise too. It’ll build some chemistry now. That said, they’d probably need the cherry minutes not to leak goals and have their ego’s destroyed.

But really, most of all, while I hate to fuel optimism too much, I think we really do have the building blocks for a very good team in the future. Next year I do predict a pretty poor year. But that will just add one more piece (perhaps a great D-man or another goaltender?) to an already great looking future competitor.

So in one line.. let the kids play.

P.S. TLDR.

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