As training camp and the new season approaches there’s always a fresh helping of optimism to go around. Anything is possible; the Stanley Cup is up for grabs, perhaps another Calder or Hart trophy is on the horizon or maybe even a graduation from the AHL. That last one has proven in particular tricky for the Colorado Avalanche organization but there’s always this year.
A widely held perception is that “overcooking” prospects is the preferred timeline and that there’s little urgency to get them into the NHL before their three-year Entry Level Contract is up. While there is a delicate balance between properly preparing a player for the highest and most unforgiving level of hockey it is also a crucial part of the development process to get valuable experience early in one’s professional career in order to become a full-time NHL player. Finding that exact graduation point is difficult and one may debate if 100 games truly is “making the NHL” but it is a plateau Avalanche prospects have yet to reach with regularity.
Lack of success in second round picks is of a particular interest because that certain cohort has been a wasteland the for Avalanche in their history even going back to the glory years. The only drafted and internally developed second round pick reach 100 NHL games played for the Avalanche is TJ Galiardi who was drafted in 2007. Those who jumped straight to the NHL and bypassed the AHL entirely such as Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny experienced a better fate as well as goaltenders Calvin Pickard and Peter Budaj. A development success story could have been Johnny Boychuk who has enjoyed a 657 game career after departing the Avalanche system but he only got a four game chance with the team who drafted him. Of the 32 second round picks in Avalanche history (excluding the four goaltenders) only four have have managed to see 100 NHL games played, good for a 12.5% “success” rate which counts Stastny, O’Reilly and Boychuk along with Galiardi.
In the last five drafts (2010-2014), which have seen the majority of their class cycle through three-year ELCs, a total of 55 players out of 135 skaters drafted in the second round (again, no goaltenders are included in these figures) have reached 100 NHL games played, which is a 40.7% “success rate”. 2011 was a banner year in particular with 16 out of 27 picks (59.2%) made it to 100 games. Conversely, 2014 was a very poor year with only 4 out of 26 picks (15.3%) hitting the 100 game plateau and only two others in the realistic vicinity. The 2015 draft was not included in these calculations and is largely comprised of current 21 and 22-year old players but that class already has seen five players eclipse 100 games with five more on the horizon in the coming 2019-20 season.
Another area of interest was just how fast each of these “successes” had their debut in the NHL. Of the 55 second round picks who hit the 100 game mark from 2010-2014 only 24 players (43.6%) did not play in a single NHL game in the first year of their ELC. On average those who received an opportunity the in their first year of professional hockey saw action in just a shade under 30 NHL games. Of those 24 “successes” who did not receive a game their first year only 10 did not play in the NHL their second year either, which works out to a 18.2% graduation rate for those on the patience plan.
In this five year sample there was only one NHL “success” who did not play a single game by the conclusion his third professional season who defied the odds and has played in exactly 100 NHL contests and that is Martin Frk who has been in the ECHL, waived and is currently on his third NHL team. Perhaps the true long road development “success” award should go to defenseman Robert Hagg who became a NHL mainstay with the Philadelphia Flyers after only one NHL game played in his third year of pro hockey, although he was a 100% full-time NHL player in his fourth year.
Narrowing the scope to just the CHL and those who typically begin the three-year ELC clock at 20 years of age actually accounted for a higher success rate of 31 picks out of 70 for 44% (including an astonishing 11 of 14 in 2011). Just over half (16) of those “successes” did not play in any NHL games in their first year but that number dropped to seven (22.5%) in their second year. Of the “successes” who played their first year and those who began playing in their second, both groups averaged over 40 games played in that second year, showing a big step in transition to becoming a NHL player is typical of 21-year old players.
Back to the Avalanche, they actually do account for one successful prospect graduation in this snapshot and that is JT Compher who moved on from the AHL and played in 21 NHL games in his first year of pro hockey and never looked back. That last and only Colorado drafted and developed second round “success” TJ Galiardi played 11 games with the Avalanche in his first professional season who then fully graduated and played 70 games in Colorado the following 2009-10 season.
Clearly a disconnect exists with how the Avalanche view a prospect’s path to the NHL, if there is a plan at all and they lack willingness to provide opportunity. Their success rate lags well below what is typical for the league in second round picks and as a result is leading to a staggering loss of asset value.
There are many ways to view prospect success and evaluate the development process with no clear cut answers. This research only comprises a small snapshot of information and serves to shed light on only one area of the system in particular. All standard caveats apply such as drafting is always an important piece of the puzzle, each player and organization are different including outside circumstances and nothing absolves a player’s personal responsibility for their own career. That said, the Avalanche organization should strive to find accountability and solutions for a part of the system that consistently fails them.