Jack Eichel vs. Nik Ehlers vs. Max Domi

Rick Roos

2015-10-07

A deep analysis on the track record of 2nd, 9th and 12th overall picks (Eichel vs. Ehlers vs. Domi)

This week’s Cage Match marks a first, as facing off are three combatants -Jack Eichel, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Max Domi. All three are of interest to poolies in keeper leagues of course, but also tempting to those in one-year leagues since all three made their NHL teams.

Rather than use a crystal ball to predict how each will perform, I’ll go by past comparisons. First, I’ll examine how previous picks in their draft spots (2nd overall for Eichel, 9th for Ehlers, 12th for Domi) did during their careers, regardless of when they entered the NHL, as that should be of use to those in keeper leagues. But I’ll also look at rookie year outputs of players who first appeared in the NHL at age 18 (like Eichel, who turns 19 at the end of October), 19 (Ehlers), or 20 (Domi), to provide insight to those in one-year leagues.

For those wondering why I’m omitting Connor McDavid, I already covered him in a special two-part Cage Match this summer. If you didn’t check out those matches (against 2005-06 Sidney Crosby, and 2015-16 Crosby), I encourage you to give them a read.

Career performance for #2, #9, and #12 overall picks

Note that I decided to go back only to 1980 to keep the volume of data manageable; and I made the cut off 2012, which is the year prior to the oldest of these players (Domi) being drafted.

 

Past #2 overall selections

From 1980 to 2012, the second overall pick was a forward 24 times, with half having finished their playing career (13 if you count Dany Heatley, who’s now toiling in Germany) and the rest still active. For the 13 no longer in the NHL, here’s their data:

 

1-200

201-400

401-600

601-800

801-1000

1000+

Total Games Played

1

0

2

3

3

4

Total Points

1

2

3

3

2

2

 

We can see the majority not only had long careers but were also very productive overall, with virtually no “busts.” In keeper leagues, this should be very reassuring to those who already drafted Eichel and encouraging to those planning on targeting him via draft or trade.

The news only gets better when examining current players, who are arguably more relevant having played in an era consistent with what Eichel is entering. Here’s the data for the 11 former 2nd overall picks still in the NHL: Patrick Marleau (988 points in 1329 games), David Legwand (604 in 1057), Daniel Sedin (881 in 1061), Jason Spezza (749 in 768), Eric Staal (742 in 846), Evgeni Malkin (702 in 587), Bobby Ryan (391 in 526), Jordan Staal (343 in 607), James van Riemsdyk (248 in 406), Tyler Seguin (282 in 354), Gabriel Landeskog (193 in 281).

Long story short, forwards picked in the #2 slot have a track record of success, especially in recent years. This bodes very well for Eichel and poolies who own him.

 

Past #9 overall selections

Among those selected ninth overall from 1980 to 2012, just 17 were forwards. But only five are still active in the NHL, which means we have nearly the same number of no longer active players to examine as for the #2 overall picks:

 

1-200

201-400

401-600

601-800

801-1000

1000+

Total Games Played

3

2

1

5

0

1

Total Points

6

3

0

2

0

1

 

While I would’ve expected a drop in career production from pick #2 to #9, it surprised me just how much worse things were, as only three of these 12 scored more than 400 career points, and only one even played 1000+ NHL games. The news isn’t much better when we look at the five forwards selected 9th overall who are still in the NHL: Tuomo Ruutu (345 point in 702 games), James Sheppard (91 in 394), Logan Couture (287 in 379 games), Josh Bailey (218 in 476), Mikael Granlund (88 in 158).

 

Past #12 overall selections

Among those selected twelfth overall from 1980 to 2012, 19 were forwards, but interestingly only two in the nine seasons prior to Domi. Thus, the vast majority (i.e., 15) of the 19 are no longer active in the NHL, giving us even more data to examine than with the #2 and #9 picks.

 

1-200

201-400

401-600

601-800

801-1000

1000+

Total Games Played

8

0

2

3

1

1

Total Points

11

1

1

1

1

0

 

Seeing this, it does seem the farther away from the #1 overall spot a player is picked, the more misses result, as there’s a larger percentage of busts than #9 picks selected a mere three spots earlier. But what’s interesting is half the active #12 picks are outstanding, namely Marian Hossa (1056 points in 1172 games) and Alex Tanguay (828 in 1018). And things are going quite well for another – Bryan Little (343 in 556) – and looking okay for the fourth – Mikhail Grigorenko (14 in 68).

 

Early Thoughts?

It would appear that being a forward picked outside of the top ten (i.e., at #12) might result in less of a chance to convince teams to stick with a player who was selected earlier. After all, despite the small sample size it’s difficult to otherwise explain the much higher percentage of 12th overall selections who never got past 200 games/points as compared to those picked only three spots earlier in the 9th spot.

Either way – this reinforces what we know in the back of our minds but sometimes forget/ignore if we think highly of a top draft pick, namely that success among them is far from a guarantee. And we always need to be careful not to mortgage our keeper teams to obtain an early draft pick, because more often than not he’ll end up disappointing in his career.

 

NHL forwards who were 18/19/20 when they debuted and played 70+ games that same season

Note that these lists are somewhat imperfect in that they omit players from 1994-95 and 2012-13, when the entire season was only 48 games. But we can liken a player appearing in 41 or more of those 48 games to appearing in 70 games over a normal season, and in the case of 18 year olds, one fits for each of 1994-95 (Jeff Friesen, 43 point full season scoring pace) and 2012-13 (Alex Galchenyuk, 47 point pace), while there were two for each season among 19 year olds (1994-95: Adam Deadmarsh, 29 point pace, Radek Bonk, 21 point pace; 2012-13: Nail Yakupov and Jonathan Huberdeau, each with a 53 point pace), and one for each season among 20 year olds (Paul Kariya, 68 point pace in 1994-95; Brendan Gallagher, 52 point pace in 2012-13).

 

18 year olds

Since 1980-81, 32 forwards played 70+ games as an 18 year old. Here are their season point totals:

Less than 30 points

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70-79

82+

6

8

5

5

4

1

3

 

These numbers aren’t surprising, particularly that just under half didn’t even post 40 points. After all, many 18 year olds enter the NHL not because they were “ready,” but due to playing for a bad team that needed all the bodies it could get or to simply help attract/maintain fan interest.

Interestingly, if we look at just 18 year old #2 overall picks, we get Doug Smith (30 points in 80 games), Patrick Marleau (32 in 74), Jordan Staal (42 in 81), Kirk Muller (54 in 80), Trevor Linden (59 in 80), Brian Bellows (65 in 78), and Jimmy Carson (79 in 80), plus Friesen and Galchenyuk. Basically the performance of #2 picks aligns with that of 18 year olds in general, although no 18 year old who was picked #2 overall has posted above 42 points in a full rookie season since 1988-89, which is a bit daunting. Also, while more than half (i.e., 17) of the 32 are still active, 11 of those 17 had debuts ranking among the bottom 16 of the 32, so recent trends are not good among 18 year old rookies.

 

19 Year olds

Since 1980-81, there were 51 forwards who made their NHL debut at age 19 and played 70+ games that same season. Their rookie outputs were:

 

Less than 30 points

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70-79

82+

17

12

4

8

5

4

1

 

A disappointing 29 of the 51 (58%) didn’t even reach 40 points. And here also, better production occurred in the past, as only two (Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar) scored more than 55 points as a rookie since 1993-94, while five of the bottom six point totals were posted by players who are still active.

 

20 year olds

Since 1980, there were 47 forwards who made their NHL debut at age 20 and played 70+ games that same season, with the following production as rookies.

 

Less than 30 points

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-69

70-79

82+

12

12

8

5

4

3

3

 

At first I was surprised to see a smaller percentage (i.e., 51%) of sub-40 point outputs compared to 19 year olds; but then again these are players who entered the league with more seasoning, whether in college, Canadian juniors, or abroad, so it makes sense. Foreign players dominate, with five of the top seven point producers coming from outside of North America. Also, although four of the top ten scorers made their debut in 2000-01 or later, which is a decent percentage, and 23 of the 47 are still active, nearly half (i.e., 11) of those 23 still active players had rookie totals which fell within the bottom 19 debuts for the age 20 group.

 

Overall conclusions and picking a winner

 

Although of course the data we examined isn’t enough from which to draw firm conclusions, I think there are some possible takeaways. In general, forwards selected #2 overall are the real deal more often than not, while it’s far more of a crapshoot for forwards selected just a few picks later (i.e., #9 and #12). And although it’s rare these days to see rookie forwards make instant impacts regardless of whether they debut at 18, 19, or 20, many eventually round into fine form within the first several years.

 

What does this mean to poolies? In one-year leagues, it’s usually best to let others reach for drafting rookie forwards, as track records suggest that more often than not you’ll get less value versus what you paid. But if you’re in the very late stages of a draft and it comes to deciding between a rookie who has talent on paper and is in a good spot, versus a veteran who might project to get 40 points but who realistically has nearly zero chance of tallying more than 50, then it could pay to gamble on the rookie, especially since you can always cut bait and grab a free agent if the rookie falls short.

 

For keepers, the old adage of rebuilding teams by grabbing and holding onto highly touted draft picks and prospects might need to be reconsidered, at least somewhat. While of course rebuilding fantasy teams still need to get younger in order to improve down the road, a better way to go about doing so might well be to grab a hyped rookie/prospect but instead of holding onto him trying instead to flip him for a second or third year player who might be less hyped at that point yet also carries with him less risk. Sure – every now and then you might let a future star out of your grasp, but from what 35 years of data suggested above you’ll likely fare better with this type of approach.

 

Since this is a Cage Match, I’ll go ahead and pick a winner. It’s clearly Eichel in both one-year leagues and keepers. I’d argue he’s somewhat of a bargain compared to a normal #2 overall pick. For one, he’s a rookie in a year when an anointed superstar went 1st overall, making him almost an afterthought. Also, being picked 2nd overall arguably comes with the same opportunities as 1st, but without the added spotlight and scrutiny, plus not being saddled with the “first overall” label forever hanging over your head and people always quick to label you a bust if you aren’t a runaway success right away. Plus, Eichel landed in Buffalo, who many poolies think will be as bad as they were last season, when, in truth, they were tanking at least somewhat. That could push down Eichel’s cost as well.

 

Long story short, although there has been a run of bad rookie outputs from 18 year old #2 overall picks who were forwards, Eichel looks like a good bet to meet (if not exceed) expectations both as a rookie and long term.

 

Ehlers and Domi, on the other hand, appear to come with the typical risks of forwards picked at #9 and #12 overall, not to mention the added bust potential due to debuting at age 19 and 20 respectively. I’d be very wary of paying to get them in a keeper, and if I already had them I’d strongly consider trying to flip them to get a safer asset. In a one year league I’d leave them for the waiver wire or perhaps take a very late round gamble on them if upwards of 150 forwards are drafted in your league.

 

Read thd Dobber scouting reports on these three future stars here – for Eichel, for Ehlers, for Domi

 

 

 

 

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency T.B Players
18.5% ANTHONY CIRELLI BLAKE COLEMAN ALEX KILLORN
17.1% NIKITA KUCHEROV ONDREJ PALAT BRAYDEN POINT
13.7% BARCLAY GOODROW TYLER JOHNSON CARTER VERHAEGHE

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