The Journey: Checking in on the 2018 Draft Class (#1-10)

Benjamin Gehrels

2021-12-04

Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way. This week, we'll begin a retrospective on the 2018 NHL entry draft providing updates on performance since the draft, future outlooks, and pick grades.

The reason for starting with the class of 2018 is that the three-year gap allows a clearer picture to emerge about who these players are and how their careers might progress from here. It's also recent enough that this group contains a solid mix of established NHLers, players just breaking into the league, and prospects still toiling in juniors. There are also some picks that already didn't pan out.

An important concept for this series is Breakout Threshold (BT), a more precise version of the 4th year breakout theory. The basic idea is that historical trends have shown with roughly 80% accuracy that average-sized players (5-10 to 6-1 and 170 to 210 lbs) tend to take 200 NHL games played (GP) to reach their prime production years. Players smaller or bigger than that usually take twice as long, 400 GP, to hit their upside. Keeping in mind that 20% of players don't end up following this rule, BT can be an extremely useful metric for ballparking when a player's breakout year will happen and buying low on them while they're still overlooked.

In our assessments, we'll use the terminology from Hockey Prospecting:

  • Star Producer → 0.7 career points-per-game (ppg) for Forwards (F) & 0.45 ppg for Defencemen (D)
  • Average Producer → Less than 0.7 career ppg for F & 0.45 ppg for D
  • Developing → A prospect with insufficient NHL data for an accurate sample size
  • Bust → Not playing in the NHL/minimal production

This week, we'll kick things off by looking at the first 10 picks of the 2018 draft.

(Stats were taken before the start of Wednesday’s games.)

1st (BUF) Rasmus Dahlin

121 pts in 219 GP (0.55 ppg)

Verdict: Star Producer

Dahlin is one of those players who have been around forever but are still really young, as he is only 21 and already in his fourth season. He is already considered one of the most dynamic blueliners in the game. He's taken a similar path to Aaron Ekblad, another defenceman taken first overall, who is playing in his eighth NHL season but is only 25 years old.

Last year was a write-off for that entire Sabers team, Dahlin included. But his historic rookie year in 2018-19 (44 pts in 82 GP), in which he scored the highest total by an 18-year-old defenceman since Phil Housley, was no fluke. His sophomore campaign (56-point pace) already proved that. Last year, Dahlin still managed a 34-point pace in the shortened campaign as a 20-year-old, which gave him a star potential of 96% in a down year.

With his slow start again this year, there was perhaps a brief window to capitalize on the Buffalo Tire Fire™. Hats off if you managed to pry him away from a nervous GM. But he hit his Breakout Threshold of 200 games at the start of this season and now has eight points in his last nine games. That window is shut. Dahlin will continue getting all the ice and powerplay time he can handle during this post-Eichel rebuild, and his point totals will only cli