The Journey: Nichushkin and The Post-Hype Big Men

Benjamin Gehrels


Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way.

The scouting team over at Dobber Prospects just released their final rankings for the 2022 NHL draft. Check it out! They ranked the relentless big man Juraj Slafkovsky (6-4, 218 lbs) at second overall. The dramatic rise of Slafkovsky on boards all across the industry, plus the critical role that fellow big man Valeri Nichushkin (6-4, 210 lbs) is playing for the Colorado Avalanche in their postseason run, has inspired the focus for this week's Journey: using Dobber's concept of the Breakout Threshold (BT), we'll look around the league for other post-hype big men like Nichushkin who seem to be putting everything together and attempt to project their ultimate upside.

From a previous Journey article, here’s part of Dobber’s BT definition: “Average-sized forwards (between 5-10 and 6-2, or between 171 and 214 pounds) need 200 NHL regular season games to figure it out. At that point, they should show what they will be when fully developed.” This isn’t the same as peaking, more like the beginning of a player’s prime production years.

Even more importantly for this week's article, players that are smaller or bigger than those height/weight guidelines tend to take twice as long, 400 games, to hit their BT. From examining data sets over time, Dobber has found this rule to be about 80% accurate. While not perfect, it can be extremely useful at indicating when to buy low on players that others have given up on.

Back to the Slafkovsky-Nichushkin comparison for a moment. Even if Slafkovsky ends up going second overall in the real draft, that doesn't necessarily mean fantasy owners should be jumping on him at that slot. Other top prospects like Shane Wright and Logan Cooley, both average-sized, could easily end up hitting their upside over two and a half seasons earlier than Slafkovsky. That's a loooooooong time in fantasy.

Pre-draft, players have a sexy sheen to them in fantasy. We hear these names repeated over and over, wonder who our favourite team is going to come away with, and speculate endlessly about the magic word, "upside." What is their ceiling going to be? Which current NHL players are they comparable to? Peak Slafkovsky, for instance, could turn into a Mikko Rantanen type—an elite, point-per-game all-star.

That sheen wears off incredibly quickly after the draft in fantasy, however. Just look at R