Co-written by Mat Porter
*Usually posted in the Fantasy Guide, but moving forward the Fantasy Guide will link here for reference. Order the Fantasy Guide here.
Back in 1997, in a fourth-year university Mathematics class project, I analyzed 15 years of data to determine a system for predicting points. I still use that system to this day, with only a couple of minor tweaks. Back in 2003 for The Hockey News, I did further analysis to determine that the fourth year was the most likely season that a player breaks out. Roughly speaking, offensive players make big jumps in their production in years two through six. In the fourth year, 24% of players jump by 25%. I used this as a rough guide for a breakout year for players entering their second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth seasons: 16%, 19%, 24%, 21%, 14%…and go with 6% for seventh seasons and beyond.
Still, this can be broken down further. Over time, I noticed that bigger players (as well as diminutive ones) take an extra couple of years to hit that breakout campaign. And there were other issues – what happens when a player plays 30 games as a rookie, 15 games the following year and then 80 games after that? Is the ensuing year his fourth year? His third? His second? There were many examples like this in which things became too muddled. If you are regular reader of the Daily Ramblings, you probably know about a person who frequently comments with some pretty great insight. He goes by the handle 'Striker', but his true name is Mat Porter. He has done away with the 'fourth year/fifth year/sixth year' stuff and just gave it a career games played threshold. Striker agreed to let us use his numbers and we have done away with the fourth-year magic and instead use a firm and tangible 'games played' format.
Striker’s 80/20 rule: 80% follow this system, 20% are exceptions in that they either step right in and get the opportunity to succeed immediately (i.e. Connor McDavid – rare and usually reserved for top draft picks), or they crash and burn, never becoming the player they were thought to be (i.e. Nail Yakupov).
The Breakout Threshold (BT)
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. The player is comfortable with the pace of the game and the power of opposing players and it starts to show in his production. The uptick in production is sharp and noticeable. Generally speaking, with lots of leeway and exceptions, of course, look for 25% or higher year-over-year increase. That doesn’t mean these players have peaked. Once they hit that breakout threshold (BT), these players should continue to improve for several more years and should hit the pinnacle of production between the ages of 25 and 28. Forwards then play at or near this level until approximately 32 years of age (unless they are generational players such as Sidney Crosby or