The Journey: Exploiting Short Memories, Part 1 (Hughes, Kakko, Slafkovsky, Byfield)

Benjamin Gehrels

2022-08-13

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

Fantasy managers have short memories when it comes to young players and prospects. We know this about ourselves. We become intoxicated by "the next big thing" with every new draft class. The next shiny toy.

But when our can't-miss, first-overall pick with generational comparables is still scoring at a sub-60-point pace four years later (Nathan MacKinnon), it is hard not to panic and trade them while they still have some name value—ie. selling low. The fear in fantasy is refusing lavish offers for your first overall pick and then drafting a Nolan Patrick or Nail Yakupov and watching your significant asset slowly evaporate. The fear is real.

The smart play is of course to buy low. Just trade for MacKinnon at the end of his fourth year right before he starts consistently pacing for over 100 points. At that point, his value was miles lower than both when he was drafted and the following year when he became dominant.

As frequent readers of this column are well aware, one key to buying low at the right time is understanding and utilizing Breakout Thresholds—a rough measure (80% accurate) to help predict when players will break out and show their upside, which is generally at least 25% greater than what they have done up to that point.

As Dobber explains, "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.” He further clarifies that "fully developed" isn’t the same as peaking and more like the beginning of a player’s prime production years. Players that are smaller or bigger than those height/weight guidelines tend to take twice as long, 400 games, to hit their BT.

MacKinnon is actually an interesting example because he took 300 games to break out even though he is average sized. Even if you knew about the BT theory, you were likely nervous watching him still chugging along at a 55-point pace at the end of 2016-17, 100 games after he was "supposed to" be doing more. A more recent example is N