For more insight on the state of San Jose's prospects and minor league system, see our recent Q & A with Worcester Sharks Director of Public Relations and Broadcasting Eric Lindquist.
With the odd, tumultuous journey of Jamie McGinn fresh on everyones mind (covered here, here, here and here), Plank and I started talking about the general state of San Jose's prospects. The system is healthier than it's been in a long time, and it seems that a few of our recent first and second round draftees (Logan Couture, Nick Petrecki, Jamie McGinn) are close to being ready to contribute full time at the NHL level. However, these three players have only been in the system for at most three years, and McGinn has already seen his first sniff of NHL action. Is it too early to look to these players to contribute?
It's always been the common mindset that San Jose is quick to expose it's drafted talent to the NHL. Detroit, on the other hand, is thought to age their prospects like a fine wine, waiting until their 17-19 year old boys become 25 year old men. Men who are accustomed to the professional game.
Are these perceptions true? Which is the right strategy? I decided to dive into it statistically and compare the path of Detroit and San Jose's recent draft picks.
Before I show any of the stats, let me explain a little. You guys tend to be little vultures, so I'm going to do my best to protect myself early, even though you will probably find a place where I say "their" instead of "there."
I only used draft picks made after 2001, as it would more accurately reflect the recent strategies of the teams. I also only used first and second round picks, as those players are most likely to make it to the NHL before others in their respective draft class. Also, if a player made the NHL as the member of another organization (like Ty Wishart, for example, who made his debut with Tampa Bay after the Matt Carle-Dan Boyle trade), I'm not using that debut date, as that team's decision to bring that player to the NHL is independent of the team that drafted him. Les do dis.
Start with the Red Wings. Since the 2001 season, Detroit has drafted 13 players (with their average draft pick being around 47 for these 13 selections). Of these players, Detroit has brought four players the the NHL, the most recent being Justin Abdelkader (who made his NHL debut on April 3rd, 2006, 247 days after being drafted). These four players (Abdelkader, Jimmy Howard, Jiri Hudler, and Tomas Fleischmann) took an average of 895 days to make their NHL debuts. If you were to remover Abdelkader from that set (who played in only two games in his first NHL season), the average jumps to 1,111 days, or 3.04 years. That's a while.
The Sharks, on the other hand, have been luckier (if you can call it that) with their draft position. The Sharks have drafted 16 players in the first two rounds, with an average draft position of 29. Of these players, 8 have made their NHL debut in Teal, the most recent being the aforementioned Jamie McGinn. It took Jamie 857 days to make his NHL debut, but others have had a much faster path. Milan Michalek made his NHL debut 110 days after being selected by the Sharks 6th overall in 2003. Other players who also quickly made the NHL with the Sharks were Marc-Edouard Vlasic (432 days), Devin Setoguchi (456 days), and Matt Carle (643 days). In fact, the average path to the NHL for a San Jose Shark was 701 days. If you remove Lukas Kaspar or Marcel Goc from that set (both took over 1,000 days to get to the NHL), that number becomes closer to 600 days, or 1.64 years. Express train.
So yes, the answer is that the Sharks bring up their prospects much sooner than Detroit does. But what's the success that has been met by these players? Of the players that the Sharks have drafted, 7 of the 16 are now NHL players (44%), and 4 remain with the Sharks. However, of Detroit's 13 picks, only 4 players are currently employed by NHL clubs (31%). 2 remain with the Red Wings.
Eight of Detroit's picks remain within the organization, the same number remain with San Jose. However, it seems as if San Jose's rush to bring players to the NHL has been beneficial to the organization (I promise, I'll quit it with the numbers soon).
When your team's biggest free agent acquisition in history is a tie between Rob Blake (at 38) and Jeremy Roenick (at 37), it almost doesn't need to be said... your team has trouble signing free agents. Because of this, the Sharks have always depended on their GM to make trades and their young players to make an impact early. At times, the Sharks have gotten lucky (See Steve Bernier, Michalek, Setoguchi, Vlasic, Carle, etc). In other cases (Kaspar and Goc, especially), the Sharks have wasted some high draft picks. However, even with these occasional follies, you can argue that the Sharks have drafted much better than the Red Wings, in terms of these player's contributions to the NHL club. Of the those who were originally drafted by San Jose, 1509 NHL games have been played, and 649 points have been tallied at the NHL level. For Detroit, only 479 games have been played, and 208 points have been scored. (Some of these numbers were posted after the player was with another team, i.e. Carle or Fleischmann)
So, is it the Sharks who have drafted better? Well, it appears as if they have. However, you can argue the opportunity these players have received because they have moved up so early has made them more able to contribute at an NHL level. Or, simply that the time in the NHL has skewed their numbers. Or perhaps the fact that the Sharks have had a consistently higher draft position.
Has Detroit made mistakes by not moving their prospects through the system faster? Of the four who have made it to the NHL since 2001, only Abdelkader has remained with the team and shown real promise... and he's only played in four regular season games before last years run in the playoffs. Jimmy Howard, who was elevated to the position of full time backup this year, has struggled mightily so far. Was is wiser to keep him mostly in the AHL for six years, seeing how he's floundered early in his now vital NHL role? The Wings let solid platoon partner Ty Conklin walk this year, putting their trust in Howard. Is he ready to share time with Chris Osgood?
I think it all comes down to the player that you pick, and the in house evaluation of the front office and coaching staff determines if they are ready or not. San Jose has gotten away with moving their draft picks quickly through the system, while it seems that Detroit has had trouble getting production from their high selections. The Wings have the success since 2001 to prove that this hasn't really mattered in terms of building an elite squad. But San Jose has shown that Detroit's model of holding back prospect's isn't necessarily the perfect model for a prospect's ultimate development.
It's a given that both Petrecki and Couture will see their NHL debuts before Brendan Smith (Detroit's selection in 2007), seeing as both almost made the team out of camp this year. They are also possible riders on the Worcester Shuttle, which has already logged heavy mileage this year. Will they benefit from seeing the NHL earlier than Smith?
Only time, and subsequent stats, will tell.