Back in June, John wrote a post discussing how the first overall pick is not always the best. As fans of the New Jersey Devils, we have to simply hope that Ray Shero and company made the right choice and that Nico Hischier becomes a star talent. We probably will not know the final conclusion for a while (years), but at this point there is no reason to be anything but hopeful.
Despite the NHL having an 18 year old draft where almost all of the draftees are nowhere near ready to play at the NHL level and most never actually make it to the big dance, the first overall pick almost always plays for the big club that first season. Going back to the 2004-05 lockout, the only player who did not play that first season was defenseman Erik Johnson, drafted first in the 2006 draft by St. Louis. He ended up playing one year for the University of Minnesota before turning pro.
Similarly, from the 2004 draft onward (drafts where players began playing in the NHL after the 04-05 lockout), all but two drafts had a forward selected first overall. Other than Erik Johnson, the only other draft to break this trend was the 2014 draft where Florida took Aaron Ekblad. History tells us that Nico Hischier will play in the NHL this year, and similarly it also tells us that he will probably play most, if not all, of the season in Newark and not in Halifax. The forward who played the least amount of games since the 2004 draft after being selected first, Connor McDavid, only played 45 because of injury. Hischier will be given a chance to play and make an impact this year. It also helps that the Devils are rebuilding and can afford to give him this year to grow and develop at the highest level, a definite boon. Expect him to play upwards of 60 games with New Jersey.
Given that knowledge, I felt it would be at least somewhat interesting to go back and see how recent forwards, picked first, performed in the same year they were drafted. It obviously cannot tell us what Nico will do exactly, as he is his own person. However, when you go back to the 2004 draft and look since then, you get a pretty good array of differing talent. There are the perennial all-stars and generational talents like Alexander Ovechkin, Sydney Crosby, Connor McDavid and probably Auston Matthews. On the other hand, you also had Edmonton take Nail Yakupov five years ago. Then, you have talents like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nathan MacKinnon who might fall somewhere more in the middle.
Because of that, let’s take a look and see how they did in that first year. Given the wide range of talent since then, you would also expect a similarly wide range of production. Everyone played at least 45 games, and given that there were 11 forwards to look at since the 04-05 lockout, it is a decent smattering. For each player, I will write how many games they played in that first season, their goals, assists, and points. Further, from 2007 on, I will also list their Corsi and relative Corsi. Hockey Analysis does not have information on possession from before the 07-08 season. Points information comes from NHL.com, while the possession information is linked per person.
04 Draft – Alex Ovechkin, LW. 2005-06 – 81 GP – 52 G, 54 A, 106 P
05 Draft – Sydney Crosby, C. 2005-06 – 81 GP – 39 G, 63A, 102 P
07 Draft – Patrick Kane, RW. 2007-08 – 82 GP – 21 G, 51 A, 72 P – 52.4 CF%, +4.6 rel CF%
08 Draft – Steven Stamkos, C. 2008-09 – 79 GP – 23 G, 23 A, 46 P – 47.2 CF%, -1.1 rel CF%
09 Draft – John Tavares, C. 2009-10 – 82 GP – 24 G, 30 A, 54 P – 48.2 CF%, -0.4 rel CF%
10 Draft – Taylor Hall, LW. 2010-11 – 65 GP – 22 G, 20 A, 42 P – 48.9 CF%, +3.2 rel CF%
11 Draft – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C. 2011-12 – 62 GP – 18 G, 34 A, 52 P – 48.5 CF%, +1.7 rel CF%
12 Draft – Nail Yakupov, RW. 2012-13 – 48 GP – 17 G, 14 A, 31 P – 42.4 CF%, -2.1 rel CF%
13 Draft – Nathan MacKinnon, C. 2013-14 – 82 GP – 24 G, 39 A, 63 P – 46.9 CF%, -1.0 rel CF%
15 Draft – Connor McDavid, C. 2015-16 – 45 GP – 16 G, 32 A, 48 P – 51.3 CF%, +2.6 rel CF%
16 Draft – Auston Matthews, C. 2016-17 – 82 GP – 40 G, 29 A, 69 P – 51.4 CF%, +2.2 rel CF%
Considering that everyone billed the 2017 draft as being one without that high-end, generational talent, we can throw out some of these numbers right off of the bat. Ovechkin and Crosby were insane with over 100 points those years. McDavid also produced over a point per game. Patrick Kane dominated as well with 72 points in 82 games, and Matthews had 40 goals last year. Let’s remove them from any more discussion and just say this: they are amazing.
That leaves us with the forwards taken between the 2008 and 2013 drafts. I think it could be reasonable to hope that Hischier, if everything pans out perfectly, could eventually develop into some of the better talent in that list. Among them, RNH performed the best with 0.839 points per game, a very, very good number. He dominated that first season. Of course, his point production has not necessarily risen since then, but he has remained a very good center for Edmonton. If Hischier produces at 0.839 points per game this season and gives similar production to RNH, you can’t be too mad about that
After him, MacKinnon produced 63 points and played in all 82 games, good for a 0.768 point percentage, another very, very good number. Again, like with the Nuge, his point production may have leveled off since then, but if Hischier produces at that clip this season, we would all be thrilled. Speaking of Devils, Hall himself had a solid rookie season with a 0.646 point percentage and a really high relative Corsi. Yakupov had a near identical point percentage to Hall in his first year, coming in at literally 0.6458, but only played 48 games, and you know what’s happened to him since then.
Finally, you have Stamkos and Tavares. I’m not sure if Hischier has the same hype entering the league that those two did, both of whom are considered cornerstone franchise centers. We hope Hischier becomes that, for sure. Tavares played a full season for New York and did produce 0.659 points per game, just above what Hall and Yakupov were at. Stamkos was the only one under 0.6 PPG, with his number coming in at 0.582.
That last bit of information is what I find interesting. Again, in terms of these 11 players, you have really different levels of talent and really different outcomes in terms of career paths. 5 of them are transcendent talents, and the other 6 range from franchise centers to vagabonds (Yakupov). Hischier could end up becoming anywhere in between those 6 guys. Yet regardless of how their careers turned out, all of them had very solid rookie seasons playing as 18-19 year olds in the NHL. The worst in terms of point production, Stamkos, still was just barely under 0.6 points per game. At that age, I would take that gladly, and I hope Hischier generates that sort of production.
Possession numbers look a little different, although they still do not paint these guys as having awful first years by any stretch. In fact, if you look at all of the forwards from 07 on, the numbers look fairly good. Of those 9 that we have possession data for, 5 of them had positive relative Corsi percentages, meaning that they were positive possession players as compared to their teams that year. And some of the straight Corsi numbers are pretty, with Kane rocking a 52.4% Corsi, McDavid with a 51.3% Corsi, and Matthews with a 51.4% Corsi.
If you look at just the 6 forwards I did not call transcendent, however, the numbers are slightly worse. Of them, only two had positive relative Corsi numbers (Hall and RNH), and none were above 50% Corsi. However, don’t let that deter you. The only one who really had a brutal relative Corsi was Yakupov. Tavares essentially had a neutral relative Corsi, while MacKinnon and Stamkos were only 1% under the team average. In the end, along with their point production, it showcases that all of these guys really had solid rookie years at their young ages.
What does this mean for Hischier? Nothing really. Anything can happen for him this season. But if you want to look at past players to get an idea of what could be possible, the numbers shown here make you think he could be in for a quality season. I would doubt we are looking at Crosby or McDavid numbers, but he could certainly reach over a half point per game, which would be excellent work for a team starved of points. If that does happen, we will probably be thinking positively of Ray Shero come next year.