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Do You Feel Lucky?

2019-01-02
With the 2019 World Junior Championships round robin now over and many DCHL GMs salivating over the number of prospects they have playing in the tournament and/or the quality of their respective prospects play so far.  There is no doubt that some of these owners have the right to be excited and that their 18-year-old prospects will turn out to be bonafide NHL stars…but many of these owners will end up being disappointed like they often are after Randall posts his weekly rankings and they see where he has ranked their team.
 
Buffalo management has delved into the team rosters of the past 10 tournaments to get a better idea on how much of a “sure thing” these top junior age prospects actually are. 
 
We first examined the rosters of the 2015 tournament (incidentally and perhaps aptly Kevin Fiala’s second WJC) and charted the number of these now 23-year-old players who have played 82 NHL games or the equivalent of one entire season.  Here are the results:
 
2012 ROSTERS - 82 NHL GAMES PLAYED
  DEFENCE FORWARD
  YES NO YES NO
SWITZERLAND 1 6 3 10
CANADA 3 4 11 2
GERMANY 0 8 0 12
FINLAND 1 6 5 8
SLOVAKIA 0 8 0 12
US 5 2 9 4
CZECH REPUBLIC 1 7 5 8
DENMARK 0 7 2 11
RUSSIA 1 6 3 9
SWEDEN 5 2 10
TOTALS 14 59 40 86
 
Only 19% of the tournament defencemen and 32% of the forwards have played 82 NHL games.  Additionally, ½ of those players come from either Canada or the US rosters.  Furthermore, the only goalie of note that played in this tournament that has truly secured a regular NHL role is Juuse Saros.
 
The second year that was examined was the 2012 tournament.  Players from this tournament are now 26 years old and for all intensive purposes, those that have not made it yet are almost 100% unlikely to make it in the future.  We used a benchmark of 200 NHL games – or the equivalent of 2.5 full NHL seasons.  Here are the results:
 
2012 ROSTERS - PLAYED 200 NHL GAMES
  DEFENCE FORWARD
  YES NO YES NO
LATVIA 0 7 1 11
RUSSIA 0 8 4 8
SLOVAKIA 0 8 1 11
SWEDEN 4 3 7 6
SWITZERLAND 0 7 2 11
CANADA 5 2 10 3
CZECH REPUBLIC 0 7 3 11
DENMARK 0 7 1 12
FINLAND 5 2 4 9
US 3 4 5 7
TOTALS 14 58 38 89
  
Again, we see comparable numbers in that only 19% of the tournament defenceman and 30% of the tournament forwards have hit this benchmark.  Only 4 countries produced NHL caliber defenceman and those same 4 countries produced almost 70% of the NHL caliber forwards.  The goalies from this tournament that have secured a regular NHL role are Andrei Vasilevski, Jack Campbell and John Gibson.
 
Although these numbers and the percentages are nice to know, they only tell half of the story.  What is perhaps more important for DCHL owners to consider/understand is to what NHL role did these players ascribe to.  To this goal, I came up with my own arbitrary criteria of:
 
A – NHL star (i.e. top 50ish player);
B – consistent top 6 forward/top 4 defence; and
C – consistent bottom 6 forward/bottom 4 defence. 
 
We can save the debate of if Kevin Fiala fits into category B or category C for another day.   I also only examined the rosters of the big 5 (Canada, US, Sweden, Finland and Russia) as the other teams do not produce enough regular NHL talent (especially high end talent) and can negatively skew the data.  Here are the results:
 
LAST 10 WJC AND THE ROLES THOSE THAT MADE IT HAD IN THE NHL
  CANADA US SWEDEN FINLAND RUSSIA
  A B C A B C A B C A B C A B C
2017 4 2 2 1 3 2 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0
2016 4 3 4 4 3 4 0 1 2 3 1 1 0 2 1
2015 2 4 6 3 5 5 0 1 4 2 3 1 0 1 3
2014 3 5 7 1 3 6 1 2 3 0 5 0 1 0 3
2013 4 5 4 4 4 6 1 5 1 1 3 3 2 0 2
2012 3 5 8 1 5 5 1 6 1 2 0 3 3 0 3
2011 1 5 7 0 6 3 1 3 2 0 2 3 3 0 1
2010 1 7 5 0 6 2 0 4 1 1 1 0 2 1 1
2009 3 5 1 0 4 1 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 1 1
2008 6 3 3 0 3 2 1 1 2 0 0 0 1 1 1
TOTALS 31 44 47 14 42 36 08 26 17 10 16 11 12 07 16
 
What one can garner from these numbers is that of the 1100 players, that played for these 5 countries over the past 10 years, only 75, or 7%, became NHL stars (and skewed slightly higher as the "future NHL stars" tend to play more than once in the tournament and thus are counted more than once) and only a further 135, or 12%, became top 6 forwards/top 4 defenceman/quality NHL starting goaltender.  In other words, only 19% or 2 of the 11 players of each NHL teams top 6 forwards/top 4 defence and starting goaltender played in this tournament.  Interestingly enough, the only Canadian goalie in the past 10 years that has gone on to have NHL success is Carey Price.  Maybe Carter Hart can join him on this list in the next few years.
 
To break down the totals even further and look at both the actual percentages by country and then to look at the percentages of those that make it in each country, what percentage occupy each aforementioned criteria, here are those results:
 
  PLAYED REGULARLY NHL SUPERSTAR TOP 6 FOR/4D BOTTOM 6 FOR/4D
CANADA 122/220 55% 31/122 25% 44/122 36% 47/122 39%
US 92/220 42% 14/92 15% 42/92 46% 36/92 39%
SWEDEN 51/220 23% 8/51 16% 26/51 51% 17/51 33%
FINLAND 37/220 17% 10/37 27% 16/37 43% 11/37 30%
RUSSIA 35/220 16% 12/35 34% 7/35 20% 16/35 36%
 
If we use these numbers and expect the trends to continue, one can estimate that:
 
- 12 (range is 8 – 16) of the 22 players on the Canada roster will end up playing a regular role in the NHL with approximately 3 of these becoming an NHL superstar and 4 – 5 players becoming top 6 forwards/top 4 defenceman.
- 9 (range is 5 – 14) of the 22 players on the US roster will end up playing a regular role in the NHL with approximately 1 – 2 of them becoming an NHL superstar and 4 – 5 players becoming top 6 forwards/top 4 defenceman
- 5 (range is 2 – 8) of the 22 players on the Sweden roster will end up playing a regular role in the NHL with approximately 1 of them becoming an NHL superstar and 2 - 3 players becoming top 6 forwards/top 4 defenceman
- 4 (range is 0 – 7) of the 22 players on the Finland roster will end up playing a regular role in the NHL with approximately 1 of them becoming an NHL superstar and 2 - 3 players becoming top 6 forwards/top 4 defenceman
- 4 (range is 1 – 6) of the 22 players on the Russia roster will end up playing a regular role in the NHL with approximately 1 – 2 of them becoming an NHL superstar and 1 -2 players becoming top 6 forwards/top 4 defenceman
 
Lastly, every DCHL GM wants to have the next NHL star in their prospect pool and using Dobber Hockey’s list of the top 50 NHL players right now, all but four have played in the World Junior Championships.  The exceptions are Tyler Seguin, Sean Monahan, Johnathan Marchessault and Ryan O’Reilly.  Although many of the next 50 players never played in a WJC, it still remains fairly clear that every DCHL owner should expect the next NHL superstar to come through this tournament.  I looked at what years the current top 50 played in this tournament and here are the results (understanding that some played more than once):
 
TOP 50 NHL PLAYERS
2018 1
2017 3
2016 10
2015 7
2014 6
2013 10
2012 10
2011 4
2010 4
2009 4
2008 6
2007 4
2006 4
2005 5
2004 5
2003 1
 
Although some tournaments had as high as 10 future NHL stars playing in them, the average remains around 4 – 5 and based on the quality of play so far, I would argue that this year is likely to be closer to the average as opposed to the exception.
 
As the World Junior Championship continues into the playoff stage, I am sure every DCHL GM is going to be watching the rest of the games closely and scrutinizing all the players.  Maybe this article will have tempered a little bit what your expectations now are of those prospects or maybe if you have 7 – 8 of them, you are simply hoping that there “must be value in numbers.” 
 
Either way, from year to year, the numbers show some consistency and although these numbers show that only about 25% of the entirety of the players in this years tournament will find NHL success/regularity and that only about 50% of those on the “blue chip prospect laden” US and Canadian rosters together will find the same NHL success/regularity, the ultimate question to ask is, do you have the right players?