It’s the first round of the NHL Entry Draft! And for the first time in years I don’t really care! It’s easy to understand for Columbus fans: for once, I’m not looking to the future for hope. The afterglow of a playoff season will do that, but the Jackets all seem poised to not suck again next season. A great goalie and a brilliant young d-man are wonderful starting points, and shedding an ineffective player for a potentially great one continues to excite. But for me, there’s another looming reason why I don’t care: the shadow cast by 2015 Draft.
Look, I’m sure there are some good players to come from tonight’s selections. Bob McKenzie’s list looks as impressive as ever. I just can’t help but keep clicking on someone else’s HockeyDB page: Connor McDavid. I’ll just leave this here for a moment and we’ll come back to proper thoughts.
He’s so much fun to watch. More importantly, McDavid is also in some pretty great company.
OHLers at Age 15 and 16
Let’s give Connor McDavid’s performances a bit of context. Here’s a curated list of past OHL players with high point totals in their age 15 season (defined here as age at the start of the given season). Data for these years taken from HockeyDB.
The first thing to catch the eye: John Tavares was a special player in his first year with the Oshawa Generals. The goal total alone is outstanding. Beyond that, McDavid has kept close pace with his predecessors. Over a point per game playing against guys 2, 3, or 4 years older is an impressive showing. It’s made even more remarkable when considering the state of the 2012-13 Erie Otters, McDavid’s team. Tavares’ Generals had a 99-point 19 year old leading the charge. Spezza’s age-15 campaign was closer to McDavid’s in terms of team composition; only 2 scorers bested the 60 point mark.
How does McDavid compare to a selection of top-scoring 16 year olds?
Again, Tavares makes the mind boggle… but McDavid is closing in. And you’ll note, his overall scoring is 0.31 points per game clear of everybody not named Tavares in this list, a remarkable feat considering the spectacular talent below. Perhaps some of McDavid’s boost is a function of Dane Fox having a late OHL career eruption. Even so, to continue earning ice time at such a young age is an outstanding achievement.
But What Comes Next?
There’s no certainty for how Connor McDavid follows up such a great year. We can look at what happened to the players we’ve listed above, both in the OHL and in the NHL. Let’s list each player’s points per game between their age 16 and age 21 seasons. Data for this table come from both HockeyDB and Hockey Reference. Years in white are OHL seasons, ones in green are NHL years. The order of players is the same as used in the Age 16 table (with McDavid’s row excluded, of course).
It’s here that you start to see why the 2014 Entry Draft is so easy to overlook. With the exception of Perry (who blooms later and is a career 0.84 point per game player), every player here is in the most elite tier of NHL scoring forwards. The transition is slow for some, but the leap tends to be successful by age 20. At least one of these guys seems an obvious Hall of Fame choice, and all the others have become the stuff that envy is made of.
To give this further context: consider that the aging curve may give these guys another 6-9 years of point per game scoring after being 20-21. Let’s assume that they all drop off a cliff when they turn 30 (which may or may not happen). That’s more than a decade of control over point per game scoring, of a true top talent player every single night.