Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Do Elite Players Become Elite? A Look At Kessel, Colborne, and Kadri

Joe Colborne and Phil Kessel have LeafNation abuzz.  Phil Kessel has been tearing up the NHL and appears to have taken his game to an entirely different level this season scoring 15 points in 8 games.  Joe Colborne is doing much the same in the AHL, putting up 12 points in 6 games to start the year.

Part of what's so exciting about the emergence of these two players is their age.  With Kessel at 24 and Colborne at 21, these guys could be leading the Leafs for a long time.

Tempering this excitement in Kessel's case is the question of whether or not it can last.  He's been a streaky player in the past so the question with Phil is whether this is a step forward in his development or just another one of his infamous streaks.  In Colborne's case, I've heard people question whether or not he should be in the NHL at 21 if he were a true 'blue chip prospect'.

These questions, along with a couple of articles over at PPP by Steve Burtch (The Apprenticeship of Joe Colborne) and Bcapp (Nazem Kadri is a Bust... Or is He?) inspired me to take a look at when elite players develop and whether we should be excited (in the case of Phil Kessel and Joe Colborne) or concerned (in the case of Kadri).


What I did was pretty simple.  I looked at every player who scored 70 or more points over the past three years, and then I tracked a few key measures.  First, I looked at the year in which they made a full-time jump to the NHL (50+ games played in a single season).  Then I looked at their ages when they produced a 60+ point season, a 70+ point season and an 80+ point season.  I've divided the groupings by draft position for comparison's sake.

Here are the results (click the graph for better viewing);

A quick note before I move forward with this: The 6th-10th numbers are out of whack.  The sample size for guys in this range is tiny (Selanne, M.Koivu, and Doan) so when you look at the chart, it's probably better to observe the trend than the pure numbers in that field.  Also of note, for players that didn't get to 80 points, their ages were not included in the averages which is why you occasionally see a dip in average age for 80+ points.

So what does this tell us relative to our own players and prospects?

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel was drafted 5th overall, made the full-time jump to the NHL at the age of 19, and had his first 60-point season at 21.  Comparing that to his peers, his numbers more closely resemble the averages of those drafted 1st or 2nd overall.

Having said this, Kessel has yet to put up a 70 point season while the average age of 1st or 2nd rounders to do so is about 22.4 years old.  If we bring it back to his draft position, however, this looks like the year he should do it.  At the age of 24, the average elite 3rd-5th pick gets to 70-points and at 24.5 years-old they get to 80-points.  Keep in mind, these numbers only include those players who reach these numbers.

Phil Kessel is well on his way to being an elite player and has in many cases outpaced the elite-level players at his draft position.

Joe Colborne

Joe Colborne was drafted 16th overall by the Boston Bruins.  At 21 years old, what should we expect from Colborne?

If he's going to be elite, the odds say that he should likely have made the jump to the NHL by now as those drafted between 11-20 averaged 20.4 years old.  These numbers are a bit higher if we look at those drafted 21-30 where the average is 21.4.  Suffice to say, there are enough players over the age of 21 that it isn't overly troubling.

The challenge for Colborne if he's to enter into the elite of the NHL will be to produce 60+ points by the time he's 24.  In most cases, if you haven't gotten to 60 by the time you're 24, you wont get to 70.  For Colborne to be an elite player, as we're undoubtedly hoping he will, look for him to get into the NHL sooner rather than later and to start putting up serious points in the 2013-14 season.

Nazem Kadri

A lot of Leaf fans (or Leaf haters) have been stressed (or constantly reminding their Leaf fan friends) that Nazem Kadri hasn't made the fulltime jump to the NHL.  Kadri just turned 21.

While it's unlikely that he'll hit the 50 game mark this season, he will almost certainly hit it next year and he may even get close this season.  If that's the case, he's either right on schedule or slightly behind schedule based on the paths followed by the NHL's major point producers.

The challenge for Kadri will be to hit 60 points next season and keep pace with these high-end players in his draft range.  It might be more realistic for him to get to 70 at 24 than it would be for him to get 60 at 22 at this rate. 

Having said this, we knew at Kadri's weight that he probably wouldn't fly to the NHL and it's certainly a little pre-mature to start worrying.  There's still lots of time for this kid to get into the upper echelon of the NHL.


These numbers bode well for Phil Kessel.  While some may have worried that he would never be an elite player in the NHL, the data suggests that if he's going to be elite, that his time is now.  If we couple this info with his play so far, it seems like Kessel might be poised to take the giant leap into superstardom.

It's important to remember when looking at these numbers that these guys are being compared against the best of the best -- players that have put up 70 points or better at some point during the last three years.  If Kadri or Colborne aren't 50 game players next season, this doesn't mean they're busts, it doesn't even mean they're below average against players taken at their position.  It just might mean that their ceiling isn't quite as high as we'd like it to be.

I'll have a look at some more Leafs using this data in the coming days but for now check us out on Twitter at bcphockeyblog


alex c said...

Curt, where do other players fall in the talent chart... Grabovski, Kulemin, Phaneuf... These are definitely quality players... maybe not elite, but how would you categorize them?

BCapp said...

First off thanks for the shout out and link. Appreciate it.

Second, I wonder if could provide the 25th and 75th percentile of ages for 3-5, 6-10, and 11-20, to expand on the ages where players reach these milestones instead of just using averages.


RJ Quinlan said...

Whoa! Graphs & shit!

Josh said...

Well put my man!

Curt S said...


I'm going to put a post together next week on Grabovski and Kulemin so check back for that one. As far as Phaneuf goes, the spreadsheet only captures guys that exceeded 70 points so it doesn't really cover defensemen and isn't that useful in this regard.


The small-ish data set isn't really conducive to cutting out 50 percent of all cases. I'm in the process of making a post where all the data is displayed individually for the draft ranges you're interested in so hopefully that will give you the more controlled information you're looking for.

BCapp said...

Cool, thanks!