NHL rookies with entry-level contracts can pose dilemma

October 26, 2013
BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER 17: Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) skates during the second period of the Baltimore Classic between the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins at the Baltimore Arena on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

An NHL team gets just 10 games before it must make a decision on players in the lineup who still have major junior eligibility. If a player suits up for 10 or more games, one year of his three-year entry-level contract is burned. If he plays in 40 or more contests, the season accrues and gets him to unrestricted free agency that much sooner. There is a lot at stake in these 10 games, especially in the salary cap era when cheap production reigns supreme.

One of the best metrics we have for just how good a teenage player can be is time on ice per game. Better players play more minutes, and it holds true if you are a rookie or veteran.

Since the 2005-06 season, rookie defensemen who have stayed with their NHL clubs past the 10-game mark while skating more than 20 minutes per night have gone on to average 22:18 per game and 30 points per season over the remaining years of their entry-level contracts. Rookie defensemen who skated less than 20 minutes per game have saw 18:30 per game while producing just 19 points per season. That means the future is bright for Nashville blue-liner Seth Jones, whose 24:23 per night is already in the top 25 for all defenseman.

When rookie forwards with junior eligibility have been trusted with more than 20 minutes per game, they have gone on to average almost a point per game over their first three years. Conversely, forwards skating fewer than 20 minutes average 40 points in 68 games per season.

Does that mean Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado, the first overall pick of this year’s draft, will be a bust because he skates only 13:13 per night? No, but it could be an indication that his development might take longer than some expect. Same for Calgary center Sean Monahan, who has tallied six goals and three assists in his first ten games while skating 15:41 per night.

And what about Tom Wilson, 19, of Washington? Capitals Coach Adam Oates recently acknowledged to The Post’s Katie Carrera that keeping him in the NHL is “a tough decision.” Though his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame is NHL-ready and Oates said Wilson “acts like he belongs,” his limited playing time on the fourth line could be cause for concern. And even if the Capitals are correct and Wilson is a power forward in the making, losing one of these cost-controlled contract years for less than eight minutes a night — none on special teams — could set up some difficult fiscal decisions down the road.

ELC Years Avg GP Avg Pts Avg TOI
Defenseman
10-20 minutes per night 60.0 19.1 18.5
Over 20 per night 76.8 30.2 22.3
Forward
Under 10 per night 53.5 19.0 12.7
10-20 minutes per night 67.7 38.8 15.5
Over 20 per night 72.9 71.4 19.6

greenberg
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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Katie Carrera · October 26, 2013

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