Forgetting to consider rookies when making your season projections can be a big mistake. While many experts didn't consider the Columbus Blue Jackets to be contenders as the 2008-09 season began, they actually finished 6th in the West, and it was rookies Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard and Steve Mason that made all the difference. Then there's St. Louis, another team pegged by pundits to miss the postseason, but were instead lifted several spots in the standings by the stellar two-way play from rookies Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie.
Don't blame them because it can be almost impossible to predict which teams will have unexpectedly high contributions from rookies. Using GVT we can calculate the net contribution, in goals, that each team's rookies had in 2008-09, which can be considerable, given that the average team GVT is 120.
St. Louis 27.1
Los Angeles 19.7
On average an additional 8.2 goals worth of production above replacement-level is provided from rookie players per team, about a fifth of which comes from goaltenders. What makes this so significant is that these contributions aren't spread out evenly, they're restricted to a small handful of fortunate teams. Last season, 12 of the league's 30 teams had a virtually worthless contribution of 2.2 GVT or less from their rookies.
Thanks to John Tavares, the New York Islanders might be the club to top the list of teams with the potential to exceed preseason expectations due to significant boosts from first-year players, a list that includes teams like Toronto, Atlanta, New York Rangers, Detroit, Los Angeles, Colorado, Vancouver and Montreal. While the Isles are still likely to miss the playoffs, Tavares could be the key to keeping them out of the basement and up towards respectability.
To figure out just how good John Tavares can be, let's establish expectations by considering the best rookie performances since the lockout season. There are generally only about 3-4 rookies per season that score 50 points, with two well-known superstars doubling that.
Season Age Player Team GP G A PTS
2005-06 20 Alex Ovechkin Washington 81 52 54 106
2005-06 18 Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh 81 39 63 102
2006-07 20 Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh 78 33 52 85
2006-07 21 Paul Stastny Colorado 82 28 50 78
2007-08 19 Patrick Kane Chicago 82 21 51 72
2005-06 23 Brad Boyes Boston 82 26 43 69
2007-08 20 Nicklas Backstrom Washington 82 14 55 69
2006-07 19 Anze Kopitar Los Angeles 72 20 41 61
2008-09 21 Bobby Ryan Anaheim 64 31 26 57
2005-06 22 Jussi Jokinen Dallas 81 17 38 55
2007-08 19 Jonathan Toews Chicago 64 24 30 54
2007-08 19 Peter Mueller Phoenix 81 22 32 54
2008-09 22 Kris Versteeg Chicago 78 22 31 53
2006-07 20 Wojtek Wolski Colorado 76 22 28 50
2005-06 23 Marek Svatos Colorado 61 32 18 50
Their age is included in this list because it's important to remember that John Tavares is only 19 years old this season. Sidney Crosby is the only player younger than Tavares to score 50 points in his rookie season since the lockout, and only four others scored 50 points at age 19, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews and Peter Mueller. Given Tavares' statistics in the OHL, it's reasonable to expect that he can join the club.
Season Age GP G A PTS PTS/GP
2005-06 15 65 45 32 77 1.18
2006-07 16 67 72 62 134 2.00
2007-08 17 59 40 78 118 2.00
2008-09 18 56 58 46 104 1.86
In the past, to establish what to expect in terms of highs, lows and average expectations for current players, we've applied Similarity Scores to look for players with similar statistics throughout the NHL's 90 year history. We can do the same thing with the OHL, but to keep things simple we're only going to look at points per game, and only for players that match Tavares' age exactly. Given the fluctuations in scoring throughout the OHL's history, I've normalized everyone's points per game to modern-day OHL scoring levels.
Of all the players that had a normalized point per game total within 10% of Tavares in the OHL at age 18, the vast majority, like prominent Ducks Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, spent their 19-year-old season in the OHL. Here are the only five exceptions, along with their NHL stats.
P/G: Points per game
Adj_P/G: Points per game, normalized to 2008-09 OHL scoring levels
GP, G, A, PTS: Games played, goals, assists and points in the following NHL season
Player Season P/G Adj_P/G GP G A PTS
Jason Spezza 2001-02 1.98 2.04 33 7 14 21
Jason Allison 1993-94 2.54 1.94 12 2 1 3
Dan Quinn 1983-84 2.48 1.90 74 20 38 58
Eric Lindros 1991-92 2.38 1.83 61 41 34 75
Jeff O'Neill 1994-95 2.18 1.71 65 8 19 27
As we can see, playing regularly for the New York Islanders at age 19 this season would make Tavares quite unique. However, Tavares has already established himself as a very unique player, because even at age 17 he averaged 2.0 points per game. If we normalize to 2008-09 OHL scoring levels, do you know who else accomplished this rare feat? Eric Lindros (2.61 normalized to 2.05) and Jason Spezza (2.07 normalized to 2.03)!
There are only a few players capable of playing at an elite level at a very young age like Spezza and Lindros, and there's no reason to believe that Tavares isn't one of them. Tavares' fellow Mississauga native Jason Spezza was on track for a 50 point season had he not split his time in the AHL in 2001-02, and Eric Lindros' monster season of 1.23 points per game in 1992-93 with the Philadelphia Flyers would still translate to 1.03 points per game (80-85 points) at today's scoring level. If Tavares can fall somewhere between Spezza and Lindros, it should be more than enough to lead both rookies and the Islanders in scoring, and it should mean that he added a sizable net GVT contribution to the team.
It's important to consider the impact rookies can have on the NHL teams fortunate enough to have them on board at the right time, like the New York Islanders. A great rookie can score 50 points or more and provide a significant boost to his team in the standings, like John Tavares, one of the key players to watch this year in the Calder Trophy race.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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