Every year, a handful of of the top forwards selected in the summer’s NHL Entry Draft make the jump to a significant role with the team that selected them. It’s rarer, however, to see a defenceman make that leap, as Cam Fowler has this past season (Fowler has been making strides at the NHL level too – after recording just three points in his first 10 games, he has eight in his last nine).
I wondered how long it took the average highly-touted defensive prospect to make the jump to being a top four defenceman, so I went back over the last 10 drafts to see.
I looked at every defenceman taken in the top 10 spots in the draft, and counted the years it took for them to be playing top-four even-strength minutes for their hockey club. This chart shows what I found:
|Player||Drafted||Top-Four EV Minutes|
|Rostislav Klesla||4th, 2000||2nd season after being drafted|
|Lars Jonsson||7th, 2000|
|Mike Komisarek||7th, 2001||6th season after being drafted|
|Jay Bouwmeester||3rd, 2002||2nd season after being drafted|
|Joni Pitkanen||4th, 2002||4th season after being drafted|
|Ryan Whitney||5th, 2002||4th season after being drafted|
|Ryan Suter||7th, 2003||6th season after being drafted|
|Braydon Coburn||8th, 2003||5th season after being drafted|
|Dion Phaneuf||9th, 2003||3rd season after being drafted|
|Cam Barker||3rd, 2004|
|Ladislav Smid||9th, 2004||6th season after being drafted|
|Boris Valabik||10th, 2004|
|Jack Johnson||3rd, 2005||3rd season after being drafted|
|Brian Lee||9th, 2005|
|Erik Johnson||1st, 2006||4th season after being drafted|
|Thomas Hickey||4th, 2007|
|Karl Alzner||5th, 2007||4th season after being drafted|
|Keaton Ellerby||10th, 2007|
|Drew Doughty||2nd, 2008||Immediately|
|Zach Bogosian||3rd, 2008||2nd season after being drafted|
|Alex Pietrangelo||4th, 2008||3rd season after being drafted|
|Luke Schenn||5th, 2008||Immediately|
|Victor Hedman||2nd, 2009||Immediately|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||6th, 2009|
|Jared Cowen||9th, 2009|
The chart shows that just three of the 25 defenceman selected (12%) made the jump to top-four minutes the year after being drafted. All three were top-five selections, but even so they represented just 21% of the selections made in the top-five. The average top-five selection takes between three and four seasons of development before they’re ready to step into a top-four role on an NHL team.
That means that for teams looking to rebuild their blue-line, unless they luck out with a player like Drew Doughty, it will take between three or four years before their lottery selection is ready to make a real impact on their club.
And while Fowler has had some struggles, it also suggest that all those folks who let him slide out of the top-10 at this past summer’s Entry Draft probably had it wrong.