Prospects Rambling – Studying the Development of a Playoff Performer

Hayden Soboleski


Continuing my look at the development of playoff performers in this Sunday Saturday Ramblings…


Last week I took a look at whether age and playoff experience are related to how well a player performs on the playoffs. One outcome I found was that out of the best of the best in this year's post-season, a very high percentage of them had at least two prior playoff appearances. So this raises the question: if prior playoff experience helps great players get even better, what does this development look like? This will be the topic of this week's investigation…


I've made a list of some of the top performing players in this 2016 NHL Playoffs, selecting players who have enough prior experience to provide useful data. I want to observe:

1. What their point progression looks like over years of gaining playoff experience, and

2. Compare these numbers to how many years they've been in the league (ie. does regular season NHL experience also play a factor?)


Here is the data I've tabulated for 13 of the best point producers so far in the  2015-16 cup run:

Year in league Tarasenko Pavelski Kessel Couture Kucherov Crosby Backes Schwartz
1 0.00 0.17   0.27 0.50      
2 0.67 0.69 1.00 0.78 0.85 1.00   0.17
3 1.17 0.17 1.00 0.80 1.12 1.35 0.75 0.50
4 0.75 1.13   1.00   1.29   0.50
5   0.56   0.43   1.46   0.70
6   0.00         0.44  
7   1.09 0.86 1.33   1.33 0.50  
8   0.86 1.00     1.07 0.25  
9           0.69 0.33  
10   1.22       0.80 0.70  
11           0.83    


Year in league Marleau Thornton Johnson Ovechkin Benn
1 0.20 0.00      
2 0.50 0.82 0.50    
3 0.40   0.88 1.29  
4 0.33   1.00 1.50  
5 0.92 1.00   1.43 0.83
6   0.60   1.11 0.77
7 0.71 0.00   0.64  
8       0.29  
9 1.27 0.82      
10 0.55 1.00   0.64  
11 0.62 0.77   1.00  
12 0.50 0.83      
13 0.93 0.80      
14 0.72 0.94      
15 0.00 1.00      
16 0.73 0.91      
17 1.00 0.43      
19 0.67 1.00      


To make that data a little more interpretable – here it is in graph form. I've split the data into two graphs to make things less crammed.


First: Lets look at the beginning of these superstar careers:

There are some incredible things to see here:

First and foremost – growth dominates recession. These are all players with high pedigrees, and they live up to them by continually improving over their first few years making the playoffs. This is a crucial fact to remember when playoff drafting, because it truly looks as if young stars are capable of turning their game up a notch, regardless of of how well they did last year or before that. Dont get caught underestimating a young player because of his age or lack of experience.


Secondly – those aren't measly totals to begin with. Yes, some players start with very low or nil points-per-game stats, but a large portion of them either start at a good pace of get there VERY quickly. In fact, nearly every player on this list reached the 0.5 points-per-game mark by their second appearance in the postseason. Translation: they became must-drafts in playoffs pools even if they had only only previous look and performed below-average in it.


Now, lets look at the entirety of these players' experience (brace yourself):

My apologies for the large amount of data in a small space, but what do we see here?


Once a star, always a star. With a few exceptions (not many considering how many players and years are covered here), these players don't stop or even drastically drop off. After the 5 years in the league mark, there is barely any points below the 0.5 points-per-game threshold (and when a decline is seen, its usually followed by a quick rebound). Considering how long some of these players have been active, that is notable. This data strongly implies that a playoff performer is unlikely to become un-clutch even in old age. So again, dont underestimate players based on age.


Peaks come early. Most players in this study achieved their best playoff totals within their first few yers in the league, often peaking around their 4th post-season appearance. Dont wait for a player to have a long resume before believing – they're giving you their best sooner rather than later. 


Hopefully you learned as much from these numbers as I did, because there is a wealth of knowlege to be found by staring at the graphs above. I can't even begin to go into every possible implication they hold, but needless to say, the biggest output here is that stars will be stars. These are excellent players who most likely would never go undrafted. This is about knowing how to value these players, and to not look like a fool for waiting to long.



How does this apply to the prospects I care about?

Well, if at the end of 2016-17 your team is lucky enough to have a prospect entering the playoffs for their first or second time…get excited. And if the results are underwhelming the first time…dont think that's the end. Elite players are elite becuse of their drive to be better, and the numbers dont lie here – performing in the playoffs is no exception. The great will get greater, so expect big things from some of the league's best young stars who just started showing off in these playoffs. Players I'll be applying this to:

Robby Fabbri (STL)

Artemi Panarin (CHI)

Shane Gostisbehere (PHI)

Joonas Donskoi (SJ)


Expect even bigger and better things in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs from these youngsters…



As always, thank you for reading and best of luck in your summer drafts!

Hayden Soboleski





Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
Colby Barlow 8.0 9.5
Ville Heinola 6.5 8.5
Dylan Coghlan 4.5 7.5
Oskar Magnusson 6.5 4.0
Patrick Guay 7.0 5.0
Brandon Lisowsky 6.5 5.5
Nick Malik 4.5 1.0
Kyle Jackson 6.0 5.0
Viktor Persson 6.0 2.0
Jeremy Langlois 6 5.5