Every year at the NHL Entry Draft, NHL teams are always looking to find the hidden gems. Of course, they are also trying to grab the marquis players like Alexis Lafrenière, Quinton Byfield, Lucas Raymond, Tim Stützle and Jamie Drysdale, but teams are also looking for the diamond in the rough. Plenty of exceptional hockey players have been selected in the later rounds. Anders Lee of the New York Islanders, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, former Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, former Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk, former Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson, former Vancouver Canucks forward Pavel Bure and former Washington Capitals forward Peter Bondra were all taken in the later rounds.
So, every single year, each NHL team has their scouts zoned in on creating a list of prospects who might not appear to be a star on paper but have plenty of upside. With that being said, I decided to take a look at several drafted prospects (a decent percentage were drafted in the later rounds) to see how they have developed over time. The goal is to identify the most improved prospects.
In preparation to write this post, I spent quite a bit of time looking at several drafted prospects who have significantly improved their pNHLe (NHL point equivalency) this season. I skimmed many profiles on Mason Black’s NHL Rank King application and I managed to come up with a list of 40 prospects who had improved their pNHLe.
Once I put together the list of the 40 prospects, I began to look at their pNHLe from the 2019-2020 season and their pNHLe from the 2018-2019 season. After both pNHLe values were identified, I calculated the Year Over Year Growth of pNHLe. While that would give me a list of prospects who have improved over the last season, I wanted to see how prospects have improved over time (not just from the 2018-2019 season to the 2019-2020 season). With that being said, I decided to add an additional column that showed each prospect’s pNHLe from their first season that Black had pNHLe values for them. After those pNHLe values were added to the spreadsheet, I then calculated an Average Year Over Year Growth in pNHLe.
Now that I have gone over the mathematics piece, I want to explain that age was also important to weigh in when coming up with a list of the most improved prospects. When you are looking at prospect development, if a prospect improves drastically at a younger age it has more cache or value then a prospect who is on the older end of the spectrum.
Since you now have an understanding of how I came up with the data-set, we can now explore which prospects are in the top ten for most improved.
TOP TEN PROSPECTS
In the below chart, you can check out the top ten most improved prospects, their pNHLe values (2019-2020, 2018-2019 and from their first season tracked), Year Over Year Growth and Average Year Over Year Growth.
(Click on the picture to see it larger)
As you can see from the chart, Jan Jenik of the Arizona Coyotes is the most improved prospect. The Nymburg, Czech Republic native was selected 65th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Jenik was born on the 2018 NHL Entry Draft cut-off date, which means that had Jenik been born on September 16th, he would not have been eligible for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. In addition, Jenik has been playing in the Czech Republic for his draft year. The Czech Republic leagues are often difficult to scout and determine prospect’s potential given that the competition level is far different than other European leagues like Liiga, SHL, Jr. A SM-liiga, MESTIS, SuperElit, MHL and etcetera. After being drafted, Jenik continued to play in the Czech Republic but decided to come to North America mid-year. He joined the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and began to shine. Last season in Hamilton, he posted a 52.8 pNHLe. But, this season, Jenik really took off and posted an 87.8 pNHLe, which means that his Year Over Year Growth In pNHLe was 35.
Similar to Jenik, Nick Robertson (ranked #8) of the Toronto Maple Leafs was in a similar boat, given that he had a late birthday (September 11th). But, Robertson had already established himself as an offensive producer in the OHL during the 2018-2019 campaign, so it was a challenge to rank Robertson higher than Jenik. Yet, Robertson still had a nice Year Over Year Growth of 25.1.
Aside from Jenik and Robertson, Connor McMichael (ranked #2) of the Washington Capitals put on a clinic this season with the London Knights. There seemed to be a lot of doubters on his potential in his draft year, but McMichael has proved them wrong. After another season or two, McMichael could be centering the Capitals third line in Washington. But, McMichael is not the only Capitals prospect who has garnered quite a bit of attention. In the Western Hockey League, Alexei Protas (ranked #7) has become one of the most prolific scorers for the Prince Albert Raiders.
David Farrance (ranked #3) of the Nashville Predators and Nils Lundkvist (ranked #4) of the New York Rangers had massive increases from a Year Over Year Growth perspective. Farrance’s pNHLe rose by 45.3 and Lundkvist’s pNHL rose by 40.4. With those massive increases, it was hard to keep them out of the top ten.
Tyce Thompson (ranked #5) of the New Jersey Devils and Jack Dugan (ranked #9) of the Vegas Golden Knights went on a tear this season at Providence College. In Thompson’s case, the former Dubuque Fighting Saints forward has become a collegiate superstar, which seemed unfathomable given his shaky first season tracked. With Dugan, the former Chicago Steel left-winger seems to gradually improve each and every season at a rate of 14 pNHLe.
Nicholas Abruzzese (ranked #6) of the Toronto Maple Leafs is coming off of an outstanding freshman campaign at Harvard University. Abruzzese was an overager at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (20 years old on draft night) and blossomed right out of the gate for the Crimson. Abruzzese was a late-bloomer, who truly began to shine in his 2018-2019 campaign with the Chicago Steel.
Last but not least is Philip Tomasino (ranked #10) of the Nashville Predators. He didn’t grow too much this past season in terms of pNHLe, but if you look back at his numbers from 2017-2018, the centerman has improved immensely. He owns an Average Year Over Year Growth of 14.96.
A few of these prospects still have a decent road ahead before joining the NHL ranks, but it is great to see them improving at such a rapid rate. It might not be long before you hear of these prospects taking the ice for their NHL debut and fighting for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Sadly, this is my last prospect ramblings for DobberProspects. I have made the decision to go back to school and earn my MBA. I want to thank Cam Robinson, Jokke Nevalainen, Darryl Dobbs, Peter Harling, Tony Ferrari, Joel Henderson, Mason Black and Pat Quinn for their support. If you would like to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @JoshTessler_