Prospect Ramblings: East vs West rookie stats

by Hayden Soboleski on August 11, 2019

 

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In November 2018, I took a look at the (then) recent trend of rookies making their teams out of camp. I found (at the time) that in the two previous seasons, there were more rookies on average per team in the Eastern Conference than in the West. I also found that as of November 2018-19, that gap was projected to no longer be present. Granted, it was early in the season with lots of time for change, injuries, and bad decision-making (this is blatant foreshadowing) so… I’d better revisit and see how that turned out. 

 

My threshold in the previous article for a rookie to count as “making the team” was playing 30 games out of the season. I’ll use that again to keep things consistent; it seems to me like a fair enough way to separate the injury call-ups from the real foot-in-the-door opportunities. Here are the average numbers of rookies per team over the last few campaigns (I went back slightly further this time thanks to NHL.com stats providing a reasonably easy way to find this data):

 

Eastern Conference:

2015-16: 2.13

2016-17: 2.88

2017-18: 2.56

2018-19: 2.50

 

Western Conference:

2015-16: 2.57

2016-17: 2.50

2017-18: 2.20

2018-19: 2.07

 

We can see a few patterns here:

  • The early forecast I made in November 2018 (anticipating an even number in each conference) was extremely wrong. The number of rookies to hit 30 games was far higher in the East than the West. Keep this in mind at the start of the year, when you are deciding who you think is going to stick and who will be sent back to Junior.

 

  • For the last 3 years, the number of rookies per team has been higher in the east. The edge is slightly 0.4 rookies per team, which totals to roughly 6 more newbies hitting 30 games in the East than the West. That’s a sizable number, and that edge has been fairly consistent from 2016 – present. I know who’d I’d bet on to see ice time if I was comparing hopeful fringe prospects in their respective conferences.

 

  • Speaking of consistency, the rookie count per team in the West has been in decline for 4 straight years. Surely a bounceback will happen eventually, but this isn’t a good trend to bank on if you have young players you need to impact your fantasy lineups.

 

  • This isn’t just a pattern in the West – despite being higher numbers than their counterparts, the totals in the East have also been trending down for 3 years now. It seems that there just aren’t as many roster spots available out of camp as their used to be. GMs act on their improvement plans early in the off-season, and the league is much deeper with talent than it ever has been before which means more veterans on PTOs and cheap deals that would usually be reserved for kids still on their ELCs.

 

My #1 takeaway from this – don’t go penciling in prospects for the NHL just because they’ve looked good enough in junior or the minors. We can all see the quality of young players increasing each year, but the actual number jumping to the big league is in decline. Obviously you don’t have to worry about Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko, but if you’re on the fence about a guy who’s been productive for your farm team and you think has “earned a chance” – make sure he’s actually in a position to succeed, because the odds seem to be getting worse.

 

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Hayden Soboleski

@soboleskih