Can You Predict NHL Success From +1 Season Data?


We’ve heard a lot about draft year scoring and how it predicts NHL performance – but that’s not where a prospect’s pre-NHL development usually ends. So the question is, do subsequent seasons such as a player’s performance in his draft+1 year help forecast future NHL success or failure?

To investigate, I took 5 drafts worth of first round forwards from 2004-2008 and separated them into tiers (Replacement, NHLer, Elite) based on my subjective view of the player’s quality. We’ll only focus on guys who didn’t turn pro for the purposes of this study since guys who turn pro in their draft +1 season can see a drastic change in their circumstances and usage, suppressing their output.

What I’m really interested is if a massive step forward in the draft+1 season is predictive of future success in the NHL (and/or, if running in place or stepping back suggests future failure). For the purposes of this, I’m considering a big improvement to be equal to an NHLE increase of 10 or above.

The Data

 Replacement Player  DY NHLE +1 NHLE Delta NHL Results
Rob Schremp 29.3 35.7 +6.4 114GP, 54P
Kris Chucko 18.8 16.4 -2.4 2GP, 0P
Lukas Kaspar 9.8 21.3 +11.5 16GP, 4P
Petteri Nokelainen 8.9 17.0 +8.1 245GP, 41P
Lauri Tukonen 7.6 10.3 +2.7 5GP, 0P
Alexandre Picard 28.5 32.2 +3.7 67GP, 2P
Kenndal McArdle 26.0 24.3 -1.7 42GP, 3P
Alex Bourret  32.6 41.9 +9.3 0GP, 0P
Ryan O’Marra 24.2 31.1 +6.9 33GP, 7P 
Marek Zagrapan 34.2 36.3 +2.1  0GP, 0P
Jack Skille 17.4* 17.6 +0.2 178GP, 49P
Trevor Lewis 27.5 29.0 +1.5 203GP, 37P
James Sheppard  31.3 42.2 +10.9 256GP, 53P
Jim O’Brien 11.7 19.3 +7.6 63GP, 12P
Patrick White 15.4 7.5 -7.9 0GP, 0P
Riley Nash 20.0 29.9 +9.9 37GP, 10P
Angelo Esposito 32.4 30.3 -2.1 0GP, 0P
Logan MacMillan 19.9 21.9 +2.0 0GP, 0P
Colton Gillies 11.4 19.9 +8.5  154GP, 18P
Zach Hamill 33.2 27.5 -5.7 20GP, 4P
Daultan Leveillé 7.1** 15.0 +7.9 0GP, 0P
Greg Nemisz 24.2 29.1 +4.9 15GP, 1P 
Mattias Tedenby 10.9 7.3  -3.6 105GP, 29P
Anton Gustafsson 12.7 11.8 -0.9 0GP, 0P 
Joe Colborne 21.5 26.1 +4.6 16GP, 6P
Zach Boychuk 29.0  32.6 +3.6  85GP, 20P
Kyle Beach 24.6 24.6  0 0GP, 0P
Nikita Filatov 15.1 29.6 +14.5 53GP, 14P

*.20 Estimate for NAHL.

**.07 Estimate for the GOPHL. 

***.09 Estimate for Russia-3.

 NHL Players DY NHLE +1 NHLE Delta NHL Results
Wojtek Wolski 26.1 26.8 +0.7 451GP, 267P
Travis Zajac 21.8 28.1 +6.3 471GP, 275P
Lauri Korpikoski 13.7 6.5 -7.2 336GP, 113P
Kyle Chipchura 18.5 28.1 +9.6 262GP, 58P
Alexander Radulov 12.7 28.4  +15.7 154GP, 102P
Drew Stafford 29.9 29.4 -0.5 443GP, 264P
Rostislav Olesz  20.8 16.8 -4.0 355GP, 132P
Blake Wheeler 18.9 16.6 -2.3 372GP, 232P
Steve Downie 29.4 37.3 +7.9 274GP, 138P
Andrew Cogliano 22.2 24.1 +1.9 458GP, 195P
Nicklas Bergfors 2.7 22.2 +19.5 173GP, 83P
Martin Hanzal 15.6**** 20.5 +4.9 391GP, 182P
Devin Setoguchi 22.8 31.4 +8.6 384GP, 222P
Gilbert Brule 30.6 34.6 +4.0 296GP, 95P
Benoit Pouliot 23.9 31.4 +7.5 291GP, 124P
Nick Foligino  26.5 32.8 +6.3 396GP, 167P 
Patrik Bergulnd 5.6 40.5 +34.9 358GP, 188P
Chris Stewart  34.5  33.1 -1.4  319GP, 202P
Michael Grabner 18.4 24.6 +6.2 219GP, 116P 
Jiri Tlusty 8.4 22.6  +14.2 276GP, 112P
Bryan Little 41.9 46.2  +4.3 404GP, 227P
Michael Frolik 6.9 34.5 +27.6 349GP, 151P
Peter Mueller 27.4 37.6 +10.2 297GP, 160P
Kyle Okposo 23.8 33.6 +9.8 319GP, 185P
Derick Brassard 49.2 43.8 -5.4 322GP, 180P
Mikael Backlund 4.9 10.4 +5.5 170GP, 62P
Max Pacioretty 21.5 35.4 +13.9 246GP, 153P
Alexei Chereponov 40.0 39.4 -0.6 0GP, 0P
Lars Eller 18.5 12.4 -6.1 209GP, 77P
Brandon Sutter  19.7 20.4 +0.7 334GP, 126P 
Jakub Voracek 35.9 46.9 +11.0 367GP, 229P
Kyle Turris 30.0  32.7 +2.7 234GP, 104P
James Van Riemsdyk 34.2 36.9 +2.7 244GP, 131P
Tyler Ennis 32.0 34.3 +2.3  187GP, 123P
Jordan Eberle 26.4  29.8 +3.4 195GP, 156P
Cody Hodgson 30.8 42.7  +11.9 139GP, 77P 
Colin Wilson 31.8 43.0 +11.2  210GP, 103P

****.16 translation to Czech-2, which is an estimate based on Bruce Peter’s recent work.

 Elite Players DY NHLE +1 NHLE Delta NHL Results
Andrew Ladd 26.0 17.0 -9.0 532GP, 304P
Evgeni Malkin 18.8 32.8 +14.0 458GP, 560P
Alex Ovechkin 23.1 38.9 +15.8 601GP, 735P 
TJ Oshie 9.3 34.4  +25.1 292GP, 195P
Anze Kopitar 21.4 28.3 +6.9 522GP, 476P
Bobby Ryan 35.3 39.6 +4.3 378GP, 289P
Claude Giroux 36.7 43.7 +7.0 333GP, 290P
Nicklas Backstrom 32.9  51.8 +18.9 413GP, 415P
Jonathan Toews 31.2 45.5 +14.3 408GP, 372P
Logan Couture 35.5 28.0  -7.5 232GP, 167P

Observations and Discussion

  • Players that took a big step forward: Lukas Kaspar, James Sheppard, Nikita Filatov, Alexander Radulov, Nicklas Bergfors, Patrik Bergulnd, Jiri Tlusty, Michael Frolik, Peter Mueller, Max Pacioretty, Jakub Voracek, Cody Hodgson, Colin Wilson, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, and Jonathan Toews.
  • Breakdown: 17% replacement, 56% NHLer, 27% elite.
  • Players that took a step back/ran in place: Kris Chucko, Kenndal McArdle, Patrick White, Angelo Esposito, Zach Hamill, Mattias Tedenby, Anton Gustafsson, Jack Skille, Kyle Beach, Wojtek Wolski, Brandon Sutter, Lauri Korpikoski, Drew Stafford, Rostislav Olesz, Blake Wheeler, Chris Stewart, Derick Brassard, Alexei Chereponov, Lars Eller, Andrew Ladd, and Logan Couture.
  • Breakdown: 43% replacement, 47% NHLer, 10% elite.
  • 28 Replacement-level players – 11% took a generous step forward, 57% saw a mild improvement, 32% took a step backwards or ran in place. The average NHLE delta was +3.6.
  • 37 NHLers – 27% made a big improvement in their draft+1 year, 46% saw an improvement, 27% took a step backwards or ran in place. The average NHLE delta was +6.4.
  • 10 Elite-level players – 50% took a massive step forward, 30% saw an improvement, 20% took a step backwards or ran in place. The average NHLE delta was +9.0.
  • It seems that the better the group of players, the greater the chance of a significant improvement in their draft+1 year or an overall improvement. This seems like an intuitive result and  the preceding initial investigation seems to support it. The percentages above also suggest something we were looking to get an answer for: if a player takes a big step forward, he’s more likely to join the group of elite players down the line than he is to join the group of replacements.
  • Of course, it’s important to keep context in mind. It’s somewhat misleading to look at the elite chart and see that only 5 of the 10 guys are over what is usually deemed to be the cutoff line for elite players in their +1 year (NHLE of 35). Kopitar, Ovechkin and Malkin all played in men’s leagues and TJ Oshie only played 11 games in the USHL in his draft year due to injury. Andrew Ladd is really the only player who played in a developmental league and didn’t reach 35.
  • There were only 7 players who scored over 35 in their draft year – Bryan Little, Derrick Brassard, Alexei Chereponov, Jakub Voracek, Bobby Ryan, Claude Giroux and Logan Couture. All of those players are first liners with the exception of Chereponov, whose NHL ceiling we will unfortunately never know.


Taking a step back in a +1 year might not mean a given player is significantly less likely to make the NHL, but it does suggest that he is a lot less likely to be elite and/or will probably be replacement level.

To me, it seems there is enough evidence to suggest that the bigger the step forward, the better chance a player has to join elite company. There also seems to be a correlation between an increase in NHLE in a player’s +1 year and the quality of the player overall. Of course, there are exceptions, but if you’re drafting players and expecting exceptions you’re probably doing something wrong.

A more through investigation with a bigger sample of players which calculates the correlation of their production at junior/college/lower leagues to their NHL production is the next step.

Unrelated Nations Business

You may have noticed a video player on the right rail of most of our sites. It’s a little app provided to us by our partners over at the SportingNews. It’s tailored to show general NHL news and highlights and you can browse through the content at the bottom of the window there.

This is just a trial run of the service. During the season, SNEWS is going to give an embeddable player which Nations writers can use to add stuff like press conferences and game highlights right into specific posts.

Give it a try and let us know what you think. If the trial phase works out, we’re hoping to start putting useful video content into as many posts as possible.

– KW

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    It will be fun wathcing our three 1st round picks this next year to see what happens with their + 1 seasons.

    I think Flames fans have had enough bad luck in drafting for the hockey gods to finally smile upon us. C’mon hockey gods… Poirer to lead QMJHL in scoring, Klimchuk to lead WHL and Monahan to lead CHL in scoring…. it could happen… right… sigh.

  • 24% body fat

    Some very interesting stuff here. I’m doing some of my own tracking and modelling of prospect data, so it should be interesting to see how it aligns with this assessment.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    JA , really interesting stuff here. There looks to be a very high correlation between a Draft+1 steps forward and NHL success, and a negative correlation when a player takes a step back.

    Angelo Esposito is very intriguing in that he had one of the highest NHLE on the lists in his draft year, and while he put up a decent NHLE in his Draft+1 year, he still took a step back. How much rope do you give a big scorer?
    You can’t be too quick to judge after a single season, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on the Flames prospects, with this information in mind.

    Now if KEENAN KANZIG puts up 6 points and a +4 NHLE delta, does that make him a bonified future star?

    • ChinookArchYYC

      “Now if KEENAN KANZIG puts up 6 points and a +4 NHLE delta, does that make him a bonified future star?”

      I think we all know the answer to that is “Of course”

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Nice work. Supports the belief that comparable work on prospects is relevant. The relationship is somewhat weak but still provides a good 12 month review for those drafting the talent.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    The results are very interesting as they tend to prove a correlation between two things that were only speculative before.
    Your next analysis should concentrate on the correlation between before-DY and DY… Because its easy to say that a player with good numbers and good improvement the first year has a better chance to join the elite group… What we want to know is HOW can we predict if the player is going to have those good numbers in DY or not. (Maybe by comparing historical stats between different leagues and their results in DY)