He’s had a significant amount of expectations placed on him for many reasons – being the team’s “best” first round draft pick in a decade, his 5-game call up, the 2PPG draft+1 season, etc.
But there’s an increasing amount of concerns for the 2011 draftee coming from fans and management alike. Should we be worried?
There seems to be three big problems with Baertschi: first, his injury problems. People love to throw around the term “injury-prone” without basis in reality, and I believe this is one of those cases. Since being drafted in 2011, these are his injuries:
- Neck Injury
- Hip Flexor Strain
- “Lower Body Injury”
So, a muscle strain and two dirty hits (especially the one he suffered last year while with the Heat) makes Sven Baertschi injury-prone. I find that asinine. Hip flexor strains happen to everyone and concussions/neck injuries are very rarely the fault of the player who sustains them. Certainly, there’s an understanding about how one concussion leaves you vulnerable to more going forward but every player in the NHL has that to worry about.
To me, the above list doesn’t really make me think that you have to view his time missed in an overly negative light. I’m thinking the tag “injury-prone” is mostly because of his size and how people equate that with toughness/health in the NHL more than anything.
The second issue is that some, most notably Brian Burke, are disappointed with his defensive play. As everyone knows, the best defense usually includes a significant amount of offence – and no, I don’t mean points. Producing shots (or, rather, possessing the puck) makes it easier to prevent goals – and Baertschi’s positive Corsi Rel suggests that the team prevents goals better when he’s on the ice rather than when he’s off it.
In terms of traditional “defending”, sure, maybe he doesn’t hit or block shots and sometimes during the preseason he got lost in the defensive zone. But he’s playing against the best players in the world as a 20-year old and basing a player’s defensive quality in preseason games seems like it would be difficult for a number of reasons (sample size, quality of opponents and teammates, adaptation to new situations).
Lastly, his scoring pace seems to be lacking to some. Let’s take a look at his comparables for his 20 year old season (i.e., last year).
First, his draft comparables – forwards picked within +/-10 spots of Baertschi who played in the CHL and scored within .1PPG since 2007. This is to find out what players with Baertschi’s pedigree did in their 20 year old season.
|DY NHLE||20 NHLE|
Not only does Baertschi do better than the average in his draft season (despite the fact that 6 of the 8 players listed were top-10 picks), he had the best 20 year old season of any of his comparables. That doesn’t exactly scream “worry!” to me.
Second, his NHL comparables – these are guys who have all of the above qualifications, except instead of Draft Year CHL PPG we’ll use 20YO NHL PPG.
Baertschi is a little below average here but 8 out of 12 of these guys are or will be first liners in the NHL, so that’s not much to be worried about.
Regardless, once again, Baertschi is right where his peers are and were.
In short, no need to worry. He’s only 20 (21 this weekend) and here’s a list of players who have scored better at the NHL level in their 20-year old seasons. That, along with what’s above, tells me that he’s right on track. Hell, he might even be a little ahead without considering his lateish birthday.
Baertschi is basically in the same boat as most blue-chip prospects: significant offensive skills that have peeked through, a harsh adjustment to the defensive realities of the game and questions about being physically NHL-ready. Every blue-chipper has been described that way at some point and all blue-chippers to come will be described that way.
I think there are two main thought processes for most people when it comes to forward prospects: there’s the “if the guy hasn’t scored or doesn’t score well, he’s generally a project and deserves a couple years at a lower level to figure it out” type of thinking and the “if the guy has and does score well he should be able to translate that into NHL-level scoring because all of these other first rounders did it'” type. Both reek with confirmation bias among other things but neither are correct. Baertschi has rough edges that need smoothing, but so does every other youngster in the game, to one degree or another.
Be patient with this guy, Flames fans.