With the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals being played between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers, there are bound to be plenty of storylines. One of them is the impact the 2007 NHL Draft is having on the series, as the two teams picked first and second overall. Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk were selected by the Blackhawks and Flyers respectively, and both are playing in their first Final.
Because they were selected one-two in the draft, plenty of stories are being written about it. From the Flyers perspective, van Riemsdyk has constantly had to deal with comparisons to Kane since the day the Flyers drafted him. While it isn't entirely unfair due to the selections, is it really just a battle between the two of them?
This isn't an apology for van Riemsdyk - not that he needs one - but the comparison really does a disservice to both players. While it's certainly early to get a full grasp on the 2007 draft, it is worth looking at the paths the two players have taken and how they've performed once there compared to other top-10 picks from that year.
Jump to look at the 2007 draft.
There were seven forwards selected in the first ten picks that year, five of whom have played at least 55 games in the NHL. Of those five, both Kane and Sam Gagner (#6 overall) have played over 200 games as they jumped straight to the NHL immediately after being drafted. The other three are van Riemsdyk, Kyle Turris (#3 overall) and Jakub Voracek (#7 overall).
|2009 - James van Riemsdyk||78||15||20||35||-1||30||4||0||6||0||173||8.7|
After being drafted, van Riemsdyk went to the University of New Hampshire for two years. He played a total of 67 games, compiling 28 goals and 74 points.. At the end of his second year he joined the Phantoms for 7 games where he added a goal and an assist. In all, he had 76 points in 74 games since the time he was drafted.
Prior to being drafted, he played 113 games over two years for various levels of the United States National Team Development Program, scoring 64 goals and 59 assists. Just like his performance after being drafted, van Riemsdyk is right around the point-per-game pace at 1.09. (In comparison, Kane had 102 points in 58 games during his final season with the US National Team Development Program in 05-06, good for a 1.76 ppg). At the NHL level, JVR is averaging 0.44 ppg and 2.02 pts/60.
|2009 - Patrick Kane||82||30||58||88||16||20||9||0||6||0||261||11.5|
Prior to being drafted, Kane was already a year ahead of van Riemsdyk. He had two years with the National Team, scoring 172 points (84 goals) in 121 games, good for a 1.42 ppg. The following year he went to the Ontario Hockey League where he scored 145 points in 58 games. With that as the last impression on scouts, it is no wonder he went first overall. He then jumped straight to the NHL where he has three-straight 70 point seasons. For his NHL career, Kane is at 0.94 points per game and 3.02 pts/60.
Drafted immediately after van Riemsdyk was Kyle Turris. You'll notice there are no stats for him because he spent the entire 09-10 season playing for the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL after playing 63 NHL games the year before. But at the time he was drafted, Turris had put up 193 points in 110 games in the Canadian Junior Hockey League, a tier below Major Juniors.
After being drafted, Turris went to the University of Wisconsin where he scored 35 points (11 goals) in 36 games. At the end of his collegiate season, he played 3 games for the Coyotes registering one assist before starting 08-09 in the NHL. His first year didn't go so well, as he only scored 16 points in his first 50 games. After a brief stint in the AHL (7 points in 8 games) he was recalled and added 4 points in the remaining 13 games, all four of which came in one game against the Sharks. So as this season rolled around, Phoenix kept him the AHL where he had a pretty good year, scoring 63 points in 76 games. He has a career 0.32 points per game in the NHL and 1.44 pts/60
|2009 - Sam Gagner||68||15||26||41||-8||33||6||0||1||0||170||8.8|
The only other player selected in the top-10 of the 2007 NHL draft with 200 games played is Sam Gagner. Prior to being drafted, Gagner played in three separate leagues - the OPJHL, USHL, and OHL. He compiled 61 points in 69 games prior to accumulating 118 in 53 games for the London Knights. After that season, the Oilers selected him 6th overall. Like Kane, he jumped straight to the NHL and has stayed there ever since. The main difference, however, is that Gagner has never hit the 50-point plateau or scored more than 16 goals in the NHL. He has a 0.59 points per game ratio in the NHL and a 2.17 pts/60 ratio.
|2009 - Jakub Voracek||81||16||34||50||-7||26||4||0||1||0||154||10.4|
Voracek was drafted 7th overall after only playing 59 games in North America. He scored 86 points in the QMJHL the year before he was drafted and followed that up with a 101 point performance in his first 53 QMJHL games as a Blue Jackets prospect. In 2008-09, Voracek jumped straight from Juniors to the NHL where he chipped in 44 points in 80 games. As you can see above, he scored 50 in 81 games this year. In his NHL career, he's averaging 0.55 ppg and 2.32 pts/60.
Of the five forwards selected in the top-10 of the 2007 NHL entry draft with at least 55 NHL games played, 3 of them had at least one season of Major Junior hockey prior to being drafted - only Kyle Turris and James van Riemsdyk had not. After being drafted, both Turris and van Riemsdyk went to the NCAAs before turning pro. If van Riemsdyk were constantly compared to Turris, he would be looked at a lot more favorably.
Instead, he's being compared to Patrick Kane who is six months older and a year more experienced. The reasons JVR is being compared to Kane are obvious - top two selections who both spent time in the U.S. Development Program - but both Turris and van Riemsdyk have similarities too. They were drafted second and third, both had about 110 games played over two years, both played well in the World Juniors tournament the year they were drafted, and both went on to college instead of Major Juniors. But a good storyline is a good storyline.
As far as all five players combined, it's clear who had the best debut. In terms of first-year NHL production per 60 minutes of ice time:
- Patrick Kane - 2.87 pts/60 (07-08)
- Sam Gagner - 2.37 pts/60 (07-08)
- Jakub Voracek - 2.25 pts/60 (08-09)
- James van Riemsdyk - 2.02 pts/60 (09-10)
- Kyle Turis - 1.47 pts/60 (08-09)
Kane is obviously very, very good. Gagner and Voracek are proving to be very solid picks while Turris is hoping to build off of a solid AHL season going forward. While van Riemsdyk can be looked at as somewhat of a disappointment, it's important to notice a few things.
First, Kane, Gagner, and Voracek spent time playing in Major Juniors prior to being drafted. Turris had only played in a lower tier of Junior Hockey while van Riemsdyk had only played in the Developmental League. Understanding this in the context of the other 1st round picks helps explain why the Flyers' brass were disappointed with his decision to not only go to college, but to stay there for two years. At this point, I have no doubt they were more worried about his development than they were rushing him to the NHL. More on that later, though.
Second, both Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner jumped straight from Canadian Major Juniors to the NHL after being drafted. They put up 2.50 and 2.23 points per game, respectively, in a highly competitive league, so the chances were good that they'd be successful. But besides that path, even Jakub Voracek spent two years playing in the Q, jumping to the NHL after putting up a 1.91 pts/g season. Meanwhile, Turris and van Riemsdyk decided to go to college.
This isn't meant to be an attack on college hockey, but looking at the 2007 draft tends to reinforce what van Riemsdyk said in 2008: "A lot of teams were suggesting I go either major junior or sign right away and maybe play in the American Hockey League, if not, try out and make the big club." It's pretty obvious that NHL clubs want their prospects playing either in the AHL or Major Juniors, even if their GMs push out quotes like the one by Paul Holmgren later in that same story.
This comparison shows me two things about how van Riemsdyk's development has progressed. One, he almost certainly should have started this past season in the AHL. Pretty much everyone agreed, but a lot of people - myself included - thought that he earned a spot on the team with his play in training camp. His season - while not at all a disappointment - just showed that his two years in college were not enough to prepare him for the NHL. The three players who did not attend college all played at least 68 games the year before jumping to the NHL while van Riemsdyk only played 47 (split between UNH and the AHL). For the record, he has now played in 98 games this season.
The other thing this shows is that despite having similar paths to the NHL, van Riemsdyk severely outperformed Kyle Turris' rookie year. Granted, Turris jumped a year earlier, but both players had the same workload prior to being drafted, similar World Juniors stats, and the same post-draft plans. But Turris left college after one year and went straight to the NHL where he simply was not prepared. Prior to this season, van Riemsdyk had never played more than 62 games in a season (05-06, split between U.S. under-17, U.S. under-18, and U.S. NAHL) and had played in only 67 games the past two years combined. Despite more than doubling his workload from the previous year, van Riemsdyk has recorded decent numbers this season and is still scoring in the 98th game of his season.
For these reasons, it's not fair to Patrick Kane or James van Riemsdyk that the two are compared to one another. Kane is in his own category, while van Riemsdyk (while thoroughly beating Turris up to now) is better served being compared to the other four players mentioned. As evidenced by Turris, the jump from NCAA hockey to the NHL is not an easy one, yet van Riemsdyk is more than holding his own. But he still needs to get better.