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A comparison of recent rookie seasons from the top two picks

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How do the current #1 and #2 overall picks stack up to their compatriots from the 2017 draft?

New York Rangers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

With the Flyers doing the rounds of the Metropolitan Division of late, they’ll be seeing (and have already seen) a lot of both the New Jersey Devils and the New York train-station...I mean Rangers. Both of these teams were heavily discussed in the run-up to the start of the season, pegged as “winning” the offseason. Safe to say that offseaon success hasn’t quite worked out for them, right?

A unifying factor for these franchises was an expectation placed upon their recent draft picks to make an impact immediately. For the 2019 #1 overall pick, Jack Hughes of the Devils, and #2 overall pick Kappo Kakko of the Rangers, their seasons have been okay by rookie standards, but they have certainly been outshone by others (Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, and Dominik Kubalik to name a few).

In the wake of this weekend’s series against Kakko and his Rangers, it might be interesting to analyze and compare the outputs of Kakko and Hughes to in relation to two forwards who were in their position just a few years ago, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

To start, let’s take a look at the numbers for these four players thus far:

Rookie performance

Player Games Played Goals Assists Points Corsi-For % (5-on-5) Fenwick-For % (5-on-5)
Player Games Played Goals Assists Points Corsi-For % (5-on-5) Fenwick-For % (5-on-5)
Nolan Patrick 73 13 17 30 49.02 49.41
Nico Hischier 82 20 32 52 49.79 49.57
Jack Hughes 57 7 14 21 46.14 46.28
Kappo Kakko 61 8 12 20 43.41 42.16

At first glance, even taking the totals aside, it is interesting how similar the narrative was around the 2017 and 2019 drafts in relation to performance output. If you can recall much of the chatter before these two drafts, there existed a mindset that both:

A. Either player who went #1 or #2 in both 2017 and 2019 could have been flipped, and one team would end up “stealing” the better player.

B. The top two picks from 2017 and 2019 would make an immediate, relatively substantial impact.

All four of the players talked about here have the potential to be amazing, however it was never as if they were all immediately at a Connor McDavid-level of play. That only comes around every rare once in a while, so expecting a point-per-game performance out of any one of these guys from the outset was never a realistic viewpoint.

The biggest standout, numbers-wise, is how none of these players have positively driven play. In their rookie seasons, both Patrick and Hischier nearly broke even at 5-on-5, but both Kakko and Hughes have been significant drags on possession. Kakko’s recent line-mates have been Filip Chytil and Brett Howden, who rank 128 and 144 respectively at their positions according to Corsica Hockey. Kakko however has also played on a line with Artemi Panarin, yet saw no spike in results to individual totals. Hughes, comparatively, has played with the aforementioned Nico Hischier (ranked at 52 C) and Kyle Palmeiri (ranked at 39 RW), yet himself is only the 108th best LW. Hughes’ point totals aren’t terrible for a rookie, but his output dropped significantly after the Devils traded Taylor Hall to the Coyotes. Coincidence? Possibly, but probably not.

Out of all the players mentioned, Hischier has had the best rookie season of the bunch from a points perspective, scoring 52 in 82 games. Had he played in all 82 games, Nolan Patrick was on pace for 33.70 points, with Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko on pace for 30.75 and 27.33 points respectively in a complete 82 game season. While line-mates and ice time make points comparisons relatively moot, the fact that Hischier set the pace by a relatively large margin leads me to declare him the victor if this were a competition. Yet, to touch on the whole “line-mates” thing, he did play an awful lot with Taylor Hall, and you may have noticed that playing with good players tends to make you better, especially on the stat sheet.

In conclusion, both Patrick and Hischier had better rookie seasons than Kakko and Hughes have enjoyed so far, which begs the question: why the latter pair were seemingly hyped more than the former? Hard to answer that question definitively, but it’s something to think about.