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A look at Joel Farabee’s rookie season comparables

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Joel Farabee’s first (regular) season in the NHL is now over. Who has had rookie seasons like the one he just did, and how did they turn out?

Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The final goal of the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2019-20 regular season was the result of a dogged effort by 20-year-old winger Joel Farabee. The Flyers’ 2018 first-round pick skated down into the Buffalo Sabres’ zone attached to the hip with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who slid the puck over towards his own goalie’s crease. Before Carter Hutton could really get a hold of it, Farabee corralled the puck off of Hutton’s pad and smacked it through the goalie’s five-hole, icing a 3-1 win for the Flyers.

The play was one in line with what we’d come to expect from Farabee in the NHL this season. The young winger has shown a lot of poise and has been a good well-rounded player in his first go-round in the NHL, and though he didn’t have a spot bolted down the whole year — he didn’t make the team out of camp after Alain Vigneault infamously said it would “be a surprise” if Farabee didn’t make it, and was sent down to the minors for a few games after the Flyers added forward depth at the trade deadline — he’s shown enough to suggest that he’s a keeper at the NHL level.

But what can we gather from Farabee’s first 50 games? Who’s had rookie seasons like his, and what have those guys ended up doing in the NHL?

Fortunately, we can try to answer that question. With some help from Evolving-Hockey’s skater tables, we can look at the 66 forwards since the 2010-11 season who had their rookie season in the NHL at age 19 (in their draft + 2 season) and played in at least 40 games in that season. From there, I took a look at seven statistical rate categories that I very arbitrarily selected and tried to find the players whose rookie-year numbers in those categories most closely matched up with Farabee’s.

By way of a combination of some math and some eyeballing, I ended up with the following 11 comparables for Farabee, and you can see their rookie season numbers here (the below table is sortable):

Joel Farabee Rookie Year (Age-19) Comparables

Player Rookie Season ATOI Points per Game xG Differential Per 60 Penalty Differential per 60 Points per 60 (5v5) Individual xG Per 60 (5v5) xG Diff Per 60 (Relative)
Player Rookie Season ATOI Points per Game xG Differential Per 60 Penalty Differential per 60 Points per 60 (5v5) Individual xG Per 60 (5v5) xG Diff Per 60 (Relative)
Alex Debrincat 2017-18 14.8 0.63 -0.11 0.44 2.08 0.74 0
Anthony Beauvillier 2016-17 13.02 0.36 -0.67 0.07 1.69 0.59 -0.51
Bo Horvat 2014-15 12.26 0.37 -0.43 -0.07 1.69 0.78 -0.15
Devante Smith-Pelly 2011-12 12.04 0.27 -0.58 -0.1 1.23 0.61 -0.29
Jonathan Drouin 2014-15 13.24 0.46 0.53 -0.06 1.95 0.36 0.2
Marcus Johansson 2010-11 14.72 0.39 -0.24 0.94 1.51 0.56 -0.37
Pavel Zacha 2016-17 14.31 0.34 -0.38 0.48 0.82 0.43 -0.19
Robby Fabbri 2015-16 13.32 0.51 0.16 0.44 1.87 0.75 -0.04
Robert Thomas 2018-19 13.07 0.47 0.51 -0.13 1.75 0.48 0.16
Sam Bennett 2015-16 15.14 0.47 -0.05 0.67 1.67 0.66 0.05
Travis Konecny 2016-17 14.09 0.4 -0.28 0.79 1.55 0.67 -0.18
Joel Farabee 2019-20 14.11 0.4 -0.19 -0.16 1.73 0.73 -0.29

That’s a list of names you may recognize, probably because most players who end up in the NHL at age 19 tend to be fairly high draft picks that have made a name for themselves. Of the 12 names in that table, 10 were first-round picks (and Alex Debrincat sure as hell should have been one). Somewhat ironically, the player on this list whose statistical profile is closest to Farabee’s is almost certainly teammate Travis Konecny; outside of penalty differential, the two had damn near identical rookie seasons.

Still, the quality of outcomes from this list here does vary. Pretty much everyone on this list has established themselves as a solid NHL contributor, and at this point it’d be surprising if Farabee wasn’t that. Nonetheless, there’s space between the guys who have become stars and the guys who have settled in as role players. (It’s also fair to note that many of these players are still pretty young and developing as NHLers.)

So let’s look at that list a little closer. If we take the 11 comparables we’ve come up with for Farabee and look at what they did in their next three NHL seasons (or fewer, if looking at players who haven’t yet played four full NHL seasons), we get the following:

Joel Farabee Comparables: Seasons 2-4

Player ATOI Points per Game xG Differential Per 60 Points per 60 (5v5) Individual xG Per 60 (5v5) xG Diff Per 60 (Relative)
Player ATOI Points per Game xG Differential Per 60 Points per 60 (5v5) Individual xG Per 60 (5v5) xG Diff Per 60 (Relative)
Alex Debrincat 17.61 0.80 -0.33 2.06 1.30 0.07
Anthony Beauvillier 15.41 0.47 0.04 1.61 1.09 0.11
Bo Horvat 18.08 0.60 -0.24 1.70 1.15 0.19
Devante Smith-Pelly 13.59 0.30 -0.28 1.25 0.62 -0.35
Jonathan Drouin 17.26 0.64 -0.16 1.40 0.81 -0.23
Marcus Johansson 17.07 0.58 -0.29 1.65 0.64 -0.17
Pavel Zacha 15.54 0.42 -0.44 1.29 0.85 -0.27
Robby Fabbri 14.47 0.42 -0.19 1.47 0.82 -0.40
Robert Thomas 14.56 0.64 0.18 2.45 0.69 0.08
Sam Bennett 14.26 0.34 0.05 1.38 1.00 -0.03
Travis Konecny 15.58 0.69 0.08 2.22 1.10 0.06
Average 15.77 0.54 -0.14 1.68 0.92 -0.09

This shows the full variety of what kinds of outcomes we could get from Farabee going forward. At the lower end, you have guys like Devante Smith-Pelly, Sam Bennett, and Pavel Zacha — players who have become NHL contributors but aren’t guys you’re going to write home about. At the high end, you have the likes of Debrincat, Konecny, Jonathan Drouin, and Bo Horvat — not superstars, but players whose development track and outcomes you would absolutely take if you were trying to project out Farabee’s next few years. And, if you look at who most frequently hovers around the average of all of these players, you see someone like Marcus Johansson, who wasn’t extraordinary but has been a strong depth piece for various teams over the past decade.

Farabee’s comparables make it clear that the guy is an NHLer, though anyone who watched him hold his own on the ice this year at 19 could have deduced that much. We can only figure so much from one season’s worth of information, and there are still a lot of ways that his career could go from here, but the Flyers figure to have a keeper in him.