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When should a 3rd overall pick start in the NHL?
When should a 3rd overall pick start in the NHL?(2012-07-19 21:11 posted by B. La Rose)

Alex Galchenyuk's immediate future with the Habs has been a popular point of discussion over these past few weeks.  Some fans would like to see him in the NHL right away while others would prefer him to go back to the OHL.  The decision of whether to keep the player or send him back has been a tough one to make for NHL GM's over the years with no real right or wrong answer as to what route has proven to be best over time.

I was curious as to how many 3rd overall selections have made the NHL immediately after being selected.  The table below looks at players selected 3rd overall between 1980 and 2007 to see how many have suited up quickly in the NHL and how their stats in their first year stack up to their career averages.  I have excluded players drafted 3rd in the past 5 years, as their NHL career is too small a sample size to accurately make comparisons relative to their career statistics. 

Notes: NHL-1 looks at whether or not the player played in the NHL the first year after being drafted while NHL-2 addresses their second season after the draft.  Italicized players are defencemen.

Player Year NHL-1 NHL-2 Rookie PPG Career PPG
Kyle Turris 2007 N Y 0.317 0.403
Jonathan Toews 2006 N Y 0.844 0.898
Jack Johnson 2005 N N 0.149 0.379
Cam Barker 2004 N N 0.229 0.318
Nathan Horton 2003 Y N 0.400 0.693
Jay Bouwmeester 2002 Y Y 0.195 0.397
Alexander Svitov 2001 N Y 0.127 0.207
Marian Gaborik 2000 Y Y 0.451 0.896
Henrik Sedin 1999 Y Y 0.353 0.837
Brad Stuart 1998 N Y 0.439 0.348
Olli Jokinen 1997 Y* Y 0.318 0.655
J.P. Dumont 1996 N N 0.600 0.636
Aki Berg 1995 Y Y 0.137 0.140
Radek Bonk 1994 Y Y 0.262 0.513
Chris Gratton 1993 Y Y 0.500 0.520
Mike Rathje 1992 N Y 0.213 0.234
Scott Niedermayer 1991 Y* Y 0.500 0.586
Keith Primeau 1990 Y Y 0.259 0.681
Scott Thornton 1989 N Y 0.121 0.303
Curtis Leschyshyn 1988 Y Y 0.183 0.205
Glen Wesley 1987 Y Y 0.468 0.369
Neil Brady 1986 N N 0.436 0.348
Craig Wolanin 1985 Y Y 0.409 0.249
Ed Olczyk 1984 Y Y 0.714 0.770
Pat LaFontaine 1983 Y Y 1.266 1.171
Gary Nylund 1982 Y Y 0.188 0.281
Bobby Carpenter 1981 Y Y 0.838 0.618
Denis Savard 1980 Y Y 0.987 1.119

* player had some NHL time but spent most of the year in junior.
- Horton played in the AHL in his second pro year due to the NHL lockout.

To be quite honest, I didn't think that there would be as many 3rd overall picks that started right away in the NHL so I was a little surprised to see that more have than haven't.  In terms of trends, there really aren't many.  There seem to be short patterns of players starting in the NHL (early to mid 1980's) or staying away (2004-2007 although the lockout played a role in one of those seasons).  Over the past decade, only Toews has stepped in and really been an impact player on the scoresheet right away, another direct contrast from the early 1980's when the likes of Savard, Carpenter, LaFontaine, and Olczyk produced in their rookie campaigns.

The most important thing that I wanted to see was if there was any statistical advantage to starting right away.  I've graphed the rookie and career PPG numbers for the forwards (since defencemen aren't really relevant when discussing Galchenyuk, a forward) for those who started right after being drafted and those who didn't play in the NHL the year after hearing their name called at the draft podium.

Although there isn't any definitive conclusions to be drawn from here, I do think it's interesting that there is very little of a PPG gap for those who didn't enter the NHL right away.  This is somewhat explainable in that the 'holdbacks' are more physically ready when they do first suit up with their NHL team, the gap shouldn't be as large.  For those who were drafted and went to the NHL in their first season, there don't seem to be any players who were overwhelmed and eventually busted.  Although their rookie numbers weren't all that great (aside from the ones from the 1980's mentioned earlier), they still were/are productive players.

So what does this all mean?  There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether or not a player should start right away in the National Hockey League after being the 3rd overall selection in the previous draft.  Barring recurring knee problems (or some other type of serious injury problems), the Habs should have a productive NHL'er before long in Alex Galchenyuk and they will have one regardless of whether or not he's in the bleu-blanc-rouge come October...or whenever the 2012-13 campaign gets underway; he won't be 'ruined' by a particular decision.  Keep that in mind for when the inevitable bashing of Michel Therrien and/or Marc Bergevin begins for whatever choice is ultimately made.

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