• If you can play, you can play

    by  • November 19, 2012 • Hockey • 16 Comments

    Two thoughtful observers of hockey made comments along the same lines in the last few days:

    Elliotte Friedman:

    12. Two years ago, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford explained his belief that you cannot truly judge a defenceman until he turns 24. Rutherford says it’s the hardest pro position to learn. While in special cases some become early superstars, you can find a diamond in the rough by waiting a little.

    13. I was reminded of that while watching Calgary prospect TJ Brodie of the Abbotsford Heat. He started the 2010-11 season with the Flames and there were coaches saying he was ready for the big league. It didn’t work out. Now he’s 22, coming off a season where he dressed for 54 NHL games, playing very well for the stingiest defensive team in the AHL’s Western Conference. The Rutherford theory is strong in this one.

    Bruce McCurdy, in response to me and Dennis King (with a gratuitous appearance from Ben Massey):

    Dennis King: I think every dman who comes through Oilers org and isn’t a great skater gets 25 extra GP just because of Jason Smith #CoughColtonTeubert

    Bruce McCurdy: Teubert has his issues but being a bad skater is isn’t really 1 of them.

    DK: he’s not a good skater though

    BM: I can just envision you tweeting crap about Gator in 1998 too

    DK: You know I don’t believe that I would. Once I get a look at a guy I’ll put my opinion up there with anyone’s.

    Ben Massey: #TeamTeubertIsGarbage

    BMcCurdy: Did you used to write off Expos prospects when they were 22 & still learning to hit Triple A pitching? Or would you wait & see?

    DK: If they had a couple of hundred ABs and they couldn’t hit fastballs And breaking stuff then yeah I would.

    mc79: Not remotely the same thing. Teubert is more like a 22 year old struggling in A ball.

    BMcCurdy: Well, there is only one “A” in “AHL”. So I guess you got me there.

    mc79: Timeline isn’t the same. Best players in NHL hit league at 18 or 19. MLB, more like 21 or 22. His draft year alone, 8 D picked after him are already over 100 games.

    BMcCurdy: Weren’t you the same guys whining about how the Oilers should develop guys in the AHL a la the Detroit Model?

    mc79: Half of the Detroit model is an apprenticeship. The other half is guys who don’t suck.

    DK: The Oilers got caught up in this; and still are because they can’t even get toilet paper for the exec bathroom without getting Steve Yzerman’s goddamn advice.

    DK: Here’s a model to follow: find people who have a clue and won’t let Kevin Lowe manipulate them

    BMcCurdy: I’m referring specifically to the Detroit development model.

    BMcCurdy: My mistake to mention any team’s model. My entire point was about developing guys in minors not #NHL.

    BMcCurdy: re: “best players” When do most stay-at-home blueliners start to become effective? Mid-20s, I’d say. Tons of examples.

    BMcCurdy: 5 years ago I was preaching patience on Greene & Smid. It takes time for big stay-at-home defenders.

    It’s a bit unfair for Bruce to say that he was preaching patience on Matt Greene and Ladislav Smid, I think. He loves pretty much every young Oilers player with all his heart and soul – see Stortini for an example. If there’s anyone under the age of 25 who he’s been willing to say can’t do some sort of a job for the Oilers, I’ve missed it. Also, developing those guys in the NHL comes at a cost, in terms of being on the wrong end of a series of beatings. More importantly, given the issue under discussion: when you compare where the Oilers defensive prospects who are in the 21-23 age range (Colten Teubert and Alex Plante) now are in terms of their development with where Ladislav Smid and Matt Greene were at a similar age, it’s hard to see much in the way of a comparison.

    Rightly or wrongly, Smid was playing games in an NHL top four at age 20. Greene earned some games in a bottom pairing. They were bad, but then Teubert got slaughtered in a sheltered bottom pairing role last year and Plante has yet to even earn that much of a sniff, despite being a year older. I’m pretty sure that it’s not reasonable to say that Teubert/Plante are anywhere near the Greene/Smid trajectory.

    “It takes time for big stay-at-home defenders” is the point that interests me though and one that Rutherford basically made as well. This is a question that I look at now and then and I have an awfully tough time finding much in the way of evidence to support it, no matter how I slice the evidence. Two quick looks at it. First, I looked at defencemen who played at least twenty minutes last year, while playing no more than 1:00 per game on the PP and at least 40 games. This produced a list of 24 guys. I’ve added in the system in which they were developed and when they first played 60 NHL games in a season.

    Notably, the majority of these guys made it in the NHL by age 23. Even that’s kind of misleading – Josh Gorges was close to the 60 game threshold, playing with a good Sharks team, at age 21. Tim Gleason and Zbynek Michalek were both likely pushed back a year by the lockout – both looked to be full time NHLers at the end of the 2003-04 season when they were 21 years old. If you move those guys up a year, you end up with 12 defensive guys who made it by age 22 and 12 after. Of the 12 after though, the only CHL products were Marc Methot (drafted at 168), Bryce Salvador (drafted at 138), Johnny Oduya (only spent a year in the CHL, drafted 221, disappeared into Europe) and Johnny Boychuk (drafted 61st).

    Seven of the 12 were NCAA guys, with the other coming from the Czech Republic. Given that NCAA grads aren’t 50%+ of the NHL defence corps and that the bulk of NHL defencemen are not guys drafted after the 100th pick, I’m not sure that I agree with the oft-repeated idea that defencemen take a while to develop. It sure looks to me like, of the defensive, stay-at-home types who were in the NHL last year, half of them were established NHLers by age 22 and, of those who weren’t, they tended to either be late bloomers, guys who played in the NCAA or guys who came out of Europe.

    Want a different angle? I looked at guys who played a) at least 200 games after b) turning 25 and c) between 2008-2012. I’m looking for real pros here, the meat of the hockey defence group. This produced a group of 101 players who played 27,252 games between 2008-12. If you assume six defencemen per team per game, the league as a whole required 59,040 defenceman-games in that period, so we’re talking about a group of 101 guys who provided about 46% of the NHL’s defenceman games in that period. This group of players played 85% of the games that they could have played – some guys obviously joined the 25+ group a year in to the period I’m looking at or retired after 2011.

    48 of the 101 guys in this sample had played at least 150 games by the end of their age 24 season, which is consistent with making it as a full-time defenceman by the time that you’re 23 years old at the latest. Again, the group of guys who made it later than that is kind of interesting. It’s a group of 53 players: 13 CHL grads, 21 NCAA grads, 17 Europeans and two guys who played in the SJHL. Just looking at the CHL guys for a minute, Bryan Allen wouldn’t be in this group if not for the 2004-05 lockout – he played 139 games before his age 25 season, and had his 2004-05 season wiped out. As when I sliced the data the other way, the CHL draftees are disproportionately late draft picks or undrafted players – half of the twelve who are left when you drop Allen from the analysis were drafted at 123 or later or undrafted.

    I’ve heard people say what Bruce said a number of times; I’ve just never seen anyone who’s assembled data to back it up. I’ve looked at this issue from a number of different angles and I’ve never been able to find the data that supports the idea that CHL defencemen who aren’t NHLers at 23 are significant prospects. In other words, if there isn’t a good explanation for why a defenceman isn’t a full-time NHLer by 23, it’s hard for me to see much of a reason to hold out hope for him. You may not be entirely sure just how good he’ll be at the NHL level, but you should be confident that he’s an NHLer. Alex Plante’s at that threshold and, lockout or not, wasn’t going to be in the NHL this year. Teubert’s a year away and has 25 NHL games under his belt. He wouldn’t be in the NHL this year to start the season, despite the advantage of being the property of a team that’s desperate for defencemen.

    I don’t think that the data has Teubert quite as a write-off yet, but if you add in the obvious facts that a) he couldn’t crack a terrible defence corps last year and b) didn’t look particularly close to doing so when he was pressed into service anyway, I think it’s more likely than not that his upside is that of a guy who maybe gets a few hundred games as a bottom of the roster player.

    Brodie’s a bit of a different fish – he’d played 57 NHL games by the end of his age 21 season, on a far more legitimate team than Edmonton. If people were writing him off after his age 20 season in which he only played three games in Calgary, that’s kind of foolish. The question with him is a bit of a different question – how soon do guys need to move from being on the edge of an NHL roster to being a top four defenceman if they’re going to make it? In that case, Rutherford’s rule might be more helpful. It may take time for big NHL defenders to develop but, historically, they’re able to secure NHL roster spots at a relatively young age.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    16 Responses to If you can play, you can play

    1. Lord Bob
      November 19, 2012 at

      I’m famous!

    2. November 19, 2012 at

      Good stuff. Having said that I wonder if Rutherford’s point may be more ‘Until a guy is 24 you may not know what you have exactly’. Defencemen tend to develop slowly. Smith was a good example. Staios. Smid. Greene. The list goes on and on. It takes time. When was Smid’s first year when he really stood on his own? Last year? Yes? No?

      So while I agree with you that for the most part if a guy hasn’t at least played some significant minutes in the NHL by, say, 22 if he’s out of the CHL, then chances are he’s not going to be much of a player, I think Rutherford’s point stands.

      Of course if a CHL forward doesn’t have an NHL spot nailed down by around that time then chances are he’s going to bust as well. Kyle Brodziak was 23 when he nailed down a fulltime spot after a couple of very brief cups of coffee and if the Oilers had been any good he may never have gotten that shot.

      You can see the difference between a guy like Teubert and the real prospects though. Schultz probably would have made the Oilers out of camp. Pronman thinks that even if Klefbom is done for the year that he could break camp with the Oilers next year. Talk is that both Marancin and Musil could make the jump pretty quickly.

      These guys are all younger than Teubert and Plante and they’re going to eat them alive.

    3. Bruce McCurdy
      November 19, 2012 at

      First of all, thanks for doing this work, Tyler. Very interesting indeed. Believe this as you will, but I woke up this morning thinking I should do a study on development curves of stay-at-home d-men as a result of our mutual discussion last night, although today wound up having a mind of its own so I didn’t even get started on it. But I do have a different methodoly in mind which I may yet pursue, although when I do you can be sure I will cite the above as a relevant starting point.

      However, a couple of points:

      It’s a bit unfair for Bruce to say that he was preaching patience on Matt Greene and Ladislav Smid, I think. He loves pretty much every young Oilers player with all his heart and soul – see Stortini for an example.

      Damn straight it’s fair, I had more than a few debates from 2006-08 supporting both Smid and Greene. More than (almost) any other player, I’m sure. You keep railing on the fact I like Stortini like it somehow discredits me from having valid opinion on any hockey-related subject. I’ll admit he was a personal fave and I was rooting for him, kind of like the way you root for Blackpool despite the fact they just aren’t very good. Even as Zack didn’t pan out with the Oilers after 250+ games I still think he brought many of the sort of attributes that are needed from the bottom of the roster, attributes the Oilers continue to search for in other bottom sixers.

      I thought similarly of Smid and Greene as young rearguards, and as mature players at least the former has clearly developed into top 4 material while the latter is a splendid third-pairing d-man on the Cup champs, so not bad.

      Anyway, I didn’t have all day to find past examples of five-year old debates, but here’s one:

      … and there were countless more after 2008 where LT would say Oilers should trade Smid and I’d go after him on pretty much the same grounds, preaching patience.

      As for young Oilers I wasn’t that keen on, I’ve spent a fair bit of time hammering on guys like Patrick O’Sullivan, Marc Pouliot, J-F Jacques and Taylor Chorney to name a few. I’m very close to thinking Alex Plante is never going to turn that corner, but I maintain it’s way too early to say that about Colten Teubert. He’s 22, he’s learning, he had a few hard lessons in the show last year like pretty much any NHL rookie defender, and for the moment he’s right where he should be, apprenticing on the farm. He too brings a lot of attributes which the Oilers (or any team) need, he’s got a ways to go before he will have a) put it all together or b) will definitively not have done so.

      Indeed, my season-in-review article on Teubert himself was far from glowing praise, even as it (needless to say) preaches patience. Call it a bias if you will, but I am a strong believer in growing as much of your team as possible from within and would frankly rather err on the side of patience as a general practice.

      When Matt Greene — a decent comparable — was Colten Teubert’s current age he had played 0 NHL games, and he was still mighty raw when he did get called up not long before his 23rd birthday. I could say the same about guys like Gilbert and Petry, though as you point out the NCAA path is a different cup of tea. Still, I daresay if any of those guys got exposed to the NHL at 21 as Teubert did last year they would have struggled.

      The other point is not so much when young d-men start to cross some threshold of NHL experience, as you have illustrated here, but to quote the above tweet thread: “When do most stay-at-home blueliners start to become effective? Mid-20s, I’d say. Tons of examples.”

      I’ll limit my list of examples here to a few guys who the Oilers gave up on/lost out on before their mid-20s, guy like Dave Langevin, Jeff Beukeboom, and yes, Matt Greene; and to a few guys who the Oilers similarly acquired because other teams gave up on them early, guys like Lee Fogolin, Craig Muni, and Jason Smith. All of them had plenty of warts as young players in their first 2, 3 or even 5 years, but all matured into pretty decent players over time. In some cases Oilers fan lived with their growing pains only t see them succeed elsewhere; in the other we were spared the growing pains and started to reap the benefits of a long apprenticeship just as the guy turned the corner.

      Indeed, you can look at your own list and find a bunch of guys who were on their second or third team before they emerged. Just sticking to guys with CHL roots, that would include Coburn, Gorges, Michalek, Gleason, Mitchell, Boychuk. I won’t even include Stuart who was key part of a huge deal for Thornton (similar to Smid being traded at 19, I suppose), but the rest of them were traded/moved along cheaply before they got good and it was a big mistake in most cases. Their teams simply weren’t patient enough.

      No doubt you can find plenty of counter-examples of young guys who got moved and who never did get good, and it remains to be seen which category Colten Teubert will ultimately fit into. All I’m saying it takes patience to develop stay-at-home blueliners, and if you give up on them early it is at your own risk.

    4. Tyler Dellow
      November 19, 2012 at

      Pat –

      Yeah, I don’t think I’ve disproved Rutherford’s point, in part because it’s not perfectly clear what he was saying. I suspect Friedman was referring to an interview that he did with him for HNIC but it’s tough to tell.

      In any event, I think Bruce and Rutherford are making subtly different points, if we give Rutherford the benefit of the doubt that he’s talking about guys who’ve already made the NHL. Rutherford’s seems plausible (or at least I haven’t got around to disproving it); Bruce’s seems dubious.

      • Bruce McCurdy
        November 20, 2012 at

        My point about when do such players “start to become effective” is almost entirely about players who have already made the NHL. In this regard I am in agreement with Jim Rutherford. All the guys I cited above were traded before they turned 24, and returned less than full value. All but Muni (and Langevin) were already in the NHL. It seemed as though their teams couldn’t see past their growing pains.

        W.r.t. Colten Teubert, he played 24 games at age 21, and was decidedly ineffective, I’ll grant you. He’s got a long way to go; I just think it’s way too early to write him off. You obviously differ — so what would you do with him? Trade him for … ?

        • Tyler Dellow
          November 20, 2012 at

          I can’t figure out why you think it’s too early to write him off. What do you see, relative to the track record of guys who become top four guys, that says he’s on track to be one of them? For the reasons (and based on teh data) set out above, I don’t see it.

          so what would you do with him? Trade him for … ?

          I think it depends on a number of things. What’s the D depth chart look like for 2013-14?

          Smid (UFA)
          Whitney (UFA)
          Sutton (UFA)
          Peckham (RFA)

          I guess I don’t see him climbing above Klefbom/Marincin/Gernat/Musil. Even then, there’s still a ways to go to get a spot on the Oilers, assuming that they’re going to re-sign someone like Smid and bring in someone to replace Whitney. Sutton’s gone. I suspect Peckham is too. Make it something like this:

          Smid (UFA)
          Whitney Replacement

          So it’s hard to see him moving above tenth on the depth chart, at least for me. He’s probably got some value in a trade right now – maybe a third or a fourth from a defensively thin club that wants to roll the dice? I’d take that.

          • Bruce McCurdy
            November 20, 2012 at

            I see Teubert as a potentially effective third-pairing guy. I place a lot higher value in that than you do, apparently. I wouldn’t dream of trading him for a mid-round pick, not at this point. Back to the drawing board five years on, but a hundred spots down the ladder? No thanks.

    5. Tyler Dellow
      November 19, 2012 at

      Bruce –

      Coburn, Gorges, Michalek, Gleason, Mitchell and Boychuk is a fine list. You’ll note that the only one whose career path Teubert seems to be following is Boychuk, who is very much an outlier.

      Coburn was playing more than 20 minutes a game in his twenty games with the 2006-07 Flyers at 21.

      Gorges played 17:38 in 49 games for the Sharks at 21 (and played 11 playoff playoff games, at almost 19 minutes a night).

      He’s arguably on Michalek’s path, although Zbynek had basically established himself by the end of 2003-04 and wen on to play 22:50 a night in Phoenix at 23 – I would be shocked if Teubert does that in Edmonton next year (or anywhere else).

      Gleason played 47 games and 15 minutes a night at 21.

      Mitchell was a college guy.

      So, really, none of these guys really counter the point that I was making: Teubert’s path doesn’t look like theirs. That’s the basic problem you have here.

      I’ll limit my list of examples here to a few guys who the Oilers gave up on/lost out on before their mid-20s, guy like Dave Langevin, Jeff Beukeboom, and yes, Matt Greene; and to a few guys who the Oilers similarly acquired because other teams gave up on them early, guys like Lee Fogolin, Craig Muni, and Jason Smith.

      Langevin: major league player at 22.

      Beukeboom: 44 GP at 21, 70+ at 22.

      Greene: NCAA path.

      Fogolin: 50 GP at 19, 58 GP at 20 and 70+ GP at 21.

      Muni: Appears to be a legitimate example. Again though, I haven’t denied that this happens, only said that it’s so rare that it’s not really worth planning on. Like I said when LT kept dreaming on Cogliano, not being willing to make a decision has a cost. The vast majority of guys who are given up on at 23 are correctly given up.

      Smith: 41 GP at 20, 2 at 21 (in the lockout year) and then a full-time NHLer.

      In short, you can’t really disprove this argument with anecdotes and, in almost all of these cases, Teubert and Plante are demonstrably behind.

      I thought similarly of Smid and Greene as young rearguards, and as mature players at least the former has clearly developed into top 4 material while the latter is a splendid third-pairing d-man on the Cup champs, so not bad.

      I wonder how many NHL teams Smid would be top four on. Half of them? 2/3? And a splendid third pairing defenceman, while nice, isn’t the sort of thing to lose sleep over. Also, with what he costs, I bet LA would give him to Edmonton for a 7th round pick. Shame that Tambo turned the return on that deal into Barbaro though.

    6. Triumph
      November 20, 2012 at

      Again, Rutherford’s point isn’t well fleshed-out, but I imagine the idea there is that you bring a D man up to the NHL when he’s between 21 and 24. Let’s assume he’s getting soft-ish ice time the way young players always do. I think his idea is that you just don’t know whether he will sink or swim in that environment. Beyond that, maybe you know a D man is an NHLer, and he’s getting a lot of games, but will he step up to be average? Then let’s take it further, say a guy is doing average against average competition at around 23. Will he get better and become capable of beating tough competition or has he peaked?

      With forwards, at least you have points as a guidepost – those points may come with caveats about zone starts and the like, but I think they’re easier to project. With defensemen, it’s all Corsi and QualComp and etc. I think with zone exits and studying when the puck moves forward, we might get a better sense, but I still find it awfully hard to talk about other teams’ young defensemen – sometimes you wake up and Rob Scuderi has gone from turnover-prone youngster to legitimate shut-down D.

    7. Nick
      November 20, 2012 at

      Maybe another way to prove/disprove Rutherford’s theory is to compare defencemen to forwards. It’s not really a saying in hockey circles that it takes time for a forward to mature, but there are plenty of examples of guys making it in the NHL in their mid-to-late 20s. Is it maybe the same thing in both cases? I.e., most guys with a proven track record make it; some guys are outliers and make it despite the odds; most guys without a good track record don’t make it and are discarded. I mean, that’s more or less what I’m getting from the article.

    8. Tom Benjamin
      November 21, 2012 at

      I don’t think Rutherford should be taken very seriously.

      I’m not big on most analytical methods, but I think this type of comparison can be very useful. (I’m waiting for Part II of Tyler’s previous post before I talk about that study.)

      Could Teubert surprise and take a huge step forward and become a decent player? It’s not impossible, but it sure isn’t very probable. The most likely best case is that he becomes a 6th or 7th dman, a guy who is very easily replaced. I doubt if he is in the Oilers long term plans. He has a contract and that’s the reason he still has a job.

      Unlike Tyler, I don’t think he has any real value in a trade. He might end up being a throw-in in a bigger deal if the trading partner has a hole they want to temporarily fill at the AHL level.

      I’ll be surprised if Teubert is qualified next season assuming there is no shocking improvement this year. I’d cut him loose, knowing full well there is a small possibility I’m letting a useful player go. As long as the probabilities run in my direction, I’m not making a mistake. It’s the right call even if it turns out to be wrong.

      • Tyler Dellow
        November 21, 2012 at

        Re: Tom’s last paragraph. I know the Oilers WAY better than you. They give up on guys like Teubert very, very relunctantly. Very reluctantly. Alex Plante, a worse prospect, is a year ahead of Teubert and he got qualified. They’ll qualify him.

        I’m not at all sold on Teubert having trade value by the way. Just to be clear.

        • Tom Benjamin
          November 21, 2012 at

          I certainly agree that you know the Oilers better than I. If they do decide to qualify him, I’d call it a mistake even if it works out two or three years down the road.

          That may be the mark of a bad organizaion: They make decisions that defy the probabilities.

    9. Tyler Dellow
      November 22, 2012 at


    10. David Staples
      June 26, 2013 at

      It was clear after Teubert failed so badly with Oilers in 2011-12 that he was a long, long, long shot to ever be an NHLer. This year, in OKC, aside from being a solid tough guy standing up for his mates, that opinion was borne out.

      Some Oilers fans were backing Teubert until very recently. But I doubt a player is ever that awful in his first extended NHL stint and turns out to be a good player. Perhaps I’m wrong on that, but I can’t recall it happening much.

      As for Bruce, he stood up for Smid and Green repeatedly , even as others would have seen them traded, repeatedly. Bruce has as good an eye for hockey talent as I’ve seen.

      Dennis is pretty sharp, too.

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