The 2014 Arizona Coyotes were supposed to be a team that skewed younger with an influx of talented rookie forwards led by NHL scion Max Domi. That narrative was utterly shattered yesterday when Lucas Lessio, Brandon Gormley, Tobias Rieder and Domi himself joined Henrik Samuelsson and Tyler Gaudet in being cut from the Coyotes' training camp roster.
The Domi move was the most surprising, with the 2013 No. 12 overall pick considered a lock to make the roster, especially after the offseason subtractions of Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro. The reassigning of the diminutive forward to his junior hockey team, the London Knights, led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth among Coyotes fans, with some openly wondering if the management of the team even cared about developing their own talent.
But was the Domi move truly that surprising? More importantly, is it even that unprecedented? To find out, take a look look at the numbers surrounding the last few years of the NHL draft. The results were enlightening.
Max Domi and the 2013 Draft Class
Domi was part of a 2013 draft class that was thought to have three certain franchise building block players leading the way: Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones. Some even speculated that Jones could be the first American defenseman to go No. 1 overall with his hometown Colorado Avalanche owning the top selection. History shows the Avs went safe and selected MacKinnon first overall with Drouin falling to the Lightning at three and Nashville sprinting to the podium to select Jones at four and add him to a blue line that already includes Shea Weber.
MacKinnon won the Calder for top rookie last year and Jones started the year red hot before hitting a rookie wall later on( but still appearing in 77 games). No. 2 pick Aleksander Barkov had 24 points in 54 games for the Florida Panthers while dealing with nagging shoulder issues.
What about Drouin? He was sent back to juniors before the season started and saw zero NHL action. Someone who was considered pick 1A all throughout the pre-draft process did not even play an NHL game his first post draft season. Just like Domi. In fact, every single player picked outside the top 10 of the 2013 draft saw no NHL action save for one position player, Buffalo Sabre defenseman and number 16 pick Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov played in seven of Buffalo's opening 19 games before being reassigned to his junior team*.
Domi supporters thought this season would be the young forward's chance to make the team and make an impact at the NHL level. So how do players in the second year after their draft fare in seeing NHL action?
Two Years Later: the 2012 Draft
The 2012 draft was interesting. It was considered a solid but unspectacular crop of players, as evidenced by eight of the top 10 picks being defenseman. No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov made the Oilers right away, because Edmonton, but how does the rest of the draft show up on paper after two years of performance?
The answer is not much. Alex Galchenyuk and Tom Wilson have played 82 games or more so far at the NHL level and No. 17 pick Tomas Hertl had a coming out party against the Coyotes (and Rangers) last season before suffering an injury that might have robbed him of the Calder trophy. Outside of that, it has been quick auditions and uninspiring play. No. 12 pick Mikhail Grigorenko, considered the most NHL ready forward in that draft at the time, has been erratic for the Buffalo Sabres, playing only 43 games so far and adding a paltry eight points. Surprisingly, Zemgus Girgensons (No. 14 overall) has more than likely passed Grigorenko in Buffalo's hierarchy of talent as he has played well with 22 points in 70 NHL games.
The Coyotes chose Henrik Samuelsson with their first round pick, he too is yet to play in the NHL.
But that is only one season's worth of data. What happens when the sample size is expanded?
The 2011 and 2010 Drafts
For these two drafts, let's focus on the first rounders. These are players that are going to be entering the third and fourth years of their career post draft so they must have quite a bit of NHL experience, right? Well, not so much.
For the 2011 draft, 22 players from that first round have played in less than 82 NHL games, or a full season's worth of contests. That includes ALL 20 players drafted outside the top 10. Some of those players taken in the 11 through 30 range: Ryan Murphy (the No. 12 pick), Sven Baertschi, J.T. Miller, Stefan Noesen, and Rickard Rakell (the No. 30 selection). Granted, the 2011 draft class may not be considered a very good when it's history is finalized in a few years, but still the fact that no one picked outside the top 10 has played a full season after three years is telling. What about 2010?
Well, it's not much better. Sixteen players form that draft class' first round have played less than 82 NHL games, with three of them having yet to appear in an NHL game at all. In fact, that list is almost five if not for the quick auditions of two Coyotes picks during the last season, the aforementioned Brandon Gormley and goalie Mark Visentin who had to play because of an injury to Mike Smith. There are five players picked outside the top 10 of that draft that have appeared in more than 82 games so far in their careers: Cam Fowler (No. 12 pick), Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nick Bjugstad, and Charlie Coyle. Some of the forwards who have yet to play at least 82 games from that collection of players: Beau Bennett, Riley Sheahan, Kevin Hayes (yes that Kevin Hayes), Evgeny Kuznetsov and Emerson Etem.
What does this tell us? That players drafted outside the top 10 of the NHL draft simply don't make immediate NHL impact anymore. The fact is, Domi's case is not unusual or even that surprising when looked at in context. He is still only 19 years old. There are parts of his game that can still improve and the majority of teams aren't using the NHL roster as on the job training any longer. Could Domi's offensive skill have helped the Coyotes this season? More than likely. But if coach Dave Tippett doesn't feel that Domi was ready to crack the top-six, there was no place for him on this team.
Check back for part two of this breakdown analyzing why the Coyotes need to be real bad before they can be really good.
*author's note - Fifth round pick Kristers Gudlevskis (No. 124 overall) played one game in goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in April before seeing action in two playoff games against the Canadiens. However, he is a goalie and was 21 at the time.