Being a first round pick for an NHL team is always a lot of pressure, let alone being a seventh overall pick for a team that has not produced a star player in the draft since Tomas Kaberle.
A high draft position does not guarantee success in the NHL as was detailed in this post I wrote about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ draft history. In over 20 years of NHL drafts from 1986 to 2005, 11 percent of players drafted in the first round became stars and only two of the 20 players taken seventh overall did the same.
Leafs prospect Nazem Kadri is now entering his third year as a pro player and as recent history has taught us, this could be when he takes his game to the next level.
Claude Giroux, although he only spent half a season in the AHL, was in his third pro season when he broke out and became a star player with nearly a point per game. David Krejci spent a year and a half with the Providence of the AHL and also became a star player in his third pro season putting up 73 points in 82 games with the Boston Bruins. Max Pacioretty is a great example of how seasoning in the AHL can help a player’s development.
Like Kadri, Pacioretty was a first round pick who bounced back and forth between the Canadiens and their affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. In Pacioretty’s third pro season, he started with the AHL Bulldogs before being called up in December. He has not looked back.
Pacioretty has developed into a top-six power forward, scoring 33 goals last season. Pacioretty’s progression is what the Maple Leafs are hoping they will see with Kadri.
The player who could mirror Kadri the most, though, is another Brian Burke draft pick, Bobby Ryan.
Ryan was the second overall pick in what has become known as “the Sidney Crosby draft” in 2005. Like Kadri, Ryan needed to ride the buses in the minors before establishing himself in the NHL. He played in the OHL for two more seasons after being drafted before spending eight games at the end of the 2006-07 season with the Portland Pirates of the AHL.
Ryan then spent the majority of the following season in the AHL. He started the 2008-09 season in the minors before being called up to Anaheim for good. Ryan went on to score 31 goals in 64 games that season and has scored more than 30 goals in each season since then.
The top four picks of the 2009 draft have all been regular NHL players since hearing their names called at the Bell Centre in Montreal. But only the first overall pick, John Tavares, has established himself as a star player.
Although many of the players taken in that draft show promise, they are all in similar positions as Kadri at this point in their careers.
The moral of the story is that most players don’t make an impact in their first NHL season; it takes time.
Only time will tell if Kadri will turn out like Ryan and Pacioretty or if he ends up like a number of high draft picks that could never cut it at the NHL level.
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