When it comes to building an NHL contender, the name of the game is depth. Quality depth. It’s one thing to hit rock bottom and acquire a high end talent with a draft pick, but if you can’t develop any players after that into NHLers, you end up like the Edmonton Oilers.
In the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the champion Boston Bruins got 11 goals and 19 points in 25 games out of first year full-timer Brad Marchand. In the 2012 post-season, rookie Vyacheslav Voynov was an important blueliner for the Kings after the trade of Jack Johnson, logging an average of 19:31 per game in a Cup run. And last season, the Chicago Blackhawks got more playoff game-winning goals out of Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw combined (four), than Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith (two). You remember how their season finished.
The Los Angeles Kings are most definitely not the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings have built up a program of unrelenting depth that looks like it could keep contending for the Cup until the next lockout hits. Linden Vey, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson; it’s like these guys are arriving from AHL Manchester in a clown car.
Injuries have hit the Kings hard lately. Likely Olympians Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick, spirited bottom line leaders Jarret Stoll and Kyle Clifford, and shutdown specialist Matt Greene are all out. But the performance of the Manchester 3 shows off the difference between what makes a recovered franchise and what makes a perpetually broken one. Strength in the system is the most important quality for an NHL team to have.
There are limits to what you can acquire on the free agent market, both because of the salary cap and the fact the support players that do make it to unrestricted free agency can only be acquired for above market value price. If you’re a bad team with a strong pipeline, odds are you’ll eventually be a good team. And if you can maintain that level of development after getting out of the lottery, the roster becomes a rechargeable battery.
In five games this season, 2010 second-rounder Toffoli has three goals and seven points. Vey, a fourth-rounder from 2009, has three assists in four games. And Pearson, a twice passed-over 2012 first round pick, scored his first NHL goal in his first regular season NHL game Thursday night – a power play marker that erased a 2-0 third period deficit and set the stage for Toffoli’s second game-winner.
Here’s Pearson’s first:
Prospects acquired with the top three or five picks in the draft are pretty much already decided and first-rounders are generally supposed to be the difference makers. But it’s the ability of a franchise to get the most out of the rest of its picks by turning them into contributing NHLers that separates winners from losers. Drive for show, putt for dough, as they say.
From scouting, to coaching, to proper management, there are a lot of components that go into making a well-oiled franchise and it’s not an easy combination to come by.
It’s why we have Kings and Blackhawks…and Oilers and Panthers.
Development is the difference.