Friday, March 16, 2012

The Magical Fourth Season: Myth or Reality?

Max Pacioretty - Montreal Canadiens v Calgary Flames
In the era of in-depth analysis, sabermetrics and advanced statistics, more and more fantasy experts are talking about the magical fourth season for NHL players.

Most of you will ask "what is the magical fourth season exactly?"

Roughly speaking, offensive players make big jumps in their production in years two through six. In the fourth year, a quarter of players see offensive output increase by 25 percent.

For players entering their second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth seasons, increases are of roughly 14%, 17%, 24%, 14% and 9% respectively. The increase is about 5% for the seventh season and beyond.

As you can see, on average, fourth year players see the biggest increase in their offensive production.

However, this only applies to forwards, as defensemen generally take more time to develop, Erik Karlsson being the exception rather than the rule.

Now let's study the offensive production of ten talented NHL players and see how they are doing so far in 2011-12.

1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

After a rough rookie season where he recorded only 23 goals and 46 points in 79 games, mainly because of the failed Barry Melrose experiment, the Lightnings' first overall draft pick in 2008 has developed into the NHL's most lethal goal scorer. After seasons of 95 and 91 points, Stamkos currently has 50 goals and 34 assists for 84 points in 70 games, putting him on pace to score 98 points over a full season. As you can see, his offensive production has been fairly steady over the past three seasons and we can conclude Stamkos had his offensive surge during his sophomore season instead.

Offensive outburst = season 2

2. James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

After playing two and a half seasons in Dallas, Neal was traded to the Penguins midway through last season. After a rough stretch of only six points in 20 games with to conclude the 2010-11 campaign, one had to wonder if Neal would ever produce surrounded by talented players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

After seasons of 37, 55 and 45 points, Neal has found his niche alongside Malkin and Chris Kunitz on the Penguins' first line. Through 69 games this season, Neal has scored 31 goals and 36 assists for 67 points for a pace of 80 points in 82 games. This would represent a 25-point increase over his second best season.

Offensive outburst = season 4

3. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Another player traded at the trade deadline last season, Wheeler played two and a half seasons in Boston before heading to Winnipeg via Atlanta. Wheeler, who wasa steady offensive player during his first three campaigns with 45, 38 and 44 points respectively, exploded this season with the Jets recording 17 goals and 41 assists for 58 points in 68 games, having missed two games with an injury.

Wheeler, who's currently on fire with 20 points in his last 12 games, is n track to finish the year with 68 points in 80 games. This total would represent a 23-point increase of his second best campaign.

Offensive outburst = season 4

4. Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens

Another player who has been red-hot lately with 12 points in his last 7 contests, Pacioretty dressed only for 37 games last season after beginning the season in the AHL and ending the year on the disabled list thanks to a debatable hit by Zdeno Chara.

The power forward entered his fourth season looking to rebound and establish himself as one of the Habs best players and he certainly did. After 68 games, he has recorded 30 goals and 28 assists for 58 points, missing three games because of a suspension. The left winger is currently on pace for 67 points in 79 games with Montreal, a 43-point increase of his highest point total of 24 points in 37 games last season.
Offensive outburst = season 4

5. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues

After missing 25, 6 and 33 games in the past three seasons respectively, Oshie has finally been healthy this year for the league-leading Blues. Through 70 games, Oshie has contributed 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points playing on a very balanced offense. He is currently set to produce 56 points over a full season.

The problem with the assessment of Oshie's offensive production has been that he has yet to play a complete season in the NHL, which is why he hasn't been able to fulfil his full potential until now.

Offensive outburst = season 5?

6. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers

Traded in the off-season with Brayden Schenn by the Kings in exchange for Mike Richards, Simmonds has been a pleasant surprise this season for the Flyers.

The gritty forward has already topped his career bests in goals and points with 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points in 70 games this season. Over a full campaign, this would translate into a 48-point season, an eight-point increase over his career best. While this doesn't seem impressive at first glance, it shows a real progression in the third-liner's offensive output.
Offensive outburst = season 4

7. Jamie McGinn, Colorado Avalanche

Traded at the deadline to the Colorado Avalanche by the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi, McGinn has parlayed his extra playing time into a decent hot streak, scoring 9 points in his last 7 games.

Buried on the depth chart in San Jose, McGinn had never been able to crack their top two lines and get quality power play time. Now on the Avalanche's top line with Paul Stastny and David Jones, McGinn has been able to contribute offensively on a consistent basis. Prior to this campaign, McGinn had never recorded more than 13 points, a feat which he achieved in 59 games during his sophomore year. The winger is currently on pace for 39 points this season, which would represent a 26-point increase over his career best.

Offensive outburst = season 4

8. Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs

After improving his offensive numbers every year since his arrival with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008-09, Kulemin has hit a wall despite his team's early offensive success. Playing on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, the Russian winger has been underwhelming this year, recording a dismal 7 goals and 21 assists for 28 points in 70 games.

After a career-season in 2010-11in which he produced 30 goals and 27 assists for 57 points, Kulemin's season appears over after he sustained a broken finger earlier this week. Kulemin is the perfect example of a player who exploded offensively during his third season instead, posting 21 more points than his previous career best of 36 points in 2009-10.

Offensive outburst = season 3

9. Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Acquired along with a 1st round draft pick in 2011 (Sean Couturier) in the trade that send Jeff Carter to Columbus last summer, Voracek was expected to partly compensate for Carter's offensive contributio this season. While his acquisition has not been deemed a failure, Voracek has not translated his great offensive talent into solid numbers either.

With the Flyers, the forward has only 13 goals and 24 assists for 37 points in 66 games this season, a 44-point pace over a full year. Not exactly what I call the offensive outburst that many fantasy experts predicted for Voracek who had scored 38, 50 and 46 points respectively during his three campaigns with the Blue Jackets.
Offensive outburst = season 5?

10. Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues
Acquired midway through last season in a blockbuster deal that sent Eric Johnson to the Avalanche for Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, Stewart finished the 2010-11 season with 23 points in 26 games with the Blues.

With such a good production and entering his fourth season, everyone expected to see Stewart post career numbers in 2011-12! Inste, Stewart responded with a miserable effort, notching only 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points in 69 games with the Blues, on pace for a disappointing 31-point campaign. After a 64-point effort during his sophomore season, Stewart continued with 53 points in 62 games in 2010-11, before turning into no more than a depth player this season under Davis Payne and Ken Hitchock.

Offensive outburst = season 2


As you can see, most of the above players are currently having their magical fourth season (5 out of 10) and only Jacub Voracek and T.J. Oshie have yet to see a real offensive explosion during their first four years in the NHL. Stamkos (2nd season), Stewart (2nd season) and Kulemin (3rd season) all experienced their offensive outburst earlier than expected.

There are some other notable fourth-year players in the league,  such as Patrick Hornqvist, Patrik Berglund, Lauri Korpikoski, Artem Anisimov and Zach Smith, that were not discussed at length here.

In short, this theory is not a myth, especially if you exclude the fourth-year players that already had their offensive outburst and exclude them from your analysis.
Next season you should really consider these fourth-year players when trying to determine which players could turn into the best bargains at your fantasy draft.

Stay tuned, as after the season, I will provide you with a list of potential sleepers (fourth-year players) worth watching for your 2012-13 hockey pools.

Follow me on Twitter for more updates on fantasy hockey and the NHL in general.

(Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images North America)


Interesting stats. If you count the handful of games he played in St. Louis it will be Lars Eller's 4th season.
With a better quality of winger next season (Gionta & Moen) if I get my wish. I think he could hit 50 points.

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