My greatest fascination of the 2017–18 NHL season has, without a doubt, been the 2015 trade between the Oilers and Islanders that sent Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton in exchange for the 16th and 33rd overall picks in the ’15 entry draft. Two high draft picks for a player who had played 8 NHL games at the age of 21 appeared to be suspect. It doesn’t help when the return becomes potential Calder winner Mathew Barzal and a trade piece that allowed the Isles to trade up and take Anthony Beauvillier 28th overall. By all accounts, the move is an unmitigated disaster.
There is only one justification of the deal that can even be reasonably argued by the staunchest defenders of the trade: Reinhart was just 3 years removed from being the 4th overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, and therefore had an untapped potential that could be realized by his new team.
I know that a lot of people, including myself, believe this is an argument grounded in weak logic. Whether it be for a job position, leadership role, or assessment of talent in traditional forums, pedigree at the age of 18 should not determine value or worth at the age of 21. However, sports are different and there are many people that believe that former high draft picks that have yet to perform at the NHL level still have value.
What I wanted to determine was whether or not there is any precedent of successfully trading for a former high pick, 3+ years removed from his draft year, with limited NHL experience. Since 2005, there have been 13 players who involuntarily moved teams three years or later after their entry draft and had little NHL experience or success at the time. The goal is to see whether the Reinhart trade is solely indefensible now, or was rightfully lambasted right from its onset. These are the results:
Group A — It’s been a Long Time Coming (traded after 5+ years for little value)
Brian Lee → 2005 NHL draft: 9th overall to Ottawa
- With OTT: 28P in 167GP
- Traded in 2012 for Matt Gilroy (age 28, 43P in 180GP)
- Career with TB: 8P in 42GP
Dylan McIlrath → 2010 NHL draft: 10th overall to NY Rangers
- With NYR: 4P in 38GP
- Traded in 2016 to Florida for conditional 7th round pick
- Career with FLA: 1P in 5GP
Keaton Ellerby → 2007 NHL draft: 10th overall to Florida
- With FLA: 17P in 125GP
- Traded in 2013 to Los Angeles for 5th round pick
- Career with LAK: 3P in 35GP
Derrick Pouliot → 2012 NHL draft: 8th overall to Pittsburgh
- With PIT: 14P in 67GP
- Traded in 2017 to Vancouver for Pedan and 4th round pick
- Career with VAN: 11P in 39GP
Brian Lee, Dylan McIlrath, and Keaton Ellerby exist in their own realm. The former top 10 picks were all traded after 5+ years with the clubs that drafted them, in exchange for little value coming back the other way. Little was expected of these players by the teams that acquired them, and that is exactly what they got in return. Lee played just 42 games with Tampa, Ellerby lasted just half a season in L.A, while McIlrath has recorded only one point in the 5 games he has played in South Florida.
Derrick Pouliot may join a small list of top 10 picks that see success with their new team. Pouliot, who was moved at the beginning of the 2017–18 season, has played 39 games with Vancouver and could be a consistent presence in the club’s top 6. Considering the low asking price and the lack of defensive depth on the Canucks, it seems as if Benning and co. made a low-risk manoeuver that could bring forth some marginal benefit.
Group B — We’ll trade him for a 3rd (exactly what it sounds like)
James Sheppard → 2006 NHL draft: 9th overall to Minnesota
- With MIN: 49P in 224GP
- Traded in 2011 to San Jose for a 3rd
- Career with SJS: 40P in 156GP
Nikita Filatov →2008 NHL draft: 6th overall to Columbus
- With CBJ: 13P in 44GP
- Traded in 2011 to Ottawa for a 3rd
- Career with OTT: 1P in 9GP
A tale of two players. While playing quite a few games with the Wild, Sheppard was a low-cost pickup for the Sharks considering his modest production. While his output on the Sharks was not that expected of a top 10 pick, he was a consistent presence in the Sharks’ bottom 6 for the better part of 3 seasons.
Nikita Filatov was, well, the guy who didn’t do rebounds. Seriously. Filly did not do rebounds. After being moved for a 3rd round pick, he played under 10 games in the Nation’s capital before moving back home. It was a modest risk worth taking considering Filatov’s innate skill, but the reclamation project was certainly a failure.
Group C — One for One (traded straight-up for another roster player)
Benoit Pouliot → 2005 NHL draft: 4th overall to Minnesota
- With MIN: 18P in 65GP
- Traded in 2009 to Montreal for Guillaume Lattendresse
- Career with MTL: 54P in 118GP
Gilbert Brule → 2005 NHL draft: 6th overall to Columbus
- With CBJ: 32P in 146GP
- Traded in 2008 to Edmonton for Raffi Torres
- Career with EDM: 49P in 117GP
These two trades were fairly straight forward. Midway through the 2009–10 season Pouliot, who had played just 65 games for Minnesota over 3 ½ seasons, was moved for fellow 2005-draftee Guillaume Lattendresse. Lattendresse had played almost every game over the 3 ½ seasons he had been with the Canadiens, putting up solid point production until his struggles in his final season. The move worked out quite well for both sides, with each player putting up season highs with their new team. While some may argue that Pouliot became overrated (and others say he was perennially underrated), there is no denying that he has been a bona fide NHL player for nearly a decade.
The Brule-Torres trade was puzzling at the time, and looking at it now it still makes little sense for Columbus. However, Brule’s lacklustre performance in Ohio was equalled in Edmonton, making it a low-risk move that reaped no benefit.
Part D — Take a Mulligan (The Jack Skille Trade)
Jack Skille → 2005 NHL draft: 7th overall to Chicago
- With CHI: 25P in 79GP
- Traded in 2011 to Florida, along with Hugh Jessiman and David Pacan, for Michael Frolik and Alexander Salak
- Career with FLA: 24P in 99GP
Oh boy. Skille had played just 79 games in the 6 years that he spent as part of the Chicago Blackhawks organization. He was moved, along with 2003 top 15 pick Hugh Jessiman and 6th round pick David Pacan, in exchange for goaltender Alex Salak and young winger Michael Frolik. Frolik, Florida’s first round pick in 2006, had reached 20 goals in his first 2 seasons with Florida by the age of 22.
If the trade sounded lopsided at the time, it’s worse now. Skille played under 100 games with Florida, recording less than 25 points. Jessiman played just 2 games with the Panthers and Pacan played 0. Frolik was a significant part of the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup-winning roster, becoming being a significant value add in both Winnipeg and Calgary. This is one of the most worst deals of the post-lockout era that nobody talks about.
Part E — Well Worth the Risk (the picks that saw true success)
Thomas Hickey →2007 NHL draft: 4th overall to Los Angeles
- With LAK: 0GP
- Waived in 2013, claimed by New York Islanders
- Career with NYI: 96P in 373GP
Our only waiver claim! After spending 6 years under control of the L.A Kings, Hickey was put on waivers just prior to the start of the shortened 2013 season. He was picked up on waivers by the Islanders and has been quite a success! He’s played almost 400 games with the club, recording 96 points with somewhat unfavourable zone starts.
Hickey’s junior production was quite strong. In 4 full seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, he led his team in defense points every year.
Kyle Turris → 2007 NHL draft: 4th overall to Phoenix
- With PHO: 46P in 137GP
- Traded in 2011 to Ottawa for David Rundblad and a 2nd round pick
- Career with OTT: 274P in 407GP
The return that Turris netted for the Coyotes is the most similar to that of what the Islanders received for Reinhart. Rundblad was drafted 15th overall 2 years prior, with strong production in the SEL before a lacklustre rookie stint with the Senators. The Coyotes also received a 2nd round pick in return.
I think considering Turris to be an unknown quantity prior to the Ottawa trade is a very liberal interpretation of ‘limited NHL experience/success’. While Turris recorded just 46 points in 137 games in Glendale, it was quite obvious that his potential was beyond that of his NHL output. Turris finished 1st among all players in points at Wisconsin, and was 2nd in points during his first full year in the AHL. This was a player who had proven at every level that they were an offensive threat.
Nino Niederreiter → 2010 NHL draft: 5th overall to New York Islanders
- With NYI: 3P in 64GP
- Traded in 2013 to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck and a 3rd round pick
- Career with MIN: 192P in 356GP
It is remarkable how well this trade worked out for Minnesota. Niederreiter had put up modest numbers in junior, the minors, and in the NHL during his time on Long Island. In Minnesota, however, he has been a force. Nino has scored over 20 goals in each of the last 3 seasons, putting up a career high 57 points in 2016–17. Considering the price to pay was a bottom 6 forward and a 3rd round pick, it has proven to be a definite ‘win’ for the Wild.
Comparing Reinhart to the Field
The table below compares Reinhart to the 13 players above, looking at draft year production and AHL experience:
Some thoughts on this:
- Reinhart going 4th overall to begin with is really shocking. I understand the difficulty of evaluating defensemen, but he ranked 3rd among his position in points on the team. While +/- is a deeply flawed stat, he finished 9th on the team in the category. If only there were sites like prospect-stats.com back in 2012!
- Reinhart’s post-draft production in the WHL should also be noted and was not an issue with the majority of this sample. His points/game in junior dropped each of his 2 years post-draft, and his goal rate fell about 7% year over year.
- AHL stats matter, even for defensemen. The 2 d-men who have shown the most amount of promise to their new teams (Hickey and Pouliot) both cracked over 0.4 points-per-game in minors.
In most situations where a trade is made involving a young player or draft picks, it is a common to hear that we must, ‘wait a few years before determining the winner of the trade’. It is very obvious in 2018 that the Oilers are clear losers of the Reinhart trade. Barzal will finish in the top 2 for the Calder vote. Beauvillier looks like a sound, young player who should be a staple on the Islanders for a long time. Reinhart was left unprotected in the expansion draft and subsequently selected by Vegas.
The apologists of this trade argue that the Oilers wouldn’t have selected Barzal, and that Reinhart was just 3 years removed from being a top 5 pick. What I hope this piece shows is that the pick does not matter, and hindsight does not matter. The Islanders could have selected any 2 of the players selected between 16 and 35 and they still would have won the trade.
There is extremely little precedent for top 10 picks, 3 years removed from their draft year, having limited NHL experience, to see success with their new teams. There is significantly less precedent for those players to be worth a 1st and a 2nd round pick. And there is no precedent for players with production similar to Reinhart to ever fetch the return in a trade that Garth Snow did. The justification that Reinhart’s status as a top-4 pick, just 3 years removed, is grounded in faulty logic. He could have seen as much success with Edmonton as Hickey has in New York, and the deal still would have been rightfully lambasted. A 1st and 2nd round pick should net teams significant value, especially considering the worth of entry level players in a cap league. To take a flyer on a player with limited success in junior and the AHL should be one of low risk and this deal was certainly not that.
There have been many trades since the 2005 lockout that have seen clear winners and losers. I’m not sure if there has ever been one where there has been such a lack of precedent for giving up the return. There wasn’t a need to look back on this deal 3 years later — it was just as bad the second the trade call was made.