January 13, 2007

WJC No Guarantee Of Success

Every year I await the World Junior Hockey Championships with great anticipation. I’ve been watching religiously since 1989, and over the years I have become enamoured with the next generation of Canadian superstars.

I remember Rob Cimetta’s 7 goals in 7 games back in 1989. Dan Ratushny captained the 1990 team to a gold medal, thanks to the scoring exploits of Dave Chyzowski, Mike Needham and Dwayne Norris. Who can forget John Slaney’s gold medal winning goal on Saskatoon ice. From 1993 through 1997, Canada won five consecutive gold medals, thanks to the heroics of players like Brent Tully (all star in 1993), Martin Gendron, Yanick Dube, Rick Girard (scoring leaders in 1994), Marty Murray, (scoring leader, Best Forward directorate award in 1995), Jason Botterill (3 gold medals – 1995, 1996, and 1997), Christian Dube and Cameron Mann (scoring leaders 1997).

Did you notice anything odd about that list of excellence?

That’s right, you very possibly never heard of any of those guys. They were all NHL busts, and, with the benefit of hindsight, the World Junior Championships rosters are loaded with them.

Canada produces dozens, even hundreds of junior players to the professional ranks every year. You would think that when the top 20 players are named to the Canadian junior national team that those players are all destined for NHL success, barring injuries of course. But apparently not.

Let’s take a closer look, and examine only the best of the best. Between 1980 and 2000, the following Canadian players were named as All Stars at the World Junior Championships:

1982 – Mike Moffat, Gord Kluzak, Mike Moller
1985 – Bob Dollas
1986 – Sylvain Cote, Shayne Corson
1988 – Jimmy Waite, Theoren Fleury, Greg Hawgood
1989 – Dave Chyzowski, Stephane Fiset
1991 – Eric Lindros, Mike Craig
1992 – Scott Niedermayer
1993 – Manny Legace, Brent Tully, Paul Kariya
1995 – Bryan McCabe, Marty Murray, Jason Allison, Eric Daze
1996 – Jose Theodore, Jarome Iginla, Nolan Baumgartner
1997 – Chris Phillips, Christian Dube
1999 – Roberto Luongo, Daniel Tkaczuk, Brian Campbell

This list can be sorted into three categories:

NHL players – I think there’d be little debate if I included Cote, Corson, Fleury, Lindros, Niedermayer, Legace, Kariya, McCabe, Allison, Daze, Iginla, Theodore, Phillips, Luongo and Campbell on this list of legitimate NHL players. I’ll include Kluzak, who’s career was derailed by injuries. That’s 16 NHL calibre players.

Fringe NHL players - Hawgood and Baumgartner have nearly identical careers but neither could quite carve out a career in the NHL.

NHL busts – When was the last time you heard about Moffat, Moller, Dollas, Waite, Chyzowski, Fiset, Craig, Tully, Murray, Dube or Tkaczuk.

By my admittedly unscientific count, that’s 16 NHL players, and 11 busts. A 59% success rate by Canada’s WJC all stars. A much more in depth analysis would be necessary to determine a success rate for entire rosters over the years, but I’m going to hazard a guess the success rate would be lower than 59% at the all star level.

The World Juniors have captivated Canadians unlike any annual international event. It is a Christmas tradition, and considered by many to be the best hockey tournament outside of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A few years from now we will look back at recent rosters, and wonder why so many players never panned out in the NHL.

It is something to think about as we cheer on Steve Downie, Luc Bourdon, or Andrew Cogliano. It may our last chance to do so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stephane Fiset played 8 straight seasons in the NHL, even playing 60 games in oe season for the Kings. He played about 40 NHL games bookending those years, too. He played a comparable amount of NHL games as Legace has. Of course he didn't live up to the hype, there's no doubt about that, but he was definitely an NHLer. Far more than Hawgood or Baumgartner, who are certainly both "fringe" but aren't nearly identical. Baumgartner's only ever played one full NHL season and Hawgood had 474 games by the time he retired.

On the other side of things, I remember being introduced to Adrian Aucoin and Anson Carter through the WJCs, players who were so unheralded and drafted so low it seemed unlikely they'd make it to the bigs. But their WJC success turned out to be a sign of things to come.

Steven Rice is a guy who stands out to me -- WJC captain who made a big hit every shift and never stopped skating. Seemed like a great leader, and a surefire NHLer. But he never stuck in the NHL, despite a 20-goal season. He was actually remarkably similar to Mike Richards, another ex-Kitchener Ranger & WJCer.

Here's hoping Richards' career turns out to be more successful.