It was a bit of surprise -- and perhaps a sign of change for the Dallas Stars.
Last week, the Stars called up 20-year-old forward Tomas Vincour. And while most people noted that Vincour had been struggling in the minors, we noticed something different: He was drafted in 2009 -- less than two years ago.
This is remarkable because, historically, the Stars are extremely patient with their prospects. On average, Stars prospects have had to wait 3.3 years to make their NHL debut after being drafted, making Dallas the most patient team in the NHL (the league average is about 2.6 years). However, Vincour made it in just 1.5 years.
So perhaps second-year general manager Joe Nieuwendyk is playing by different rules than his predecessors.
But is that a good thing? Have the Stars been too patient? Or is patience a virtue that should be left alone?
First, a few facts:
1. Mathematically speaking, patience is usually a good thing. There is a strong correlation between how patient a club is, and how often they make the playoffs. It's partly because better teams don't have to rush prospects to fill holes.
2. The Stars promote players at a similar rate as the NHL average -- about 35 percent of drafted players play at least one NHL game.
3. The Stars find NHL contributors (minimum 82 games played) at a higher-than-average rate -- about 23 percent of drafted players.
But here's the downside: Stars' draftees rarely contribute early.
Since 1990, 243 players have made their NHL debuts in their draft seasons, and that includes just one Stars player: Patrick Cote. And Cote barely counts, because he played just two games in the 1995-96 season. Otherwise, every other Stars draftee has had to wait at least one season; most players have had to wait three or more.
Waiting on prospects isn't a bad thing, but the fact that they haven't had a single first-year contributor indicates that the Stars haven't been in a position to add an elite talent through the draft. Since 1993 -- their first year -- the Stars' highest pick has been No. 5 overall in 1996, and they missed on defenseman Richard Jackman, who fizzled out of the league. And in five of the past 16 seasons, they haven't even had a first-round pick.
As we've seen the past few years, the salary cap forces teams to build contenders through the draft. This is especially important for low-budget teams. So developing your own players -- and being patient while doing so -- might be more crucial than ever. But the way the Stars became No. 1 in patience -- having almost no top draft picks -- might've hurt them in the long-run. So, while Nieuwendyk shouldn't necessarily speed up development, he should put himself in positions to draft players who can race through the pipelines.
That said, let's take a look at the top five most "patient" teams from the last 20 years, and how they've each reached that position:
1. DALLAS STARS
Average wait time: 3.29 years
Playoff berth since 1990: 12/16 seasons
Notable early debut: Patrick Cote (1995) -- draft season
Latest debut: Rick Mrozik (1993) -- two games for Calgary in 2002-03
The Stars did draft one guy who made a huge early impact -- Jarome Iginla. It's just too bad that he was traded six months later, before ever donning a Stars uniform. That said, we can't totally fault the slow method. They have, after all, made the playoffs in 12 of the last 16 seasons, and they could make it again this year.
Average wait time: 3.25 years
Playoff berth since 1990: 18/19 seasons
Notable early debut: Scott Niedermayer (1991) -- draft season
Latest debut: Deryk Engelland (2000) -- debuted in 2009 with Penguins
Of the 82 Devils draftees who have made their NHL debuts, 54 have had to wait at least three seasons. That includes five first-round draft picks. The Devils' strong stable of veterans in the past two decades made it possible for GM Lou Lamoriello to wait for his prospects to develop. That said, the Devils didn't build winning teams through the draft.
Average wait time: 3.23 years
Playoff berth since 1990: 10/19 seasons
Notable early debut: Paul Kruse (1990) -- draft season
Latest debut: Mathias Johansson (1992) and Jonas Frogen (1998) -- both waited 10 seasons
While there were some early bloomers, like Matthew Lombardi, the Flames insisted on waiting on everyone, including their top prospects. For example, Dion Phaneuf had to wait two seasons before breaking into the NHL. A total of 31 Flames prospects since 1990 have waited four or more seasons.
Average wait time: 3.0 years
Playoff berths since 1990: 15/19 seasons
Latest debut: Chris Kelleher (1993) -- one game in 2001-02 with Bruins
Since 1990, nine Penguins players have made their NHL debuts during their draft seasons. Compare that to the Stars' single player. As we all know, they've found several high-impact guys -- Crosby, Jagr, Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin -- who were early contributors. But they're also more than willing to wait on guys who need extra time, like Rob Scuderi (five years) and Ryan Malone (four years). That's how the Penguins are one of the NHL's most patient teams, despite having an itchy trigger finger when it comes to promoting their top prospects.
Average wait time: 3.0 years
Playoff berths since 1990: 19/19 seasons
Notable early debut: Keith Primeau (1990) -- debuted draft season
Latest debut: Jason McDonald (1992) -- debuted 2003-04 with Rangers
The Wings are extremely judicious, as we've previously noted. This means that the large majority of Wings' draftees don't even have an NHL debut. And those that do have had to wait. Since 1990, only 11 players have debuted in the NHL within a year of being drafted. And some players -- like Derek Meech, Mike Knuble and Tomas Kopecky -- have had to wait upwards of four years before sniffing the NHL. The Red Wings are the shining example of how and why patience is a virtue.