From the 1994 Draft (when the league expanded to 26 teams) until the 2005 Draft (of which players are just turning 25), just 22.5% of all players selected in the 7th round have managed to play at least one game in the NHL.
12.5% of all players selected in the 7th round have played more than 100 games in the NHL. And just 7.5% managed to have a moderately successful career by playing more than 300 games.
But to date, Nicholls has been a revelation in the WHL and is making a case that he might be one of the roughly one in five that makes it to the NHL. His stunning progression as a prospect propels him into the top 20 of our Top 25 Under 25.
Nicholls was selected 182nd overall in 2010, after scoring 18 goals and 48 points in 71 games in his second season with the Saskatoon Blades. Scouting reports projected him as a 4th line/ penalty killer at the pro level, capable of contributing some offence, with a good combination of size (6'2") and speed (Think a player along the lines of Daryl Boyce or Joey Crabb).
In the 2010-11 season Nicholls blossomed, erupting for 34 goals, 53 assists and 87 points in 71 games.It was a significant step forward for the BC native. Going into the current season, with the Blades losing key forwards such as Brayden Schenn and Curtis Hamilton to the pros, Nicholls has been relied upon heavily for offence. He has responded by matching his output from the previous season by accumulating 20 goals and 35 points through 30 games.
For lack of a better term, the "feeder leagues" to the NHL; the Canadian Hockey League, the NCAA, and professional leagues in Europe, don't have the resouces to provide the same level of statistical analysis we have available to us in the NHL. So it's not entirely possible to quanitfy just what is at the root of this large jump in production from an unheralded draft pick.
One tool we do have is NHL Equivalency (NHLE), which attempts to calculate the expected production at a higher level of play. NHLE was developed by Behind The Net, and has been used more recently by the folks at the Edmonton Oilers blog Copper & Blue to assess the production of recent draftees. Nicholls' last season and a half of work in the WHL bodes well for his future as a bottom six winger; in both his 2010-11 season and his half of a 2011-12 season, his NHLE works out to approximately 28 points over an 82 game NHL season.
Nicholls has yet to be signed to a pro contract, but after two breakout seasons I find it hard to imagine a scenario in which the Leafs don`t sign him to an Entry Level Contract. He should take the next step forward and join the either the Toronto Marlies or the Reading Royals to begin to learn the pro game.
Compared to his peers selected in and around him, Nicholls was a pretty consensus pick around the Top 20, no higher than 16 and no lower than 21. Plea From A Cat Named Felix explains his decision to vote Nicholls at #16.
The approach I took when evaluating anyone outside the Top 15 was whether I saw them cracking the Leafs line-up within the next five years. I believe Josh Nicholls will do that. As a 7th round draft pick in the 2010 Entry Draft it is unlikely that he ever plays an NHL game. That being said he put up 87 points, 34G and 53A in 71 GP the year after he was drafted with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL. He’s got NHL size at 6.2 and is producing at over a point per game this season. For what it’s worth, Hockey’s Future projects his as a versatile two-way forward with some potential offensive upside. Basically if he can play on either the 3rd or 4th line in the next five years we should be very happy. I ranked him a little higher because I think that he is a guy whose two way ability will get him into the line-up, sort of like Matt Frattin. I think he’ll be a Leaf one day.