What are realistic expectations for Dane Fox?

The conversation surrounding the Canucks has understandably shifted from the present to the future. That’s what happens when the team’s chances of making the playoffs have shrunk from slim to positively diaphanous. The Canucks are down to a 3.2% chance of making the postseason, according to Sports Club Stats, and fans have been looking to next season and beyond for nearly a month already.

Since there isn’t much to get excited about with the current roster, so it makes sense that fans would look to who might be on the roster in a coming season. In many ways, seeing a top prospect like Nicklas Jensen look like a legitimate top-six winger, at least when playing with top-end talent like Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, is more satisfying right now than seeing the Canucks win.

Other prospects are also showing promise: Cole Cassels has produced some surprising offence, Bo Horvat has progressed well, Ben Hutton has received Hobey Baker consideration, and Frank Corrado is playing big minutes in all situations for the Comets. None of them, however, have produced the type of gaudy numbers that really catch the attention of the average fan.

One prospect has, however: undrafted free agent signing Dane Fox. The Erie Otters left wing has scored an eye-catching 62 goals and 101 points in 64 games. The one fairly massive caveat is that Fox is an over-age player — a 20-year-old playing against 17, 18, and 19-year-olds — and had never produced at better than a point-per-game prior to his over-age year. So what, realistically, can we expect from Fox?

The first thing to say is that it’s very unlikely that Fox will be a first line or even top-six forward. Fans tend to see 60+ goals and 100+ points and get visions of a future superstar in their heads, but even third and fourth-line NHL forwards produced at some point.

Tom Sestito, as seems to get mentioned constantly whenever anyone questions his ability to play hockey, once scored 42 goals in junior. Brad Richardson scored 97 points in his over-age year. Darren Archibald scored 51 goals and 86 points in his over-age year. Matt Cooke had a 95-point season in junior, but made his mark in the NHL as an agitating third-liner.

Prior to this season, Fox saw himself as more of a Steve Ott or Dave Bolland-type, a third-line checking centre with agitating qualities and a pinch of offensive upside. At 18, Ott scored 50 goals and 87 points in 55 games for the Windsor Spitfires and scored 43 goals and 88 points in 53 games as a 19-year-old. Bolland scored 57 goals and 130 points in 59 games as a 19-year-old with the London Knights. Neither became a first-line forward.

Fox didn’t produce like that at 18 or 19, so does he have the same upside as either of those players? It’s really hard to say. We can, however, look at comparable players from the past: undrafted OHL forwards who scored 100+ points in their over-age season after producing significantly less as a 19-year-old. I started in the year 2000 (in the year 2000!).

Name Season Team Ht GP G A PTS NHL Games
Randy Rowe 2000-2001 Belleville Bulls 5’11” 63 64 38 102 0
Nathan Robinson 2001-2002 Belleville Bulls 5’9” 67 47 63 110 7
Mike Renzi 2001-2002 Belleville Bulls 5’10” 68 44 64 108 0
Chad LaRose 2002-2003 Plymouth Whalers 5’10” 67 61 56 117 508
Jamie Johnson 2002-2003 Oshawa Generals 5’11” 68 24 76 100 0
Martin St. Pierre 2003-2004 Guelph Storm 5’9” 68 45 65 110 39
Daniel Sisca 2003-2004 Sarnia Sting 5’9” 67 34 66 100 0
Tyler Donati 2006-2007 Belleville Bulls 5’10” 66 54 75 129 0
Jason Akeson 2010-2011 Kitchener Rangers 5’10” 67 24 84 108 1
Charles Sarault 2012-2013 Sarnia Sting 5’11” 68 22 86 108 0
Dane Fox 2013-2014 Erie Otters 6’0” 64 62 39 101 ???

 

That far right column isn’t all that promising, though the jury is still out on the likes of Jason Akeson and Charles Sarault.

There are a couple things to keep in mind, here. The first is that players capable of putting up points like this generally go undrafted for a reason. For many of them, it’s size, which is why I included height on the chart. 5’9″ forwards generally don’t have much of an NHL future, even if they do score. Of the 843 skaters who have played at least one NHL game this season, just 35 are 5’9″ and below.

Others don’t get drafted because of concerns over foot-speed, questionable defensive ability, or some other on-ice reason. Fox is different. In his first year of eligibility, he was expected to get drafted around the third round, if not late in the second round, according to various scouting projections at the time. The reason he didn’t get drafted wasn’t an on-ice issue, but an off-ice one.

An injury that limited him to 37 games likely didn’t help his bid to get drafted as a 19-year-old either, leaving him available for the Canucks to roll the dice by signing him as a free agent. It’s a chance worth taking, even if the odds of him making the NHL are long.

The other thing that sets Fox apart from most of the other players on this list are his goals. He’s only the 15th player to score 60+ goals in an OHL season since 1990.

Name Season Age Team Ht GP G A PTS NHL Games Drafted
Eric Lindros 1990-1991 17 Oshawa Generals 6’5” 57 71 78 149 760 1991 1st overall
Rob Pearson 1990-1991 19 Oshawa Generals 6’1” 51 63 55 118 269 1989 12th overall
Andrew Brunette 1992-1993 19 Owen Sound Platers 6’1” 66 62 100 162 1109 1993 7th round
Vitali Yachmenyov 1993-1994 18 North Bay Centennials 5’10” 66 61 52 113 487 1994 3rd round
David Ling 1994-1995 19 Kingston Frontenacs 5’9” 62 61 74 135 93 1993 7th round
Sean Haggerty 1995-1996 19 Detroit Jr. Red Wings 6’1” 66 60 51 111 14 1994 2nd round
Randy Rowe 2000-2001 20 Belleville Bulls 5’11” 63 64 38 102 0 No
Corey Locke 2002-2003 18 Ottawa 67′s 5’9” 66 63 88 151 9 2003 4th round
Chad Larose 2002-2003 20 Plymouth Whalers 5’10” 67 61 56 117 508 No
Matt Foy 2002-2003 19 Ottawa 67′s 6’2” 68 61 71 132 56 2002 6th round
John Tavares 2006-2007 16 Oshawa Generals 6’0” 67 72 62 134 350 2009 1st overall
Patrick Kane 2006-2007 18 London Knights 5’10” 58 62 83 145 509 2007 1st overall
Brett MacLean 2007-2008 19 Oshawa Generals 6’2” 61 61 58 119 18 2007 2nd round
Reid Boucher 2012-2013 19 Sarnia Sting 5’11” 68 62 33 95 23 2011 4th round
Dane Fox 2013-2014 20 Erie Otters 6’0” 64 62 39 101 ??? No

 

First of all: holy crap, John Tavares.

Second of all, this highlights the two most interesting comparables, the only other players on this list who were over-age players when they scored 60+ goals and who also happen to be undrafted players that appeared on the first list as well: Randy Rowe and Chad Larose.

These two player provide a wide range for Fox’s future, from 0 NHL games up to 508, the fourth highest total on this list.

Like Fox, Rowe scored just under a point-per-game prior to his over-age year, where he posted nearly identical stats to Fox: 64 goals and 38 assists. Also like Fox, who plays with Connor Brown and Connor McDavid, Rowe had some talented teammates to help him along in Kyle Wellwood and Branko Radivojevic.

Rowe never cracked an NHL roster despite receiving several invites to camps and ended up spending most of his career in the ECHL. That’s certainly a potential future for Fox.

On the other end is Larose, who scored just over a point-per-game in his 19-year-old season before taking off with 61 goals and 56 assists as a 20-year-old with much more limited offensive help, scoring 29 more points than his next best teammate. Still, he fits the bill as a comparable, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Larose played 508 games with the Hurricanes, scoring 85 goals and 180 points, along with 12 points in 39 playoff games. He spend significant time as a top-six forward, though he was likely miscast in that role.

His on-ice shooting percentage took a dive last season, however, and he scored just 4 points in 35 games. Unfortunately for him, it was a contract year, and he wasn’t re-signed by the Hurricanes. he remains an unrestricted free agent, despite his strong underlying statistics.

All that is to say that we should temper our expectations for Fox. He has good potential as a defensive forward and has the puck skills and wrist shot to chip in offensively while playing that role. It’s entirely possible that, like Rowe, he never reaches the NHL, so if he can match the NHL career of Larose, fans should be thrilled.

It’s tempting, of course, to expect more, and it’s certainly possible that he’ll have a better career than Larose. After all, he’s bigger and was ranked far higher by scouts prior to breaking out as an over-age player. But expecting too much from prospects, particularly ones like Fox, can easily lead to heartbreak. The key for the Canucks is that Fox cost nothing to acquire, other than money.

Mike Gillis has had a lot of success with undrafted free agents. Chris Tanev and Eddie Lack are the most noteworthy examples, along with Darren Archibald and Evan McEneny. They haven’t all been hits, of course, with Kellan Tochkin being an obvious miss, though he managed to turn Tochkin into Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh.

The question now is whether Fox will be another hit. Does he have an NHL future like Chad Larose or will he toil in the ECHL and AHL like Randy Rowe?

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17 comments

  1. Dan C
    March 13, 2014

    Unreasonably optimistic (I mean I am a Canucks fan) me wants fox to pan out as a tommy wingles type player, someone who can frustrate the heck outta the other team, whether it be with timely goals or aggressive play.

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  2. Brad Url
    March 13, 2014

    Another overager that deserves a second look is Mitch Holmberg with 61/54 115 in 70 gp with the Spokane Chiefs.

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  3. Chrìs
    March 13, 2014

    I hope fox pans out, I read a article earlier in the year about him. One thing that was brought up is that he was child hood friends with Bo horvat. Fox stated that was one of the reason he signed with Vancouver. I’am curious to see if the Canucks will attempt to sign Mitch holmberg who is the leading scoring the whl with 116pts in 70 games played.

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  4. Thomas
    March 13, 2014

    Absolutely loving the prospect posts!

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  5. akidd
    March 13, 2014

    gee whiz, daniel. you’re no fun!

    but, but, but…um….

    wait he’s gotta be good right. gillis specifically named him as a reason to buy season tickets.

    my religious affiliation(the church of latter day cup contenders) doesn’t allow me to answer surveys to read hockey articles so does anybody know what the off-ice issues were? not that it matters anymore(thanks again, daniel:)

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    • Naturalmystic
      March 14, 2014

      The article said that Fox had off-ice issues but he wouldn’t talk about them.

      I was mildly irritated having to complete a survey to read a filler article.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        March 14, 2014

        Ah, sorry about that. Forgot that one had a survey attached to it.

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    • RobG
      March 14, 2014

      After doing some digging, the best I could come up with on Dane Fox is he has ‘personal issues’ a couple fans on one discussion board used the term bat-sh*t crazy. The London Knights basically gave up on him because they couldn’t deal with his constant distractions. This guy has side-show written all over him but the kid has the skills no doubt. I read in most places that he is most likely going to be a Dave Bolland-type player. A solid 3rd or 4th line center who can get under the skin and frustrate the hell out of opposing players, but has enough skill to contribute offensively. Maybe he will change when he is surrounded by professionals and he grows up a bit and puts the ‘off-ice distractions’ behind him and just focuses on playing hockey.

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    • akidd
      March 14, 2014

      thanks, guys

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  6. Dan C
    March 13, 2014

    The unrealistically optimistic canucks fan in me will be happy if he pans out as a Tommy Wingles type player.

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  7. nick
    March 14, 2014

    This is so good, Daniel – thanks.

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  8. Noodle
    March 14, 2014

    John Tavares had 72 goals, 62 assists, and 134 points as a 16 year old?!!!! That’s pretty amazing.

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  9. Chinook
    March 14, 2014

    I appreciate the research Daniel – good analysis.

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  10. 5minutesinthebox
    March 14, 2014

    The thing about Fox is that he should have been at worst a 3rd round pick, but because of his off ice antics he slipped from the draft entirely. In 2012/13 (while being traded from the best team Erie, to the worst, London) he put up 23g 31a in 62 games. The following season Fox starts the season injured and only plays 37 games Erie and puts up 19g 28a, a pace of 32g 28a over the same number of games as the previous season. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a non over ager while coming off an injury that lasted half a season.

    According to his coach he has become a very dependable 2 way player and is utlilized as a 2 way player in all situations, including late game faceoffs and defensive zone time in late game situations when holding a lead.

    I am of course an optimist. But from watching his play, you notice a couple of really key things. His movement without the puck is excellent, and his wrist shot looks deadly accurate. Its not like he is over powering physically immature players as an over ager given he is average to below average in size.

    He seems like a kid hell bent on proving everyone wrong for not picking him in the draft, and that in itself looks to be a very strong motivator for him so far.

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    • GeezMoney
      March 14, 2014

      Yeah, but what’s his corsi like?

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  11. BBoone
    March 14, 2014

    GMMG does not get enough credit for his recruitment of prospects outside the regular draft.

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  12. Mr. Insider
    March 14, 2014

    I don’t understand the fuss over his off-ice issues. It was the reason he was the highest North-American rated player to not be drafted. Yet, the past is the past and as this article stresses he is now an over-ager who has matured and developed into a great 2-way player. I believe the draft snub has turned this kids career around. This is a guy Vancouver fans are going to like, he’s honestly what the team needs, someone with some grit and skill. He’ll be a great 3rd liner!
    Watched him play a ton, big fan.

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