May 04 2010 08:50AM
“He makes his linemates/teammates better.” That seems to be the newest saying when it comes to evaluating skilled players, and from where I sit it is the most misused phrase in the game.
How exactly can we evaluate if a player actually makes his teammates better?
Are increased point totals a fair standard? What about Plus/minus?
How much better can a player make his teammates? I don’t think you can make players better, you can give them a better chance to produce, but certain players will compliment one another very well, even if they don’t have the same skill set.
Dave Lumley scored a goal in 12 straight games playing with Gretzky, and that record still stands in Oilerville, but Gretzky couldn’t turn Lumley into a perennial goal scorer, outside of one 30-goal season.
People always talk about how Rob Brown only scored 49 goals because he played with Mario Lemieux, and while Lemieux was a major factor, you can’t underestimate how dynamic of an offensive player Brown was on his own.
He scored 212 points (a WHL record that will never be broken) in 1987 with Kamloops as a 19-year-old, and tallied 173 the year before when he was 18. To suggest Brown didn’t have any talent is absurd.
PLAYED DEFENCE UNTIL HE WAS 18
How many of you knew that Brown played defence his first two years in the WHL? Ken Hitchcock moved him up to forward his 3rd season, his draft year, and he tallied 173 points. He never played forward until he was 18, and three years later he scored 49 goals and 115 points in the NHL. That is extremely rare.
He had the offensive instincts to play with Lemieux, and succeed, like very few had, but why?
“I knew where he wanted me to be,” said Brown. “Some guys had more skill than I did, but they didn’t think the game like Mario. I could anticipate where to go, and more importantly where he wanted me to go. Guys like Mario will give any player more opportunities, but it still is up to you to produce.
“It is hard to create chances as a goal scorer if you don’t have a guy who can find you in the right spots. Very few goals scorers in the NHL can create goals on their own; they need a playmaker, just like the playmaker needs a goal scorer to finish plays”.
Brown was a goal scorer, which is remarkable considering he grew up playing defence and never practiced or learned a lot of the offensive tricks that most scorers develop in minor hockey. And of course he benefited by playing with Lemieux, and then Ron Francis in Hartford, but he also had the offensive instincts to know how to produce playing with those types of players.
I’ve heard and read a lot the past few weeks about players making their teammates better, and that’s becoming one of the big arguments between Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, but is their any validity to it?
For years many Oiler fans stated that Ales Hemsky made Shawn Horcoff better, but then Jonathan Willis provided some insight stating that wasn’t the case. Hemsky’s numbers were in fact better with Horcoff than without.
No one would argue that Horcoff is more talented, but Hemsky produced better playing with Horcoff than he has with Sam Gagner, who most argue has more natural offensive instincts than Horcoff. Some offensive guys play well together, but some never click because their styles don’t match on the ice.
Suggesting that Hall doesn’t make his teammates better is off-base. He creates space for his teammates, but at the NHL he will probably need a good puck distributor to allow him to flaunt his goal-scoring prowess. Seguin, who became a better shooter this year, will most likely benefit more by being flanked by a scorer who can get open and finish when given the opportunity.
I think both of them will produce in the NHL, if they are put with linemates who compliment their respective games.
And that might be the biggest question that Stu MacGregor and Steve Tambellini need to ask themselves. When you look at the youth in the organization what type of player do they have more of: Playmakers or shooters?
I still say take the centre, but if they honestly believe that Sam Gagner might be a better fit with Taylor Hall, than Jordan Eberle or Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson would be with Seguin, then they have to look at that angle and act accordingly.
But I doubt either one of them will make their teammates that much better, rather, the Oilers will need to find players that compliment Hall and Seguin.
The great players will produce regardless of who they play with, and it is too early to tell if either Hall or Seguin will be great, but the Oilers need to ensure that whoever they pick has teammates/linemates who they can feed off to succeed.