The Rookie Forwards of 2011-12

Jonathan Willis
May 24 2012 04:38PM

The rookie scoring race this year saw the three Calder Trophy finalists all finish within a single point of each other. Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both recorded 52 points, while New Jersey Devil Adam Henrique scored 51. The only other player even close to those three was Philadelphia Flyers rookie Matt Read, with 47.

Yet another look shows that the gap between those four and a player like Carl Hagelin or Sean Couturier has been exaggerated by circumstance and opportunity.

The simplest measure of opportunity is games played, and when we look at the 14 rookie forwards with more than 20 points on the scale of points-per-game, we see a shift in the rankings. Here they are, with the “PTS/82” column representing their point-per-game pace multiplied over an 82-game schedule.

Player GP G A PTS PTS/82
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 62 18 34 52 69
Adam Henrique 74 16 35 51 57
Gabriel Landeskog 82 22 30 52 52
Andrew Shaw 37 12 11 23 51
Matt Read 79 24 23 47 49
Carl Hagelin 64 14 24 38 49
Craig Smith 72 14 22 36 41
Cody Hodgson 83 19 22 41 41
Colin Greening 82 17 20 37 37
Luke Adam 52 10 10 20 32
Marcus Kruger 71 9 17 26 30
Sean Couturier 77 13 14 27 29
Nick Johnson 77 8 18 26 28
Ryan Johansen 67 9 12 21 26

We see a commanding lead emerge for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while players like Andrew Shaw and Carl Hagelin are in the same range.

Of, course, there are other forms of opportunity, and it’s interesting to note where a player generated their offense. This is particularly true in the case of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was far and away the leader in terms of points-per-game. Here is our list again, but this time ranked by offense produced at even-strength or while shorthanded:

Player EVPTS PPPTS SHPTS Non-PP PTS
Adam Henrique 36 8 7 43
Gabriel Landeskog 38 12 2 40
Carl Hagelin 36 0 2 38
Matt Read 33 11 3 36
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 29 23 0 29
Colin Greening 29 8 0 29
Cody Hodgson 27 14 0 27
Sean Couturier 24 1 2 26
Nick Johnson 25 1 0 25
Craig Smith 23 13 0 23
Marcus Kruger 23 3 0 23
Andrew Shaw 19 4 0 19
Luke Adam 17 3 0 17
Ryan Johansen 17 4 0 17

Once again, Hagelin is the player that really stands out from the pack, given that he’s rarely mentioned in the same Calder discussion as the four players grouped around him. His 36 even-strength points is an impressive mark for a rookie .

Also decidedly impressive is Adam Henrique, who picked up more points in short-handed situations than much of the field managed on the power play. All of the players with a significant penalty-killing role – Henrique, Landeskog, Hagelin, Read and Couturier (who looks much closer to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in this light than he does in terms of overall points) fare well here.

Of course, the most vital measure is scoring relative to ice-time. The following chart shows 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 PTS/60 (courtesy of behindthenet.ca), as well as each player’s 5-on-5 scoring rate extrapolated over Gabriel Landeskog’s 5-on-5 ice-time. (Note: omitted in the latter calculation are 5-on-4 and 4-on-4 numbers. The first is omitted since not all players got power play time, the other because it comprises a relatively small percentage overall of each player’s scoring.)

Player 5v5PTS/60 5v4PTS/60 Landeskog TOI
Carl Hagelin 2.40 --- 48
Andrew Shaw 2.24 4.06 45
Matt Read 2.15 3.46 43
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1.98 7.30 40
Luke Adam 1.84 2.12 37
Adam Henrique 1.81 3.96 36
Sean Couturier 1.81 --- 36
Gabriel Landeskog 1.74 4.11 35
Cody Hodgson 1.68 5.62 34
Craig Smith 1.64 5.11 33
Marcus Kruger 1.58 1.75 32
Colin Greening 1.57 3.46 32
Ryan Johansen 1.39 2.15 28
Nick Johnson 1.35 --- 27

Ranking the chart this way is somewhat problematic, as I’ll explain when I go through the individual players.

Carl Hagelin’s rookie year has been tremendous, and he really hasn’t received fair credit for it. At 5-on-5, he’s easily the best of these players in terms of generating offense this year. His overall numbers were hurt by an early-season stint in the minors, a lack of power play time, and playing on a deep team, but he had a quality season and the Rangers have a gem there.

Andrew Shaw’s numbers look a little too good to be true, and they probably are. He split 2011-12 evenly between the AHL and NHL, and produced identical offensive numbers in each league. He’s a useful player in a lot of ways, including as a physical presence, but given his junior and AHL numbers I’m a little skeptical that he can keep up the pace he showed in half an NHL season this year.

Matt Read is a late-blooming forward who lacks the same upside as many of the other players on this list, but even if he never takes a step forward what he is now is nothing to be remotely ashamed of.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is unfairly penalized by this list, because he’s the guy with the highest level of power play ability. His offensive numbers at even-strength – even with the sheltering he received for much of the year – are excellent for an 18-year old, but his power play ability is what makes him such a spectacular player. There are more complete players on this list (not a surprise given age), but there’s no better offensive magician than the Oilers rookie.

Luke Adam doesn’t really belong where he is on this list. It was a bizarre season for the Sabres forward. In his first 11 games he scored four times and recorded 11 points overall, then the scoring became erratic over the next ~20 games, and he closed out his NHL season with a 20-game pointless streak. He went down to Rochester in February, where he put up miserable numbers to polish off 2011-12.

Adam Henrique and Sean Couturier actually had relatively similar seasons, save that New Jersey opted to use Henrique more in all areas of the game. Henrique had a brilliant year, but Couturier’s the really interesting player because his usage (the worst zone-start of any Flyers’ forward) was so severe and his ice-time rather limited. Based on what he did with his ice-time, he’s really in the same group as more heralded draft-mates Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog.

There’s no question that Gabriel Landeskog delivered a superb rookie season, and he’s probably the favourite for the Calder. There’s also no question that he had an opportunity in Colorado that few other players received. His offensive game out of the gate is better than it was expected to be, but it also got help in the form of ice-time.

Cody Hodgson’s offense declined once he was separated from the Vancouver power play; it’s going to be interesting to see how he fares in Buffalo next season.

Of the remaining players, the one really worth highlighting is Ryan Johansen, who had a decidedly subpar rookie season in Columbus. Given the disaster that was the 2011-12 Blue Jackets, that’s not necessarily all his fault, but he was expected to deliver a lot more in the show than he eventually did as a rookie. The expectations of the other players in his range were much more modest; Johansen was supposed to be a difference maker out of the gate.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Devolution
May 25 2012, 05:01AM
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Very interesting analysis, and of course we all have our own opinion. In your opinion how much impact does the media and the market a player plays in have?

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#2 Kent Wilson
May 24 2012, 06:08PM
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Added praise for Hagelin: his relative corsi rate of +10.3, good for second on the Rangers (and first amongst guys who played against good players).

He basically jumped into the league as a fully formed NHLer, which is rare.

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#3 Devolution
May 25 2012, 05:01AM
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Very interesting analysis, and of course we all have our own opinion. In your opinion how much impact does the media and the market a player plays in have?

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#4 Ben Wendorf
May 25 2012, 07:24AM
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That somewhat alleviates my Calder ballot (1st Henrique, 2nd RNH, 3rd Hagelin)...but not completely. I was drinking, you see...and the last image I had was a blonde Swede but I couldn't remember which one...

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#5 PopsTwitTar
May 25 2012, 08:03AM
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As an NYR fan, I would like someone to find that regular season Carl Hagelin...preferably by about 8 pm tonight.

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#7 Sunshine
May 27 2012, 04:20AM
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Love this stuff, can't get enough of this quantitative analysis. It's pathetic watching Ward, PJ Stock, McKenzie and other 'analysts' on TV trying to mumble their way through player evaluations. All I can think is "how nice to hear your 'opinion' I have one to, doesn't make either of us right".

They never take into account player usage, quality of linemates, zone starts etc. And we all know this date has a larger effect on a players game than simply 'he looks lost', or 'he's struggling out there'.

Thanks.

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