July 10 2012 08:11AM
A year ago at this time, we were debating how good Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be. Although he was the consensus first overall pick, there were fears (some of them were mine) that he didn’t produce enough at even-strength as a junior player, and that consequently he might disappoint offensively at the NHL level.
Nugent-Hopkins didn’t fail to meet expectations. He blew expectations out of the water.
In what turned out to be his final year with the Red Deer Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins played 69 games, scoring 31 times and finishing with 106 points on the season. Those were impressive numbers, but not especially so for a first overall pick.
The best guide we have to projecting junior offense to the NHL is Gabriel Desjardins’ work with league equivalencies. Basically, Desjardins went back and looked at all the players jumping from junior to the NHL, and calculated on average how well they produced relative to their junior numbers.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ended up playing 62 games as a rookie. Using his junior numbers, had we known his games played total we should have expected him to score eight goals and 20 assists. In reality, he scored 18 times and added 34 assists.
More than that, Nugent-Hopkins’ per-game production compares well with some very high-end players over the last decade and a bit – his end of season offense was a match for Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews’ rookie production, and ahead of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares on a per-game basis. Looking at that back in April, I then turned to some of the all-time greats:
Even without adjusting for era effects, Nugent-Hopkins is within a whisper of Joe Sakic’s offense as a rookie – the great centre for the Avs and Nordiques scored at a 73-point pace in his 1988-89 rookie season. Adjust for era effects, and we can start talking about Denis Savard and Steve Yzerman and Ron Francis. Naturally, it’s unfair to compare him to those players, who followed up their rookie seasons with hundreds and hundreds of quality games, but still: 51 points in 60 games in this day and age is a rare feat and likely the harbinger of a special career.
To be sure, a lot broke right for Nugent-Hopkins. His 13.4 shooting percentage was likely a bit on the high side – I’d expect him to come in closer to the 9.3% he shot post All-Star game than the 16.3% he shot before it. The coaching staff protected him early in the year, something they won’t continue to do indefinitely
Even so, there’s no question that in a year’s time Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has gone from a promising first overall pick to a centerpiece of the Oilers’ rebuild. A year from now, if all goes as hoped, the same will be true of Nail Yakupov.
This week by Jonathan Willis
- Trades, the Edmonton Oilers, and Magnus Paajarvi
- What to make of the Winnipeg Jets signing Mark Dekanich
- Are negotiations on this CBA going better or worse than last time around?
- Sam Gagner heads to salary arbitration
- Tom Renney joins the Detroit Red Wings
- Why not Michal Rozsival?
- Have the Edmonton Oilers done enough?
- Wild sign Parise and Suter - how much better will they be?
- Was Justin Schultz leaving the Ducks unfair?
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter