Jordan Eberle Comparables, Part II

Jonathan Willis
August 31 2012 11:06AM

Yesterday, the Oilers re-signed Jordan Eberle to a six-year, $36 million contract extension. If you were wondering what that shrieking noise around mid-afternoon yesterday was, now you know (and you also know that its epicenter was Wanye Manor).

Earlier this month, I looked at some comparables for Jordan Eberle. It’s a pretty good looking list. Today, I’m going to try something similar but with some modified criteria.

The problem with my first list – a list that included Jason Allison, Patrice Bergeron, Martin Havlat, Ales Hemsky, Marian Hossa, Vincent Lecavalier, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Mike Richards, Sergei Samsonov, Alex Semin, Paul Stastny,Petr Sykora, Alex Tanguay, John Tavares, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Toews – was that it was based solely on points. The criteria on that list was to look at all forwards from 1997-98 on to have a season with a points/game total between 0.90 and 1.05 at the age of between 20 and 22 (Eberle, with a 0.97 points/game season at age 21, fell midway between those points).

Doing it that way doesn’t take into account Eberle’s unreal shooting percentage. At 19.8 percent, Eberle had a higher shot percentage than can reasonably be expected to continue (the league leader since the lockout, the phenomenally selective shooter Alex Tanguay, has an 18.0 percent conversion rate).

So, while the list of names above is nice and rosy, it’s not a list I particularly trust.

The Pessimist’s Method

Since shooting percentage is fickle from year to year – and history shows, barely short of certainty, that Eberle’s true accuracy level is lower than he managed this season – I decided to ignore goal totals and instead focus on two other things: assists/game and shots/game. Then I sorted every player since 1997-98 who came close to Eberle’s assist totals (within 10 over an 82-game season, basically) and shot totals (plus or minus 20% of Eberle’s shots per game this season) and came up with a list of 43 seasons between the age of 20 and 22. So, I narrowed it down some more. I removed all of the centers from the list, leaving only wingers, created an adjusted point column (basically assists plus shots multiplied by the group average shooting percentage) to negate shooting percentage differences and removed everybody who was no longer within 10 points of Eberle.

I haven’t compensated for individual points percentage (Eberle’s has been on the high side over his first two NHL seasons) and I also haven’t really allowed for Eberle’s high on-ice shooting percentage – at least not directly. Eberle’s 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage was driven in large part by his personal shooting percentage; 36.4% of 5-on-5 goals with him on the ice came off his stick (as per behindthenet.ca). By negating Eberle’s personal shooting percentage, we negate a good portion of his insanely high on-ice shooting percentage as well.

That’s a lot of explaining, but basically what we’re looking at here is a cynic’s list of comparable players. It’s the kind of list designed to handle the objections of a guy like me. Here’s the list:

It’s a pretty strong list, overall. Aside from Heatley those names lack star power to some degree, but when we look at their average 82 game performance over the next seven seasons (as long as Eberle’s under contract in other words) we get this:

The “S-1” column asks whether the player had a comparable season to Eberle the year before the big breakthrough; in a surprising number of cases the answer was yes. The players that didn’t – Horton and Friesen – are both below average on this list. The “Data” column indicates whether there were seven full seasons to grab information from after. Meanwhile, the “Drafted” column shows overall draft position in an attempt to add the context of these players’ pre-NHL career.

Looking at the data, I don’t really think Eberle’s going to crash and burn the way Friesen did, and I don’t really believe he’s going to set the NHL a-flame the way Heatley did, either. I think we’re probably looking at a pretty good player – at worst, a Milan Michalek fringe-first line type, and with the potential to be a Patrik Elias-style winger. Elias might sound like a disappointing comparison, but he is not: he had a 96-point season and was a top line power-vs.-power winger on a very good Devils team for years.

The group average is in Petr Sykora/Bobby Ryan country: a 30-35 guy during a healthy season. For those who believe Eberle’s a significantly above average NHL shooter (the group average here is 12.8 percent – an excellent number and not far from where I’d put Eberle), feel free to bump his goal totals a little higher.

I tend to be more cynical than the norm on Eberle. This list reflects my thinking on what constitutes a reasonable baseline – not necessarily the best-case scenario, but a reasonable baseline. Looking at it now, I’m not wild about the Oilers’ long-term offer to Eberle – I’d like a shorter term, or some patience getting him under contract – but I’m also not terribly worried it’s going to be an ugly overpay either.

Bottom line: if you’re a true believer that Eberle’s a franchise player and that his shooting percentage was for real, stick to that first list, the one that looked at him strictly by points. If, on the other hand, you’re more pessimistic on him (as I am), I think these comparables send the message that at worst – even with shooting percentage regression – he’s going to be a pretty good player for the next seven years.

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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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#51 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
August 31 2012, 06:36PM
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K_Mart wrote:

Although Ebs clearly had a season where his shooting percentage was above what can reasonably be expected on a year to year basis, I believe that if Nuge and Hall can stay healthy, Yakupov and Schultz are immediately impact players, and Ebs can keep his sht% at or above 12% we can expect him to repeat his 70+ pt season.

This really isn't all that unreasonable. I think Nuge will probably emerge as one of the true top playmakers in the league over the next few seasons and Eberle will benefit in a massive way. I also think that Yakupov and Hall will both be the beneficiaries of some beauty passes from Eberle on the PP and 5v5.

Remember Ebs' backhand pass to smytty on the doorstep? or his late cross crease feed to hall in the same spot? Sure his sht% may drop, but what about his playmaking abilities? if Hall isn't injured for 20 games and Yakupov is the sniper the scouts claim... Eberle can easily repeat his 42 apple season, if not increase it. What about schultz' impact? What if he's as good as Gardiner? You don't think Eberle will benefit in both the apple and goal columns with a guy like that manning the pp?

Even if his sht% does drop to 13% there are enough other variables in play that a season of 25g 45a is completely reasonable to expect.

Stacking offensive players together doesn't usually mean more points for everyone.

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#52 Ban Shot
August 31 2012, 08:47PM
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A question we should be asking is "How many times does a player's best statistical season correspond with his best shooting percentage?"

Elias has 4 seasons of higher point totals then his best season in terms of shooting %. Heatley's best shooting% season is tied for 4th amongst his best years. Havlat 2nd best season. Gagne 4th best season. Ryan Tied for 3rd best (out of 4) Sykora Best season. Williams 2nd best Bouchard 2nd best Horton 6th best. Samsonov 4th best season.

Seems like most of Eberle's comparables put up more points in seasons other then their strongest season of shooting percentage. Guys like Havlat, Gagne, Bouchard, Williams, the majority of players who did not put up a number of seasons better then their high sh% season generally have had careers marred by injury.

Virtually all of them increased their shots taken per year through seasons 1-4 of their careers. That is the main reason I don't think you can put a cap on Eberle's potential yet. We don't know how many shots he will be taking in his prime. Its way too early to be talking about Eberle's past season being his outlier.

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#53 knobby
September 01 2012, 01:04AM
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You are pessimistic about everyone. Let's face it. I wouldn't be surprised to see averages with any player fluctuate from game to game and season to season. I have generally stopped reading your posts because they are boring. It's too bad you can't enjoy the game more and stop trying to be an over-analytical stats gnome.

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#54 AutoOiler
September 01 2012, 05:47AM
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It would be interesting to see if Nuges other linemates had high shooting percentages. Who had the first assists on Ebs goals? Maybe Nuge is the anomaly that caused the push in Ebs shooting percentage. Not luck.

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#55 seanjohn
September 01 2012, 06:22AM
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Patrick Elias/Daniel Briere type is where I put Eberle. So your column seems online. 70 ppy average, very special in the playoffs.

6 mil per year? about right.

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#56 madjam
September 01 2012, 08:45AM
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IN DEFENCE OF STATS. They make for conversation and raise expectations on the game and players . It's like handicapping the horses - value added and heightened expectations . Stats are an integral part of game and often strategies are made by each team to reflect that . Like it or not we all analyize game before we go and also during play -just not very often statistically . If the stats were not flexible and fluctuating it would make for a dull game and unentertaining a majority of times . They merely show with a modicum of accuracy certain trends that one might expect or look for . THUS IT ADDS TO ENJOYMENT OF GAME OVERALL . It does sadly lack in the human element and circumstances a majority of times , however . Stats are TRENDY (pun) .

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#57 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
September 01 2012, 09:14AM
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AutoOiler wrote:

It would be interesting to see if Nuges other linemates had high shooting percentages. Who had the first assists on Ebs goals? Maybe Nuge is the anomaly that caused the push in Ebs shooting percentage. Not luck.

Unlikely, otherwise you'd see guys playing with other elite playmakers consistently put up insane shooting %'s

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#58 K_Mart
September 01 2012, 09:19AM
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I get that stacking offensive players together often doesn't result in more points for everyone. But it is more likely then most other situations.

Chemistry between hockey players is a fickle thing.

Crosby and Malkin both seem equally effective with or without one another. Placing them on the same line hasn't seemed to really increase either of their offensive outputs.

Then you have situations like Hartnell's and Lupuls. Where chemistry plays such a large role that the weaker player produces far more pts then their talent level would be indicate be reasonable.

But its important to look at the big picture for Eberle. Around the league combos like Zetterberg Datsyuk. Getzlaf Perry Sedin Sedin Gabo Richards Spezza Alfy Ovie Backstrom etc... are far more likely to have success then the rarities like Lupul Kessel. A pair I am still skeptical of.

When you have the amount of talent the oilers have, together for 9 years. The odds that SOMEONE generates good chemistry with someone else increases dramatically.

So when I say it is reasonable to expect eberle to put up 25g and 45a next season I don't think I'm far off. We already know he can click with Nuge. What we don't know is how he will work alongside Yak or with J Schultz on the back end. All I'm saying is I like his odds of repeating. 13% SP and 70pt season I predict.

Completely reasonable.

And that's if he only plays 10 games. Art Ross 574 pts in p. 82 gp. 215 pts is still respectable Wayne.

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#59 AutoOiler
September 01 2012, 09:56AM
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Don't forget Gagner's 656 point year.

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#60 AutoOiler
September 01 2012, 10:18AM
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An example I can think of is Hull and Oates. Hull's best shooting percentages were the three years with Oates. Stamkos and Stlouis, and Gretzky and Kurri are other examples.

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#61 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
September 01 2012, 12:14PM
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AutoOiler wrote:

An example I can think of is Hull and Oates. Hull's best shooting percentages were the three years with Oates. Stamkos and Stlouis, and Gretzky and Kurri are other examples.

Kurri also shot 20.8% his last year with Gretz and 20.6% his first year without.

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#62 Spydyr
September 01 2012, 02:30PM
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Ebs shooting percentage is high because he is too smart a player to go down his wing and flip a muffin in the goalies crest.He will always make the smart play(well most times he is human....sorry Wayne)be that pass or shoot.

Can't seeing that changing .He is not going to lose that great hockey sense he has .It will only get better.

Now for comparisons.Normally don't go there as I feel each player is their own player.But will this time because I'm all giddy about the two signings.I'm going to say it......Joe Sakic.

Smaller player, very cerebral,quick accurate shot.Plays hard every game.Good defensively.Captain material.

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#63 oilerman53
September 04 2012, 04:36PM
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I might get torn apart for saying this but Eberle and his traits as a player and a guy who can take the physicality and maintain his cool in tight and around checkers reminds me of Peter Forsberg. How many highlights have we seen Forsberg dipsy doodling in tight and having his way down low? Much the same way Eberle has been doing.

Mind you Forsberg played the formidable years of his career in the dead puck era says he has way more skill then Eberle or at least more strength. I think the comparable here is Eberle is Forsberg Lite. Once he puts on more weight and gets stronger Ebs is going to be a force all on his own. Forsberg never once got accused of having a howitzer shot but the guy could score and dangle.

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