Stephen Weiss is a name that came up in yesterday’s article looking for players with a similar development curve to Oilers forward Sam Gagner. Stylistically, he’s a very strong match for Gagner, but let’s see how their offence compares at the same ages.
For starters, I suppose I should explain why the age when a player scores his points is important. The reason is that a typical NHL career has an offensive curve, and a player climbs that curve as he ages. Gabriel Desjardins showed this with a post he did back in January, a post that showed the average 25 year-old was scoring roughly 20% more than he scored at the age of 21. Naturally, then, a player scoring 50 points at the age of 21 can be expected to score more points at the peak of his career than a player scoring 50 points at the age of 25. So the age a player puts up his offensive totals matters a lot.
Now, since Weiss broke into the NHL at the height of the dead-puck era, where scoring levels were even lower than they are now, we’re going to normalize his offensive numbers to a level where league scoring averages 3.00 goals per team, per game. We’ll do the same with Gagner. Both players will see their offence go up, but this adjustment favours Weiss because scoring was lower when his career started. We’ll also project their totals over an 82 game season.
In their draft years, both players were highly regarded, and both went early in the NHL draft – Weiss fourth overall, Gagner sixth. Let’s run their junior numbers, adjusting for the fact that the OHL in Gagner’s draft year had a 12% uptick in goal-scoring:
- Weiss: 82GP – 48G – 56A – 104PTS
- Gagner: 82GP – 44G – 103A – 147PTS
The comparison works out in Gagner’s favour, but it’s hardly conclusive. Gagner played on a line with Patrick Kane, that year’s first overall pick, and Sergei Kostitsyn, a 19 year old who put up incredible numbers in his own right, and they all played for a powerhouse London Knights squad. Weiss’ Plymouth team was a good one, but he led them offensively. So while the numbers at this point favour Gagner, I’m inclined to think the draft number is a good indicator that they were at roughly the same level coming out of junior.
Gagner made the jump to the NHL full-time in his first year, while Weiss only got to dip his toes, playing seven games before getting sent back down to junior. Because of that, it’s difficult to compare the two, but I’m going to give it a go anyway, with the understanding that this is only an approximation. I’ve blended Weiss’ NHL and OHL results, using Desjardin’s NHL equivalency number. Here’s what we get:
- Weiss: 82GP – 15G – 25A – 40PTS
- Gagner: 82GP – 18G – 28A – 46PTS
The numbers are a lot closer than I originally suspected, and at this stage suggest Weiss as a better comparable for Gagner than I thought yesterday.
In their second post-draft years, both players were employed full-time at the NHL level, but Weiss performed at a level below what we would have expected from his OHL equivalency numbers (which were used in the last paragraph):
- Weiss: 82GP – 7G – 18A – 25PTS
- Gagner: 82GP – 18G – 28A – 46PTS
Weiss struggled to translate his offensive game from the OHL to NHL, something Gagner had managed the year before with comparative ease. Gagner got more ice-time than Weiss at both even-strength and on the power-play, but even so Gagner outscored Weiss by a lot at even-strength: 1.77 PTS/60 to 1.02 PTS/60. Both were relatively ineffective on the power-play, with Gagner having a slight edge (2.85 PTS/60 to 2.70 PTS/60).
In their third years post-draft, Gagner again played the entire year in the NHL, while Weiss played most of the year in the NHL and also had a brief stint in the AHL. Here are their numbers, again:
- Weiss: 82GP – 23G – 33A – 56PTS
- Gagner: 82GP – 19G – 33A – 52PTS
Gagner and Weiss played comparable minutes, with Gagner getting a tiny bit more time at even-strength and on the power-play, while Weiss once again played a lot more minutes short-handed. Gagner scored 1.56 PTS/60 at even-strength and 5.77 PTS/60 while Weiss managed 1.62 PTS/60 at even-strength and 5.95 PTS/60 on the power play.
Looking at the in-depth numbers, this is a much closer comparison than a quick glance showed. I still suspect that Gagner’s quicker entry into the NHL and his far superior performance in both players’ second post-draft years means his offensive upside is slightly superior, but I can’t be sure of that.
The good news is that we could get a definitive answer next year. Weiss’s performance in his fourth post-draft season – where he played in the AHL due to the NHL lockout – wasn’t very good; he put up 54 points in 80 games. For the three NHL seasons following that, his offensive performance pretty much flat-lined. If Gagner can take a significant step forward next season – even to the 60-65 points range – we can be quite confident that he’ll out-pace Weiss over his career. If he doesn’t, we can be quite confident he won’t.
One final note: I was wrong yesterday to dismiss Weiss as quickly as I did; I didn’t spend as much time looking at him as I should have.