Brule vs. Gagner

EDMONTON, CANADA - MARCH 5: Gilbert Brule #67 of the Edmonton Oilers handles the puck against the Minnesota Wild on March 5, 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

The question of whether Sam Gagner or Gilbert Brule is going to be a better player for the Oilers has come up a few times here at Oilers Nation, including in Lowetide’s excellent (and almost entirely unrelated) article earlier today. A comparison of their performances at the same ages might shed some light on the matter.

Gilbert Brule spent seven games in the show the year after he was drafted by Columbus, suffered some injuries and ended up spending most of the year with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, where he put in a very strong performance. Sam Gagner spent the entire year in the NHL, narrowly missing injury, and while he contributed offensively his defensive game was somewhat lacking.

A direct comparison is impossible, but we can use Gabriel Desjardins’ NHL equivalencies to give us an idea of where the two players were at offensively. This is just an estimation, but one that has a strong track record of predicting NHL performance, and is based on the aggregate performance of players jumping to the NHL from other leagues.

Using those projections, we can project Brule’s WHL/NHL mixed season over an 82-game schedule and compare it to Gagner over the same schedule:

Player GP G A PTS
Gilbert Brule 82 22 16 38
Sam Gagner 82 13 37 50

This estimation shows Brule as a better goal-scorer and Gagner as the more effective offensive player. Let’s see what happened the following year, when both players spent the whole season in the NHL. We’ll look at goal- and point-scoring rates, broken down for game situation, and also at QualComp and QualTeam for those years. First off, the even-strength data:

Player EVTOI EV G/60 EV A/60 EV PTS/60 EV GD/60 QualComp QualTeam
Gilbert Brule 684.8 0.53 0.53 1.06 -1.58 12th 8th
Sam Gagner 1019.6 0.59 1.18 1.77 -0.06 8th 4th

I’d like to draw attention first to the quality of teammates and opponents each player faced. Both had favourable circumstances; Gagner played third-line quality opponents with second-line quality help, while Brule played fourth-line quality opponents with third-line quality help. I think the positions are highly comparable.

We see similar goal-scoring rates, with a slight edge to Gagner, and Gagner more than doubling Brule’s assist production. The combination of those factors gives Gagner a fairly significant lead in scoring rate. More interesting, perhaps, is goal differential: Gagner came in just a shade under even while Brule’s line was lit up like a Christmas tree by the dregs of the league. The combination of those factors is almost certainly the single-biggest reason Gagner saw much more even-strength ice-time.

Next, the special teams data:

Player PP TOI PP G/60 PP A/60 PP PTS/60
Gilbert Brule 132.1 1.36 1.82 3.18
Sam Gagner 232 1.55 1.29 2.84

Interesting results here; Brule appears to have been the better power play option but received significantly less ice-time than Gagner. Both teams had substandard power plays, but Brule had a slightly more uphill battle: his Blue Jackets converted at a 14.8% rate while the Oilers managed a 17.0% success rate in the pertinent seasons.

Let’s move forward one season more, the last directly comparable season for the two. We’ll add a bit more data here – this year represents 2007-08 for Brule, the first year that zone starts and shot differential data is available:

Player 5v5 TOI 5v5 G/60 5v5 A/60 5v5 PTS/60 5v5 GD/60 5v5 SD/60 5v5 RCor/60 ZoneStart QualComp QualTeam
Gilbert Brule 549.6 0.11 0.76 0.87 -0.44 4.1 0.3 60.7 9th 13th
Sam Gagner 884 0.61 0.95 1.56 -0.41 2.6 10.9 48.8 13th 1st

First, I’d direct the readers’ attention to the situational data: zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates. Gagner sat right around the 50.0% mark in zone-starts, but got a major push otherwise, playing with high quality players against garbage. Brule on the other hand played with fourth-liners against third-liners, but got a major push on the zone-start scale, rarely being sent out for defensive zone assignments. Both players were cushioned quite a bit, and I’d say Gagner got the better deal.

The key difference is that Gagner produced to some degree, scoring points at twice the rate Brule did. Both players moved the puck in the right direction, for the most part; Gagner’s Corsi number was decent given the team around him, while Brule’s number is a little underwhelming given how often he started in the offensive zone.

I would be remiss not to mention shooting percentage here. One of the reasons I’m leery about taking Brule’s 2009-10 at face value is because it seemed like everything went in for him: he recorded a 14.0% shooting percentage, which is above NHL average and well above Brule’s career average. 2007-08 was a similar story for Brule, but in reverse: he managed a 1.4% shooting percentage, which was unbelievably, unsustainably low. For comparison, Patrick “Shoot from everywhere” O’Sullivan had the worst full season of his career in 2009-10 and still managed a 5.8% shooting percentage. It was not indicative of Brule’s ability and had to be taken with a grain of salt. Brule was dispatched to the minors, where he was less than impressive.

Here’s the power-play data for the same comparable seasons:

Player 5v4 TOI 5v4 G/60 5v4 A/60 5v4 PTS/60
Gilbert Brule 45.8 0 1.32 1.32
Sam Gagner 167.3 1.79 3.95 5.74

It’s not a track record that inclines one to view Brule as a comparable player to Gagner, particularly when one considers that in the comparable years Gagner is still seven months younger than Brule. Injuries likely had an impact but the fact of the matter is that even when healthy Brule was a disappointment in Columbus, both offensively and defensively. It’s a tribute to the man that he was able to come to Edmonton and have such a successful season on such a lousy team, but it’s almost certainly premature to be expecting him to have a better career than Sam Gagner.

Still, the fact that we’re even having the discussion shows the kind of season Brule had.

  • I think Brule has improved quite a bit since his rookie year. Gagner hasn’t improved much at all. I would like them both to be part of the Oilers future.

    Brule brings more to the Oilers than stats Gagner doesn’t simple as that. Brule isn’t bad at the dot and hits when he isn’t producing at least doing something. Ice time has lots to do with stats and power play oppurtuntitys.

    I’d put Brule on the 3rd line since he can produce with less attractive players but give him some power play time. Gagner would be good on the 2nd line since he will need better teammates to produce. Who will play the 1st line then ? Is penner a better option then Gagner and Brule ? He isn’t a natural center and if he is the first line center that will tell the fans neither young player is ready.

    Jonathan I like your articles but how has gagner improved every year when his best year was his first ?

    Brule has only had the one season where we could say ge played well with the chances he was given. So we need to be aware that it could stay the same or he could get better. I’d like to think ge will get better.

    • Gagner is a MUCH better all around player than his rookie version. To have a young kid come from all offense into the NHL and improve on his all around game all the while NOT losing to many points in the total column is a HUGE improvement.
      The offense will come back, I am glad the all around played showed up. IMO.

      • Has this been proven with every player or just ones that whom ever decides to portray as such ?

        Does this take into consideration growth in players size, speed and confidence ?

        I like reading stats but to start comparing stats between any league seems a little weird. Is there any way of telling how good a CFL player would be in the NFL ? Let me guess probably not reason they are differnt games just like AHL,WHL,QMJH,NHL.

        I will agree that GM’s and scouts look at stats. Don’t scouts look at stats comparing two different players in the same league to judge whom they feel is better or will be better ?

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          They took all players that moved from outside leagues to the NHL.

          It is just an estimation based on history, that disclaimer is right in the blog and on the site that runs the numbers.

          • Thanks, I’m interested in how this pans out. I don’t think we will have to decide between the players. I hope the Oilers can get Brule signed to a good reasonable contract so it doesn’t inflate Gagners contract and we can all enjoy these guys for a long time. I’d hate to see these kids get over paid and then have the fans turn on them. Like I have wrote probably 100 times I’m not the biggest Gagner fan mainly because I don’t like his style but I have never said he isn’t good or going to be good I just prefer other player/style.

            I’m a hugh Stortini fan go figure!!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Now you’re just fudging with me Archey

    Yes i would package Hemsky and Gagner as well as another need the Bruins desire to make Seguin part of that nucleous. Perhaps Khabibulins back forces him to retire….Oilers would have to take a couple Bruin salary dump players back (Thomas) as well as Seguin but i think you can smell what the rock is cook’in. Till we have that group of 4 or 5 nucleous players nothing else really matters…..we’re stuck in hockey hell like we have been for the most of the last 20yrs.

    • I think the chance to get Seguin is over. I’m sure the Bruins expect, and rightfully so, that Seguin will be a bigger part of their future now than either Gagner or Hemsky if a trade was proposed. The shot to have Seguin is over. We made our choice and there isnt a Mulligan.

      Gagner is a part of the Nucleus and even if he is only a 2nd liner in a perfect world he is still the best option the team has for an offensive centreman.

      It’s time to drop the Seguin trade talk. It isnt going to happen. He will be a Bruin for the next 7 years at least.

  • In the Modern era: There have been 26 players who are greater than .5points/game in there 18-20 years
    #17 M. Gaborik .73ppg
    #19 V. lecavalier .63ppg
    #20 S. Gagner .59ppg
    #25 P. Marleau .5ppg
    #26 Thorton .5ppg

  • fuck off

    I just read a pretty decent idea.…-should-trade-hemsky.html

    Basically I agree with the article with the Oilers having a good line up of right wingers. Sign Brule and have him as your second line right wing paired with Gagner and Paajarvi. Trade Hemsky and have Eberle as your first line right wing.

    What do you guys think?

    • fuck off

      I was all about Hemsky for Seguin/the #2 pick but that sure didn’t happen. Dreaming up trades is what playing NHL xx is for; aside from a fantasy game no fan is likely to ever see a trade they absolutely want because of our own internal bias’.

    • So, to start, the article is asinine and all of the points raised are complete garbage. I think the article has solidified that I wont be spending any time reading

      Aside from that nonsense, expecting Eberle to produce nearly as much as Hemsky is puting a lot of pressure to score on a guy that hasnt played a single NHL game.

      I think we saw what this team’s offense looked like without its best player. I would rather watch this team with Hemsky than without, and anyone who thinks the guy can be easily replaced clearly has his head up his @ss.

  • fuck off

    ALTERNATE PERSPECTIVE : Oilers are building around Hall, Eberle, Svensson and probably Omark at far less cost than trying to retain Brule ,Cogliano and maybe even Gagner . Even retaining Comrie and Piasni at $1M might be better than offering other 3 any more than $1.5M .

    I feel we can expect more from the new wave of rookies than we got from the three unsigned ones as yet right from year one to be honest !! Why overpay any one of them by doubling or tripling their salaries ? If i were to go ahead with any of them at 2M plus it would only be Gagner . The other two productions can be filled by others at around the $1M mark with the new wave of Oilers .

    Others in organization and outside by way of trade , etc. might be better alternatives for our new wave of Oilers rather than paying anyone of them more than $1.5M to remain here . Not like the 3 of them catapulted us out of 30th place to begin with !

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Another ridiculous post. As a combined package of 3, Hall/MSP/Eberle will likley have a higher cap hit then the combined package of Brule/Gagner/Cogliano for likely the next 2-3 years.

      Not to mention the fact that other then to pad Katz pocket theirs essentially no reason to save a couple 100K over the next couple of years.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Well Eberle/MSP aren’t too bad at 1.5 and 1.2, but guys top 5ish or better are paid a pretty penny right off the bat.

          So 6.5ish for the 3 rookies, while I bet Gagner/Cogs/Brule re-up for somewhere between 5 – 6 combined.