Nugent-Hopkins vs. Kane

Back in February, I suggested that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be the wrong selection with the first overall pick. Since then, he’s gone on a tear (at both even-strength and on the power play), Ken Hitchcock has started comparing him to Pavel Datsyuk, and the opinion of the scouts (the ones talking, anyway) has firmed up in a positive way.

Meanwhile, there’s a notion out there that Nugent-Hopkins isn’t the first skinny power play ace to shoot up to the top of the draft rankings in recent years, and Patrick Kane’s done some pretty nice things for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Is the comparison between Kane and Nugent-Hopkins a legitimate one? Possibly, but the math suggests that Kane was a better scorer at the same age:

Player GP EVG EVA PPG PPA EVPTS/GM PPPTS/GM
Patrick Kane 62 40 32 22 51 1.16 1.18
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 69 19 27 11 48 0.67 0.86

(the breakdown of Nugent-Hopkins’ numbers is courtesy of this excellent post)

If we can trust the math, Nugent-Hopkins isn’t quite as good a playmaker as Kane was at the same age, and he’s about half the goal-scorer.

I’ve got a few points to make here:

First, the player we just described (half as good a scorer as Kane, almost as good a playmaker) is still a pretty good hockey player. Maybe not the kind of player a team wants to grab with the first overall pick, but still a pretty good player.

Second, based on Nugent-Hopkins’ offensive production, there isn’t much reason to compare him to Kane at this juncture. Yes, Kane was a good power play scorer, but he also chalked up points at almost twice the even-strength rate as Nugent-Hopkins has this season.

But that isn’t the whole story. I’m as big a fan of trying to study players objectively as there is out there, but the simple fact is that our knowledge of prospects is limited, and the statistics we have on them are not comprehensive enough to say things with a lot of certainty. Jordan Staal was a player who didn’t put up the points in his draft year, but he’s looked pretty good as an NHL player – a lot better than James Sheppard, who did.

This isn’t to say that we should ignore point production, age, relative plus/minus or any of the other data we do have on junior-league players. Colorado did that when the snagged Scott Parker in the first round back, as did New Jersey when they grabbed Michael Rupp, as did Minnesota when they selected Benoit Pouliot, as did the Islanders when Ryan O’Marra aced their psych test, and on and on it goes.

Further, the problem with ignoring production is that as fans we don’t have much else to go on. Sure, there are people like Ken Hitchcock above – good, knowledgeable hockey people – who are willing to share their knowledge with us, but the scouts who watch the most games aren’t going on the record, they have plenty of incentive to obfuscate off it, and despite the high level of hockey knowledge each one possesses nobody’s perfect even if they are willing to tell things straight. Piecing together a decent idea of where these prospects are going to end up is a difficult process.

What I do know is this: a lot of knowledgeable people really like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I also know that no matter how many good things I hear about him, I have trouble getting past that even-strength scoring rate – it’s the kind of number I expect from a decent prospect, but not from a first overall pick.

A Stanley Cup Ring!

I generally like Jim Matheson’s work, but I do wish he wouldn’t resort to the tired old line about cup rings when it comes to evaluating individual players. From his column today:

The Colorado Avalanche seem like the best bet to go after Vokoun. Should he get a cent more than Nikolai Khabibulin’s $3.75 million a year? No. Khabby won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay. Vokoun never has.

That’s a lousy argument, given the difference in their respective performances. Thirty goaltenders have played at least 200 games since the NHL lockout; here are some highlights from the list ranked by save percentage:

Rank Player SV%
1 Tim Thomas 0.922
2 Tomas Vokoun 0.922
19 Dwayne Roloson 0.909
29 Nikolai Khabibulin 0.901
30 Vesa Toskala 0.898

What’s the difference between the second-best and the second-worst post-lockout save percentage? I’ll put it this way: Tomas Vokoun has allowed 876 goals since the NHL lockout. Had he posted Khabibulin’s save percentage, he would have allowed 1107. The difference between those two numbers is an entire NHL team’s worth of goal-scoring.

So, yes, we could boil this all down to counting Cup rings, or we could simply acknowledge that over the last five years Tomas Vokoun has been a much, much, much better goaltender than Nikolai Khabibulin.

  • slopitch

    I too generally like Jim Matheson’s work, he’s an engaging writer who is expected to grind out a tonne of copy every season.

    But, yeah, I thought about sending him a snarky email after reading that Vokoun-Khabibulin bit.

    He’s got a couple of those old-timey blind spots. Cup wins is one. Goalie wins is another.

    He got quite grouchy last winter when people were suggesting that Chris “The Win Machine” Osgood isn’t a Hall of Fame caliber goaltender.

    The other thing about the Vokoun-Khabibulin comparison is that it implies the dollars given Khabibulin were somehow the correct amount. Nyet, Comrade.

  • Golden Seals

    A lot of people are trying real hard to talk themselves and anybody listening into the fact the Hopkins is a star in the making. What is for sure is guys who are a lot better than me at evaluating talent will make the decision but in my opinion if he is not an elite level goal scorer or an elite level playmaker, just a pretty good one or “the best of a bad lot” then stay away from him. By all accounts Larsson is an elite level defenceman and I think you need to get an elite level player with the first overall pick.

  • 24% body fat

    Also why does everyone think we need a set up guy for Hall. I think we just need a good player to play with Hall. Hall tends to make things happen himself. Any good player to play with Hall will make him better. We dont need a specific skill set for him.

    Now for the other players around us ya we need specific skill sets, but playmaking and pp is only one of them

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Hard to believe Kane had 72 pts his first year in the NHL at 168lbs. If Patrick Kane can play at that level with that weight then maybe Hopkins could succeed at this level as well.

    Would feel alot better taking NuHo in that 1 spot if we have a Strome/Couturier/Huberdeau coming a few picks later if we’re fortunate enough to improve on that Kings pick and move up 10 spots. May help soften the blow if the No.1 pick goes back to the Rebels.

  • Jason Gregor

    You say they were the same age, when in fact Kane is a born a year earlier. He turned 18 in Nov of his draft year, while Nugent-Hopkins just turned 18 at the end of this season. That makes a huge difference.

    Also don’t you have to consider the teammates/linemantes. Kane had Kostitsyn and Gagner, both who scored over 100 points that year.

    Kane scored 145 points, Kostitsyn had 131, Gagner 118, and even Adam Perry had 87.

    Nugent-Hopkins had 106 points, while Andrej Kudrna had 82 and Byron Froese had 81. Both of them are 19 and Kudrna hasn’t been drafted while Froese was a 4th rounder in 2009.

    Just taking Kane’s EV points and comparing them to RNH and saying RNH won’t be as good is very misleading when you consider age, and quality of teammates/linemates.

    • 24% body fat

      Dont 19 year olds usually dominate in the CHL. You always see them at the top of the scoring lists and they are not always drafted or went mid to late rounds.

      Gagner was 17 (rookie) and kostisyn 19 and Kane was a rookie also.

      RNH is in his second year and he playing with two 19 year olds.

      Would you not consider quality of linemates pretty even here than. Sure Kanes were better prospects, but two 19 year olds helps a lot

      • Age doesnt matter when the quality is WAY better in the young guys! Kane #1, Gags #6, Kostitsyn #200

        Kudrna not drafted, Froese # 119. Gregors argument is solid. They said medicine hat was putting 2 players on him in the playoffs. FEW ever in hockey can get away from 2 guys.

        Also, anyone know if that year was the one London broke the record for consecutive wins??

      • Lyxdeslic

        Your point is barely valid what so ever. Age does help a player develope but just because someone is 19 does NOT make them by any means an elite player in the league. take for instance 20 year old rebel Colin Archer 68gp 30p he is the oldest player on the team and far from the best…very far. Take the top line for the Sea Dogs,

        Huberdeau age 17,67gp, 105p

        Zack Phillips age 17, 67gp, 95p

        Steve Anthony age 19, 61gp, 60p

        Zach Phillips is to Huberdeau as Gagner was to Kane. A 17 year old with tremendous skill and it increses your point total, put 20 year old mike thomas(5 years of developement and undrafted like Kudrna) on Huberdeau’s line instead of Phillips, i gaurantee you his point totals go down significantly. Quality of player beats age everytime, no question asked.

  • John Chambers

    RNH actually has gone on record to say he wants to play here, too. I’m not sure if the organization is over our insecurity about attracting top-level talent to Omaha North.

        • Crash

          The Seguin crowd would laugh at this…I’m obviously not a believer in Seguin or at least not as gung ho as some. His one decent regular season in the OHL and his stellar rookie campaign in the NHL doesn’t have me convinced I’d give up anything tangible to obtain him.

          I think Hemsky is more valuable to the Oilers right now than people think, but yes, he does need to stay healthy. His last 2 yrs have been a disaster. I don’t think any team would be willing to take the chance on giving up any asset for Hemsky until he proves he’s healthy.

          My guess is if the Oilers trade Hemsky it will be during the season as I don’t think they’d get value for him before then. Ya never know though, I guess.

          He likely has to show other teams he is healthy for awhile first. But I’d rather they keep a healthy Hemsky.

          Nevermind Boston, when will Doug Wilson blow up the core of the San Jose Sharks if they go out once again?

          • Quicksilver ballet

            San Jose can probably tinker and milk it for another 2 or 3 yrs before having to clean house. If they could only swap out Thornton for Brad Richards, things would be different i’m sure.

          • Crash

            I think though that San Jose has been tinkering for a few years now with the same end result every year. Somehow I get the feeling Doug Wilson may be out of a job if San Jose loses yet again and he continues to tinker and leave the same core (Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Heatley, Clowe, Boyle) intact.

        • D-Man

          That’s way too much to give up for Seguin, considering he’s been a healthy scratch on numerous occasions… I might consider offering LA’s first pick instead… Gagner and the 31st would also be a fair offer; but I don’t think Boston is jumping at that deal…

          • D-Man

            Yes… Although Hemmer has been injury prone – he is a career point per game player… Seguin hasn’t scratched Boston’s top 6 and has been a healthy scratch on too many occasions…

            Hemsky is a proven commodity – Seguin is not… I would think Gagner and the 31st or even LA’s 15th pick would be more equitable. Boston wouldn’t jump at that – I can only imagine them having interest in either Hemsky or Whitney… If we’re looking at getting Seguin, then I’d offer:

            Hemsky & LA’s 15th pick – Seguin and Toronto’s 1st round pick. We’d still be losing a bit as Seguin hasn’t really proven anything but we’d get an opportunity to move up the draft… I don’t think Boston would bite though…

          • Steve Smith

            Haha no kidding, but it happened in his franchise for NHL 2011! So it must be good! haha, think Boston would give us Chara for our 4th 5th 6th and 7th they are getting 4 draft picks???

          • D-Man

            What are you talking about?? I apologize for the error in my typing but I meant Hemsky and LA’s 1st round pick we got in the Penner deal (it should be about the 15th pick) for Seguin and the Boston pick they got from Toronto..

            Seguin has an awesome pedigree – in junior… He has tremendous upside to be a good two way forward… But that might or might not happen… I still see this trade is a fair offer…

            There aren’t any statistics that show me Seguin is going to be as good as Hemsky is now (even if Hemmer is only good for 50 to 60 games per season)…

          • Lyxdeslic

            There is no way that Boston would ever even consider that, Tambo would never offer it because he would be the laughing stock of the league. Sorry for being sarcastic before but that is a terrible offer, Boston would hang up the phone and never speak to the Oilers again. There is no way Boston trade Seguin for an injured Hemsky who is an upcoming UFA, and there is no way that on top of that Boston will trade 9th for 18th (or is it 19th). Seguin got shafted this year by playing a cup contending team if he was on any bottom team he may have been in talks for the Calder.

          • D-Man

            Oh – I agree with you whole-heartedly… Boston wouldn’t consider this deal at all.. A couple posts earlier someone had Hemsky and our 2nd round pick for Seguin… That’s even worse than my offer..

            I do think though my offer isn’t as lopsided as you or others might think. Hemsky (though injured) is a career point per game player and and excellent playmaker… Imagine him with Lucic on the same line? Boston is having difficulties scoring as they don’t have any set up players, especially after losing Savard. Now if I were Tambo – I wouldn’t deal Seguin straight across for Hemsky – Seguin isn’t proven as I previously mentioned… Now Seguin and a 1st round (top ten pick) would be too much of a price for Boston… That’s why I’d throw in our 1st round LA pick… To me that seems equitable for both sides… Boston still wouldn’t bite – but to me that seems a lot fairer than Hemsky and a 2nd round draft pick.

          • D-Man

            Tell me why you think this is lopsided?? Seguin has a tremendous upside, but Hemsky is PROVEN… He’s hurt but he’s shown to be an excellent playmaker…

            I can’t see why you think this deal is lopsided.. Granted – Boston wouldn’t bite; if they’re smart there is no way they’re even considering to deal Seguin either way, but to me this trade would be fair.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            You could think of it that way, or you could also think that he’s been thrust into one of the best clubs in the NHL. His opportunities aren’t the same as they would’ve been had he been selected by a cellar dweller. Not sure there’s much difference between Hemsky* and Gagner.

            *China Doll history the last two yrs.

          • D-Man

            True – Seguin hasn’t received the same opportunities as Hall. But that being said – there’s no guarantee he’d thrive being thrust into a #1/#2 center role here… I wouldn’t be comfortable dealing a proven point per game player even though he’s been injury prone the last two years… I said in a previous post – IF I were to deal Hemmer – my proposal would look like this…

            Hemsky + LA’s 1st Pick = Seguin + Toronto’s 1st Pick. Not sure Boston would bite – but then we’d have 1st and approximately 7th or 8th pick for this year’s draft… We could then get say RNH for the 1st pick and a potential D-man or another center with the 2nd…

        • Crash

          They might, but they might not…I posted it for effect.

          Some others talk like it would be a forgone conclusion and that Boston would scoff at it and that Edm would just be drooling over it. But how can anyone be so sure that an RNH, Couturier, Strome, Huberdeau, Larsson, Landeskog, etc. are so much worse than Seguin that offering the #1 overall for Seguin would be spit on? Maybe the Oilers wouldn’t even consider it…how can we presume to know?

          That was my point.

  • NastyNate

    Kane’s linemates: Sam Gagner, Sergei Kostitsyn

    RNH’s linemates: Andrej Kudrna, not sure of the other.

    Ganger went in the top 10 and although Kostitsyn didn’t go till the 7th round that combination im sure helped bolster Kanes numbers. I’m not sayin RNH will be Kane but i think it helps explain the gap in their numbers a little better. Had RNH been playing with someone like Sven Bartschi and another quality player i’m sure his numbers would be much more comparable.

    *I see Gregor has already brought up this point. my bad

  • 24% body fat

    You can build a strong case for all top six being taken first . Which one , however , will also fill our biggest voids and needs the best ? I am leaning towards Larsson for that reason .

  • A couple points.

    1. We need playing time stats for this to mean anything since the London pump is a well known phenomenon.

    2. Linemates. His situation was actually worse than people think because He only played with Froese on the PP. They did not play together at EV because they both played center. (At least whenever they came to Calgary)

  • positivebrontefan

    The situation on Boston is so vastly different than in Edmonton. They didn’t have to force feed Seguin minutes like Hall in Edmonton. I don’t think they sat him due to poor play.
    I’d trade our first pick for Seguin at this point.
    Lets see who has more points in ten years Seguin or RNH. I like both by the way, I’m just sayin’.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Personally I see Seguin and RNH being roughly equal offensivly, but Seguin being far superior all around.

      Like having Ryan Kessler vs Mike Ribero for example

  • Steve Smith

    JW, you say “I’m as big a fan of trying to study players objectively as there is out there”. You’re joking right? Stats are all you ever use. You even contradict this later in your article. Perhaps if you actually got out and saw the kid play you would see that stats don’t show the whole story of a kid who plays on a defensive team that relies on special teams to make the differnce. BTW, perhaps a stat guy can appreciate he had the best plus/minus on the team. Considering his huge point totals on the powerplay don’t count, that’s pretty impresive. I would think a stats guy like you would point this out but that wouldn’t work for your argument against drafting him.

  • striatic

    All I’ve seen of Nugent-Hopkins are YouTube clips, which do not speak to his defensive ability or play away from the puck and which are very selective in terms of the skills they highlight. On the other hand, I’ve watched a lot of WHL hockey and so I have at least some idea of what these kids are and are not capable of.

    Bearing that in mind, I’ve gleaned some positives and a big negative from the RNH clips.

    The positives are that his stick handling ability is incredible, but more than that is the puck handling ability and speed while in tight spaces, especially along the boards. I’ve seen very few WHLers of any age capable of doing some of the stuff RNH does along the walls. Echoes of Datsyuk. He also appears to have an incredibly accurate shot, although this is something that the “highlights only” viewing limitation will overemphasize.

    The big negative is that despite these being apparently “highlight reel” goals, he’s bagging many of them because of incredibly shoddy WHL defending. Just, stuff you never see defenders do in the NHL. Things like defenders not being aware of him at all because of massively misreading plays and getting caught out of position.

    You can sort of see how and why RNH gets so many goals on the powerplay. His stickhandling along the boards can lengthen his team’s time of possession on each powerplay, and his accurate shot can exploit immature defenses that collapse the wrong way.

    My worry is what will happen when RNH gets up to a level of play where defenses don’t collapse the wrong way anymore, or do so very rarely, or are able to cover up the mistake when they do.

    This is where the Datsyuk comparable falls apart. With Datsyuk he can dangle a team from the boards all the way to the slot and produce a goal from thin air. A power forward can push their way through. A playmaker can pass their way through. All these player types can create goals even when the opposition isn’t giving them space.

    RNH seems to need the other team to make the space for him, and this worries me.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    What about the age difference between the two? What about the quality of their team mates? What about the quality of their line mates? What about the age of their line mates?

    Never mind. Keep churning out posts!

  • Okay, a few quick answers (better late than never) to concerns raised:

    – Linemates matter, and Kane’s were better. The gap isn’t as wide as made out in some of the comments (the gap between Nugent-Hopkins and Kudrna is about the same as the gap between Kane and Gagner in the year under consideration) but there is a gap and that’s worth noting.

    – The age difference between Kane and Nugent-Hopkins isn’t a year, it’s five months. Significant, yes, worth noting, yes, but hardly the chasm stated above.

    – Whose my pick? I lean towards Larsson, but honestly I’m going mostly on what the scouts have said there. I haven’t crunched the numbers, and it sounds like there are a lot of horses in this particular race. I don’t feel strongly either way and I’m not going to weep if RNH gets picked; this was more of a ‘here are my problems with RNH’ than a comparative post to the other top picks.

  • Bauerxxx

    Patrick Kane Played on a line with Sergei Kostitsyn and Sam Gagner, he amassed 145 points for the OHL scoring title and combined with Gagner and Kostitsyn for 394 points.

    I may be wrong i am not exactly sure who Ryan’s line mates are but. I am guessing his line mates didn’t put up the points Patrick Kanes did, So maybe the reason Kane had more even strength points was due more to line mates than talent?