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:
(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:
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.