The discussion of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the potential number one overall pick points out the flaws in evaluating junior age kids through math: we just don’t have enough information.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this year’s top prospects with many well known hockey people. ALL of them suggest Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a cerebral player with exceptional on-ice vision and quickness. Robin Brownlee’s excellent ongoing series here at ON seems to be leading us to the conclusion that RNH is the man and most Oiler fans would be surprised at this point if he’s not taken #1 overall.
Among those who don’t feel he should go first overall the argument (in general terms) comes down to:
- RNH does not appear to have as "wide a range" of skills as someone like Sean Couturier.
- The way he’s scoring his points (mostly on PP) suggests he won’t be an impact player at Evens.
- His goals/assist rates are drastic enough for us to question his ability to be both a goal scorer and playmaker.
Cam Moon joined me for Nation Radio yesterday and I asked him several questions in regard to RNH. I’ve been very interested in his opinion because there’s a disconnect between the known math and reality (an example of reality: Bob McKenzie says 6 of 10 NHL scouts have Nugent-Hopkins #1) which usually means we’re missing part of the equation.
- Moon on the quality of RNH’s linemates: He played with Andrej Kudrna (29 goals) and John Persson (33 goals) during the regular season. Moon mentioned that he considered them excellent WHL calibre wingers. Moon also suggested that Nugent-Hopkins did indeed play with Byron Froese on the PP.
- Moon on the powerplay time on ice: According to the RDR PBP man the kid was on the #1PP all season long and shouldn’t be punished for results. While true, I think it’s important to estimate his PP TOI in reasonable terms. There were only three NHL forwards with more than 5 minutes per game this past season (Crosby, Malkin, Brad Richards) but let’s use that as the marker. 5 minutes per game on the PP. That would give RNH 345 minutes on the powerplay this past season, and put his 69gp, 11-47-58 numbers into 10.08 points-per-60 minutes. Even if we stretch the number to 8 minutes a night on the PP (Red Deer enjoyed 360 powerplays all year long, so 8 minutes a night would have RNH playing about 70% of the overall PP minutes–very unlikely) his points-per-60 number would be 6.30 points-per-60 on the powerplay.
- Moon on the EV time on ice: Cam Moon–as the PBP guy–is well qualified to speak to this issue. After all, he calls the team’s games all season long so would be the guy to answer the question. Moon told me yesterday that RNH plays on a "4line team" and there does seem to be some balance on the squad. 5 forwards scored more than 60 points during the regular year, 3 more between 27 and 40 points and two more regulars beyond that. So there’s 10 forwards we can scope from the boxcars, and they had a lot of kids who played partial seasons thrown in there too. Some of those kids (like Josh Cowen) were clearly getting legit minutes based on the boxcars.
- What’s the EV/60 number: Well, the NHL leaders at even strength time on ice had 17+ minutes per game (there were three: Kovalchuk, Getzlaf, Perry) so let’s use that as our outer marker. That puts Nugent-Hopkins estimate at 1173 minutes, so his even-strength-per-60 number would be 2.46/60 (69gp, 20-28-48).
- What does it all mean? Well, if we use the same time-on-ice estimate for Taylor Hall (I believe Windsor rolled 4 lines too) we’d get the following: PP (57gp, 14-32-46) 9.68 which is in the range with RNH’s 10.08. Hall at EV: (57gp, 22-33-55) assuming 17 minutes puts him at 3.41–well clear of RNH’s 2.46/60.
What it really mean?
As much as we want math to help us project these kids, we don’t have enough math to make a reasonable equation. We’re left with the words of hockey men:
- Ken Hitchcock: “My opinion on Nugent-Hopkins has changed … last summer I thought he reminded me of Joe Sakic, but it’s Pavel Datsyuk now. He strips people of the puck, he’s crafty in high-traffic areas, he dishes well, he’s got great patience with the puck. But, if you’re close to either one of those two guys (in ability), that’s a pretty good thing.”
- Craig Button: "He’s unique. You can’t trade for these guys and they don’t show up in free agency."
- Stu MacGregor: "I’ve watched the kid play at both ends and he seems to do a lot of things on the power play and 5-on-5, so it’s not a real issue at this point. He had the same number of points that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin did last year. He rose to the occasion enough to be the leading scorer with his team and one of the top five in the WHL. He didn’t have a lot of guys to play with, but in the games I saw he was the guy who stirred the drink."
I’m very interested in Robin Brownlee’s ongoing series and what Stu MacGregor told him. I believe MBS and the Oilers have decided RNH is the man, and although it would be nice to follow them to that conclusion we simply don’t have the available information. We need time on ice, not just for RNH but for years previous in order to compare.
Without it, in the words of Neil Young, we’re all just pissing in the wind.