Comparing players is, at best, an inexact science. To find comparables for a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is exceedingly difficult – not only is he a unique enough talent to go first overall in the NHL Draft, but our access to data is limited. For a statistical comparison, essentially we’re relying on two years’ worth of games played, goals, assists and total points.
In other words, the following exercise – where I identify draft picks with similar numbers to Nugent-Hopkins – is a flawed one. All it does is give us a snapshot of players with similar offensive production at the same point in their career as Nugent-Hopkins, without consideration for style, intangibles, team strength, defensive play, or any of the rest of it.
Before I begin, I should point to Scott Reynolds’ search for comparables over at The Copper & Blue. Reynolds uses a different set of criteria than I do, but it was his piece that got me digging through lists of drafted players to find forwards with similar production to Nugent-Hopkins. I recommend reading his post.
The criteria I used were as follows:
- Eligible players must have been a top-10 pick between 1990 and 2008.
- Eligible players must have graduated from Canadian Major Junior – the WHL, OHL or QMJHL
- Eligible players must be 6’1” tall or less
- Eligible players must have NHL equivalency numbers within five goals and five assists of Nugent-Hopkins’ totals
The idea here is to find highly-touted prospects out of major junior with similar production in both goals and assists to Nugent-Hopkins; that’s what these criteria were designed to find. I made two exceptions to the rules listed above, by including current Oilers Ales Hemsky (who wasn’t a top-10 pick) and Sam Gagner (whose assist totals were much higher – but who also played on a line with Patrick Kane in his draft year).
This is my list, which also includes plus/minus and team plus/minus.
Cory Stillman’s plus/minus was unavailable.
Now, before some dingbat reads this post and starts whining in all caps that ‘WILLIS AND HIS STUPID NUMBERS ARE STUPID AND HE SAID NUGENT-HOPKINS IS A BUST!!!11!’ I need to emphasize something: I make no claims that this data is infallible or that Nugent-Hopkins’ career will follow the lines of the comparables above.
What I do think is important is that we temper our offensive expectations. If Nugent-Hopkins does have a career that looks like Hemsky’s or Bouchard’s or Stillman’s, he’ll almost certainly be a top-five offensive player in his draft class (as those three are, to date). What these numbers do suggest is that Nugent-Hopkins probably won’t be a big goal-scorer, and probably won’t be a 100-point offensive player. Those folks who talk about Wayne Gretzky when making comparisons are out to lunch, at least based on his junior production.
Naturally, this data is limited. Any conclusions drawn from it could be incorrect. Maybe Nugent-Hopkins is a defensive wizard. Maybe his line-mates were chumps and he’d have piled up twice as many assists if he’d had a decent goal-scoring winger.
But while I’m generally in agreement with Lowetide’s take (we need more time to get a read and junior statistics don’t tell us enough), I don’t think it’s a bad idea to frame our expectations with the numbers, and then enjoy whatever Nugent-Hopkins produces. It beats saddling him with lofty comparisons to previous first round picks, or to guys like Sakic and Datsyuk – which is where most of the conversation has been to date.