Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Comparables

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.

Player GP G A PTS P/M Team P/M
Sam Gagner 82 16 39 55 32 80
Pierre-Marc Bouchard 82 15 31 46 25 9
Cory Stillman 82 13 28 41 -44
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 82 11 27 38 29 109
Jakub Voracek 82 10 26 36 -7 -18
Logan Couture 82 12 24 36 -1 -21
Ales Hemsky 82 12 22 34 14 4

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.

  • Ender

    Ethics thing here: I have a new comment on the Khabi situation and I’m torn between posting on the Khabi article from two days ago which has turned into something ugly that no one wants to read anymore or hijacking Willis’s thread that’s written on a completely unrelated topic but with the knowledge that at least people are reading it.

    Sorry, Willis; you don’t deserve this.

    Lisa McRitchie wrote:

    During his house arrest, Khabibulin will be allowed to leave the house for up to 12 hours a day, for hockey related issue or training.

    Say what?!! The guy’s going to sleep for, say, 10 hours a day in his house anyway. He’s allowed to leave for 12 hours a day as long as he can justify it’s somehow related to hockey. That means he has to spend a whopping 2 hours ‘confined’ to his home. That’s a movie, for Pete’s sake, or supper and a bath.

    Where does the punishment part of this come in? I must have missed it.

    • Stack Pad Save

      The punishment comes in the conditions, most convictions like this will have conditions of house arrest, where he has to call a parole officer to get permission to leave. Or he needs to be escorted or he needs his physical trainer or boss to sign a form saying where he was. How would you feel if you had to call for permission to go to the grocery store? THe punishment is in the subtle conditions that go along with the house arrest, not just being confined to your home.

      • Ender

        I’d think it sucks, granted. However, to the guy who’s serving time in jail-jail, saying he just needs to make a phone call and get permission to go out for the day would probably sound pretty darn good.

        House arrest sounds pretty soft already. House arrest where you can leave if you want to sounds like it’s not even worth the administration cost. If you’re going to punish the guy, then punish him. If you’re not, then why go through the motions and the expense?

        • Stack Pad Save

          He is going to serve jail time. We have a legal system to figure out what a fair penalty is for a crime. He has been sentenced according to the law and the law says that this is a suitable punishment for his crime. To argue that it is to soft is like saying a well he is a goon player he should serve 4 minutes for high sticking penalties because I think we are being too soft on goons.

  • Acumen

    This has been a very interesting topic, and one of the better comment sections I’ve seen on this site before.

    *tl;dr – analysis requires a deeper look across time and space (era and league). RNH could be closer to the Sakic comparison than one might expect.*

    RNH is such an interesting case because there was so much parity at the top of the draft, and he has such a unique skill set that isn’t reflected as much in the numbers as in every member of his “seen-‘m-good” fanbase. I’m happy to have him is the bottom line. I remember all those years finishing on the cusp of the playoffs and saying “if only we could have THAT guy at the top of the draft, we could do this right.” Now I know it’s an inexact science, but we have ourselves a player. A few actually. Still, as a guy who was backing both Seguin and Larsson right up to their respective draft days, I’ll be watching them closely as well.

    I think Schock’s comment was the most important – the difference in era and league cannot be discounted and everyone should double check his adjustments. Brad Richards, not Jason Bonsignore, seems the closest to the mark for me when you look at the numbers. But for the importance of era/team/league changes, let’s look a little closer at the Sakic comp that gets thrown around:

    Joe Sakic scored 60 and picked up 133 points on a team with 331 goals in 1986-87.

    The Nuge scored 31 and picked up 106 points on a team with 265 goals in 2010-11.

    Sakic was in on 40% of his teams goals, Nugent-Hopkins was in on, wait for it, 40% of his teams goals. The difference is .182% actually. Their contributions to their teams success were almost direct reflections of one another on the scoresheet. There’s a much bigger difference in the goal scoring (18% v. 12%), and that’s where the deeper analysis comes in and we know that RNH didn’t develop confidence in his shot until later in the season.

    The point is, numbers should be treated as a measuring stick for reasonable expectations but can be manipulated either way. Let the kid make his own legacy.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Most would take that Doug Weight/Ryan Nugent Hopkins comparison in a heartbeat but i’m not. I feel Hopkins is a little more of a dynamic skater than 39 was. Doug could push opponents off the puck and win some puck battles but we may see that aspect in Hopkins game in a few yrs as well. Either way, it’s all good.

  • Bucknuck

    If RNH had a career in the Doug Weight category I would be pleased. If he has a career in the Marchant category I would be disappointed. I expect him to be somewhere in the middle of that, though.

    I believe one of the curses of the dynasty is that Oiler fans are consistently expecting too much out of players (Arnott and Gagner come to mind) and subsequently being displeased when the players don’t live up to these lofty goals. Thank you Jonathan Willis for giving a dose of reality once in a while.

    An Oilers fan perspective seems to be that anything shy of a 90 point player is a bust as a first rounder. This is a crazy expectation. if a player gets a point per game I consider them elite. Anything above that is a Superstar, and there are only a handful of those guys around. While it would be great to have abunch of Superstars, I would prefer to have a team of really good players (like Boston and Chicago).

  • Ender

    Scuba Steve wrote:

    Willis clearly thinks that his view trumps all other views purely on the basis that it is his view. It’s outright arrogance.

    Did you get that idea out of this piece, or are you picking it from somewhere else? Because in this article, all I see from Willis are big, bold lines of type explaining that his take is potentially as falliable as the next.

    If you’re referring to his comment re. Gretzky, then to him it may well be “clearly ridiculous”. I believe it’s “clearly ridiculous” to pay $6 for some ice-cream mixed with Smarties at Dairy Queen, but people do it. I don’t believe the fact that I won’t makes me arrogant.

    • Scuba Steve

      I was referring to the comment re:Gretzky, not the article.

      If you think $6 is too much to pay for ice cream then that’s your point of view, but if you tell someone else who thinks that $6 is a fair price that their opinion is ridiculous because it doesn’t match up with yours, I would say that is arrogant.

      • Ender

        I don’t think it’s that simple.

        Let’s assume I make a blanket statement similar to Jon’s:
        “I’ve heard people indicate that paying $6 for a cup of Smarties mixed with ice cream is excellent value, which is clearly ridiculous.”

        Let’s also assume that I’m conversant on the subject of ice-cream prices. I’ve published hundreds of articles on vendors of various confections over a period of several years. When I say that, I can name off the top of my head at least a half-dozen comparable ice-cream experiences available for less money.

        Is my statement arrogant? It’s a bold statement, certainly, but I believe it to be true with all my heart. I think those who might see “excellent value” have some explaining to do before I understand why they’d say that, for sure. Arrogant, though, means I’m not prepared to hear their arguments for value. Arrogant means my mind is closed to further debate. Arrogant means I assume that anyone else discoursing on the subject knows less about it than I do. Stating that something is “clearly ridiculous” is certainly laying out a firm opinion, but I don’t believe it implies hand-in-hand that no dissenting argument can be heard.

        Jon’s a smart cookie. If he says something, he likely has a pretty solid reason for saying it. That said, I’ve never seen him verbally stick his fingers in his ears and refuse to listen to a reasonable argument. Agree to disagree, sure, but I’ve even seen him concede a point a few times. Jon’s statement on RNH and Getzky was “bold”, yes, but if you got “arrogant and unwilling to discuss it” then I think you’re reading too much into it.

        • Scuba Steve

          I would think that whether you are willing to discuss it or not, starting with a base idea that my opinion is “ridiculous”, will essentially kill any open minded conversation or debate on the subject.

          Stating your opinion, even a bold one is completely different than asserting that another opinion (by people just as, if not more, qualified than you) is ridiculous. It is saying that your opinion holds more weight and truth than theirs. It is not an invitation to an open debate, it is an out of hand dismissal.

          I agree that Jon’s a smart cookie, but to completely dismiss a subjective opinion by another “smart cookie” is arrogant. I’m not saying Jon is an arrogant person, but that comment was.

          • Ender

            Props to your for a solid representation of your argument. I’ve put way more time into this debate than I’d ever admit to my employer (You were discussing . . . what?!!) so I’m looking to shelve it for now, but I see what you’re saying and understand why you’d make the point you did. Handshake?

          • Scuba Steve

            Props to you as well, it’s refreshing to debate without one side or the other going all high school and calling names. I won’t tell your employer if you don’t tell mine. Handshake.

            (I’m not gonna lie, I may go get a blizzard after work today, $6 or not……..)

  • VMR

    Ah Willis was just overstating things a bit. I think he was trying to avoid overhyping the kid and creating unrealistic expectations. Like Brownlee and a few others said Gretzky was far more than just a guy with great vision, there were many incredible aspects that made him the player he was. Of course if someone said he has a Gretzky like physical game there might not be as much of a risk of unrealistic expectations. 🙂

  • Stack Pad Save

    The stupidity of this whole thread is boggling my mind. Why shouldn’t fans have high expectations for players, we want to win. Why are “Oilers” fans crapping on a player before he plays a game? Why don’t we file this thread away and look back in 3 years and see is RNH the point per game player we hoped for, is he something else? We should be betting on how many points he gets next year in the NHL, not stating how little points he is likely to get.

  • RE: Gretzky vision

    I didn’t watch RNH’s full season by any stretch, but yes I have seen him play.

    I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins almost certainly doesn’t have the vision of Wayne Gretzky, the player who almost undisputedly had better passing vision than any other player in the history of the game.

    As a 17-year old, Wayne Gretzky finished 5th in the WHA in total assists, with 64 – he was easily the top playmaker (25 clear of the next best player) on the team that finished first in the WHA during the regular season. The next season (this would be at the same age as RNH in his rookie year), he led the NHL with 86 assists playing for a team that finished 11 games under 0.500.

    Saying that Nugent-Hopkins’ vision is comparable to the player that led the league in assists as an 18-year old rookie seems hyperbolic to me.

  • It was this quote in particular that I had in mind when I used the term ‘clearly ridiculous’:

    First it was Peter Sullivan of Central Scouting, who said leading up to the NHL’s 2011 entry draft: “A couple of people high up — and not naming names — said Hopkins has the best vision since No. 99.”

    Basically what’s being said here – by unnamed people quoted by a fellow at Central Scouting – is that RNH’s vision is better than that of:

    – Sidney Crosby
    – Mario Lemieux
    – Adam Oates
    – Joe Thornton
    – Steve Yzerman
    – Pat Lafontaine

    That’s hyperbole. There’s a reason that Sullivan chose not to name names.

    When a hockey man, like Kevin Prendergast, says that stylistically Nugent-Hopkins plays like Gretzky, that’s a different thing – he’s choosing a style, not a talent comparable (although even so, I have trouble believing RNH is half the goal-scorer Gretzky was, which tosses the comparison out of whack).

    • 24% body fat

      I dont think gretzky had a comparable style. You cant say he was a better playmaker than goal scorer and compare percentage of total points as assists and goals. depending on how you interpret statistics gretzky was the greatest playmaker and goal scorer of all time. (u can look at bossy gpg and lemiuxe and hull) Gretzky still has more goal scoring records than them.

      And if you take greztkys prime and work out his goals as a perent of points than it is probably pretty close to the league total of goals scored by points awarded

  • What some consider comparable on-ice vision doesn’t translate to a suggestion that RNH comes anywhere close to the total Gretzky package — instincts, ability to make the play at the right time, creativity, raw skill, competitive desire, reflexes etc etc etc.

    I’ve never seen RNH play but I did ok on the LSAT and I have a question: how can you tell that he has incredible vision if he doesn’t have the ability to make the play that comes afterwards?

    If you’re scouting (the only way you can assess vision, I’d think), you’re only going to know if he sees these amazing plays if he actually makes them. If he makes them with enough frequency to warrant comparisons to Gretzky, should it not show up in his numbers ie. Gretzky like numbers? If he doesn’t make them with sufficient frequency that they show up in his numbers, doesn’t that suggest that he doesn’t have Gretzkyesque vision?

    I mean, I’m not a scout but how in the world do you sit in the stands and go “Boy, Gretzky-like vision for RNH there. He saw a potentially amazing play but didn’t have the competitive desire/instincts/raw skill/reflexes to pull it off”? I’m not sure how, watching the game, you’re able to separate these things out.

    Also Robin – you say his best comparison is Doug Weight. Do you buy the Gretzky-like vision thing? If so, what failings do you think he has that move him from Gretzky to Weight?

    • Also Robin – you say his best comparison is Doug Weight. Do you buy the Gretzky-like vision thing? If so, what failings do you think he has that move him from Gretzky to Weight?

      I don’t need to buy it. I just know that when enough hockey people are talking about it, I’m willing to wait and see if he has that aspect to his game before I dismiss it.

      It should result in Gretzky-like numbers? Should a player who skates as well as Gretzky put up Gretzky-like numbers? Should a player who shoots harder than Gretzky score more goals?

  • I just hope RNH is an outscorer, particularly in the playoffs. One of the most dangerous guys on the ice when it’s on the line.

    To me point totals aren’t as important as being hard to shut down when it counts most, and not failing under pressure.