Ambulance Blues

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.

  • ubermiguel

    …does anyone honestly think that anything that RNH does/did in junior will translate to the NHL anytime soon if he actually plays in the NHL after being taken #1 ?

    I’m thinking that his size, compared to the veritable behemoth that is Couturier the scouting staff is tugging pretty good on their hair leading up to the pick…specifically can Renney and the rest of the Oiler mates light a fire under Couturiers’ a$$ to really convince him that if he’s going to be THE ONE C on this team he needs to step up to the next level and produce, perform & proliferate?

    if size doesn’t matter at all …never mind

    forget i even brought it up

  • Aron S

    So if MBS projects Couturier as a reasonable shot at 1C, does that mean RNH has to project as a strong to elite 1C for the Oilers to draft him? His projections, while nice, have really been tempered thus far, I think.

    Looking at that Datsyuk comparison, the man plays on a strong team and is more of a 1A Center on that team, followed by some other high quality centers (Zetterberg who occassionally plays C and W).

    • Lowetide

      I think (and this is me thinking out loud) that hockey men see his quickness and puck handling skills then draw a conclusion that he’s similar to Datsyuk.

      Now that’s not the same as saying he can play in all three zones like Datsyuk but if the skills and brain are there then effort and maturity should win the day.

      Desjardins NHLE has RNH (11-27-38), Couturier (14-24-38) and Strome (12-28-40) side by side but all of the draft talk surrounds the kid in Red Deer.

      There has to be a reason. Stu MacGregor and the scouting staff have seen something, and so have 6 out of 10 scouts that talked to Bob McKenzie.