NHL

Numbers Game: Tracking top CHL forwards

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Scott Cullen
6/19/2009 5:06:19 PM
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I've been on a bit of a trip through the history books lately, getting ready for this year's NHL draft, so I thought I would try to find some players that had similar junior production to the top-ranked forwards for this year's NHL Draft.

Every year, the highest-ranked draft prospects are touted as the next saviour of a franchise and, all too often, that's undue pressure to put on a player who shouldn't have to deal with such outrageous expectations.

A Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby isn't going to come around every year, so it's unfair to heap the same expectations on other top picks.

I limited my search to forwards drafted in the Top Six in their respective year and they must have played in the Canadian Hockey League (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) during their draft year.  While the three leagues are hardly the same (note some of the outrageous scoring seasons coming out of Quebec), it's at least like comparing apples to apples -- even if some are Delicious, some McIntosh and some Empire -- with similar length seasons and players of the same age.

Of the players evaluated, 83 in all, here are the Top 50 in points per game in their draft year:
Mario Lemieux, Laval - 4.03
Pat Lafontaine, Verdun - 3.77
Sidney Crosby, Rimouski - 2.77
Pierre Turgeon, Granby - 2.66
Eric Lindros, Oshawa - 2.61
Alexandre Daigle, Victoriaville - 2.58
Dale Hawerchuk, Cornwall - 2.54
Denis Savard, Montreal - 2.51
Patrick Kane, London - 2.50
Sylvain Turgeon, Hull - 2.43
Doug Wickenheiser, Regina - 2.39
Pat Falloon, Spokane - 2.26
Vincent Damphousse, Laval - 2.25
Sam Gagner, London - 2.23
Jimmy Carson, Verdun - 2.23
Mike Foligno, Sudbury - 2.21
Jason Spezza, Mississauga/Windsor - 2.07
Joe Thornton, Sault Ste. Marie - 2.07
Brian Bellows, Kitchener - 2.06
Petr Nedved, Seattle - 2.04
Stu Barnes, Tri-City - 2.01
Derick Brassard, Drummondville - 2.00
Vincent Lecavalier, Rimouski - 1.98
Pavel Brendl, Calgary - 1.97
Mike Modano, Prince Albert - 1.95
Keith Primeau, Niagara Falls - 1.95
Daymond Langkow, Tri-City - 1.94
Mike Ricci, Peterborough - 1.93
Kirk Muller, Guelph - 1.92
Owen Nolan, Cornwall - 1.91
Jeff O'Neill, Guelph - 1.91
Chris Gratton, Kingston - 1.88
Doug Smith, Ottawa - 1.87
John Tavares, Oshawa/London - 1.86
David Legwand, Plymouth - 1.78
Patrick Marleau, Seattle - 1.76
Steven Stamkos, Sarnia - 1.72
Darrin Shannon, Windsor - 1.72
Cory Stillman, Windsor - 1.70
Perry Turnbull, Portland - 1.69
Todd Warriner, Windsor - 1.66
Dave Archibald, Portland - 1.65
Brendan Shanahan, London - 1.64
Trevor Linden, Medicine Hat - 1.64
Steve Yzerman, Peterborough - 1.63
J.P. Dumont, Val d'Or - 1.59
Evander Kane, Vancouver - 1.57
Ron Sutter, Lethbridge - 1.56
Dave Chyzowski, Kamloops - 1.53
Daniel Tkaczuk, Barrie - 1.50

Others prospects and similar past players:
Scott Scissons, Saskatoon - 1.43
Stephen Weiss, Plymouth - 1.40
Matt Duchene, Brampton - 1.39
Alexandre Volchkov, Barrie - 1.37
Scottie Upshall, Kamloops - 1.36

Scott Pearson, Kingston - 1.26
Nathan Horton, Oshawa - 1.26
Brayden Schenn, Brandon - 1.26
Gilbert Brule, Vancouver - 1.24

To account for more than just points per game since we know that goals are more valuable and more difficult to achieve than assists, I've set a value for goals at 1.6 compared to an assist.  It's not as detailed as a Goals Created measurement, by any means, but serves as a useful approximation of production -- and rewards the goal-scorer.

Using this adjusted measure of production, here are the Top 50 draft seasons by the evaluated players (forwards who were Top 6 Picks, coming out of the CHL since 1979):
Mario Lemieux, Laval - 5.17
Pat Lafontaine, Verdun - 4.23
Pierre Turgeon, Granby - 3.37
Eric Lindros, Oshawa - 3.36
Sidney Crosby, Rimouski - 3.35
Dale Hawerchuk, Cornwall - 3.22
Doug Wickenheiser, Regina - 3.15
Patrick Kane, London - 3.14
Alexandre Daigle, Victoriaville - 3.09
Denis Savard, Montreal - 3.04
Sylvain Turgeon, Hull - 2.92
Pat Falloon, Spokane - 2.89
Jimmy Carson, Verdun - 2.83
Mike Foligno, Sudbury - 2.78
Brian Bellows, Kitchener - 2.64
Vincent Damphousse, Laval - 2.64
Sam Gagner, London - 2.62
Pavel Brendl, Calgary - 2.61
Petr Nedved, Seattle - 2.59
Jason Spezza, Mississauga/Windsor - 2.53
Stu Barnes, Tri-City - 2.52
Daymond Langkow, Tri-City - 2.50
Joe Thornton, Sault Ste. Marie - 2.48
John Tavares, Oshawa/London - 2.48
Keith Primeau, Niagara Falls - 2.48
Derick Brassard, Drummondville - 2.46
Mike Ricci, Peterborough - 2.45
Chris Gratton, Kingston - 2.45
Owen Nolan, Cornwall - 2.44
Vincent Lecavalier, Rimouski - 2.44
Mike Modano, Prince Albert - 2.39
Doug Smith, Ottawa - 2.37
David Legwand, Plymouth - 2.33
Perry Turnbull, Portland - 2.33
Jeff O'Neill, Guelph - 2.32
Kirk Muller, Guelph - 2.30
Steven Stamkos, Sarnia - 2.29
Patrick Marleau, Seattle - 2.19
Darrin Shannon, Windsor - 2.18
Todd Warriner, Windsor - 2.15
Dave Archibald, Portland - 2.11
Steve Yzerman, Peterborough - 2.08
Brendan Shanahan, London - 2.06
Trevor Linden, Medicine Hat - 2.05
Evander Kane, Vancouver - 2.05
J.P. Dumont, Val d'Or - 2.03
Cory Stillman, Windsor - 2.03
Dave Chyzowski, Kamloops - 2.02
Rob Niedermayer, Medicine Hat - 1.98
Ron Sutter, Lethbridge - 1.95

Others:
Raffi Torres, Brampton - 1.72
Jason Bonsignore, Newmarket/Niagara Falls - 1.71
Matt Duchene, Brampton - 1.71
Rick Nash, London - 1.69
Scottie Upshall, Kamloops - 1.68

Rico Fata, London - 1.59
Scott Hartnell, Prince Albert - 1.58
Gilbert Brule, Vancouver - 1.58
Brayden Schenn, Brandon - 1.53
Jim Sandlak, London - 1.52

Note: Players like Wickenheiser, Turnbull and Foligno were operating under different draft rules and were generally a year older when they were selected.

Some notes:
- One of my particular concerns regarding John Tavares is that his production declined as he got older.  As a 16-year-old, in 2006-2007, Tavares had the same 2.00 points per game that he had this past season, though he was plus-25 compared to this past season's plus-10; this despite the fact that he was traded to a powerful London team.  However, Tavares scored more goals when he was 16 -- an astonishing 72 in 67 games -- and his adjusted per-game production rated higher (2.64) than this past season's results (2.48).

Admittedly, Tavares set a new bar with his exceptional season as a 16-year-old (Crosby, at 2.84, was the only 16-year-old to rate as more productive), and Tavares' draft year production falls in between Joe Thornton and Keith Primeau, but it's worth noting that he would be the only CHL forward drafted in the Top Six in the last 30 years whose most productive season prior to the draft wasn't the one in which he was draft-eligible.

- On the other hand, Evander Kane had a significant jump in production (from .85 to 2.05) in his draft year. 

There were 12 players that had a more substantial jump in their draft year:
Mario Lemieux (3.55 to 5.17)
Eric Lindros (1.85 to 3.36)
Doug Wickenheiser  (1.66 to 3.15)
J.P. Dumont (.46 to 2.03)
Dale Hawerchuk (1.74 to 3.22)
Trevor Linden (.62 to 2.05)
Dave Chyzowski (.65 to 2.02)
Sylvain Turgeon (1.63 to 2.92)
Pierre Turgeon (2.06 to 3.37)
Doug Smith (1.11 to 2.37)
Mike Modano (1.16 to 2.39)
Ron Sutter (.73 to 1.95)

- The production for Duchene and Schenn is a little low for impact pros, when compared to the other elite forwards, but both get glowing reviews in terms of character and their two-way play, which could make them safe selections even if they don't end up being big scorers.

More draft numbers to come before it gets underway next Friday in Montreal!

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca

John Tavares (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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