The hockey world seems to be uniting under the banner of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. For Nugent-Hopkins to unseat both Adam Larsson and Sean Couturier in the minds of hockey analysts means that he must really bring a lot to the table. It's well known by now that some nameless person high up in Oilers management thinks that Nugent-Hopkins has the best on-ice vision since Wayne Gretzky. It really doesn't matter if that person is Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini or Stu McGregor. What it essentially means is that barring some totally unforseen event, Nugent-Hopkins will be drafted first overall by Edmonton. If, for the sake of argument, we accept that as a foregone conclusion, then the time has come to start putting RNH under the microscope.
According to The Hockey News, Brayden Schenn is the number one prospect outside of the NHL. There was plenty of talk swirling that the Oilers might acquire Schenn from Los Angeles at the trade deadline in a blockbuster deal that never came to fruition. For their part, Oiler fans were extremely excited about the idea of obtaining Schenn. He was seen as the player that could solidify the Oilers at center. Now that we know that Schenn isn't being traded, here is a comparison of how Schenn and Nugent-Hopkins stack up:
WHL Rookie Year
Schenn: 66 gms 28-43-71 plus-22, 1.08 ppg
RNH: 67 gms 24-41-65 minus-4, 0.97 ppg
This comparison is actually a lot closer than one might expect. The plus/minus is a concern with Nugent-Hopkins, but his offensive totals are very close to Schenn's. Schenn led his team in scoring that year, and he was second-best on the team in plus/minus. As such, his numbers are likely not inflated by quality team mates, though this was a plus team, which could help explain Schenn's plus/minus. Schenn contributed on 28% of his team's goals.
Nugent-Hopkins contributed on 32% of his team's goals in his rookie year and he was second in Rebels' scoring. The best plus rating on the 2009-10 Rebels belonged to Willie Coetzee with plus-10, while the rest of the team consisted of mostly minus players. In fact, of Rebels players who appeared in at least ten games, only four finished with a plus rating. Therefore, perhaps one shouldn't be shocked to see that RNH finished as a minus-4.
Both teams finished 6th in the WHL's Eastern Conference in these players' rookie years. Brandon had 42 wins and 90 points in 2007-08 and Red Deer had 39 wins and 83 points in 2009-10. The quality of team is very similar for both players.
WHL Second Year:
Schenn: 70 gms 32-56-88 plus-20, 1.26 ppg
RNH: 69 gms 31-75-106 plus-30, 1.54 ppg
This is where it starts to get interesting. Clearly Nugent-Hopkins is tracking better than Brayden Schenn at the same point in their careers. The goalscoring is a wash between the two, but RNH contributed 19 more assists in one fewer game. His plus/minus is also better than what Schenn put up as a sophomore.
Once again Schenn led his team in scoring, which finished third in the Eastern Conference with 48 wins and 101 points. He was involved in 30% of his team's goals. His plus rating is still good, but it slipped to 5th-best on the Wheat Kings.
Nugent-Hopkins also led the Rebels in scoring as a sophomore. The team had 48 wins and 104 points, good for second in the Conference. RNH was involved in 40% of his team's goals and his plus-30 was third-best on the team, which was vastly improved in that area from the previous year.
The difference in the quality of the teams that these two players were on in their rookie and sophomore seasons is small, so we can virtually discount that consideration when reviewing the seasons they had.
What these numbers suggest is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a better point-producer in his draft year than Brayden Schenn was at the same age, and as such he could project to be a better prospect. Their ability to score goals is similar, but Nugent-Hopkins' set-up skills are clearly superior. For a team with two natural goal scorers in Eberle and Hall, this playmaking skill could be invaluable.
No one can predict how good these players will be in the NHL, as neither one has yet played even one season in the league. However, if the numbers Brayden Schenn put up at 17 and 18 are indicative of an eventual #1 prospect, Nugent-Hopkins is on a path to even greater glory. That alone counts for something, because if Oilers fans can get excited and feel confident in Schenn, they should be doing backflips for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.