a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

05/03/11 20.0 Comparing Top Prospects' Stats in Each Other's League

With the draft still a long way off, fans of the most God awful NHL teams are left with nothing to do except watch other cities enjoy playoff hockey, and dream of the end of June. Ah, the end of June and the draft and all of the promise that it brings... Needless to say, such fans have some time on their hands with their team no longer playing. This article is a fine example of that.

For the sake of argument, let's say that the three players who are in contention to go first overall are Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau is included because his strong playoff showing will probably rocket him even further up the lists of NHL teams. Huberdeau and Couturier both play in the QMJHL and Nugent-Hopkins in the WHL. It's somewhat difficult to guage the quality of these players against each other because of the fact that they are in different leagues. Some would argue that the QMJHL is weaker, and thus the good players in it are more likely to put up points. Teams play four more games in the WHL, which can contribute to point totals, and there are numerous other differences.

What if you could put Couturier in the WHL, or Nugent-Hopkins in the Q? How would the differences in those leagues affect their ability to produce, if at all? On paper, at least, there's a way. Let's find out what would happen.

This year in the Western Hockey League that Nugent-Hopkins calls home, 5355 goals were scored in 792 games, or an average of 6.76 goals per game. In the Q things were a little different because there are fewer teams and fewer games played by each, which resulted in 4112 goals in 612 games, or an average of 6.72 goals per game. The WHL is actually the more offensive of the two this year, but only by a slight margin.

Let's start with Couturier. If you adjust his stats for playing in the Western Hockey League, Couturier would have produced thusly:

72 games played - 46 goals - 76 assists - 122 points. (1.68 points per game)
In the Quebec League he was on pace for 42 goals - 70 assists - 112 points in a full season of 68 games.

Couturier scores more in the WHL than the Q because more goals are scored overall this year in the WHL, but mostly his numbers are a product of playing more games than he was eligible to in the QMJHL. In a full WHL season, Nugent-Hopkins was on pace for 32 goals, 78 assists and 110 points.

What if we put Huberdeau in the WHL?

He would have scored: 46 goals, 68 assists and 114 points in 72 games. (1.58 points per game)
In the Quebec League he was on pace for 44 goals, 63 assists, though he played all but one game.

For both of these players the statistics are calculated supposing that they are still on good teams in the WHL, and they are calculated assuming that Nugent-Hopkins is still in the WHL.

Now, if Nugent-Hopkins were to play in the QMHJL, his stats would look like this:

31 goals, 74 assists, 105 points in 68 games. (1.54 points per game)
In the WHL, he was on pace for 32 goals, 78 assists and 110 points.

Nugent-Hopkins would stand to see his stats decrease a tiny bit, because there are slightly fewer games played in the Q and just slightly fewer goals are scored per game in the Quebec League. Still, he has a strong showing even having made the switch.

These numbers are not a definite representation of what the players would have scored in the opposite league, but only a projection. In fact, they are a projection of a projection because they are estimating how many points each could have scored in a full season in another league and comparing them to how many points each player could have scored in a full season in their own leagues. As such, they are not to be taken too seriously, but merely used to muse over the comparisons between the two leagues.

The one interesting aspect, however, is that the differences in the scoring totals from one league to another are affected more by the number of games played, rather than the average number of goals scored per game. In other words, the two leagues are very close in terms of total offense, and the difference between them is probably smaller than one might first have thought. Therefore, to say that Couturier or Huberdeau only scored as much as they did because of the league they play in is not necessarily fair; nor is it fair to suggest that Nugent-Hopkins would suddenly tear it up in the Q.

These numbers don't even hint - as I had suspected at the start - that one league is vastly superior, and therefore the player that has more points in that league is the best player. What it actually suggests is that the playing field is more or less level. Because of that, it's hard to argue with scouts who say that Nugent-Hopkins is the best player available if your argument is based on a quality comparison of the WHL and QMJHL.

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