Numbers Don’t Lie… Or Do They?

Numbers Don’t Lie… Or Do They?

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    Aside from the occasional hardcore junior hockey followers, the majority of NHL fans will track the progress of their team’s top young prospects through highlight clips or boxscores. For the most part, the development and potential NHL impact of a young player then becomes a function of the amount of goals and assists they record at that level. I mean heck, it’s hard for Islanders fans to look at the 356 points that John Tavares has scored over the past 3 seasons in the OHL without getting excited. And rightfully so. All indications are that he’s going to be a very special player for a long, long time.

    On the flip side, you’ve also got the purists who value a keen scouting eye to judge traits such as leadership ability, instincts, emotional drive, among other skills that cannot be represented numerically. Back in March, when news spread of Tavares breaking the all-time OHL goal scoring record held by Peter Lee, the first reaction by many was “Who the heck is Peter Lee?” Just some guy who scored 81 goals and 161 points in his last junior season is all… Well, point taken. Stats and numbers don’t mean everything, but the question is: how much DO they mean?

    During the course of my flipping through the Maple Leafs Annual (Bam! Shameless plug I know) over the past couple days, I came across a reference to a fascinating series of statistical analyses on hockey related issues over at a website called Behind the Net. As a prospects/stats junkie, one particular investigation that caught my eye was one pertaining to how well junior point production translates over to the NHL. Using several hundred examples from each league, the writer established a relatively accurate “conversion ratio” that helps project a player’s rookie impact in the NHL based on the point totals they accumulated the season prior and the league they came from. Take a quick peek for yourself, they’ve got a ton of quality material on there.

    Needing to crunch some of the figures myself, I tried it out on a few of last year’s top rookies:

    Kris Versteeg: Predicted – 47 points, Actual – 53 points

    Mikhail Grabovski: Predicted – 48 points, Actual – 48 points

    Steven Stamkos: Predicted – 41 points, Actual – 46 points

    That’s actually not too bad. Not surprisingly, the prediction is a little bit conservative when you take into account that all of these three played much more prominent roles on their respective clubs than most rookies. Continuing on with a few of the Leafs rookies from last season:

    John Mitchell: Predicted – 32 points, Actual – 29 points

    Nikolai Kulemin: Predicted – 35 points, Actual – 31 points

    Luke Schenn: Predicted – 10 points, Actual – 14 points

    As I continued to punch away on the ‘ol calculator, I started to get more and more impressed with the work done by Behind the Net. For the hardcore baseball fans out there, you’ll recognize a similar statistics based approach to project hitters as they ascend the minor league system. Aside from the obvious benefit of a more accurate projection as we daydream about prospects, you can also imagine the potential benefits for fantasy hockey. Although each player has a different development path, it’s always nice to see some sort of standard with which to use as a reference point if nothing else. Just for fun, here are some of the projected numbers for key young contributors for the Marlies/Maple Leafs next season:

    Jiri Tlusty: 53 points (NHL)

    Mikhail Stefanovich: 46 points (AHL), 31 points (NHL)

    Tyler Bozak: 49 points (AHL), 32 points (NHL)

    Chris Didomencio: 39 points (AHL), 27 points (NHL)

    Viktor Stalberg: 61 points (AHL), 40 points (NHL)

    Dale Mitchell: 42 points (AHL), 28 points (NHL)

    And oh yes, of course: John Tavares. The crystal ball’s got him down for about 25 goals and 46 points, which would put him right on par with Steven Stamkos’ rookie campaign. I suppose that’s just about a wrap. Granted, I understand and recognize the presence of a multitude of factors that come into play when projecting a player’s point totals such as his linemates and chemistry, playing time, etc.

    However, the “art” of blindly mapping out a player’s future NHL career based on a collection of scoresheets just got a little more accurate. You wanna line up some sleeper candidates and win your fantasy hockey pool this coming year? Just grab a calculator, punch in some digits based on some pretty simple multiplication and division, and you’ve got yourself a magic formula!

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