Every Monday we'll be using the Snepsts System to search the NHL's history for players with comparable era-adjusted statistics to today's Jets, and featuring the analysis here at Arctic Ice Hockey. A description and example of the methodology can be found on Hockey Prospectus. To see how this worked for the Calgary Flames last season, visit Flames Nation.
Over the past couple of weeks we've looked at Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Bryan Little. We've also looked at how difficult projections can be, but how reasonably the Snepsts System stacks up over-all. This week, we'll look at Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler.
Evander Kane, LW
Named after the great boxer Evander Holyfield, Kane was highly decorated in junior, winning Gold at world juniors, setting Vancouver Giants single-season goals record in 2008-09 and being consequently drafted 4th overall in 2009.
Kane scored 14 goals and 26 points in 66 games in limited, even-strength action as a rookie, then followed it up with 19 goals and 43 points in 73 games in an expanded role last season, despite losing time to three separate injuries. He took a whopping 234 shots, but his 8.1% shooting percentage was about the same as Chris Thorburn and superior only to Alexander Burmistrov among Thrasher forwards.
There's no 2010 Snepsts System projection for Evander Kane, because it requires at least two seasons worth of data – and even two seasons is rarely enough to get a decent one. Furthermore, Evander Kane is quite young, only 3 months older than Taylor Hall, whom he even outscored (granted by only 1 point despite 8 more games). Since the Snepsts system looks only at players within 2 years of age, naturally it selected players that were 1-2 years older, and out of the ten closest comparables, three of them wound up on pace for 30 goals – is that realistic for Kane?
The three 30-goal men were Stephane Richer, Corey Perry and Adam Deadmarsh. Richer was a deadly sniper, scoring on 18-19% of his shots since his debut with the Canadiens at age 19. 1987-88 was the first of two 50-goal seasons, outscoring 2nd place Claude Lemieux by 19 while playing with Bobby Smith, Mats Naslund and Chris Chelios in their primes. Deadmarsh was one of the first potentially great careers that was ended by concussion right in his prime - he was scoring on well over 20% of his shots, scoring 42 goals in 96 games in his final two seasons.
Perry is a more modern example of what Kane could be, first breaking out at age 22 when making the jump from 12 minutes a game to 18, and hovering in the 30-goal range before finally busting loose in his Hart trophy 50-goal season last year.
There's historical precedent, but obviously a 30-goal season from Kane is going to depend on how fast he develops, whether he gets the top-unit ice-time he needs at even-strength and with the man advantage, and if his shooting percentage can improve from the lowly 8% range.
It's hard to look at a bunch of 22-year-olds and really determine what Kane's potential this season truly is. Since these comparables are based partly on the fact that Snepsts is looking at both of Kane's seasons, let's put his rookie season aside and look for any player with similar normalized statistics at exactly age 19. Interestingly we find scoring sensations like Martin Havlat, Joe Thornton, Michel Goulet, Rod Brind'Amour, Joe Sakic, and Kirk Muller, all of whom were tightly within a couple of goals and/or assists.
Based on that hand-picked group, success ranged from Brind'Amour's 13 goals, 39 points to Sakic's 29 goals, 77 points, and averaged 20 goals, 34 assists and 54 points, just like the Vukota projection. Of course, that was a hand-picked group – you also wind up with players like David Nemirovsky and Zellio Toppazzini. If you include everyone, Kane's projection drops to 18 goals and 41 points.
I'll go out on a limb and say Kane is no Toppazzini, nor a Nemirovsky, but he may take another season or two to hit 30 goals.
Blake Wheeler, RW
The 6'5” Blake Wheeler was drafted 5th overall by Phoenix back in 2004, and acquired by the Thrashers last year from the Bruins along with Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley (Crusher) and Boris Valabik.
Wheeler has missed just 2 games in his 3 NHL seasons, consistently scoring between 18-21 goals, 20-26 assists, and 38-45 points, but was super-hot as a Thrasher, closing out the season with 17 points in 23 games.
Last year Wheeler had 143 matches, and Snepsts projected 18 goals and 23 assists – easily one of the easiest cases, being off by just 3 assists. This season there are 152 matches over-all, averaging 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points – a touch better than the Vukota projection (which predicts he'll miss some action), and the ten closest comparables.
Wheeler is a pretty consistent scorer, but has the potential for 25 goals and 60 points, according to his hot finish last year – something he could achieve with some time on the power play. Otherwise the 18-goal, 43-point projection will likely be accurate.
Come back next Monday where we'll use history to project next season's scoring totals for newly-arrived Eric Fehr, and the slightly less interesting case of Chris Thorburn.