Sam Gagner, The Next Bobby Clarke? Dave Keon? Bobby Carpenter?

Eyes firmly fixed on Keon, Clarke and Carpenter. Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images via view4.picapp.com

Yesterday, we looked at Sam Gagner's place in hockey history among other under-21 players.  Today, we'll look at other comparable players that might give us an idea as to what the Edmonton Oilers have on their hands.  The incomparable Lowetide loves his comparables, and after searching high and low, he arrived at Vincent Damphousse, but his readers chose Doug Gilmour.  He's been tracking Gagner against those comps since settling on Damphousse.

Jonathan Willis took a different tack and came up with the wonderful idea of  normalizing scoring in the league prior to searching out comps, but he created a set of limiters to his comparables that I'm not interested in:

To make comparisons a little fairer, I went back to the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and looked at all the forwards who a) were 6’1" or shorter b) played in the NHL in their first year of eligibility and c) didn’t have a truckload of penalty minutes. I then took those players and adjusted their offence to reflect an NHL season in which teams averaged three goals per game, and projected that offence over an 82-game schedule. 

I chose to normalize every forward in NHL history for era effects and then find all forwards under the age of 21 that were in the range (+/- 15% of P/G) of Gagner in one of their three NHL seasons, and didn't go terribly off of the rails or take off towards superstardom shortly thereafter.  Height be damned, 1980 be damned, who can we find for Gagner that matches up solely by the math?

The table below holds the results of my search.  The numbers you see are the goals, assists, points, points per game (P/G) and power play goals normalized for era effects by assuming that each team league-wide scored an average of 3 goals per game, and played an 82-game season.  Each color indicates a different season: orange is eighteen, grey is nineteen, yellow is twenty, and purple is twenty-one.  The initial sort is on points per game (P/G) as a 20-year-old, as Sam Gagner was last season.  Any projections in the post as to Gagner's 2010-2011 season assume league-wide 2.84 goals per game.

There are ten players who meet the criteria.  The first began his career in 1960, the most recent in 1989.  I've added Vincent Damphousse and Doug Gilmour to the list by popular demand.

*This table is sortable by column.  Simply click on the header.

Player G A P P/G PPG
G A P P/G PPG
G A P P/G PPG
G A P P/G PPG
Kirk Muller 13 29 42 0.512 7
20 33 53 0.646 4
22 42 64 0.780 8
31 47 78 0.951 14
Dan Quinn 22 38 60 0.732 13
17 33 50 0.610 6
24 33 57 0.695 14
26 41 67 0.817 9
Jeremy Roenick - - - - -
30 30 60 0.732 7
22 34 56 0.683 5
37 48 85 1.037 14
Bobby Carpenter 25 27 52 0.634 5
25 29 54 0.659 11
22 31 53 0.646 6
42 33 75 0.915 9
Bobby Clarke - - - - -
- - - - -
17 35 52 0.634 6
27 36 63 0.768 10
Dave Keon - - - - -
- - - - -
23 29 52 0.634 -
33 45 78 0.951 -
Sam Gagner 15 40 55 0.671 4
18 28 46 0.561 7
19 33 52 0.634 8
- - - - -
Brian Bellows 29 24 53 0.646 12
33 34 67 0.817 11
21 29 50 0.610 6
25 39 64 0.780 9
Rod Brind'Amour - - - - -
22 30 52 0.634 8
16 29 45 0.549 4
29 39 68 0.829 7
V. Damphousse - - - - -
18 21 39 0.476 3
11 32 43 0.524 1
21 35 56 0.683 5
Peter Zezel - - - - -
15 45 60 0.732 8
13 29 42 0.512 3
31 37 68 0.829 6
Doug Gilmour - - - - -
- - - - -
19 22 41 0.500 2
17 29 46 0.561 2

I've not read all of the discussion about Gagner comparables, but outside of Bobby Carpenter, I've not seen the other nine players on the list mentioned as possibilities.  Carpenter was one of the players that Jonathan zeroed in on in his comparables, and his numbers alone are compelling, in addition to Jonathan demonstrating his pedigree and size as a match.

Bobby Clarke and Dave Keon both began their careers when the NHL had the teenage restriction in place, so there is no way to compare Gagner in his first two years.  In their twenty-year-old seasons, Gagner, Clarke and Keon all put up the same 52 points and .634 points per game.  Keon debuted in 1960 for the Leafs as an under-sized center with the speed to beat Ales Hemsky around the rink and enough left over to blow by J.F. Jacques on the second lap.  Lowetide likes to compare Andrew Cogliano to Keon, but by the numbers, it's the Oilers' other undersized center that tracks more closely to the Leafs Hall-of-Famer through his first season.

Mention Bobby Clarke and Sam Gagner in the same breath and there is a certain portion of the OIlers' fanbase that may faint.  However, it is Clarke's 21-year-old season that is within striking distance for Gagner in 2011.  In order to keep pace with Keon and Carpenter, Gagner would have to post an actual, non-adjusted season similar to 76 GP, 19G - 48A for a total of 67 points.  To keep pace with Clarke, Gagner would need 76 GP, 18G - 37A for 55 points.

Dan Quinn, Brian Bellows, and Jeremy Roenick are all very close in the range for Gagner at 20 years old as well.  Quinn doesn't fit as well as a direct comp because of his power play production.  Bellows was a winger and more of a goal-scorer than playmaker, but the totals matched so I added him to the list.  That leaves Jeremy Roenick.  Roenick regressed as a 20-year-old, but exploded the following season as his power play production more than doubled.

Damphousse and Gilmour don't start to pile up points until they begin to play on the power play after their 21-year-old seasons, and their 20-year-old seasons fall well short of Gagner.  In fact, the players that make an extremely large jump in P/G at age 21 almost all found themselves with an enormous increase in power play production, and by proxy, power play time.  Gagner may find himself in that same situation this season, as he and Ales Hemsky should lead the team in power play time on ice.

Strictly by the math, Sam Gagner is following very closely to Bobby Carpenter, Bobby Clarke and Dave Keon.  If Gagner posts 67 points in 2010-2011, he will stay on that path and actually outpace Clarke.  By any objective measure, a young center on that track would be reason to rejoice.  But will 67 points be enough for Edmonton fans?

UPDATE:  By popular demand, here are the players I've excluded from comparables chart for either having their offensive numbers derailed or vaulting into rare air offensively:  Mike Allison, Pavel Bure, Tim Connolly, Pat Falloon, Mike Gartner, Jaromir Jagr, Steve Kasper, Stan Mikita, Mike Modano, Joe Sakic, Craig Simpson, and Mats Sundin.

I've also excluded three players because their style of play was so far off:  Mike Bullard, Dale Hunter, and Mike Ricci.

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