Having the first overall pick is always exciting, but it's important to keep our expectations reasonable. We should already know that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins probably won't be the next Wayne Gretzky, but with that comparison kicked to the curb, what kind of things should we expect from the Oilers' most recent first overall pick? At about this time last season, I asked this question of Taylor Hall, which helped to draw some guidelines for evaluating his performance against some of his historical peers. After the jump, I'll try to do the same for Nugent-Hopkins.
First overall picks are always, to some extent, unique talents. Nonetheless, I think there's tremendous value in using some sort of objective criteria to come up with a preliminary list of names. It's my view that the whole point of looking at comparables is to see what similar players are doing or have done at a much more advanced stage of development, so when looking for comparables for Nugent-Hopkins, it seems to me that the players drafted in 2007 or earlier are probably going to give us the best indication of what to expect going forward. If he's similar to Taylor Hall - he isn't - that's great, but it doesn't tell us much about what to expect from Nugent-Hopkins since Hall is also at the very beginning of his career. At the other end, it's quite obvious that the game has changed substantially over the course of time, so even though picking a stylistic comparable from 1951 or 1972 can be instructive, I prefer to look at players who've come into the league more recently. As such, I limited my original search to players drafted in 1993 or later, which gives a solid fifteen year range (1993-2007). I also looked just at forwards who were chosen in the top five picks, and who played their draft year in the CHL so that we know that they were highly regarded as juniors and that they come from similar circumstances. The comparable players also needed to be within 0.15 points per game and 0.10 goals per game of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in their respective draft years.
Using that criteria, we come up with the following list:
I knew immediately that I needed new criteria.
If we widen the bank just a little to include players who are within 0.20 points per game and 0.10 goals per game, open things up to top ten selections to account for 2011 generally being thought of as a poor draft year at the top end, and include the guys drafted in 2008 and beyond to at least get a sense of Nugent-Hopkins' peer group, several players get added to the list:
At least there are more players this time? Jakub Voracek is a nice young player and all, but leaving the whole position thing aside, if Nugent-Hopkins is in four years where Voracek is now, it'll be awfully tough for most people to be positive. Or maybe I'm trying to see too much here. Yeah, it's largely an assortment of guys taken sixth through ninth who don't look like they're going to be superstars, but most of them were drafted in 2007 or later, which means we don't have a very good handle on what they'll look like in the prime of their respective careers.
Perhaps it's time for a new strategy. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a playmaker, and that comes through in his numbers - 70.1% of his points come from assists, which is a very high number. If we just forget about the per game stuff altogether and instead look at top ten picks from the CHL who got at least 65% of their points from assists, maybe we'll get a few more players who could help us to get a handle on some expectations:
At least there's another first overall pick? Holy hell. The best player on this list is... Pierre-Marc Bouchard? Maybe Logan Couture or Sam Gagner? I think at this point it's best to acknowledge that Nugent-Hopkins isn't your typical first overall pick. Teams tend to pick goal-scorers early, and the playmakers they do pick (guys like Joe Thornton) score enough goals in junior that they don't end up on a list like this. Yes, the scouts talked about Nugent-Hopkins as the best player in the 2011 draft, but they also talked about the 2011 draft having a pretty poor top-end relative to most seasons, and maybe that's coming through here.
I was hoping that the Oilers would take Sean Couturier first overall because of his longer track record of success in the CHL, his size, and his superior +/-, all of which made him seem like a safer bet to help in variety of roles in the NHL even if the offense wasn't all there. Now, I always have suspect opinions, and seven teams passed on the guy, so maybe I'm out to lunch there; the Oilers went for the home-run in Nugent-Hopkins, and maybe they'll be proven right. I'll be cheering for them and him for sure. But if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ends up having a career like Pierre-Marc Bouchard (without the concussion problems), that really wouldn't be a terrible outcome based on what he's shown so far.
Or maybe I'll forget about the math, and just go with Doug Weight. He was a good passer, former Oiler, centerman who had some spunk. Yeah. I like that. Doug Weight.