Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Quality of Competition

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at Edmonton's development camp. Photo by Lisa McRitchie.

I haven't seen Ryan Nugent-Hopkins play any hockey games. Zero. I acknowledge that this is mostly a tremendous disadvantage for me in evaluating what kind of player he might be, but it does have its small advantages. First off, it forces me to be attentive to what those who have watched him are saying, looking for patterns in what they have to say and testing what each person says against the data available to us in an effort to see whether or not it makes sense. That dependence on data is the other "advantage", not because it's a better point of reference than watching games, but simply because it's a different one. A systematic tracking of events focused more on results than process misses a lot, but it can also help in either confirming or challenging what those who have seen the guy play are saying. And if you're willing to take the time, the gamesheets have a lot to say. After the jump, I'll give them a voice.

First up, I'll look at some of the more "traditional" stats for all of Red Deer's forwards in 2010-11 during even strength play (either five-on-five or four-on-four with both goalies in their nets). All we're looking at here is goals, assists, and +/-, nothing that should be unfamiliar, though I will note that the chart includes both regular season and playoff games, and the table is sortable (just click on the column you'd like to see).

Player GP
EVG
EVA EVP EV+ EV- +/-
Adam Kambeitz
80
11
17
28
41
28
+13
Andrej Kudrna 74
14
32
46
58
31
+27
Brett Ferguson 81
16 35
51
68
37
+31
Byron Froese 79
20
12
32
56
40
+16
Chad Robinson 51
2 4
6
10
4
+6
Colten Mayor 74
7
10
17
23
15
+8
Cory Millette 1
0
0
0
0
0
0
Daulton Siwak 81
14
10
24
39
35
+4
John Persson 77
23
24
47
62
25
+37
Josh Cowen
43 2
12
14 17
12
+5
Lane Scheidl 20
3
3
6
8 5
+3
Locke Muller 49
3
2
5
8
13
-5
Marc McCoy 1
1 0 1 1 0
+1
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
78
22
28
50
67
34
+33
Turner Elson
77
8
16
24
45
20
+25
Tyson Ness 77
6
7
13 23
14
+9

 

Nugent-Hopkins doesn't lead in any of these categories, although he does finish second in goals, third in assists, second in points, second in EV+, and second in +/-, so it's not like he's not showing well. Also, for those concerned about his goal-to-assist ratio, it's interesting to note that the ratio at even strength is much closer to 1:1 that it is on the power play where his role as "quarterback" makes assists much more likely. There's more to say here, but I'll constantly want to be referencing data from the next chart, so I'll just skip right to that. I'll be looking at four different things here, but some of them may not be quite as familiar, so I'll say a little bit about each one first.

The first statistic is "quality of competition". To measure quality of competition, I looked through the boxscores and identified all of the opposition forwards on the ice for every goal scored both for and against while a player was on the ice at even strength (either five-on-five or four-on-four with both goalies in their nets). The number is the average points per game of the opposing forwards when a given player is on the ice. For example, a player with a quality of competition score of 0.75 would be facing forwards who, on average, scored 0.75 points per game in the WHL during the 2010-11 season (including games from both the regular season and playoffs). I like the method because the final number is easily understood (we're all pretty familiar with points per game). This should give us an idea of which players on the Rebels were assigned to the other team's best players.

The second stastic is "events per game". That requires adding together all of the goal events at both ends of the ice (EV+ and EV- in the first table) and dividing the total by the number of games played. It's not a perfect proxy, but it should give us at least some idea about time on ice (the puck has to be somewhere after all). We're painting with very broad brushstrokes with this one, but I think it can be useful.

The third statistic is individual point percentage, which I've talked about quite a bit over the last few days. It's a calculation of the number of times an individual player gets a point (either a goal or an assist) relative to the number of total goals scored while he's on the ice (EV+ in the first table). At the NHL level, average was about 69.5% for five-on-five play. Since we're including four-on-four data here, it'll almost certainly be a smidgeon higher. The result will hopefully give us a better idea of which guys are handling the puck a lot in the offensive zone and helping to create goals, though I'll acknowlege up front that, like shooting percentage, it's prone to a high level of variation in small samples (you know, like a single season).

The last stastic is "events with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins", which is exactly what it says it is, namely the number of EV events each player had with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the ice. That should give us a very good idea of who Nugent-Hopkins played with for most of the season.

Once again, the table is sortable; just click on the column you'd like to see:

Player Qual Comp Events / Game IPP Events w/ RNH
Adam Kambeitz 0.66 0.86 68.3%
1
Andrej Kudrna
0.67 1.20
79.3%
79
Brett Ferguson 0.72 1.30
75.0%
11
Byron Froese 0.72 1.22
57.1%
9
Chad Robinson
0.44 0.27 60.0%
0
Colten Mayor
0.58 0.51 73.9%
3
Cory Millette 0.00 0.00 0.0% 0
Daulton Siwak
0.67 0.91 0.0% 5
John Persson
0.65 1.13
75.8%
64
Josh Cowen
0.75 0.67 82.4%
1
Lane Scheidl
0.63 0.65 75.0%
3
Locke Muller
0.59 0.43 62.5%
2
Marc McCoy
0.29 1.00
100.0%
0
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
0.68 1.29
74.6%
101
Turner Elson
0.68 0.84 53.3%
14
Tyson Ness
0.55 0.48 56.5%
5

 

There are some really interesting things here, but let's start with who Nugent-Hopkins is playing with. When Lowetide interviewed Cam Moon (Red Deer's play-by-play man) in May, this is one of the things that he addressed. Here's what he said:

The best scorer, the best pure scorer on the Red Deer Rebels did not play on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That is true. Byron Froese had forty-three goals this year... He did play with Ryan on the power play; those guys hooked up quite a few times. Byron Froese led the Western League; he had twenty-four power play goals.

But he did play with Andrej Kudrna and John Persson most of the time... These are not sub-par offensive players. They would be above-average Western Hockey League offensive players. It’s just that Ryan did not play five-on-five very often with the Rebels’ number one scorer in Byron Froese; but the linemates Ryan had for the majority of the regular season were guys that can score.

The statistical record pretty much confirms most of what Cam said. There's no doubt that Nugent-Hopkins spent most of his time with Kudrna and Persson, and no doubt that he spent very little time at even strength with Froese. The only thing that I might object to in there is the idea implicit in these comments that not playing with Froese was a disadvantage. At even strength, Froese was only Red Deer's third leading goal-scorer (behind Nugent-Hopkins!), and his individual point percentage is very low, which suggests that he doesn't get many touches in the offensive zone. His +/- is also much lower than Brett Ferguson's, his regular linemate.

That said, it looks like the coach was trying to use the Ferguson-Froese combination (the other winger on that line changed a lot) to provide some shelter for Nugent-Hopkins, Kudrna, and Persson so that they could be used in more offensive situations. I'm not saying that Nugent-Hopkins was playing soft minutes (the gap isn't huge), but I think it's safe to say that he was in a pretty good spot to put up points.

So far, i haven't mentioned anything that should be too shocking, but this next piece was really surprising to me, and that how much Andrej Kudrna's numbers look like what I had expected from Nugent-Hopkins. Kudrna is the guy who has twice as many assists as he does goals, and Kudrna is the guy with an individual point percentage pushing close to 80%. Nugent-Hopkins' totals in those areas are (obviously) still good, but it was still really surprising. For the Oilers, it could actually end up being a big plus. If Nugent-Hopkins is used to playing with a guy who wants to hold on to the puck in the offensive zone, it might be interesting to see what Nugent-Hopkins can do with Ales Hemsky (at least in training camp).

The other big question with Nugent-Hopkins was ice time, and this was another question that Moon addressed in the aforementioned interview:

They were a four-line team. The fourth line would see, as good or better amount of time than most teams in the league, and certainly they were rolling three a lot, and four quite often. There was some depth on the club this year. It allowed the coaching staff to do quite a bit more... They were able to roll it pretty good.

Now, I don't know what's standard in the WHL, but I have my doubts about the fourth line getting much ice time. For starters, the coach iced eleven forwards and seven defenders thirty-one times in eighty-one games (never tried it in the playoffs, though). If one of the defenders moved up to play forward consistently, it wasn't showing up clearly in the numbers, which suggests to me that the fourth line wasn't getting much ice time (and that those they got required some of the other guys to pick up extra shifts). Further, some of the guys at the bottom of the lineup really aren't out there for many events. It just doesn't look like Tyson Ness and Chad Robinson (for example) are playing much. I don't even know if this is disagreeing with what Cam said, but the team looks like a typical club to me: run three lines hard, spot the fourth, and give your top two lines some extra time at evens plus oodles on the power play. Still, it's hard to see how Nugent-Hopkins would be playing half an hour per game without dwarfing all of his teammates in events per game, and that just didn't happen.

Finally, one last non-Nugent-Hopkins note: Brett Ferguson looks fantastic by the numbers. I know that he was twenty years old during 2010-11, and maybe every junior club has a guy that plays the toughs, drives offense for his line, and leads his team in even strength scoring, but I kind of doubt it. At 6'1'', the guy isn't tiny either. He's a free agent now, and even though I didn't think about it much at the time, I'm now pretty pleased that the Oilers invited the left winger to their development camp earlier this summer. If he's back in the fall, I know that I'll be cheering for him to make the AHL roster and work his way up.

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