Were We All Wrong About Gabriel Landeskog?

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 02: Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche warms up prior to facing the Phoenix Coyotes at the Pepsi Center on November 2, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Before the draft, Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus wrote a provocative article about the draft with this simple motto as its raison d'etre: "Any lottery team that uses a top five pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on Gabriel Landeskog will be making a mistake of significant magnitude." I can't pretend I disagreed, and since my favorite team also had a top five pick in last year's draft, I too was of the anyone-but-Landeskog camp. His statistics in junior showed a player who lacked top-end skill, and I find it's better to trust the numbers than scouts.

While I still feel that way about numbers vs. scouts, I don't know if I still feel that way about Landeskog, and I'll say why after the jump.

Scott Reynolds likes to use a little thing called NHL Equivalency in his writing about forwards. It predicts, based on how many points a player has in a season outside the NHL, how many points he would have gotten in the NHL. Gabriel Landeskog's numbers don't jump out at me (or anyone) - he wasn't even the best scorer on his OHL team, or even close. He did sustain a knee injury which kept him out for several games, but his NHL Equivalent points were only 30.6 over an 82 game season. NHL Equivalencies also assume that the player gets a similar amount of ice time - no doubt Landeskog was getting top minutes on his junior team.

Still, he's certainly trumped that prediction this year - let's take a look at those boxcars (courtesy of hockey-reference.com):

2011 - Gabriel Landeskog 81 22 30 52 22 51 16 6 0 5 267 8.23% 18:37

The first thing to jump out should be the shots on goal. With 267 shots on goal and 1 games remaining in the season, Landeskog is in some pretty elite company. Here's the list of players whose 18 or 19 year old rookie season found them with 225 or more shots on goal (once again, courtesy of hockey-reference.com):

Player Year SOG
Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82 339
Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 284
Sidney Crosby 2005-06 278
Gabriel Landeskog 2011-12 264
Bob Carpenter 1981-82 263
Sylvain Turgeon 1983-84 237

You might blanch at the names lower down on the list, but Carpenter turned into a fine checking line center after his offense dried up and Sylvain Turgeon was a half-decent scorer before he became 'The only forward worth a damn on the NHL94 Ottawa Senators'.

We are forced to wonder if Landeskog, given his non-elite scoring numbers in junior hockey and his poor shooting percentage now, is a shoot-first player who will struggle to maintain an average shooting percentage. We can't know that, and right now, Landeskog is crushing in all sorts of fancystats as well - his +23 is no fluke (courtesy of behindthenet.ca):

Corsi Rel QoC Corsi QoC Corsi Rel QoT Corsi QoT Corsi Rel Corsi On Zone Start
0.937 0.474 2.934 4.797 14.3 12.86 54.1%
1/13 2/13 2/13 2/13 1/13 1/13 6/13

The bottom row is Landeskog's rank among Avalanche forwards - he's not getting terribly protected ice time. He is playing on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Milan Hedjuk, two solid NHL forwards, but it's hard to imagine that he's dragging them backwards. He's playing against the best the opponent has to offer, although given the Avs' ice time distributions and QoC distributions, it appears that he's not playing against them all the time.

Okay, so now we've got some data on how good Landeskog has been this year, but what about the original premise of the article? Pronman argued against taking Landeskog high in the draft, and this was part of his warning:

"Taking this back to Landeskog, he is a player who has filled out at an early age and when you watched him in the OHL, his physical dominance was apparent. However, when players like Couturier and Zibanejad grow and follow the usual physical development routes of most young players, Landeskog's physical game contributions won't likely be that much better than that of those two, if at all. This is an important factor because a fair portion of Landeskog's value comes from his physical game.

Scouts across the league trumpeted Landeskog's readiness for the NHL before the draft, and it's clear that they were all correct - not only was Landeskog ready, but he's become a well above average player already. Still, how much better can Landeskog get? It's not that uncommon for players across sports to come into the league at their peak ability or close to it. Regardless, I would assert that Landeskog's play-driving ability is probably close to its peak. What remains is for him to become a better shooter percentage-wise and a better player on the power play. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to follow the development of last year's top 10 draft picks - maybe I am once again jumping the gun by calling Pronman incorrect, and when Couturier, Larsson, Huberdeau, et. al catch up physically, it might be Landeskog who we talk about as a bad pick. One thing we can say for sure - the Avs are getting more than fair value on Landeskog's entry level contract.

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