Which young NHL goal-scorers will make “the leap” in 2015?

Russell LaBounty/USA Today Sports

Russell LaBounty/USA Today Sports

We are now less than 50 days away from the 2014-2015 NHL regular season and in some ways, the summer is soon to be over. School is starting up again in the DC area and traffic is returning in a tour de force during meaningless Redskins preseason games. Soon, the temperatures will drop and returning to Chinatown will be standard procedure for me and many other Capitals fans. With preview articles getting prepared, I’d like to start by talking about who are the next young NHL goal scorers.

Last year, it was essentially anyone in a Colorado Avalanche jersey (thanks PDO!!!) and Ryan Johansen (um…he’s still a free agent. Oh wait, I forgot, you’ll have to give up a boatload to sign him because NHL owners are the worst). But if you want to find diamonds in the rough, the most obvious one last season was Alexander Steen, but you never would have guessed Wayne Simmonds being in the conversation either.

In short, what I consider a breakout candidate is one that will be able to hit the top-50 in points this upcoming season. Since the NHL has had 30 teams, the amount of points needed to hit that mark has gone from as low as 55 in 2004 to as high as 69 in 2006. Since that first season after the 2005 lockout, average player point totals have been decreasing again, so I expect this year’s mark to be around 58-60 points.

chart

Here is the usual breakdown of the group of players that hit these top-50 point totals since the 2000-01 NHL season.

Year Points needed Total number of players average age Below Avg Age Newbie Above Avg Newbie Multi-timers 2nd-timers
2014 59 52 27.12 11 1 35 5
2013 59.8* 52 27.27 9 1 29 13
2012 61 55 28 14 4 30 7
2011 59 52 27.23 11 2 31 8
2010 62 50 26.22 9 6 32 3
2009 65 50 26.92 7 2 28 13
2008 65 51 27.37 9 2 31 9
2007 68 54 28.41 8 1 30 15
2006 69 50 28.2 16 1 25 8
2004 55 53 28.04 12 3 32 6
2003 61 50 28.68 6 0 35 9
2002 61 51 28.2 12 2 31 6
2001 67 52 28.12 5 1 33 13
Yearly average# 9.6 1.9 29.9 8.5

*-since the 2012-13 season was only 48 games, this is an 82-game pro-rated total.

#-yearly averages are per by per 50 players.

Last year, Steen was the only player that hit 59 points or more and was older than 27 years old. However, players like him are rare because they tend to go through a season with an abnormally high shooting percentage. That can affect whether a hockey player can hit 30-40 points to 60-70 in a season. However, younger players tend to find a way to make it back into the top-50 because they tend to increase their shooting rate and start to get adjusted to playing at an NHL level. For this piece, we’ll focus on that demographic.

Since we see that between 9-10 players under league average age make the top-50 in scoring every year, what is the yearly average per position and by age?

Of the 129 first-time players, 32 of them played on the right wing, 29 on the left wing and 61 of them were centerman. Only seven were defensemen. In fact, only 22 times has a defenseman hit the top-50 in scoring in the last thirteen seasons.

Screen shot 2014-08-23 at 4.11.28 AM

As for when should players breakout, 22 is the age where players make their mark. If you want to paint a broader picture, 70% of first time top-50 scorers occur during a player’s age 21-26 season. With this information, here are my picks as to who will breakout into consistent impact goal scorers

Alex Galchenyuk, 20, C

Jacob Trouba and Sean Monahan are other 20-year olds to pay attention to, but Galchenyuk already has 115 career NHL games and will enter his third season in the league. During that time, he has never had a season where he has averaged over fourteen and a half minutes of ice time per game. That should change as Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek and Brian Gionta are gone without any replacements.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 21, C

This next name is not that much of a shocking choice, but every hockey fan is also wondering if Edmonton will ever develop into a playoff team. Nugent-Hopkins did reach career highs scoring marks, but his per-game numbers are still off from his career high marks during his rookie season. All depends on whether RNH can continue to improve his shooting and shot quality. According to all the information from somekindofninja.com, the NHL shot 77.2% of all total shots in scoring chance areas. Considering that all defensemen are included, Nugent-Hopkins’ 73.4% ratio is concerning, especially considering that he shoots 2.2% below league average from there. Despite a small sample size, his shooting from 10-20 feet was also 4.7% below the league average.

Rob Vollman recently had RNH compared to Brad Richards, Kirk Muller and Steve Yzerman, but even those three were able to find that goal-scoring instinct later in their careers. Can Nugent-Hopkins do the same, or will he be Canada’s answer to Nicklas Backstrom?

Jaden Schwartz, 22, LW

Statistically, Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are due to hit more than 60 points this year. However, Tarasenko has already missed 57 regular season and playoff games in his two-year career due to injury. What happened last year for the Blues was T.J. Oshie’s and Alexander Steen’s production skyrocketed from abnormally high shooting percentages at such advanced ages (Oshie will be 28 in December), and that was enough to fill the void left by David Perron (and eventually Chris Stewart). Also, St. Louis had one of the best offenses in the NHL while shooting at a New Jersey-like rate and Paul Stastny will be added to the lineup. Who knows if the opportunities will be there for Schwartz and Tarasenko to both make their claim.

Mikael Granlund, 22, C

While Schwartz’s path to the top-50 is a tricky one, Mikael Granlund’s should be a cake walk. Ever since his highlight reel goal at the 2012 World Championships, pressure has been on Granlund to consistently deliver the goods for Minnesota. Despite improving their playoff performance every year, their offensive output is still well below league-average. Even with the addition of Thomas Vanek in the offseason, him, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville will all be between 29-32 years old. You would think enough will be there for Granlund and the younger core of the Wild to pick up the slack.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 23, D

When doing this research, it has been incredible to see how hard it is for defenseman to crack the top-50 in scoring in today’s NHL. Only Sergei Gonchar, Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom have been able to crack that list three times or more in their careers while playing between the 2001 and 2014 season. Even P.K. Subban has been only able to make the list once. Alex Pietrangelo and Victor Hedman are perfect candidates, but I am going with Ekman-Larsson because his team lacks the blueline depth that Pietrangelo and Hedman have, which could cause for some missed opportunities to score. The opportunities can even skyrocket for Ekman-Larsson if Arizona is missing the playoffs again and Keith Yandle gets traded at the mid-season deadline.

Evander Kane, 23, LW

Despite being a very controversial figure in the NHL, Evander Kane is still a very talented player with a very good pedigree. With Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and the ever-improving Jacob Trouba in the lineup, you would think that Winnepeg would a high-flying offense. With a full year under head coach Paul Maurice, the possibility of partnering with possession-wizard in Mathieu Perrault and being still 23 years old, Kane should finally become an elite offensive player.

Gustav Nyquist, 24, RW

If you are looking for a player that should be regressing to the mean so hard, Jiri Tlusty will feel sympathetic for you, Gustav Nyquist has to be the guy, right? At the same time, can Detroit afford to have that happen? Almost every single offensive player on the Red Wings are well passed their prime and Anthony Mantha seems to be their only prospect that could propel his way into the lineup and pick up the slack. Even then, it’s not like the Red Wings to promote a player like Mantha so early. Things are finally becoming interesting for Detroit because no reinforcements were added this off-season and someone young has to deliver and become an elite contributor in the NHL in order for them to get back into the playoffs.

Kyle Turris, 25, C

This choice is an easy one. Jason Spezza is out and a decomposing David Legwand is in. Ottawa has to make the playoffs or else Paul MacLean will be fired. Turris’ numbers have improved every season and it is beyond guaranteed that he will be the top-line center for the Senators.

David Perron, 26, LW

This one is not an easy choice. While players like RNH, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and even Nail Yakupov are on the forward lines, Edmonton is still not one of the best offenses in the NHL. Leon Drasaitl could come in and produce, but it is amazing to see that Perron had 57 points last season. Even though he dealt with injuries in two of the last three seasons in St. Louis. He has stayed healthy since and has contributed well enough on the score sheet while not having an abnormal shooting percentage.

 

 

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