Stats insights, warnings for draft forwards
Analytics at the prospect level has been an interesting area the last few years, and there seems to be growing interest. In preparation for the 2013 NHL draft, several NHL teams hired stat guys and consulting groups to help them with their prospect analysis, and some teams are even having their video guys track micro stats at the junior level.
For most of the lower levels of hockey, many studies have shown there is notable predictive value in stat-based analysis for prospects. The main issues facing analytics for junior, collegiate and other levels is adjusting for context and trying to separate the relationship between production and the typical uncertainty/miss rate of projecting prospects. After all, stats can't tell you everything about prospects -- they need to be adjusted for a variety of factors, they can't replace scouts and they are subject to statistical noise. However, if used correctly for the NHL draft, stats can help teams find some overlooked sleepers and may prevent them from making a glaring mistake.
Here are some notable examples of forwards whose stats told a much different tale than their draft position in the not-too-distant past, and the team to which they were drafted.
Benoit Pouliot, LW, Minnesota Wild
When it comes to analyzing draft prospects -- and especially CHLers -- there is one golden rule: Look at the birth date. Pouliot, the fourth overall pick in 2005, was a late birth date, born in November 1986, and thus was not drafted until the next season with the 1987 class. When comparing future output by players in similar circumstances in the CHL -- and with one having a late November birth date and the other a January birth date -- the January-born player traditionally produces at a 15 percent better rate in the NHL. That extra season of hockey experience, particularly in a lesser league (relative to professional ones) like the CHL, makes a significant difference. It can give the player an edge over his competition and make him look better than he really is. Such was the case with Pouliot.
Now, in Pouliot's only CHL season before his draft selection he was the OHL Rookie of the Year. Among the OHL's "87s" -- players eligible to be drafted in 2005 -- Pouliot's 65 points in 67 games ranked fifth behind Bobby Ryan, Dan Ryder, Steve Downie and Bryan Little. But in terms of age (and physical development) Pouliot was really closer to players born in 1986 and drafted a year earlier. If you add in 1986 birth dates, Pouliot ranked 13th in OHL scoring, with players like Rob Schremp, Wojtek Wolski and Dave Bolland also besting him.
In their NHL careers, Bolland, Downie, Little and Wolski have all produced higher points-per-game averages than Pouliot, with most being around 15 percent higher. Pouliot's size coupled with high-end speed and skill is a tantalizing set of attributes, but a player with his late birth date failing to produce better numbers in the CHL should have set off red flags, especially as a top-five selection.
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