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Stats endorse, warn on D-man prospects

Updated: August 7, 2013, 2:08 PM ET
By Corey Pronman

As noted in Tuesday's post regarding statistical insights on draft forwards, there has been an increased emphasis on analytics at the prospect level in the hockey world.

To review, 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.

Just as it applies to how teams are assessing forwards, it also applies to how they are assessing defensemen. Here are some notable recent examples of defensemen whose pre-draft stats told a much different tale than their draft position:

Andrew Ference, Pittsburgh Penguins

Goalies may be the toughest position to project overall, but in regard to using statistics, defensemen may be a bit tougher because the majority of their value doesn't come from points or other offensive production. There is a relationship between scoring and future NHL value on both ends, but as one can imagine, it isn't as strong for blueliners as it is for forwards.

However, scoring can be a proxy for ice time in some regards and thus how much responsibility a coach gives a player. Ference's 44 points in 72 games as a 17-year-old in the WHL placed him second in scoring for under-18 defenders and 20th overall in WHL defenseman scoring. That alone is good but not overly impressive. Ference's standout numbers are as a 16-year-old, when he notched 40 points in 77 games, good for fourth overall among all under-17 players in the WHL and over 20 more than the next best defenseman.

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