Mathieu Perreault, Francois Bouchard and Chris Bourque celebrate.

One look at the dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks and it becomes apparent that the life blood of any hockey organization is its youth. If you can bring in young players that provide value at reasonable prices you have the ability to succeed in the long term. In the case of the Hershey Bears, it allows the Caps to fill their team with players who know how to win and execute Bruce Boudreau’s system.

The challenge then becomes not only which players to promote, but which players should be dangled in a trade and which you can simply cut bait with. The underlying question in all of this is simply: Does the front office feel a certain prospect can make it in the NHL?

The Copper & Blue has been doing some excellent analysis evaluating all of the forwards drafted in 2009 and in 2010 using NHL equivalencies, a tool developed by Gabriel Desjardins.

NHL equivalencies try to figure out: How will a player’s performance translate to the NHL? It won’t tell you what a player’s stats will be once they make the jump but instead tries to give you a feel for, all things being equal (games played, PP time, etc.), what could you expect that player’s NHL offensive performance to be given his AHL boxcar stats.

We thought we would do the same focusing on the Hershey Bears and also bringing another element into the mix, one introduced in baseball by Tony Blengino: Relative Production Potential:

The method adjusts for league context, measuring all players’ performance relative to their league. Therefore, a massive offensive season as measured in traditional numbers in the pitcher-dominated High-A Carolina League carries more weight than a similar campaign in the hitting-crazy Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The RPP method also adjusts for a prospect’s age in relation to his level, weeding out all of the Phil Hiatts and Dale Sveums who create the illusion that they are long-term major league prospects with their pounding of minor league hurlers.

For example, there is no denying that Keith Aucoin had a dominating season for the Calder Cup winning Bears. Heck, he was even named the MVP of the League. But what else should we expect from a 32 year old career AHLer going up against 22 year olds?

On the flip side, Mathieu Perreault at age 22 had a much stronger campaign when you factor in age. While it may not translate to a better NHL equivalency, the upside of Perreault is probably greater than Aucoin since he has only been eligible to play in the AHL for two years versus Aucoin’s twelve.

So here’s the method:

  1. Tabulate each forwards NHLE using Desjardins’ article for the translation from AHL to NHL.
  2. Look at the Points per game and Shooting % for the entire AHL.
  3. Calculate the amount of standard deviations each player is from the mean.
  4. Make an adjustment based on the player’s age, subtracting one for each year they are over 25, adding one for each year under.

The NHLEs (based on an 82 game season) of last year’s Calder Cup winners (forwards only) listed in descending order of RPP:

AHL Stats NHL Equiv
Name TM Age Pos GP G A PTS G A Pts RPP
Mathieu Perreault HBH 22 C 56 16 34 50 10 22 32 5.99
Chris Bourque HBH 24 LW 49 22 48 70 16 35 52 5.05
Francois Bouchard HBH 22 RW 77 21 31 52 10 15 25 4.55
Andrew Gordon HBH 25 RW 79 37 34 71 17 16 32 3.48
Alexandre Giroux HBH 29 LW 69 50 53 103 26 28 54 1.82
Jay Beagle HBH 25 C 66 16 19 35 9 10 19 1.51
Kyle Wilson HBH 26 C 77 24 29 53 11 14 25 0.84
Steve Pinizzotto HBH 26 C 69 13 28 41 7 15 21 -0.17
Darren Reid HBH 27 RW 21 6 2 8 10 3 14 -0.20
Ashton Rome HBH 25 RW 31 6 7 13 7 8 15 -0.34
Andrew Joudrey HBH 26 C 78 15 19 34 7 9 16 -0.74
Keith Aucoin HBH 32 C 72 35 71 106 18 36 53 -1.39
Boyd Kane HBH 32 LW 76 24 20 44 11 10 21 -4.54
Simon Ferguson HBH 27 RW 48 0 6 6 0 4 4 -5.72

As we would expect, the younger players gravitate towards the top if they had a “better than average” campaign compared to other forwards who played more than 20 games at the AHL level.

Mathieu Perreault leads the list explaining why he could be Marcuss Johansson’s main competition for 3rd line center at the NHL level this upcoming season. As to whether he can sustain the production over an NHL season while still improving remains to be seen.

Another interesting name on the list is Francois Bouchard, an adept playmaker, with a quick release and great vision in the offensive zone currently looked upon as a Top 10 prospect in the Caps system. With six forwards becoming UFAs in 2010-11 it may make sense to give Bouchrad a shot at the 3rd line if he comes in with another stellar AHL season.

RMNB blogger Andrew Gordon also showed he deserves a shot at the NHL level. If we look at his NHLE of .39 Points per game at age 25 his career could translate into something similar to Fernando Pisani or Joel Ward – a perennial 15+ goal scoring threat that doesn’t shy away from getting physical to win the battles for pucks or space on the ice.

Alexandre Giroux looks impressive with an NHLE of 54 points but when we look at his boxcar stats in context he has a nine year advantage on some of the competition. He should dominate them. We’ll know soon enough as he signed a one-way NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers earlier this off season.

Chris Borque‘s 52 point NHLE combined with a second best RPP on the Bears makes me wonder if his decision to go to the KHL was a hasty one while Steve Pinizzotto 21 point NHLE at age 26 makes me disagree with the notion he should be one of the first call-ups from Hershey.

NHL equivalencies are just a tool that help us put offensive stats for forwards in context. It takes nothing into account how a player is defensively, whether he is a good skater or performs well in the clutch. It simply tells us “would this player perform on the NHL level and if so what would those stats look like.”

Well, what do you think of our post? Do you think defensive contribution and “hockey intangibles” could provide better insight? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://thebumperboards.com Bumper

    This is all fine and dandy, but these fine gentlemen will suffer in Hershey while Flash and B. Gordon continue to suck up ice time.

  • Tim

    I think Beagle and Pinner should both be moved up. I’m not seeing either as 1st/2nd line material, but every team needs 3rd/4th liners. And Bourque is not as high as what that chart has – he doesn’t have the tools to work in the NHL.

    If I was to list prospects with a good shot – MP, Beagle, Pinner, Gordon. Maybe Bouchard, but I haven’t seen him play, so I don’t know enough.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Russian Machine Never Breaks

    @Tim: “I think Beagle and Pinner should both be moved up.”

    I’m glad this is sparking discussion/debate.

    You bring up a fair point, but who’s playing time should they get? And why over Matty P, who’s offensive performance projects better at a younger age?

    For example: If we look at Matty P’s AHL stats they translate to 4G/9A/13P in 21 NHL games. His actual stats: 4/5/9 in 21GP. Pretty close. Not saying this is a statistical certainty, but it does bear fruit.

    -Neil

  • Tim

    Didn’t mean moved up as to the Caps – meant higher on that list. Sorry that I wasn’t clear. With both Beagle and Pinner, I can see them as being on the Caps 4th in the near future – Beagle more so. 4th liners don’t need to score much, so the numbers aren’t as important. Beagle had been around 55%on faceoffs in the NHL, and he has the physicality and grit to be a 4C. And if he could hit those projected numbers, that’s close to what Steckel had this season.

    MP I see as a 2nd/3rd center. I would actually like to see him get the 3C spot this season for the Caps.

  • Josh

    I like MP to become a regular this season. He’s tough for his size, and doesn’t appear to be afraid to take a hit if it means keeping the play going. His tenacity and offensive ability when he was called up last season really impressed me as well. Enough that I preemptively ordered an MP jersey last November…I knew he’d be up permanently soon.

    Your statistical analysis of all things hockey still never ceases to amaze me. Keep up the good work, and keep them coming throughout the season as well.