Photo credit: Chris Gordon (Click to enlarge. He’s got beautiful blue eyes, you know.)
Evgeny Kuznetsov has had quite a year. Not only did he win a gold medal with Team Russia in the 2011 World Junior Championship, become the youngest player to ever be in the KHL All-Star Game and get engaged, but he also had the second-most goals ever in a season for a Russian player under 19-years old (17 to be exact). But how can we measure his success compared to the NHL?
Gabe over at Behind the Net adopted Bill James’ concept of minor league equivalencies to estimate how well a player’s scoring ability will translate to the NHL. For example, if a forward scores 70 points in the AHL we don’t expect that same player to score 70 points in the big leagues due to a decrease in ice time and power play minutes with other factors including the quality of line-mates also playing in.
These equivalencies are not predictions of what a player will do, but instead an evaluation of what that player has done. When I looked at the Hershey Bears last summer it was evident that Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux, while having strong AHL campaigns, would struggle to find a spot at the National Hockey League level based on the translation of performance to the higher level of NHL play.
As for Kuznetsov, let me say first that the competition level in the Kontinental Hockey League is much greater than the AHL. The game may be slower and less physical, but make no mistake: given two players at the same position and age, with the same ice time and stats, the KHL player will be the better bet in the NHL.
The KHL has come a long way in providing detailed stats, including ice time, so we can get a complete picture of not only what his NHL performance will translate to but also what we could project for him going forward.
First, the NHL equivalency:
|NHLe for 82 games||82||24||21||45||13||7||4||220||873.3|
Forty-five points scored would put him fourth highest on Washington’s leaderboard, just ahead of Brooks Laich and alongside Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers in rookie production for centers. With Kuznetsov’s gold medal performance and regular season play, I don’t find this out of the realm of possibility if he was given a full 82 game schedule .
Now that we know what he would have produced at the NHL level, we can project the next two years and see if it makes sense to rush him or let him develop in the KHL one more year.
|2012 NHL proj||20||57||9||9||18||104||757.4||1.0|
|2013 NHL proj||21||65||14||19||33||145||941.0||5.4|
Kuznetsov would be projected to play more NHL games in 2012-13, but his production would suffer a bit. This is not unexpected — we see phenoms regress in their sophomore season all the time. It is important to understand that it is not really a “sophomore jinx” as much as it is a rookie overachieving his first year. In 2013-14 we can expect to see Kuznetsov beginning to realize his full NHL value, with Tom Awad’s GVT metric climbing over NHL replacement level. This is when an organization wants to start the clock on a player’s salary-controlled years in order to maximize their draft asset to its fullest potential.
Caps fans should hope Kuznetsov is just posturing when he says he may stay in the KHL long-term, but let’s feel good he is developing in a tougher environment so when he does come to the big club his impact will be felt right away.
Additional reporting by Ian Oland and Chris Gordon.