Doug MacLean made quite the assertion on Sportsnet’s coverage of the Oilers game last night, saying that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is guaranteed to get 100 points in a season in his career. At the time it struck me as an uninformed blurt of Pidgin English typical of MacLean, but I thought I’d do some research to find out how outlandish it actually is.
So how rare are 100 point seasons? Well, since the 1994 lockout only 14 different centres have managed to post just 24 of them. Here’s a list of the 14 players:
You can see that Sidney Crosby leads the pack with 4, but Malkin, Sakic and Thornton are all close behind with 3 each. Gretzky, Francis and Lemieux all managed the feat in 95-96 over the age of 30 (35,32,30 respectively), and so weren’t in their primes during my post-1994 timeframe — I will leave them out of most of my analysis, but it is fun to list them here.
The average draft position of the 14 players who accomplished the feat is 6.2 Overall (excluding Gretzky’s immaculate conception onto the Oilers). In fact, only 3 of the 14 were chosen outside the top 4, and only one out of the first round (DOUG WEIGHT 95-96 FOR LIFE). So this feat is obviously the purview of rarefied prospects, which RNH just so happens to be as a #1 overall himself. Just for fun, if you weight the draft position by the number of times that player scored 100 points, the weighted average draft position is 5.5.
For age of first season, I looked for the player’s first year in the NHL in which he played more than 60 games. Then I noted his point per game average in that first year, and then his point per game average in his second year. You can see that the average PPG for these players in their first years was 0.81 — RNH is again sitting pretty with a 0.84 in his first year. However, all but one (Forsberg, a freak of nature), substantially increased their production in their second years, resulting in an average PPG of 1.10. This translates into about a 90 point season over 82 games. This suggests that 100 point players all progress very quickly and begin to near the scoring rate required for 100 points at a young age. This is obvious when you look at a histogram of the frequency of 100 point seasons by age:
This graph is heavily weighted towards the younger age brackets, with the majority of 100 point seasons being scored by players 25 years of age or younger. Again, I think this would fit RNH’s profile of opportunity here, as the Oilers will likely run into salary cap constraints in RNH’s age 23+ seasons and may need to jettison good players at that point, but RNH will be surrounded by good talent in his 20-23 yo seasons just entering their primes.
Have another quick look at the list — is there a pattern of relying on wingers? Generally they were all on good teams with varying degrees of support, and I’d qualitatively say that a minority of 5 of these centres had to do it without great wingers (Crosby, Lindros, Malkin, Staal, Weight). RNH does have a potentially strong group of castmates to help supplement his totals, like the majority of these men.
So what about first overalls — is there a particular advantage that they have in attaining 100 points in a season? I compiled a list of first overall centremen between 1988 (so they can still be a relatively in-prime 25 during the first NHL lockout) and Crosby’s 2005 draft and checked to see if they ever got a 100 point season:
Out of 8 centremen who went first overall in this 18 year timeframe, 4 of them (or 50%) eventually went on to score 100 points in a season after 1994. The column labeled ‘Best Points’ shows the most points they ever got in a season after 1994 and then shows the age they accomplished that in. The average peak age is 24.7 (Daigle scored 51 twice 7 years apart), but this is skewed by Mike Modano’s anomalous 32 year old peak. Both Sundin and Modano had better years before 1994 (Sundin even had a 114 pt season pre-Leafs), but I cannot bring myself to allow them in this study as the early 90s were like the WWI of hockey history — old tactics combined with amazing new advances in technology, resulting in an offensive slaughter.
So what’s the conclusion. I’d say giving 1st Overalls a 50% chance of getting a 100 point season in their careers is fair. RNH is certainly tracking ahead of busts like Stefan, and is ahead of the average career that resulted in a 100 point season down the line based on first year results. I think this year is absolutely key in answering this question. If RNH puts up, say, 1.0 or higher PPG this year, I think it’s safe to think he could hit 100 within the 3 years after that. If he regresses below 0.84 PPG, I think it’s safe to say he’ll never get there. 100 points is one of the smallest clubs these days in the NHL, and the ones who gain membership are the absolute best of the best for at least one season. These kinds of players generally show this potential early with constant progression upwards into their prime years. We shall see.