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November 22, 2011
Howe and Why
AHL Translations, Summary

by Robert Vollman

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Over the past few weeks, we've been sharing the findings of our deeper dive into AHL-to-NHL translations, ultimately devising a new system that attempts to improve on the classic 0.45 translation factor. This new system is meant to take into account the very different translations at different age points, and to pull down the high-scoring AHLers whose ice time will inevitably drop against the stiff NHL competition, and boost the low-scoring AHLers who can't seriously expect to have 5.5 of their already low 10 points vanish when making the jump.

While a good system can explain what happened in the past, it has no true worth unless it has some usefulness in predicting the future. We therefore looked at all 43 of today's NHL players with at least 10 games this year after playing the bulk of their time in the AHL last season—and all but 11 are closer to the new projection than the classic. Overall, the classic system was off by an average of 2.7 points per player, while the new projection system just 0.1.

We'll conclude this recent series with a look at some of the more interesting of this year's AHL-to-NHL cases, showcasing its strengths and exposing its remaining weaknesses.

Top AHL-to-NHL Scorers

One of the appeals of using the new system's adjustments is that it plays it far safer, refusing to project amazing seasons from those who dominated the AHL, except in specific cases. As such, it is far more likely to be surprised by any big breakouts, which are inevitable regardless of whether you're looking at AHL-to-NHL translations or not. Each of this year's top AHL-to-NHL scorers have exceeded expectations, from 2.7 points (Cody Hodgson) to 6.0 points (Clitsome)—or beyond (Sheldon Souray).

Top scorers that were playing in the AHL in 2010-11

Age Player        Team       GP G A PTS Expected
35 Sheldon Souray Dallas     17 4 9 13    2.7
21 Luke Adam      Buffalo    18 5 8 13    8.2
21 Adam Henrique  New Jersey 14 4 6 10    4.6
26 Grant Clitsome Columbus   17 3 7 10    4.0
21 Cody Hodgson   Vancouver  19 4 5  9    6.3
25 Colin Greening Ottawa     20 5 4  9    5.6
28 Corey Potter   Edmonton   16 2 6  8    2.6

The classic 0.45 translation factor would have been perfect for Corey Potter, Colin Greening, and Cody Hodgson, but it too would have missed the others, though not by as much. Though there are surprise breakouts every year—whether a player comes from the AHL or not—the safer bet is that the top four names on that list will start cooling down.

Blue Chip Blueliners

It may not be jaw-dropping that former 64-point scorer Sheldon Souray should earn 13 points in his first 17 games, but bear in mind that it took him 37 games to score the same 13 points in his last NHL season in 2009-10, and he scored just 19 points in 40 games last year for the Hershey Bears at age 34. His former levels of scoring would remind us more of Jay Harrison, who scored 14 points in 32 games at age 27, or perhaps Joe Callahan, who scored 15 points in 35, and neither of whom made any kind of NHL impact. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough data points for older defensemen, especially those with considerable prior NHL success, so players like Souray will trick us every time.

Another example of a tricky older defensemen who scored at the same AHL pace last season is 28-year-old Corey Potter, who had just two points in nine NHL games when signed by the Edmonton Oilers this offseason and managed just 37 points in 75 games in the AHL last year—which was actually his best season, suggesting his current scoring pace of eight points in 16 games might not last forever.

Another surprise veteran is Grant Clitsome, a former ninth round choice, who scored just 54 points in 169 AHL games before a surprise 19 points in 31 games after an age-25 call-up to Columbus last season. Last year, he was riding the percentages hard, his scoring totals depending on the 11.1% on-ice shooting percentage and a 63% offensive zone start, which is very rare for a defenseman. You would think his counting numbers would come down when those percentages dropped (which they have), but no: 10 points in 17 games.

Clitsome's Columbus teammate Aaron Johnson and his six points in 12 games just missed the list, but we were only expecting a couple based on his 35 points in 72 games last season as a 27-year-old AHLer with an NHL single-season career high of 10 points.

There isn't a great deal of precedent for defensemen making the move (or the return) to the NHL at an advanced age and retaining a large portion of their AHL scoring, let alone increasing upon it like Souray, Potter, Clitsome, and Johnson. It'll be interesting to see if they continue, and if we can integrate their performance into our system to better predict these breakouts in the future.

Fantastic Forwards

Luke Adam scored 62 points in 57 games in the AHL at age 20, which would suggest that his NHL scoring of 13 points in 18 games is no fluke. However, he scored just four points in 19 NHL games last year, and there's surprisingly little precedent for this year's scoring level to continue.

The following is a list of every player with an AHL scoring rate between 1.0 and 1.2 at age 21 or younger who played at least 20 games in the NHL the following season. Luke Adam is already outscoring five of them, and is on pace to outscore them all, topping out at almost 60 points.

Players historically similar to Luke Adam

Player             GP  G  A PTS
Bobby Ryan         64 31 26 57
Andrei Kostitsyn   78 26 27 53
Claude Giroux      82 16 31 47
Artem Anisimov     82 12 16 28
David Krejci       56  6 21 27
Sergei Kostitsyn   56  8 15 23
Patrick O'Sullivan 44  5 14 19
Clarke MacArthur   37  8  7 15
Vladimir Sobotka   61  4  6 10
Jeff Tambellini    23  2  7  9
Tomas Fleischmann  29  4  4  8
Jiri Tlusty        20  1  5  6
Eric Fehr          23  1  5  6

Based on his current scoring and our new projection system, we estimate that Luke Adam will lead all AHL-to-NHLers with 42 points, followed distantly by Mikkel Boedker, Adam Henrique, and Cody Hodgson in the low-30s.

Similar to Luke Adam, 22-year-old Mikkel Boedker scored 34 points in 36 AHL games after scoring 38 points in 64 AHL games the season before, but he has just six points in 17 NHL games so far. A former first round pick, Boedker scored 28 points in 78 NHL games as a teenager when the Coyotes really pushed him hard back in 2008-09. Last year, he managed 14 points in 34 NHL games, about the same scoring rate as this year, which would land him at 32 points—the classic 0.45 would instead put him up near 40.

The other two players expected to score 30 points include a pair of 21-year-olds, New Jersey's Adam Henrique and Vancouver's Cody Hodgson, but these are very different players. In the AHL last year, Henrique scored 50 points in 73 games, a higher scoring rate than Hodgson's 30 points in 52 games, but his faster NHL scoring rate this season is more a function of really riding those percentages—New Jersey's shooting percentage is 11.3% with Henrique on the ice, which partially makes up for their terrible possession stats (Relative Corsi of -14.2). Among those the same age and with an AHL scoring rate within 10% of Henrique's, the most successful NHL jumps were by Michael Grabner, Patric Hornqvist, and Bryan Little, but none of them were scoring over 0.7 points per game like Henrique.

Former first-rounder Cody Hodgson's early season success seems more legitimate, uninflated by the percentages, and within the bounds of historical precedent. Of those most similar to his AHL experience, only Lee Stempniak scored 0.6 points per game (and just barely), and the more realistic high-water mark of 0.55 points per game set by the likes of Gilbert Brule, Rob Schremp, David Booth, and Brandon Sutter is still a step up from his current pace.

Older players are far less likely to surprise the system, so keep your eyes on Ottawa's Colin Greening. Greening was a seventh round selection, and scored 13 points in 24 games last year in his first taste of the NHL at age 24, so you'd think his nine points in 20 games shouldn't be much of a surprise. His 40 points in 59 AHL games last year may be the same pace as Henrique's, but older players generally don't get the opportunity to keep as much of their scoring when they make the move to the NHL. Since the Lockout, no forward that age and in that scoring range moved to the NHL and scored at a rate any higher than the roughly 0.4 points per game achieved by David Moss, Matt Moulson, and Tyler Bozak, so the odds are against Greening to an even greater extent than Henrique.

Disappointments

Despite the increased safety of the new system, even it can be disappointed by especially poor NHL performances, though not by nearly as much as the classic system.

Failing to Meet Expectations

Age Player          Team      GP PTS Expected
23 Matt Beleskey    Anaheim   16  0   4.4
26 Andrew Gordon    Anaheim   19  1   5.4
21 Marco Scandella  Minnesota 16  2   5.3
21 Evgeny Grachev   St. Louis 15  2   5.0
27 Derek Smith      Calgary   13  1   3.6
23 Jonathan Blum    Nashville 18  3   5.6
23 Blake Geoffrion  Nashville 18  2   5.6
22 Colton Gillies   Minnesota 19  2   4.6
23 Maxime Macenauer Anaheim   19  2   4.6
26 Aaron Volpatti   Vancouver 17  0   2.3

At first glance, you might think that the Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, and Nashville Predators must either be hard teams to play for, or have AHL teams that bloat statistics. If that were true in the latter two cases, someone should tell Minnesota's Nate Prosser, Nick Johnson, and Justin Falk, or Nashville's Matt Halischuk and Brian McGrattan, all of whom are achieving or even exceeding expectations.

There may be something to the Anaheim slump, however. Not to dwell on the negative, but the team has been struggling, the prime ice time is simply not available to their new players, all of which get only limited ice time along replacement-level players (like each other). Though already 26, hopefully things will pick up for Andrew Gordon, who has 224 AHL points in 268 games and Matt Beleskey, who had 28 points in 97 NHL games prior to this season, and 66 in his 100 AHL games.

Final Word

As we've explored in the past and last year's Hockey Prospectus 2010-11, the classic 0.45 AHL-to-NHL translation factor generally won't lead you very far astray, but you likely wouldn't be a loyal Hockey Prospectus reader if you didn't want to squeeze out a little more detail and accuracy. Using the adjustments we've explored over the past few weeks, you'll often wind up with more accurate projections, especially among the younger, high-scoring players. Nevertheless, it is unavoidable to be occasionally surprised by unexpected scoring from players like Luke Adam, Adam Henrique, and Colin Greening.

Hopefully, postseason revisions based on the final totals from high-scoring older defensemen like Sheldon Souray, Corey Potter, Grant Clitsome, and Aaron Johnson (for example) can help improve the new system even further, but until then, use 0.45 as a spitball, and these new adjustments to inch the projection even closer.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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