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December 6, 2010
Howe and Why
Staal, Semin and Stamkos

by Robert Vollman

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Last month, we used the recently-coined Snepsts system to find historical comparables for leading snipers Jarome Iginla, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa—and the projections have proven eerily accurate in two of the three cases.

This week, our target players are the leading snipers for three teams in the high octane Southeast Division: Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Snepsts System

You can review a more detailed explanation of the (at the time, unnamed) methodology here, but basically, the Snepsts system searches all of the National Hockey League's history to find players aged within two years of a given player who have similar era-normalized statistics for the current season, past season and previous career totals.

Though these comparables aren't necessarily similar players, looking at how the future unfolded for players with similar statistics can be an entertaining way to give us insight into what to expect from our target players.

Eric Staal, 26, Carolina Hurricanes

Eric Staal, oldest of three NHL brothers, scored 31 points as a teenager in his first season with the Carolina Hurricanes is 2003-04. Staal took a giant leap forward after the Lockout season, scoring 45 goals, 100 points and leading the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship. He's seen the postseason only once since then, but has scored an amazing 19 goals and 43 points in those two playoff appearances.

Using one of the simpler alternatives to the Snepsts system, Staal's closest comparables include Martin Havlat, Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick, Mats Sundin, Michel Goulet and Ed Litzenberger. Using this peer group, we would estimate only 30 goals and 37 assists in 82 games, far less than what we get with Snepsts.

Age Closest Comparable        GP  G  A PTS
26  Martin Havlat    2007-08  35 10 17  27
28  Tony Amonte      1998-99  82 46 33  79
27  Ed Litzenberger  1959-60  52 11 17  28
27  Mike Modano      1997-98  52 22 41  63
28  Herbie Lewis     1934-35  47 18 39  57
27  Pierre Turgeon   1996-97  78 25 58  83
25  Mats Sundin      1996-97  82 39 52  91
28  Michel Goulet    1988-89  69 19 29  48
27  Sid Smith        1952-53  70 23 25  48
26  Luc Robitaille   1992-93  84 48 48  96
 
Worst (Litzenberger)          82 18 28  46
Best (Modano)                 82 35 65 100
Average                       82 31 46  77
VUKOTA (over 82 GP)           82 36 44  80

With few exceptions, that’s a very distinguished group, and several of these guys had huge age-21 seasons just like Staal:

•Pierre Turgeon scored 40 goals and 66 assists for 106 points at age 20, a feat he actually topped in his prime three years later.
•At age 21, in his second season, ninth round draft choice Luc Robitaille earned 53 goals and 111 points for the Los Angeles Kings, a level he would exceed only once more in his career.
•Mats Sundin bagged 47 goals and 114 points at age 21, the only time he topped 100 in his storied career.

Eric Staal is currently on pace for 38 goals and 50 assists totaling 88 points, just like Nordique-Maple Leaf legend Mats Sundin, and potentially within reach of the best case scenario of 100 points.

Alexander Semin, 26, Washington Capitals

Alexander Semin scored just 22 points for the Washington Capitals as a teenager, but returned with a bang three years later, finishing second to Ovechkin with 38 goals and 73 points in 2006-07. This season, he’s on pace for 47 goals and 37 assists to match last season’s total of 84 points.

The quick method finds us five solid comparables: Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Kevin Stevens, Luc Robitaille, Theo Fleury and Vincent Lecavalier. If you assume a repeat of last year’s 73 games (his second-most in five NHL seasons), his peer group predicts 30 goals and 36 assists, but spreading out the Snepsts net hauls in a much bigger catch.

Age Closest Comparable        GP  G  A PTS
28  Kevin Stevens    1993-94  83 35 41  76
28  Todd Bertuzzi    2003-04  69 18 47  65
27  Luc Robitaille   1993-94  83 38 37  75
26  Steve Yzerman    1991-92  79 36 47  83
28  Theo Fleury      1996-97  81 28 37  65
26  Marian Gaborik   2008-09  17 13 10  23
28  Vince Lecavalier 2008-09  77 28 37  65
28  Gordie Drillon   1941-42  48 20 18  38
25  Bernie Geoffrion 1956-57  41 20 23  43
27  Mike Bossy       1983-84  67 36 49  85
 
Worst (Drillon)               73 31 27  58
Best (Bossy)                  73 39 54  93
Average                       73 33 39  72
VUKOTA (over 73 GP)           73 36 46  82

Kevin Stevens is a particularly nice match statistically. Like Semin, Stevens played alongside an incredibly talented linemate—Mario Lemieux. Look how tightly their era-normalized stats match!

Alexander Semin:
Season    GP  G   A  PTS  G/GP  A/GP
2009-10   73  40  44  84  0.55  0.60
2008-09   62  33  43  76  0.53  0.70
Previous 254 107 106 213  0.42  0.42

Kevin Stevens:
1992-93   72  42  44  86  0.58  0.61
1991-92   80  43  56  99  0.54  0.70
Previous 276 109 129 238  0.40  0.47

So what happened next for Stevens? Unfortunately, his 27-year-old season was his last truly dominant campaign. If he were to have played 73 games, Kevin Stevens would have gone on to score the modern day equivalent of just 31 goals and 36 assists for 67 points.

The same won’t necessarily be true of Semin, who is two years younger, and relies on both his talented linemate and power play duty for far less of his production than Stevens. In fact, the only factor that could potentially risk career highs would be the ever looming threat of injury. A healthy season could practically guarantee 40 goals for the Russian sniper.

Steven Stamkos, 20, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have charged out of the basement, in no small part thanks to the rapid offensive development of Steven Stamkos, who leads the league with 21 goals, 10 of which have come with the man advantage [Editor: Until Stamkos was recently passed by Sidney Crosby]. Excited by his achievements, drunken Lightning fans even mistakenly voted Steven Staios into the All-Star game.

Okay, that last part wasn’t true, but what is true is that the 20-year-old is already only 6 points shy of the 46 he posted in his full 18-year-old rookie season. Buoyed by a 50% increase in ice-time and a startlingly effective power play, he led the league with 51 goals last year, 24 of which came on the power play.

Normally, Snepsts would simply laugh at any attempt to find comparables for such a unique player, and with such limited data. There are obviously not a lot of rookies who even play at age 18, and even fewer 19 year olds who score anywhere close to his 51 goals and 95 points.

In fact, Sidney Crosby (1.44), Wayne Gretzky (1.42) and Hec Kilrea (1.21) were the only 19-year-olds in history to have a higher era-normalized scoring rate than Stamkos (1.16 points per game). Jimmy Carson is the only other 19-year-old to even top 1.00, though Mario Lemieux, Bryan Trottier and Ted Kennedy were very close. And none of them were even close to his 51 goals—Rick Nash was closest at 44 (era-normalized; also leading the league in both power play and overall goal scoring), and Gretzky and Carson were the only two others over 40 goals.

If we take these as his peers, the average 20-year-old season normalizes to 1.18 points per game, good enough for 96 points. Stamkos is currently scoring at the obscene rate of 1.48, higher than everyone we mentioned except the incomparable Gretzky (1.53). Fortunately, the Snepsts comparables are not confined to just 20-year-olds, and it only discovered two: Marian Gaborik and Jaromir Jagr.

Age Closest Comparable       GP  G  A PTS
20  Marian Gaborik  2001-02  81 31 37  68
22  Wilf Paiement   1977-78  80 26 50  76
22  Dino Ciccarelli 1981-82  77 26 28  54
22  Dave Keon       1961-62  68 26 28  54
22  Daniel Marois   1990-91  78 17  7  24
22  Pavel Bure      1992-93  76 51 41  92
21  Pierre Larouche 1976-77  65 24 30  54
20  Jaromir Jagr    1991-92  81 26 47  73
22  Joe Thornton    2001-02  66 23 50  73
22  Jeremy Roenick  1991-92  80 42 41  83
 
Worst (Marois)               82 18  8  26
Best (Bure)                  82 55 45 100
Average                      82 32 39  71
VUKOTA (over 82 GP)          82 47 50  97

Like Stamkos, Gaborik had a great and vastly improved 19-year-old sophomore season, but took several seasons to improve upon it. Since Stamkos is on pace for another big improvement: 64 goals, 58 assists and 122 points, he’s more likely to follow a vastly accelerated version of Jagr's path, who continued his climb for several more seasons.

To be honest, you can essentially throw Snepsts out the window when dealing with players like Stamkos. None of these comparables are particularly close matches, and you have to drill pretty deep into Snepsts to even find Gaborik. Daniel Marois is a particularly ridiculous comparable, having scoring 31 and 39 goals in his first two seasons with the Maple Leafs thanks to shooting percentages over 21%, but earned only 47 the rest of his career.

When dealing with limited data, it can often be helpful to supplement the analysis with a look at the junior leagues. Stamkos’ closest matches in the OHL at 16 years old are Patrick O'Sullivan and Derek Roy. To a lesser extent, his peer group includes Kirk Muller, Rob Schremp, Rick Nash, and Jason Spezza. At 17, his peer group would include Kyle Wellwood, Joe Thornton, Marc Savard, Bobby Ryan, David Legwand, Daniel Cleary and Brian Bellows. It’s interesting—but not helpful—to see how some of these players didn’t blossom until much later in their careers or, in some cases, not at all.

Long story short, Stamkos is clearly an outlier, and while it’s helpful to look at Nash, Thornton, Gaborik and Jagr, you have to look at his career more like Gretzky and Crosby and simply assume it will carve itself a fresh new path.

Wrapping Up

The NHL’s Southeast Division has rapidly become one of the more exciting, thanks in no small part to the exceptional snipers with which several of their teams are blessed. Eric Staal is developing on a Sundin-like trajectory, Alexander Semin has produced like a Kevin Stevens clone thus far, while Steven Stamkos is clearly charting brand new territory.

If you find these studies interesting, please take advantage of either the comment section or the email link to request analyses of other players, using either the Snepsts system, or a requested alternative.

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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Howe and Why (11/29)
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