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May 20, 2011
Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
Introduction

by Corey Pronman

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Welcome to the first edition of Hockey Prospectus' Top 100 NHL Draft Eligible Prospects.

In this series, you will find my personal rankings of what I feel are the top prospects in the 2011 draft class, along with detailed reports for each prospect, an explanation for each top ranking and key ones after that, statistical projections and a statistical comparable for each prospect.

Before you dive right into the rankings, I would like to briefly explain the process that went into the rankings and the reports, and to reintroduce several key statistical and scouting analysis techniques used in the rankings.

For the reports, they are based on my personal viewings of each and every prospect, with aid from professional and independent scouts. However, the bulk of the notes are from my personal viewings, predominantly through video scouting, and I have seen each and every prospect at least once and most several times. The reports are littered with references to a scouting language called the 20-80 scale, which is something I've borrowed from the baseball scouting world and have adapted to hockey scouting.

To avoid confusing readers I make as few references to number grades as possible, however I do mix it up here and there to avoid using the words average or above-average over a thousand times in these rankings. Here is how the 20-80 scale works and the words associated with those grades I use in the rankings:

70 is amongst the NHL's elite/plus-plus
60 is plus/top-tier
55 is above-average
50 is NHL average/average/pro-level/decent
45 is below-average
40 is fringe/replacement level

Anytime I say well below-average or well above-average that refers to beyond the 40 grade or 60 range. Solid or solid-average means between 50 and 55, fringe-average means between 45 and 50. The purpose of the 20-80 scale is not to try and quantify scouting, but rather it illustrates a clear and distinguishable language to the reader of exactly how much I value a particular attribute. It also allows me to keep my sanity when evaluating and ranking the prospects.

The tools referenced throughout commonly are skating, puck skills, shot, physical game and hockey sense. Skating and shot are self-explanatory, puck skills is play with the puck and passing, but will be differentiated in the profiles if there is a distinct difference. Physical game refers to physical assets, but with a heavy emphasis on actual effectiveness in the physical game as opposed to just relying on size/weight projections. Hockey sense is the entire mental aspect of the game and will be differentiated in the profiles amongst the many aspects if needed.

The ranking process started by finding out exactly how valuable certain skills are in today's NHL market. Gabe Desjardins explained this pretty clearly here:

"Together, Fenwick/Corsi and Luck account for around 3/4 of team winning percentage. What's the remainder? Goaltending talent - which Tom Awad estimates at about 5% - and special teams, along with a very small sliver that's due to shooting talent and the oft-mentioned "shot quality." So I don't think there's a false dichotomy here - there are five factors in this model, all of which are given credence in proportion to their predictive power."

To those unfamiliar with Corsi/Fenwick, they are basically indicators of possession skill, as Vic Ferrari has shown many times at his blog, on top of showing the overwhelming importance of possession.

These insights into the modern day NHL and the valuations of certain skills played a huge part in my rankings. Possession skills are the primary factor used in my rankings by a significant margin. While players' shooting percentage drives results, the persistence of shooting percentage is low due to the high degree of luck in shooting percentage in a single season. Thereby players who make their mark by beating the percentages shooting-wise through mid-distance shooting were debited due to uncertainty of the skill due to luck.

Tom Awad has estimated goaltending is worth about 5% of winning percentage, and has done several good columns on the goaltending market and talent distribution here and here to help illustrate the goaltending situation. Combine that with how long goalies take to develop and the development uncertainty and goalies are given very low value in my rankings.

With the possession skill in mind as to what I primarily wanted to focus on, I polled several NHL executives who also put a focus on possession in their drafting and pulled on my own experience to figure out which tools I wanted to emphasize. For defensemen, the answer was always to put hockey IQ high up there along with puck-moving ability. For forwards, it's puck skills, along with hockey IQ. Other factors obviously come into play as skating, physical game, and other areas are important. Skating tends to be a little more important for forwards and physical game more so for defenders so this is all scaled accordingly. Everything plays into the possession game, but those aforementioned abilities are qualities that are of a higher importance to that skill and this play a larger part in the formation of these rankings.

Other factors that influenced the rankings are things like position scarcity and upside/risk. I took a glance at positional scarcity at different production points and Tom Awad looked at it in his Good Players series. In regards to upside/risk, I looked at Goals Versus Salary/value numbers at different GVT points I listed in a previous column to see how much risk was warranted in terms of uncertainty of a projection if it meant a certain jump/upside in Goals Versus Salary/value. The basic conclusions from this are that top-tier defensemen are more valuable than forwards as long as they have offensive skills. When you started getting into the average player and the meat of the distribution, forwards are more valuable than defenders. Risk on upside is less wise to take towards the top of the draft, but as you start comparing average to somewhat above-average players it's better to take smart risks on upside. Signability factors were not accounted for as they can be case by case, so for Europeans with transfer questions I kept the rankings talent-based.

Statistics used in these rankings are Projected Peak GVT and it is used as an aid during the ranking process. Goals Versus Threshold was created by Tom Awad and is Hockey Prospectus' proprietary metric that shows how many goals above replacement level a player is, with replacement level being defined as the talent level that is interchangeable between the worst NHL players and the easily accessible players from other sources such as the AHL. League average GVT amongst players in the 2010-11 season with at least 30 GP was 5.44 with one standard deviation being 4.92 GVT. Iain Fyffe will explain how the projections are done.

Iain Fyffe: Projectinator Ratings

The Projectinator is a system that produces objective ratings of draft-eligible players. It's objective in the sense that numbers are plugged in to the system, and a rating comes out, without any subjective judgment from the user. It takes the player's junior numbers and produces an estimate of his future value to an NHL team, expressed in GVT. This GVT is meant to represent a player's peak GVT (per 82 games), defined as the five best seasons in the first 10 after his draft year. This time period is chosen to reflect the number of seasons a typical player will be under a team's control before becoming a free agent. The rating is also normalized for the fact that goaltenders and defensemen play more minutes per game than forwards do; if not, goaltenders would always be considered the best prospects available.

The numbers used aren't just the player's individual scoring stats; many factors are considered in the calculations. A player's birth month is a crucial piece of information. Given identical stats, a player born in June is a much better prospect that one born the previous December. Team factors are also considered. Playing on a good team is an advantage for any player, and in particular for a goaltender. Playing on a good defensive team is a positive sign for a defenseman. A blueliner who takes too many penalties suffers (he puts his team down a man too often), but so does one who takes too few (he likely doesn't play physically enough). Several other factors are considered, including a player's size, which while severely overrated by most scouts, does have some effect, particularly for defensemen and goalies.

In addition to the projected GVT, we have provided comparable players. It's one thing to have a number, it's another to have a concrete representation of that number in terms of a player you're familiar with. None of the comparisons are perfect, of course, but they give you some idea of the player the Projectinator expects these prospects to become.

It should be noted too that US High School Players and USNTDP projections were unavailable. The comparables are derived from similar players the Projectionator finds in its objective rating system and is not an indication of my personal feeling of similar skill sets or scouting projections.

With all of that being said, we now present you our Top 100 Draft Eligible Prospects. Hope you enjoy it and while I have explained everything here in as much detail as possible, if you have any questions about anything in these rankings you can reach me at cpronman@hockeyprospectus.com or at my twitter account @coreypronman.

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

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