In the initial segment of this series, we looked at the USNTDP draft-eligibles using a metric called Age Adjusted PPG. This particular metric allows us to remove potential age effects on production.
In part two, we’ll do the same, but the focus is now on the Western Hockey League.
For the USNTDP, we had limited statistics at our availability. That changes with the WHL as we now have the data from Mitch Brown’s CHL Tracking Project at our fingertips. This dataset includes statistics like Zone Entries and Exits, Shot Assists and Corsi for some of these WHL prospects.
These statistics are not available for the majority of these prospects which limits our ability to use this data for comparative analysis, but we’ll look at it for supplemental purposes wherever possible. The USNTDP and WHL are enjoying strong years for their programs. Although early, six USDP players appear to have a good chance to go in the first round next June. For the WHL, that number is five.
Dylan Cozens: It’s actually Cozens that leads in this metric, not one of the hyped Payton Krebs or Kirby Dach. His edge over Dach isn’t large by any means, but an edge is still present, and that’s a good arrow alone. Cozens plays a power game, propelled by top-end speed, size, and strength.
He’s very good at gaining the offensive zone. He scored in the 90th percentile for Entry Success %, and the 84th for Controlled Entry Success % (via Mitch Brown’s CHL Tracking Project). Considering his age, that is quite impressive.
For comparison, promising Anaheim Ducks prospect Sam Steel placed in the 63rd and 27th percentiles in those metrics. Although not typically heralded as a playmaker, it’s possible that he should be. Cozens placed in the 88th percentile for Primary Shot Assists/60, but just 38th for Shots/60.
If Cozens could improve his shot production, adding another strength to his playmaking and zone entry prowess, he could be major offensive weapon that can attack in a variety of ways.
Kirby Dach: Dach was just half a step behind Cozens in Age Adjusted PPG, and the centre actually plays a rather similar game to Cozens. Both are big centres that use their size to attack the net offensively, and both have playmaking elements to their games. However, Dach lakes the above-average skating ability of Cozens.
Unlike Cozens, Dach’s playmaking is a known commodity. He sees the ice well and identifies teammates in good spots. His primary points per game is second out of WHL draft-eligibles, behind only Dylan Cozens.
Peyton Krebs: The consensus top WHLer, Krebs is a dynamic skater that can make plays at high speed. He works hard and is fearless in his attacks, not afraid of going to the net or putting himself on the line to make a play. He makes things happen with the puck, and is an intelligent playmaker with strong vision.
Although the top forward by the eye test, Krebs statistical profile isn’t as impressive. He comes up short to Cozens and Dach in nearly every statistic, whether it be Age Adjusted PPG or Primary Points Per Game.
Nolan Foote: Thise familiar with the Foote family might expect Nolan Foote to be a defenceman, but unlike Adam and Cal, Nolan prefers attacking over defending. Foote rounds out the top group of WHL players. Of that group, he’s easily the least dynamic, but he still has a nice skill set that can threaten offensively.
With the puck, he can danger with his puck skills and heavy shot, and he gets into good spots to score without it. His skating needs work, and it’s preventing him from being a major threat off the rush, but some of the other tools are there and he still has plenty of time to develop.
Dillon Hamaliuk: After Foote, there’s a sizeable step down to left winger Dillon Hamaliuk of about .30 PPG. Hamaliuk has enjoyed excellent possession results, with a 58% Corsi and +9 CF% Rel. He produces shots at a good rate, placing in the 60th percentile for Shots/60 and the 52nd in Primary Shot Contributions.
His zone entry results were middle of the pack, which probably confirms the notion that he doesn’t drive play which could already be suspected based on his PPG and overall pedigree. He’s not the one making things happen, but he’s a nice complimentary player.
Josh Williams: Slotting in after another step down, this right winger plays an intelligent game powered by his hockey IQ. A linemate of Dylan Cozens in Midget, Williams is a former 5th overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. He had excellent statistics that year (55 points in 27 games), but after seeing his WHL production, it would appear that Cozens was responsible for much of that.
Sasha Mutala: It’s still early, but Tri-City winger Sasha Mutala appears to be one of the more overrated draft-eligible prospects. I’ve seen him in at least one first round of an influential writer so far, but the stats would disagree with that assessment. His numbers are those of a mid-round pick. Mutala undeniably has excellent puck skills, but his skating is an issue and he hasn’t been able to piece his talent into tangible success.
Bowen Byram: The consensus top defenceman going into the summer, Byram has a considerable lead as the top producing WHL draft-eligible blueliner. Byram is excellent in transition, capable of moving the puck up ice quickly. His speed and mobility has extreme value on the breakout, and he can carry the puck. His consistently strong decision making stands out as well.
Matthew Robertson: While not on Byram’s level, Robertson’s production is still quite impressive. A versatile defenceman that can excel in a multitude of roles, whether it be offensive or defensive, Robertson shows maturity beyond his age on the ice. He plays a poised two-way game, and is comfortable with the puck on his stick. However, he doesn’t have dynamic offensive ability, and doesn’t project as a major offensive threat from the blueline.
The Rest: A substantial drop-off is observed from Robertson to Kaedan Korczak (good name alert). Korczak and van de Leest bring up the rear of notable WHL defenceman. Neither have high-end skill or upside, and will not be high picks.
This exercise can be of particular value when used to identify overrated and underrated players. When the common qualitative assessment of a player is backed by the statistics, that assessment is typically correct. For a basic example, Bowen Byram is the consensus top defenceman out of the WHL.
Now that we’ve delved into the statistics, we can see that they would agree with that assessment, as Byram has a nice cushion as the top defenceman by Adjusted PPG. In situations like this one, where the qualitative and quantitative evaluations agree, it is more likely that the player in question will go on to what is expected of them than if they agree. Returning to our example now: since Bowen Byram’s statistics agree with the eye test, which says that he’ll probably go on to have the most successful career out of all 2019 eligible WHL defencemen, it’s more likely that that particular scenario will play out than it would if Byram was rated as the 2nd or 3rd best defenceman by this model.
So for which players do the statistics agree with the eye test? Byram, obviously, as well as with Matthew Robertson, who’s commonly considered the next best defenceman. The statistics confirm that assessment. Up front, things are a bit murkier. I think there’s agreement with Nolan Foote, but not really anywhere else.
Where do they disagree?
The big one is with Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, and Peyton Krebs. Those three are the big three, nothing disputes that, but there’s little consensus between the eye and the calculator on the order.
As you can see, there’s absolutely no evident semblance of agreement. Krebs is at the top of one list; the bottom of the other, and Cozens and Dach move up or down one spot from list to list. Neither one of these lists are correct, because neither one incorporates both statistics and the eye test, which, in my opinion, allows for the most accurate result.
However, what this does show is that there isn’t confirmation with any of these players, and they probably deserve a closer look because of that. Is Payton Krebs the top draft-eligible forward? Maybe, and I might lean that way myself, but if you’re going to go right out and say that, you’ve better have taken a long look at him in comparison to Dylan Cozens, because I think they’re closer than one might think.
All zone entry/exit, Corsi, and shot contribution statistics via Mitch Brown’s CHL Tracking Project. Other statistics courtesy of prospect-stats.com.