The focus of Up and Coming is to examine the statistical records of young players, to extract the meaning we can find there. Junior, minor pro and major league stats will be examined for players up to the age of 22.
While I have spent a great deal of time examining player statistics in this manner on an informal basis over many years, I haven't developed any formal methods yet. Over time through Up and Coming, I intend to develop such methods. I'll be looking at things such as the effect of a player's age on his numbers, and the relative value of the various junior and collegiate leagues. As well, I'll be looking at historical information to inform the present.
Special attention will be paid to the Entry Draft, especially how to use a player's numbers to determine if and when he should be drafted. In my opinion, NHL teams as a whole do not do a very good job drafting players. At the very least, draft results could be improved by paying more attention to the statistics and less attention to the player's height. Now, some NHL teams do very well drafting players and may not benefit from more emphasis on the stats. But you only need to look at the travesty that was the 1998 Entry Draft to see that stats are often ignored in favour of a player being really, really big.
Lessons From the Q
To begin with, let's have a look at the single-season scoring records from the QMJHL. It's interesting just to examine the list, but there are several important lessons that can be learned as well. Here are the top 25 scoring seasons from the Quebec major junior league:
Rank Player Club Year Age GP G A P
1 Lemieux, Mario Laval 1983-84 17 70 133 149 282
2 Larouche, Pierre Sorel 1973-74 17 67 94 157 251
3 LaFontaine, Pat Verdun 1982-83 17 70 104 130 234
4 Deziel, Michel Sorel 1973-74 19 69 92 135 227
5 Cloutier, Real Quebec 1973-74 17 69 93 123 216
6 Cossette, Jacques Sorel 1973-74 19 68 97 117 214
7 Lafleur, Guy Quebec 1970-71 18 62 130 79 209
8 Locas, Jacques Quebec 1973-74 19 63 99 107 206
9 Fortier, Marc Chicoutimi 1986-87 20 65 66 135 201
10 Lefebvre, Patrice Shawinigan 1987-88 20 70 64 136 200
11 Nantais, Richard Quebec 1973-74 18 67 64 130 194
12 Rouleau, Guy Longueuil 1985-86 20 62 91 100 191
13 Robitaille, Luc Hull 1985-86 19 63 68 123 191
14 Lebeau, Stephan Shawinigan 1987-88 19 67 94 94 188
15 Verret, Claude Trois-Rivieres 1982-83 19 68 73 115 188
16 Sauve, Jean-Francois Trois-Rivieres 1979-80 19 72 63 124 187
17 Morin, Stephane Chicoutimi 1988-89 19 70 77 109 186
18 Richards, Brad Rimouski 1999-00 19 63 71 115 186
19 Perreault, Yanic Trois-Rivieres 1990-91 19 67 87 98 185
20 Lemieux, Mario Laval 1982-83 16 66 84 100 184
21 Gamache, Simon Val d'Or 2000-01 19 72 74 110 184
22 Hawerchuk, Dale Cornwall 1980-81 17 72 81 102 183
23 Carbonneau, Guy Chicoutimi 1979-80 19 72 72 110 182
24 Savard, Denis Montreal 1979-80 18 72 63 118 181
25 Aubin, Normand Verdun/Sherbrooke1979-80 19 63 91 89 180
(Note that age is calculated based on the modern rules for Entry Draft eligibility. If the player is first eligible for the draft after the year in question, he is assigned an age of 17 for that year. Other ages are calculated in the same manner.)
First of all, you might notice that six of the top 11 spots on the chart come from the 1973-74 season. Part of this is explained by the very high goals-per-game rate in the Q that year; the average was 5.41 goals per team-game. This is an extremely important point when examining junior records: what is the goal-scoring environment like? Is it a high-offense league, or are goals hard to come by? If no adjustment is made for this, players from a high-scoring league will be overrated, while players from a tight defensive league will be underrated.
While 5.41 is a very high GPG, it's not uniquely high. The 1982-83 GPG in the QMJHL was 5.40, and there are three player-seasons from this year on the list as well. So by itself, the GPG doesn't explain why half the top spots on the list are from a single season.
If we look again, we notice that all six players on the list from this season come from only two teams: the Sorel Black Hawks and the Quebec Remparts. Sorel's Larouche-Deziel-Cossette line are #2, 4 and 6 on the list, while Quebec's Cloutier-Locas-Nantais line are #5, 8 and 11. So part of the explanation is also the concentration of talent in the league that year, or to put it another way, the lack of competitive balance. Sorel scored 620 goals in 70 games, and incredible 8.86 GPG. Quebec scored 531 goals, or 7.59 GPG. At the bottom of the league we have the Hull Festivals, who scored a mere 226 goals, or 3.23 GPG.
It's a perfect storm: a high-scoring league with a very uneven distribution of talent leading to a pair of very high-scoring lines. We'll come back to that incredible Sorel line in a moment.
Another lesson from the list is the importance of age. There are five players on the list in their first year of draft eligibility: Lemieux, Larouche, LaFontaine, Cloutier, and Hawerchuk. All of these players had significant major-league careers (Cloutier's included the WHA), and all averaged over a point per game in their careers:
Lemieux 1,723 points in 915 games
Larouche 822 points in 812 games
LaFontaine 1,013 points in 865 games
Cloutier 910 points in 686 games
Hawerchuk 1,409 points in 1,188 games
Even making the list at 18 may be a good indicator of future success, though this is less useful information in the present, because generally the good players have already been drafted at that age. Lafleur and Savard both had long NHL and successful careers, while Nantais is the exception. Of course, Nantais' season was 1973-74, so that probably had something to do with his high ranking as well. The age-19 seasons on the list are very much hit-and-miss in terms of lengthy and successful NHL careers.
Let's go back to that Sorel line for a moment and look at their ages. Larouche was 17 while Deziel and Cossette were both 19. We know Larouche had a good NHL career. Deziel had a few decent AHL seasons, and did play in one NHL playoff game with Buffalo. He finished with 152 points in 227 career AHL and IHL games, hardly what many would have expected from his Q stats. Cossette had a bit more of a career: 14 points in 64 NHL games with Pittsburgh, and 252 points in 327 AHL games. Contrasting these careers with Larouche's underscores the importance that a player's age has on his numbers, especially at a young age. Players are still maturing rapidly at this young age, and a single year makes a huge difference. Being a dominant scorer in the QMJHL at age 19 is not an impressive feat since you are playing against many younger players. On the other hand, being a dominant scorer at age 17 the opposite and very, very impressive.
While interesting, the list has its limitations. It is heavy with players who played in high-scoring eras for the Quebec league and as such leaves off any (relatively) impressive scoring seasons from low-scoring seasons. We can make a very simple adjustment to make the list more 'fair', by converting everyone to what we might call the 'Lemieux standard'. That is, the scoring environment in which the #1 player, Mario Lemieux in 1983-84, played in: 70 games and 5.01 GPG average. This gives Lemieux a score of 282 points, which is what he actually scored. Applying the Lemieux standard to the list above rearranges the player-seasons. This is the new top 10:
1. Mario Lemieux (age 17) 282 points
2. Brad Richards (age 19) 265 points
3. Guy Lafleur (age 18) 258 points
4. Yanic Perreault (age 19) 250 points
5. Pierre Larouche (age 17) 243 points
6. Simon Gamache (age 19) 233 points
7. Pat LaFontaine (age 17) 217 points
8. Guy Rouleau (age 20) 216 points
9. Michel Deziel (age 19) 213 points
10. Luc Robitaille (age 19) 212 points
That's a good start, but of course it still combines players of all ages, and it's also limited to those players who made the unadjusted list. So just as a preview for the next column, here are the top age-17 seasons of all time from the Quebec league, calculated as above.
1. Sidney Crosby (2004-05) 298 points
2. Mario Lemieux (1983-84) 282 points
3. Pierre Larouche (1973-74) 243 points
4. Guy Lafleur (1969-70) 220 points
5. Pat LaFontaine (1982-83) 217 points
6. Alexandre Daigle (1992-93) 206 points
7. Real Cloutier (1973-74) 203 points
8. Dale Hawerchuk (1980-81) 190 points
9. Derrick Brassard (2005-06) 189 points
10. Vincent Lecavalier (1997-98) 187 points
At least one of the players is not like the others (and one's too early to tell), and that player can be an important lesson in that stats aren't the only thing you should be looking at when drafting a player.