Can OHL Scoring Forecast Success for Jets Scheifele?

Mark Scheifele (Image by OHL Images)

Much is being made about the recent success of Winnipeg Jets prospects Mark Scheifele and Scott Kosmachuk within the OHL.  Obviously fans and observers of the team are happy to see 2011 1st round pick Scheifele sitting at third in scoring with 20 goals and 23 assists in 25 games.  Meanwhile 2012 3rd round pick Scott Kosmachuk sits at 20th overall with 18 goals and 14 assists in 27 games.  To say Jets fans are intrigued if not excited would be an understatement.

What goes unnoticed by many is due to the lockout, engaged by the NHL on the players association, the pressure and expectation of Scheifele attending training camp let alone making the team is not a factor in his development.  The forced year in the AHL (Scheifele is not eligible to play in the AHL for the Jets’ farm team the St. John’s Ice Caps) may serve him well for his long-term development.

Looking forward, what does the scoring success in the OHL mean when looking at it as a predictor for NHL success?  I made the effort to assemble a spreadsheet of the top fifteen scorers by OHL season for the last eleven years from 2001-02 to 2011-12.  Within that group I looked at the final scoring standings by points and also recorded the goals, assists, games played, PIM, draft position, draft round and year drafted.  One oversight was the year and age of each player the year they were drafted as that may be a interesting variable should leaps in scoring success happen.

One other interesting factor that may provide some intriguing information was this eleven-year span also includes the last NHL lockout and lost season of 2004-2005. As an aside it may be worthwhile looking at the scoring leaders from this season and how they make their transition to the NHL with a forced year in junior.

By looking at points scored by season and games played over the past 11 OHL seasons the average number of games played by the top fifteen scorers was 63 per season.  51 times out of 165 attempts, players scored one hundred or more points in a season.  Should Mark Scheifele continue his current points pace and play the 63 game, 11 season average he would finish this year at 108 points and Kosmachuk would end at 78 points.

This information is hardly predictive of their success but it does provide some information when compared historically.  The average of the players who scored 100 or more points in the data was exactly 113 points.  When looking at that particular number the name Corey Perry jumps out as he scored 113 points the season after his draft year, finishing second overall that year in OHL scoring, and the next year (the 04-05 lockout) he scored 130 points in six less games.  Last season, Scheifele scored 63 points in only 47 games for a 1.34 points per game average.

If Perry is any kind of historical indication of what kind of player makes a jump from his draft year scoring the next season Scheifele is aiming for good company.

Not all players make a huge jump the year after their draft year.  Take Mike Richards from the Kitchener Rangers as an example.  In the much vaunted draft year of 2003, the deepest draft since 1990, Richards was 12th overall in scoring.  He jumped to 7th the year after but scored only two more points albeit in nine less games.  Two years after his draft year, the 2004-05 NHL lockout Richards regressed from 1.53 points per game to 1.34 while only playing 43 games that season, one third less than average for the top 15 scorers by year.

Another interesting point about the top 15 scorers by year is that of 165 players 46 were not drafted while in the OHL.  That equals over 25% (27.8% to be exact) of the top 15 scorers in the last 11 seasons in the OHL did not get drafted into the NHL.

Consider the NHL entry draft, the primary method for junior players to enter into the league.  If slightly over one quarter of all players from the biggest junior hockey league do not get drafted does draft position tell a story?

The challenge here is to separate the duplicates in the data.  A player may appear more than once in the top 15 but it averages out incorrectly based on the draft round appearing more than once. While the player is unique based on appearances via different seasons in the top 15 scorers the draft round does not change.

A great example of the above problem is Dylan Hunter of the London Knights who was drafted in the 9th round, one of only 2 OHL players finishing in the top 15 scorers the past 11 seasons to be drafted in the 9th round. Hunter appears 3 times in the top 15 scorers. His jump after his draft year was from 13th to 2nd and then 4th in his final junior year.  Was he a low round bargain?  He has never played an NHL game but  finished ahead of Bolland, Schremp, Wolski and Mike Richards after his draft year.

Winnipeg Jets fans have a lot of high hopes for Mark Scheifele and Scott Kosmachuk and the points both players have put up thus far this season should ease a lot of fears, at least for the short term.  Looking back at history shows that not all players coming from the largest junior hockey system fall into relatively easy predictable behavior.

One can look at the top 15 scorers in the OHL year over year for the past 11 seasons and see on average 6 of the 15 move on to somewhat notable NHL careers or ones that look to be promising.  While I have not made a definitive standard of what constitutes ‘notable’ a look at NHL games and points provides a look at effectiveness and forecast potential.  If a NHL team drafts a player from the OHL and he appears able to get into the top 15 once or more there is a 40% chance that player can grow into a serviceable NHL player.  While far from a sure thing there may be value in looking at some of the scoring trends and statistics from the OHL as predictive tools for prospective NHL players.

There are no real advanced stats fro mthe OHL for the moderate fan to use for analytical purposes but there is historical information and trends. Therefore a more traditional approach to predictive conclusions may work best such as knowing what a player did before and after he got those points.  Learning about playing weight and growth could also be valuable but it’s still not enough to provide improved forecasting ability.

It’s why the smartest teams still retain an experienced set of eyes to help know what kind of player they are getting in the draft, the kind even advanced analytics can’t quite predict yet.  It’s why the Winnipeg Jets put a lot of faith in the words and wisdom of former first round pick and team sensation Dale Hawerchuk.


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