Noah Gregor was a 4th round pick by the San Jose Sharks in 2016 (111th overall). The speedy center has rocketed up the depth chart for a cash-strapped Sharks team that is in dire need of meaningful contributions from their entry-level guys. Having already played 28 games for the Sharks in 2019-20, some might say Gregor is no longer a prospect. However, it is certainly no guarantee that he will stick in the NHL. Let’s take a look at how he got here, which current NHL player he most resembles, and what the chances are he has an impactful NHL career.
The Beaumont, Alberta native’s draft year was spent with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, which was his second season with the club. In that season, he put up 73 points in 72 regular-season games, then added 9 points in 10 playoff games. In his D+1 year, he battled injuries and only made it into 52 games, but still put up 61 points. In 2017-18, his D+2 year, he was named an alternate captain for the Warriors and he again exceeded a point-per-game posting 36 points in 31 games. He didn’t finish the season with the Warriors though as he was traded mid-season to the Victoria Royals where he put up 41 points in 41 games, 11 of those being playoff games.
During his time in the WHL, he has not seemed to fear the big moments, but rather rise even larger during them. In 2018-19, he played for his third WHL team, Prince Albert Raiders, and was spectacular with 88 points in 63 regular-season games and an even more impressive 24 points in 23 games en route to a WHL title. Unfortunately for Gregor and the Raiders, the Memorial Cup did not go so smoothly. The Raiders failed to win a single game in the round-robin play and were thus eliminated. Gregor did score 2 of the Raiders’ 6 goals in the disappointing tournament.
What Do the Advanced Statistics Say?
Since Gregor has played 28 NHL games, we do have some fun data to examine. I’m not going to pretend this is an adequate number of games by which to judge his future NHL success, but it is enlightening nonetheless. For this exercise, I will compare him to fellow young players and more established veterans for context. I’ll omit the defensemen, since that would significantly change the conversation.
This biggest thing that stands out to me is Gregor’s total impact on the game as measured by the expected goals against replacement per 60 minutes (xGAR) and expected wins against replacement per 60 minutes (xWAR/60) is not good. In fact, he was the 16th best forward in both xGAR and xWAR for the Sharks. If you aren’t familiar with these metrics, Evolving Hockey explains them pretty well.
Looking at individual expected goals per 60 minutes (ixG/60) paints a slightly different picture as Gregor was 8th on the team, ahead of guys like Joe Thornton, Barclay Goodrow, Marcus Sorenson, and just behind Patrick Marleau. This tells me he can generate offense fairly well, but perhaps his defensive game is a bit lacking, which seems like it could be corrected with good coaching. Especially considering his individual Fenwick for per 60 minutes (iFF/60), a measure of unblocked shot attempts, has him 7th on the team for forwards.
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Gregor was very noticeable for the Sharks in 2019-20 when he was on the ice and that may be primarily because his high individual hits per 60 minutes (iHF/60). Of all the forwards in the NHL in 2019-20 who played at least 250 minutes, Gregor finished 41st in iHF/60. He also isn’t afraid to be physical with the biggest stars of the game.
Of course, when you have the puck, you aren’t hitting other players so this speaks to the large amount of time his team spends without the puck. It didn’t help that his most common linemates were Melker Karlsson, Dylan Gambrell, and Joel Kellman.
While Kellman had impressive expected goal rates, a measure of expected goals against per 60 minutes and expected goals for per 60 minutes, Karlsson took a huge step back and Gambrell struggled almost as much as Gregor. It will be interesting to see what Gregor can do with more ice time and perhaps more coaching on how to limit chances against.
What is the Best Comparable to Gregor?
According to Hockey Prospecting, Gregor looks at this stage of his development most like Rickard Rakell did at the same points of his career. While no comparison is perfect as each player is unique, this is an interesting one.
The main difference between the two is that Gregor spent his D-1 to D+3 seasons all in the WHL, whereas Rakell was in the OHL from his draft year to D+2 year, then was in the AHL for his D+3. Other than those differences, the NHLe is almost the same in their draft year’s and D+1, D+2, and D+3 seasons. Their draft year and D+3 star probabilities are the same as is their draft year and D+3 NHL probability.
Based on that alone, Gregor could enjoy a career as an NHL regular. Of course, Rakell being a 1st round draft pick and Gregor being a 4th means they may be valued differently, though at this point, with the state of the Sharks’ prospect pool, I’m not sure Gregor is blocked by any other forward, except perhaps if they take one in the 2020 Draft.
What Does the Future Hold for Gregor?
Per Kevin Kurz of The Athletic in his March 6th, 2020 article, Couture had this to say about Gregor, “He’s quick. He’s smart. He sees the game well. As he gets more experience, he’s going to get some more patience with the puck. He has a creativity where he can make plays. You can tell he’s a skilled player and he has got a good shot.” (from ‘Noah Gregor is one of the young Sharks vying for more time and responsibility,’ The Athletic, 03/06/2020).
High praise indeed from the Sharks’ captain.
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Toward the end of the season, Couture got a chance to play with Gregor on his right wing and Kane on his left. Per Charting Hockey, the line only had 21 minutes of time on ice, but their xG rate was better than Kane-Hertl-Couture or Kane-Couture-Meier. Gregor may prove to be the answer the Sharks need in their top 6 and since he looked like one of the best AHL call-ups this year. I’d be shocked if he didn’t make the 2020-21 roster out of camp. I’m not sure his points ceiling is super high, but he can be an effective middle-six forward with a decent points upside.