• The Cult of Stu

    by  • January 30, 2012 • Hockey • 36 Comments

    …there’s no questioning the job he’s done in promoting Stu MacGregor to head scout, the acquisition of extra draft picks so far and the drafting itself.

    -Terry Jones, January 23, 2012

    There seems to be a belief, strongly held by a lot of media and some bloggers (ENTIRELY UNRELATED: a search for the phrase “Magnificent Bastard” turns up 53 posts on lowetide.ca, that Stu MacGregor has constructed some sort of infallible drafting machine. I’m not entirely sure how this belief came to be but I’m not entirely sure it’s merited. MacGregor, who became the Oilers’ head scout in September 2007 (and is therefore not a Tambellini hire, not matter what one of the local Elmer Ferguson Award winners thinks (our other local Elmer Ferguson Award winner noted this week that not even Michael Moore, who dislikes the government, supported the decision of “Free Citizen” Tim Thomas not to appear at the White House *brain explodes*)), has had five picks who’ve made the Oilers in full-time or basically full-time capacities so far: Jordan Eberle, MPS, Anton Lander, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

    That’s actually not as impressive as it sounds, given that two of those guys were first overall picks – I’m from the Chris Rock school of grading, where you don’t give guys credit for doing what they’re supposed to do and if you have a first overall pick, you should be able to draft a star. Lander and MPS are coming along and doing well to be where they are; but have yet to really establish themselves at the NHL level. They’re promising. Eberle, of course, reflects fantastically well on the scouting department.

    Outside of this, it seems to me that a lot of the case in support of MacGregor is the idea that the Oilers have a bunch of awesome prospects coming. While this might be the case, I’m not sure why the default is that the drafting is going to be awesome. It’s always kind of aggravated me that we don’t have an idea of what the statistical profile of guys who become NHLers look like. I’ve gone ahead and put one together for CHL forwards.

    What I’ve done is this: there were 193 forwards drafted from CHL teams between 1995 and 2004 who went on to play at least 200 NHL games. I’ve assembled a profile of sorts for these guys, after first splitting them into two groups: guys who managed to average at least 0.5 pts/gm in the NHL and those who didn’t. First of all, let’s look at the age that they made the NHL, defined as playing 40+ GP in an NHL season.

    Blue are guys who went on to average at least 0.5 PPG over 200+ games in the NHL; red are guys who were under that. 1=18, 2=19, etc. on this chart – I couldn’t figure out how to do a damned horizontal axis label. Lots of noteworthy stuff there – if you don’t make the NHL as a teenager coming from the CHL, you’re probably not going to be a +0.5 PPG player over the course of your career. If you haven’t made it by twenty, it’s all the more true. 41 of the CHL F draftees to play 200+ games and score more than 0.5 PPG had made the NHL by the time they were 20. That number rises to 54 at 21 – 81% of CHL F draftees who are going to be 200 GP+ and 0.5 PPG guys are in the NHL by 21. It’s a bit different for guys who end up not being scoring types – only 39% of them are NHLers by the time that they’re 21.

    Let’s look at how these guys score at age 20.

    It’s pretty stark: if you’re going to be a scorer, you’re either in the NHL or can tear the AHL apart at age 20. 57 out of 67 were either in the NHL on a full-time basis or scoring at least 0.75 PPG in the AHL. If you aren’t doing that, you’re realistically looking to have a career as a checking type, a guy without a lot of offence who survives by checking. It’s noteworthy, I think, that the offensive level achieved by guys who went on to have 200+ NHL GP with fewer than 0.5PPG is so low – basically, over 0.25 PPG and you’re in with a decent shout. The success of guys scoring between 0.00 and 0.25 PPG is a bit misleading – there are 19 of them and it includes guys like Scott Parker, Eric Boulton, Todd Fedoruk, Zack Stortini, Chris Dingman, Darcy Hordichuk, Wade Belak, Andrew Peters, Cam Janssen, Shawn Thornton and Steve Webb. So more than half of them are in the league because they possess a single skill, utterly unrelated to playing hockey.

    Hilariously, Travis Moen is on that list too. Moen is sort of famously offensively inept – there’s some evidence that he’s a guy who’s true talent on-ice shooting percentage is substantially below 8% at 5v5. It’s kind of funny to me that he was pretty bad offensively in the AHL too. It makes me wonder why he got into hockey. All I can conclude is that he liked skating around with nothing happening and then getting to sit on the bench and take a break.

    ANYWAY – I wanted a statistical profile and this is that. I feel I have a better sense now of what I should be looking for in terms of understanding what sort of thresholds a guy has to be hitting to be in the race. There’s a second part to this, which I hope to get to, which is looking at how many 20 year olds who achieve these thresholds don’t end up making the NHL for 200+ games. There were 782 CHL F drafted between 1995 and 2004 of whom only 193 made it to the NHL for 200+ GP; logically, there are going to be a pile of these guys who played AHL age 20 seasons and probably scored somewhere between 0.0 and 0.5 PPG. My point, which I’ll discuss a little more below, is that I don’t think it’s quite as easy to excuse some lousy performances by saying that lots of guys go on to become NHLers despite not scoring much at age 20 – I suspect the percentage is actually pretty low.

    Turning to the Oilers, MacGregor’s drafted 11 CHL F so far as head scout. It’s too early to say anything about three of them: none of Drew Czerwonka, Travis Ewanyk or Tobias Rieder have played their age 20 season yet. Three of them are going to play at least 200 games and score more than 0.5 PPG – RNH, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. The other five guys – Ryan Martindale, Curtis Hamilton, Tyler Pitlick, Cameron Abney and Philippe Cornet, I feel we can say a little bit more about now.

    Martindale is 20 this year and has barely played in the AHL – two games in the AHL and 30 in the ECHL, which he’s not tearing up. He’s supposedly an offensive prospect – his pluses were apparently skill, his minuses a lack of willingness to compete. Seems overwhelmingly likely to be a bust to me.

    Cornet had 23 points in 60 games in his age 20 AHL season, going 7-16-23. He’s got 20 goals this year, which is great, but was shooting more than 30% last time I looked. He’s already kind of through the “gonna be a scorer” phase – if he’s going to make it, it’s going to be as a checking/grinding type.

    Abney was a ridiculous pick the moment he was made. He was taken 82nd overall, coming off a season in which he scored one goal in 48 games. He’s played most of this season in the ECHL (his age 20 season) and has no points in 10 AHL games. A pointless pick, given that you can sign guys like him who have already turned out for $500K on one year deals.

    Pitlick and Hamilton are interesting. Both are in their age 20 seasons now. Pitlick has scored 4-6-10 in 35 games. Hamilton has scored 4-5-9 in 35 games. Both under 0.3 PPG. The pre-draft talk was that these guys had some offensive game but they’re clearly well off the pace of guys who turn into 0.5 PPG guys or better in the NHL. That leaves making it as a player who doesn’t provide a ton of offence. We’ll see.

    Update: Reading LT’s site, I see the following from him in comments to a post on OKC: “I’m shocked at how quickly people are writing off Hartikainen and Omark. AND half a season into Pitlick/Hamilton’s pro careers they are np’s? Come on, guys. This isn’t reasonable, this is framing an issue.”

    With the data above, while I wouldn’t call Pitlick/Hamilton non-prospects, I think it’s fair to say that they’re not very likely to be scorers at the NHL level.

    Turning this back to the bigger picture of the work done by MacGregor, it seems to me that, with respect to his CHL F drafting, he’s turned up three players who look like slam dunk 200 GP+ guys with more than 0.5 PPG and nothing else about which we can be certain yet. I’m tipping another post here but, on one method of estimating probabilities of finding players drafting CHL F, the Oilers should have turned up 2.63 200 GP+/0.5+ PPG guys so far (ignoring Czerwonka, Rieder and Ewanyk) and 1.26 200 GP+/0.5- PPG guys – it looks to me like the final total of the former will be 3, with somewhere between 0-2 of the latter, depending on how Pitlick and Hamilton turn out.)

    Not bad. But to be honest, it looks pretty average. And CHL drafting is kind of the crown jewel of his case so far. He’s found a couple of guys in MPS and Lander who look awfully likely to be at least 200 GP+/0.5- PPG game guys, with MPS having some potential to get above that. Other than that, there are a mess of defencemen about whom it’s probably too early to say anything. To be clear, I’m not saying that I’m certain that MacGregor is bad at what he does, only that I’m not certain that he’s good at it and, in the absence of confirmation one way or the other, I’m not sure why “Magnificent Bastard” would be our default evaluation.

    Average would still leave MacGregor as the best thing about this Oilers management team. With that said, I’m not yet convinced that the best thing in the Oilers’ quest to pile up talent isn’t Tambellini’s continual generation of high end draft picks, the kind that even an average scouting department can make hay with. MacGregor’s early returns, adjusting for draft slot, look average, to slightly above average. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


    36 Responses to The Cult of Stu

    1. P-Ow
      January 30, 2012 at

      Ty, how many of those +0.5ppg guys are 1st-rounders? I agree that he nailed two 1st overalls and well who wouldn’t, but at the same time, taking those out of the equation leaves a pretty bare cupboard considering how many of the type of player you’re talking about come out of the 1st round (and how many get 200gp based on pedigree).

      Also, what sort of percentage are we looking at here?

      Good analysis, but I also think there are deeper levels to be examined.

      I also think MBS’ rep got a big boost last year because of how well the upperclassmen-aged kids did in the CHL (Hamilton, Martindale both killed it, Marincin was huge, Brandon Davidson came out of nowhere etc), which may say something about the way fans should look at CHL numbers (beyond even the NHLEs).

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 30, 2012 at

        42/67 were first round picks. Not sure what your question is about percentage.

        As for first rounders getting games on pedigree – if you’re scoring 0.5 PPG+, you aren’t in the NHL on pedigree in all likelihood.

        • speeds
          January 30, 2012 at

          Is it possible that some first rounders only end up making it because they got a ton of chances due to being a 1st round pick?

          I’m kind of thinking of a guy like Olli Jokinen. If he were drafted in the 3rd round, would he have been given enough GP to develop into a scoring forward?

          • Triumph
            January 31, 2012 at

            Probably, speeds – while those with long memories remember that Jokinen put up terrible numbers in his first few NHL seasons, it’s easy to forget he was in the NHL at 19 as a full-time player. Sure looks like in an alternate universe, Jokinen tears up the AHL that season (he had 9 points in 9 AHL games, with 29 shots on goal).

            While I think the NHL misses plenty of players at the margins, Jokinen was a 4 shots/game player in his prime – I don’t think they would’ve missed that. He would’ve almost certainly dominated any other pro league and could’ve latched on here even if he hadn’t been highly touted before his draft year.

        • P-Ow
          January 30, 2012 at

          Sorry. It was late.

          What percentage of CHL forwards taken in the first round show up on this list vs., say, what percentage of CHL forward taken in the top-10?

          It could be that pulling Eberle where he did ends up being a huge coup, as you break down the levels of the draft, and that whiffing on a guy like Pitlick is pretty normal (only 25 guys in 10 years came outside the first round).

          I really have no idea, and I know it’s a lot of work that I’m not really prepared to do, so I’m not really asking it be done, just asking questions.

    2. Doogie2K
      January 30, 2012 at

      I can’t say Cam Abney’s name without reflexively adding, “shouldadraftedkozun.” Like when people from Dog River reflexively spit at mention of Woolerton.

      (Yes, I know, Kozun hasn’t surpassed 0.75 PPG at the AHL level so far, but at least he has a chance, even if he is undersized. Abney’s chances of making the NHL are a negative number. Also, the leading scorer for the Monarchs has 30 points in 47 GP; it’s not an offensive powerhouse down there.)

      • Bruce McCurdy
        January 31, 2012 at

        There’s a few guys with the addend “shouldadraftedweal”. I’m still kinda pissed about that. Then again, WTFDIK?

        • Doogie2K
          January 31, 2012 at

          No kidding. Lots of undersized or otherwise red-flagged scorers that’d be worth a late-round flyer get passed over in favour of goons that could be had on AHL-ECHL two-ways at age 20.

    3. January 30, 2012 at

      It’s hardly new for fans to overrate their prospects: we learn a lot about them, read their scouting reports, watch their junior games in which they are almost by definition better than the competition, and get hyped up. Because we don’t pay so much attention to all the other prospects doing just as well or better, we lose a certain sense of perspective in the process of trying to become an informed fan. The final, saddest stage is when, as these prospects slump, we try to make excuses for their failure (see “Jani Rita is just buried behind all our other wingers!”).

      Stu is new enough that he hasn’t had time to build a track record. The enthusiasm is just because we haven’t got the history yet.

      (Sidenote: my defining Stu moment was at the 2010 NHL draft. I had a press pass and Stu was scrumming with reporters and I asked him how he thought Taylor Hall would adjust coming from such a good team as Windsor to such a crappy one as Edmonton. Stu looked at me like I was a retard and said that the Spitfires were terrible in Hall’s first year with them so what problem could their possibly be? I’m sure you’ve guessed the punchline: in Hall’s first season as a Spitfire they won 41 games and were third in the Western Conference.)

      • January 30, 2012 at

        In fairness, the year before Hall got there, the Spits were awful – second to last in the league. So while he basically avoided your question (more or less, “How will Hall cope with being on a bad team?”), I don’t think it was because he didn’t know how good the Spitfires were.

    4. David Staples
      January 30, 2012 at

      You make a good point here. One question, Pitlick, born in November, and Hamilton, born in December, were 19, at start of the year. Isn’t this their 19-year-old season then?

      What was the cutoff date in your study, turning 20 in the calendar year or at start of the season?

      • January 30, 2012 at

        I would guess that it’s Feb. 1, which is the date that Hockey-Reference selects arbitrarily. Nonetheless, this is a great question.

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 30, 2012 at

        20 in the calendar year. I don’t know anyone who does it by way of 20 at the start of the season. So yeah, those guys have that as defences; flip side is that maybe the Oilers were fooled by them being older in the draft pool.

        • godot10
          January 30, 2012 at

          The NHL Collective Bargaining agreement uses July 1 to determine a players age.

          • Passive Voice
            January 30, 2012 at

            Except at the draft, where it’s like September 15th or something. Confounding system.

            • Bruce McCurdy
              January 31, 2012 at

              Yes, Sep 15, which annually marks the beginning of training camp. Anybody 18 on that date is technically eligible to turn pro in the NHL.

              I don’t know why the hell Hockey-reference.com went with that dumb Jan 31 date. That too is confounding, and with no good reason for it. From minor hockey right up to U-20 and beyond, they use calendar year, so why tinker with that by a lousy month. It’s not as if December 31 doesn’t fall smack fucking dab in the middle of the (regular) season. All you need to know is birth year and you’re good to go.

            • Mike
              February 1, 2012 at

              Except at the draft, where it’s like September 15th or something. Confounding system

              Sept 15 actually makes sense, in that it gives you the largest window where your draft pick turns 18 in time to sign an NHL contract like a big boy.

        • godot10
          January 30, 2012 at

          The birthday effect is now well known (Gladwell etc.)

          Martindale has an October birthday, Pitlick a November birthday, and Curtis Hamilton is a December birthday.

          Would a graph separating birthdays in the first six months of the year from the second six months of the year be useful?

    5. Jonathan Willis
      January 30, 2012 at

      That’s interesting – I’ve always subscribed to Vic’s (I think it was Vic’s) point-per-game at age 20 in the AHL, so this is actually a little rosier than I expected – apparently 0.75 PTS/GM at the AHL at age 20 still leaves you a decent shot at an NHL career with some offensive component.

    6. Bdiddy18
      January 30, 2012 at

      Don’t see how stats projects anything as each level is vastly a different tier. countless players tear it up in junior only to do nothing at the AHL level, similarly AHL stars (Jason Krog, Alex Giroux) end up being duds in the NHL. The evaluation should be based more on progression of development, minutes played, pp, pk, 5×5, physical play, protect the puck vs being knocked off it, turnovers..etc etc. As much as we all salivate every NHL Entry draft and read countless of projections – bottom line its a crapshoot when trying to predict what a 18 year old will develop into 4 to 5 years later.

      You evaluate much much later and the credit or not to Stu McGregor is still years down the road. Barring the 1st overall “gimmies”, if you give the 4-5 year development curve, at this point Stu can only be evaluated on the 2008 draft year.

      He had 5 picks that year Eberle (1st round), Motin (4th), Cornet (5th), Haartikanen (6th), Bendfeld (7th)

      From the 5 you can easily say he collected a top 3 forward in Eberle, and a bottom 6 forward in Haartikanen (who still has growth left in him to climb a bit more)

      Motin will not pan out – he has returned to play D in Sweeden and Benfeld has left the pro scene all together

      So Cornet is the final product and showing signs of a resurgence – if he makes it, Stu bats over .500 for one single draft… ANY SCOUT – ANY TEAM will take that!

      Even at 2 for 5 it is respectable and Stu has already attained that and some extra bonus pts for making a 6th round selection into a useful player for the organization.

      Only next year can you evaluate 2009.


      • Triumph
        January 31, 2012 at

        Re: the two examples you cited of AHL busts – Jason Krog was 24 years old in his first AHL season and had 44 points in 56 games. Alex Giroux was 24 years old when he had his first season close to a point a game in the AHL. Not exactly what Tyler was talking about.

        The players who come into the AHL and immediately become top players – these are the guys who are likely to be top-line forwards. What Tyler’s shown is that if a player doesn’t do that, it’s unlikely he ever will become a scoreline NHL forward.

        • Bdiddy18
          January 31, 2012 at

          I’m not disputing the stats – my argument is that isn’t how Stu will be evaluated. The more of your own draft picks that contribute to you Roster, the easier it is for the organization to have depth, tradeable assets and flexibility in roster positions, having a prospect contribute to the third and 4th line is just as important as the top 6.

    7. January 30, 2012 at

      I think this is a sensible look at things. It’s totally fair to say that Pitlick and Hamilton are, at this point, unlikely to be major offensive contributors, especially since the liklihood of them getting much PP time is they make the NHL is minimal. Still possible that they end up playing in a top nine spot if all goes well, but it’s very likely to be in a support rather than feature role (if they make it at all, of course).

    8. matt
      January 30, 2012 at

      I would be interested in a comparison of picks relative to other picks in the same neighbourhod. Treat the top 10 or so as “gimmes”, but compare each draft choice with players drafted shortly before and shortly after. In other words, try to identify the Pouliot-instead-of-Parise mistakes, or the Eberle wins.

    9. January 30, 2012 at

      It’s obviously correct to say that a GM/Head Scout should get zero credit for selecting a really good player with the #1 overall. But what do you think is a fair standard for whether that pick is a success or failure? And how soon is it fair to make that judgement? I mean, if RNH turns out to be a really good NHLer, but Landeskog & Larsson turn out to be superstars, it’s a fail, right?

      It’s kind of an analogous question to “how much credit do you get from improving your team from 30th to not-30th?”. There is a fair threshold somewhere in there; up to it, credit is Zero, and after that it depends how far you climb.

    10. Rich
      January 30, 2012 at

      Seems to me that the scouting report on Hamilton was that he was more likely to make it in the NHL as a checking line player, not as a scorer. Pitlick is a concern at this stage no question. But I found Todd Nelson’s comments on his playing time (last weekends interview by Lowetide w/Terry Jones) to be enlightening as neither are playing top 6 minutes.

      And credit to Todd Nelson for being more concerned about teaching and creating a winning culture versus throwing guys in over their heads (if this is all in fact the case).

      The one thing I will quibble with here though is just looking at one set of criteria versus the overall body of work in making this judgement…unless you’re going to do further follow-ups on the defense and goalies later on. Working in the field of advertising I have always held sales people in high contempt for taking one set of numbers out of context and drawing conclusions when there is just as much data to drive the conclusion in the other direction – so call me skeptical of the conclusions you’ve drawn here Tyler.

      And in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve certainly referred to MacGregor’s work as being outstanding…perhaps just in contrast to the KP era. Perhaps it’s not and I’ve had my doubts lately given the lack of progression of prospects thru the system.

      But I do agree it must go beyond the top picks of the last 2 seasons and I think it’s great that the subject is being raised.

      • Garnet
        January 31, 2012 at

        And if our top prospects aren’t getting top 6 minutes, that says a lot. This what the AHL is for. If these young hopefuls aren’t getting much playing time, this illustrates plainly why caring very much about your AHL club’s record can hurt your NHL team. If Ryan Keller and Dylan Yeo are getting the ice time instead of Hamilton and Teubert, the Oilers … well, don’t anybody overreact, but I’m starting to think they don’t know what they’re doing.

        • Mike
          February 1, 2012 at

          To play devil’s advocate, isn’t it fair to say that part of development is being able to take a spot away from the incumbant? If Hamilton can’t unseat Keller, how on earth will he ever replace Jones or Petrell?

    11. Jerod
      January 31, 2012 at

      Sounds like the cult of Obama. The emperor has no clothes.

      I agree with Tyler.

    12. Jerod
      January 31, 2012 at

      Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.
      — John Milton, Areopagitica: A speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing to the Parliament of England, 1644

    13. Bulging Twine
      January 31, 2012 at

      In your first graph, year one is age 18, so that would be this past year’s draft right? Nugent-Hopkins and the like.
      Year 2 would be those drafted in 2010; Pitlick, Hamilton, Martindale, etc. You are categorizing them as year 3, 20 year olds, yet they are in their 19 year old seasons.
      Did you use draft years as the first graph seems to suggest or did you use age, regardless of draft year?

        June 24, 2012 at

        Killer question. By logic 1 on the draft should be draft year +1 and so on so forth. Meaning Hamilton and Pitlick still have a decent chance to get closer to .75ppg in the “20 year old season.

        Astute observation Bulging twine.

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