June 25 2012 12:19PM
The single biggest issue with the Mark Jankowsi selection by the Calgary Flames is the challenge of correctly putting his performance at Stanstead college in proper context. Both qualitatively and quantitatively: when viewing a player, his abilities are naturally gauged against those he is competing against - there are many all-star AHLers who are entirely ordinary in the NHL. Many high scoring juniors don't make it as professionals in the AHL, etc. In short, the lesser the league, the easier it is to look like a star.
Quantitatively, because the better known feeder leagues like the OHL, the NCAA and pro leagues across the pond routinely send players to the NHL, it's easier to see to what degree players retain their offense at the highest level and therefore estiamte roughly how much scoring is "worth" relative to the NHL.
Jankowski's 93-points in 53-games for Stanstead college sounds impressive (1.61 point-per-game) but the Canadian HS prep league is obscure and the competition is minimal as compared to, say, major junior hockey or NCAA. In the Hockey New draft preview they ranked Jankowski 37th overall. One scout interviewed for the piece said "Could (Jankowski have played in major junior this year? Sure he could have...Would he been a star? Probably not."
Estimating NHL Equivalence
I decided to use this Prep school-to-CHL comparison to estimate Jankowski's NHL equivalency, which as discussed frequently before is a method developed by Gabriel Desjardins for translating offense in various leagues to the NHL which allows us to compare numbers from across disparate divisions such as the CHL, NCAA and SEL. Essentially, we multiply a players point-per-game pace (PPG) by an established translation factor and then use that to calculate the estimated output over an 82-game NHL schedule.
We know the translation factor for the CHL (0.30), so I used a range of estimated ratios to determine the Canadian prep school quality. Here are the results:
|Qual rel CHL||PPG||% of CHL||translation factor||NHLE|
As you can see, the news gets bad pretty quickly. Things are encouraging if Jankowski's HS league is about at least 60-75% as good as the CHL (which is a long shot). Anything below 50% and he falls to the high-to-mid teens. For context, Sven Baertschi's NHLE in his draft season was about 32.
This is a rather clumsy, shotgun method of doing things I admit. Luckily Gabe Desjardins has looked at how highschoolers in Minnesota translate their offense to college and by, extension, to the NHL.
Initially, I looked mostly at leagues that sent players directly to the NHL, the idea being that we wanted to be able to make single year projections of minor-league and junior players. However, because it is derived from the performance of a large number of players, a League Equivalency is also a measure of League Difficulty. We can compare two leagues to one another either by looking at how players fare when they jump from one league to another, or how players from two different leagues fare in a third. More importantly, we can extrapolate to an NHL Equivalency, even for a league that doesn't send anyone to the NHL.
Overall, Minnesota hockey translates to the NCAA (NHLE = 0.41) at approximately 0.18, giving an NHLE of 0.073. The translation to the USHL is 0.195; its translation to the NCAA is 0.65; the overall NHLE is 0.052. Via a similar process, the NHLE via the NAHL is also 0.052. This puts the difficulty level of Minnesota H.S. hockey somewhere between 5.2% and 7.3% - which is not very high: the leading scorer in Minnesota over the course of a decade might be good for 20 points as an 18-year-old rookie in the NHL.
Minnesota HS is not precisely the same league, but it's close enough for our purposes. As you can see, the level of competition relative to college and hockey and the NHL is minimal - even at the high-end, the translation factor is just 7.3%, which is below the 30% range I estimated for HS-to-CHL above.
First Round Forwards Comparison
Now that we have a translation factor for Jankowski, we can use it to put his output in context of the other forwards who were picked in the first round this year. This comparison, I think, will illustrate the level of risk the Flames took in selecting a player out of a second tier HS league with their first round pick.
*Galchenyik was hurt all year, so I used his prior season to calculate his NHL
** As far as I know, there's no NHLE for the SWE-2 league that Forsberg played. I estimated the translation factor based on the SEL's ratio.
***Tanner Pearson was drafted as an over-ager this season, so I used his prior season in interest of a more apples-to-apples comparison.
The list is presented in the order they were picked.
Jankowski's NHLE is the lowest of the first round forwards this year, even if we take the "best case" translation factor from Desjardin's study. A couple of guys are within range - Stefan Matteau, Teuvo Tervainen, Thomas Wilson and Filip Forsberg. The caveat here is that with this sort of broad-brush method we're essentially blind to things like ice time and role. Teens playing in mens leagues like Forsberg and Teravainen, for example, will typically have lesser ice time and roles than guys in the CHL or HS hockey and, as result, will get less opportunity to put up numbers.
NHLE only describes a prospect's current level of output and what it means relative to the NHL. What it obviously doesn't tell us is how much better a kid is going to get. Some guys peak as teens while others guys (like Baertschi this past season) take giant leaps forward. A large portion of the scouting game isn't merely describing a kid's current skill level, but projecting it out 3-5 years down the line and beyond.
The Flames must be at least dimly aware of the risks associated with scouting and picking a kid out of lower tier league. What they seem to be banking on is Jankowski's youth (youngest player drafted in the first round) and steep improvement over the last year or so to continue apace as he moves up to higher leagues.
Weisbrod and Feaster not only raved about Jankowski's raw skills at the draft this weekend, but also his hockey sense, intelligence and character. We can therefore assume it's those factors they believe will allow him to adapt and excel in more difficult circumstances - like how a kid with a high IQ can be expected to maintain high grades as he works his way through school, rather than an average kid who aced one test because it was simply too easy for him.
It remains tobe seen which it is for Jankowski.