May 15, 2014
Remember track and field day in elementary school, when that one kid would win every race by 10 metres while everyone else was just choosing between Popsicle flavours? That is kind of what Connor McDavid did to this season's Jeff Skinner Rankings, BTN's annual exercise in projecting players' performance in the three Canadian major junior leagues and the United States Hockey League to the NHL.
Two seasons ago, the 16-year-old Nathan MacKinnon became the first player in the short but illuminating history of the Skinners to achieve a NHLe of more than 50 (projected points per 82 games, using a formula created by hockey analytics pioneer Gabriel Desjardins and adapted by Yahoo! Junior Hockey's resident numbers guru, Rob Pettapiece). In 2012-13, MacKinnon upped his NHLe to 58, outpacing Mooseheads teammate Jonathan Drouin, who posted a NHLe of 50.2.
You know the rest of the story. MacKinnon had 24 goals and 63 points across 82 games this season during a Calder Trophy-calibre season for the Colorado Avalanche. Apparently math is a thing, as Rob says.
This season, with the Memorial Cup yet to come, McDavid has outpaced the field by more than double the margin MacKinnon achieved.
There was probably little question the 17-year-old Erie Otters wunderkind was going to lead the Skinners after being fifth last season during his 15-year-old season, but having a NHLe that's 19.5 points better than the runner-up Drouin (46.0) and 24.3 ahead of the next-highest 2015 NHL draft prospect, Ottawa 67's centre Travis Konecny (41.2)? Well, no wonder the KHL is high on the Newmarket, Ont., native.
Without further adieu, the 2013 pre-Memorial Cup Skinners:
Some further observations:
— The top five draft-eligible prospects: Nikolaj Ehlers (43.5), Michael Dal Colle (42.9), Sam Reinhart (42.6), Sam Bennett (41.9) and Robby Fabbri (38.9).
It was a little surprising that Fabbri's MVP performance during the OHL playoffs didn't pull the Storm star level with the other top 17-year-olds. (Reinhart is 18, no need to point that out.) His performance has been compared with Jeff Skinner's playoff for Kitchener in 2010, when he scored 20 goals in as many games in a foreshadowing of a Calder Trophy season to come with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The rub is Fabbri turned 18 on Jan. 22, whereas Dal Colle and Bennett will not do so until June 20. The age-based factoring lines up with what Desjardins found in his research, meaning five-twelfths of a year has a big impact.
Fabbri would be second overall if he had the same birthday as the other two OHL stars.
— The top 2015 draft prospects: McDavid (65.5), Konecny (41.2), Merkley (40.7), Marner (39.9) and Barzal (39.6). Boston University recruit Jack Eichel ranks eighth, but obviously, this is based primarily on offensive statistics and not on intangibles (size, hockey IQ) that have helped Eichel stand out as a top 2015 draft prospect. But it doesn't help the case that he could challenge McDavid.
— I doubt this needs explaining but one shouldn't read anything into Drouin going from a NHLe of 50.2 in '12-13 and 46.0 this season. Teenagers age, that's all. Being second as a drafted player is incredible.
— There are still 'good things in a small package' potential draft steals popping up, such as the Sherbrooke Phoenix's Daniel Audette (22nd with 33.3 NHLe), who is 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds. The Moose Jaw Warriors' Brayden Point (5-9, 160) is another example, along with 5-9 Kingston Frontenacs right wing Spencer Watson, who ranked 37th with a 29.2 NHLe.
— However, this exercise might come at a time where the burden of proof at the NHL level is shifting from smaller players with late birthdays to those at the other end of the spectrum. The Peterborough Petes' Nick Ritchie, listed a 6-3 and 229, is facing scrutiny over questions about whether he can be a top-end NHL forward with those physical specs. Ritchie ranks 39th with a NHLe of 28.6.
(That's actually lower than both Kerby Rychel and Anthony Mantha, the nos. 19 and 20 picks in the 2013 draft who are both more than a year older than Ritchie. Each played on a league champ, though, and Ritchie was on a team that was sixth in its conference.)
— The Sarnia Sting's Anthony DeAngelo, 33rd with a NHLe of 30.5, is the only defenceman in the top 50.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.