Saturday, 16 August 2014

Copps and Prospects



Arctic Ice Hockey is currently going through its Top 25 Under 25 series. Yesterday I published an article on Andrew Copp for the series. I received some pushback on the article for pointing out that Copp's numbers are not not overwhelmingly promising, although not poor in any fashion either.

The focus of the response seemed to be due to my comparing of Copp's production versus two other high profile Jets prospects (Adam Lowry and JC Lipon) and another former NCAA centre (Jim Slater).

The part I found odd was the counter-argument.

The argument could be summed up in three parts:

1) Lowry and Lipon are from different leagues - Yes, but NHLEs allow us to greatly mitigate that factor's significance.

2) Slater was from a different era - True, but that doesn't change things since the NHLEs that were used are different for those ranges. I used Desjardin's for Slater and Volman's for Copp. Although, the strength in league is relatively unchanged for those two.

3) Scoring isn't everything and Copp's game isn't reliant on scoring alone - This is a  strawman argument, as that is not the point with using player's scoring rates and discussing prospect potential for success. It is also true that many players who aren't reliant on scoring in the NHL were scorers at lower levels.

There is a reason why we discuss prospect scoring rates when evaluating. While it is true that scoring is not everything, it is also true that there is a strong relationship in scoring and success at higher levels. This is especially true as sample size expands.

The relationship indicates that scoring rates are generally a good indicator of talent. Now of course, nothing is perfect. In biology, they often say the only rule is that there always exists exceptions. Yes, there are players who exceed or fail to reach their most likely outcome. A trend is merely a trend after all. However, whatever outcome is most likely should be considered the most likely.

A great and probably essential article on this idea (and where I got the title image) could be read here, at Canucks Army.

The point is simple: a player may exceed expectations or they may fail to reach expectations... But, if you want to be accurate, keep expectations reasonable.

In order to "fairly" compare Copp, I grabbed every forward drafted from the US National Development Team Program since 2004. I then took every player who scored similarly to Copp in either or both of their first two seasons in the NCAA.

Here are the closest analytical comparisons to Copp:


You'll note that there are players of variable success. From 200+ NHL games played (and counting) skaters like Nathan Gerbe and Kevin Porter, to busts like Justin Mercier. There are also two players who should be familiar to Jets fans: Vinny Saponari and John Albert. Interestingly, Albert's numbers are very similar to Copp's.

This shows that anything is possible for Copp; however, anything is possible is different then anything is likely.

I like Copp as a prospect. I think he has real NHL potential and could be a player that helps the team. I think his defensive game and "intangibles" give him an edge on some of the players that "failed" on the above graph.

I also know there is a reasonable possibility that he does not perform better than many players on this list. I know it is possible he becomes another Slater or another Albert.

I believe that the general public's lack of understanding in probabilities and our ability to communicate probabilities are one of the largest hurdles between widespread acceptance of statistical analysis in hockey. Discussing most likely outcomes is not akin to damning a player (or team) to that projection.

The person who argued against my Copp comparisons on the AIH article suggested I instead look at Carl Hagelin, Max Paccioretty and Andrew Cogliano. There are two issues with this: only Hagelin posted numbers relatively similar to Copp and all three of these players exceeded the average expectations given their NCAA performance.

The second point is the most important. You can't expect the exceptions or the exceptional. Let's say (totally made up number) 70% of guys with Copp's numbers turn out AHL tweener or 4th line player, 20% become AHL regulars or NHL regulars (10% of each), and then 10% become ECHL regulars or NHL All-Stars (5% in each). You don't expect the 5% or even 10%, but you acknowledge their possibility.

These comparables (and the ones I have above) are just talking about probabilities. My mentioning of Slater is just to show that sometimes players succeed differently than the most likely expectation, and that can go in either direction.

As noted earlier, exceptions exist in every trend. Trying to use these exceptions as examples of probabilistic outcomes is poor reasoning. A far more extreme example would be using Pavel Datsyuk as an example of 7th round draft picks potential. Yes 7th round picks can and have turned out as great as Datsyuk, but that's not the average expectation.

As always, expect the most likely, but hope for the best. Here's hoping.

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