BY THOMAS DRANCE
Welcome to Part V of our Canucks Projections project. The hardest part about a scoring projection model based, as mine is, off of past performance – is that it’s nigh impossible to calibrate it in such a way as to produce a meaningful indicator of how a young player will produce. Among the model’s biggest whiffs last year was Cody Hodgson – who it pegged to score a modest four goals. I’ve tried to augment it somewhat this season when predicting the goal scoring output of Zack Kassian and Chris Tanev (I know, why waste my time, right?) and I want to go into that a bit before we present their projections.
Let’s start with the best young piece the Canucks have in their system: young powerforward Zack Kassian. While Zack Kassian has struggled with consistency throughout his young career, there’s no one that doubts his skill level. Kassian can deliver a knockout blow and a punishing hit, but he can also deliver a no-look backhand saucer pass while fighting off a checker, or pull a six deke move on the breakaway against elite goaltenders. When he puts it all together, he’s the complete package and the sort of young player you’d be happy to trade Cody Hodgson for.
But he’s played less than 500 minutes at the NHL level and has never been given any meaningful power-play time. It’s possible that, with the Canucks this season, he might spend time on literally any line from the first to the fourth. The range of variance in his projection is massive and, frankly, my model isn’t that well equipped to handle it.
So here’s what I did, in the hopes that my Zack Kassian goal scoring forecast will work out better than last years Hodgson’s projection. I took Kassian’s NHL minutes and his even-strength goal scoring rate and combined it with an estimated AHL goal scoring rate. Because the AHL doesn’t make ice-time publicly available on their website, I just assumed that Zack Kassian played a first line role (as his production suggests) and gave him an average ice-time of 15 even-strength minutes per game and from their came up with his “estimated AHL goal scoring rate.” I then ran that number through Desjardins’ NHLE translation number (.45 for the AHL) and came up with a modified NHL scoring rate with a larger sample than I’d have if I used just his NHL ice-time. Ultimately it produced a “big sample” goals per sixty rate of .63 which is basically right in between the rate my model used for Chrs Higgins and the rate my model used for Maxim Lapierre (which I generally find compelling).
Obviously there’s nothing scientific about that series of estimates (except for the NHLE portion), but it produced a more bull-ish prediction than my method last year produced for Hodgson, and for now I’ll take that.
Here’s a late, Booth injury related edit to this piece. I think it’s worth mentioning that I chose not to adjust Kassian’s minutes after Booth’s injury news on Tuesday even though it’s very possible that he might be the biggest beneficiary in terms of receiving extra ice-time. My reasoning here is twofold: the first is that I have no way of projecting Kassian’s power-play production since he has no real track record with the man-advantage. Secondly, because Kassian is a rookie and we all know how finicky Alain Vigneault is about defensive play, it’s just too hard to predict something like “Kassian will remain in the top-six for the entire duration of Booth’s injury.” That just feels like a stretch to me, and anyway I had already plugged Kassian in to play 15 games in the top-six this season (as well as a handful of games on the fourth line, and some third line as well) – so I didn’t feel the need to change up his projection too much in the wake of Booth going down.
Here’s how many goals Kassian is forecasted to score in 2013:
Again, with Kassian there’s a very wide variance in his goal scoring projection. It’s possible that he could get an extended look with the Sedin twins and surpass my forecast in two weeks worth of games. It’s also possible that he could spend the majority of the year with the Chicago Wolves. Generally speaking I have less confidence in this particular projection than in the others, and I feel like you’re owed my honesty on that front.
While he’s been extremely impressive in his young NHL career as a defensive blue-liner, Chris Tanev has yet to find the back of the net in two partial seasons of play in the NHL. He hasn’t been setting the world on fire offensively in the AHL either, as he’s recorded just three goals over three seasons. Using the same methodology I used for Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev is expected to score at a 0.07 goals per sixty rate this season according to the model. Presuming he logs enough minutes (the model gives him “legitimate fifth defenseman minutes”) the model predicts that this is the year that Tanev breaks his dry spell. Then again, the model predicted that last year too…