For a long time, the scouting world was split between those who rely on stats and those who rely on the eye test. There were a lot of battles between these groups. But more recently, a lot of people have started to realize both sides have good points. The best modern scouts seem to be the ones who utilize stats and analytics but also spend a lot of time watching the kids.
The way I see it, stats are a good starting point. There are hundreds of interesting prospects playing around the world in 20-30 different leagues. You can’t watch all of them regularly. And that’s why I use stats to identify the players I want to watch.
If my eyes are telling me the same thing stats are showing, then life’s easy. When it becomes more difficult is when stats are telling me one thing but my eyes are telling me something else. Which one do I trust? That’s when mistakes are made, and I still haven’t found a perfect balance for it.
When using stats, it’s also very important to know how to properly interpret them. NHL equivalency (NHLe) has been around for some time now, and it’s a great starting point. The idea is to calculate how many points said prospect would have scored if he had played in the NHL.
The problem with NHLe is that it’s only designed to calculate the immediate impact a prospect makes when making the jump to the NHL from some other league. By itself, it doesn’t say anything else about the prospect.
Mason Black has created a stat called PNHLe which also takes age into consideration and projects how many points the prospect may score at the NHL level in his prime. As an example, here’s a graph showing Connor McDavid’s PNHLe values throughout his career so far. It goes all the way back to his rookie season in the OHL when he was just 15 years old.
As you can see, McDavid’s PNHLe value was always off the charts good. Throughout his junior career, he was projected to get between 110 and 120 points in his prime at the NHL level. And so far, that’s looking pretty accurate. In McDavid’s case, numbers work perfectly. He was consistently great year after year, and his game developed perfectly each and every season.
But not everyone develops perfectly. Development is not always linear, and some prospects don’t start showing their true potential until at a later age. As an example, here’s Elias Pettersson’s PNHLe graph.
During the 2015-2016 season, Pettersson’s production was nothing special. But he took a big step during his draft year, then he took another big step last year, and now seems to be taking yet another step this year in the NHL. And this is why projecting prospects is so difficult. Life would be so easy