by Forechecker on 08/29/08 at 02:23 AM ET
This series of Forechecker’s Forecasts heads into truly uncharted waters today as we consider the prospects for Patric Hornqvist, the Swedish winger who appears to be the organization’s next-best option for goal-scoring depth after the departure of Alexander Radulov. Since he’s labored over in the Swedish Elite League for the last few years, North American fans have precious little evidence to evaluate; the single most-noteworthy fact known about him is that he tied Peter Forsberg’s record for goal-scoring by a junior player (with 23) for Djurgarden in 2006-7. He has also represented Sweden well during the World Championships both in 2007 and 2008, and his 6 goals this year led the team.
The big unknown, here, however, is how does Hornqvist’s production in the SEL translate into what we can expect of him in the NHL? Besides the obvious difference in talent level and the international-size ice surface, there’s also the matter of travel to consider. You can drive across Sweden from east to west in just a few hours, which is a cakewalk compared to NHL road trips, and he’s played a maximum of 53 games in a season, a far cry from the 82-game grind (plus playoffs) he’ll face in Nashville.
One way to answer this question is to consider the notion League Equivalencies, explored in a paper published by the brilliant Gabriel Desjardins over at Hockey Analytics in 2004. The basic idea that Gabe leveraged was that Points Per Game is a relatively stable stat for most players over the course of their careers, and by comparing PPG figures for all players that were in the NHL one season, but another league the year before, you can estimate the relative strength of the two leagues. For example, Ville Koistinen played in Milwaukee during the 2006-7 season, putting up 9 goals and 32 assists in 59 games for the Admirals, a PPG rate of 0.69. Desjardin’s League Equivalency figure for a 25 year-old transitioning from the AHL to the NHL was 0.36, which would predict a PPG figure of 0.25 (0.69 * 0.36) for Koistinen’s NHL work in 2007-8. His actual result was 0.35 (4 goals and 13 assists in 48 games). That’s in the ballpark, and I’d guess part of the difference (besides individual performance) is that the AHL has probably improved after the IHL folded in 2001.
Extending this analysis to Hornqvist, then, we’d look at his performance last season in Sweden (23 goals, 11 assists in 53 games, PPG 0.64), run it through Desjardin’s index of 0.59 for a transition from the SEL to the NHL (0.64 x 0.59 = 0.38 PPG in the NHL), and project that rate of production across how many games we’d expect Hornqvist to play for Nashville next year (let’s go with 75), which yields an overall value of 29 points. So let’s use that as our jumping-off point.
One factor that could skew this analysis would be a dramatic shift in a player’s role; for example, if Joe Prospect was the offensive hot-shot at a lower level, but had to fight for 3rd-line duty in the NHL, obviously his opportunity for scoring will be diminished. I doubt that will be a large factor here, as David Poile has consistently said that the Predators expect Hornqvist to make the roster this season and be a major offensive performer. Another is age; at 21, Hornqvist is still developing, so his PPG should not yet be peaking. Also, this SEL-to-NHL League Equivalence figure dates from 2004 (before the “New NHL”); has the Swedish league improved since then relative to the NHL? Nicklas Backstrom and Tobias Enstrom saw their PPG performance translate to the NHL last year at roughly a 90% rate, although since these are the two Swedes that immediately jump to mind for having recently made that transition, I’m admittedly pointing out two very successful comparables. Digging a little further finds Johan Franzen, who translated at 61% for his rookie season in Detroit, and Niklas Nordgren, who pretty much dropped off the charts.
Looking ahead to then to 2008-9, I can see the Predators doing what they can to help Hornqvist prosper; placing him on either the Arnott or Legwand lines, giving him a decent amount (say, 2:00 per game) of power play time, but not overburdening him. I’m guessing at something like 12:00-14:00 in total ice time per night, and roughly 1.5 shots per game from the young Swede. If he can emulate Radulov’s rookie season, Nashville should be pretty satisfied.
So, for the official Forechecker’s Forecast…
|Forechecker’s Forecast, 2008-9 NHL Regular Season|
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