Cane and Vollman: A deep study of Oliver Ekman-Larsson – historical player comparables.


Rob Vollman and Matt Cane have devised a system to project a player's future performance by finding players with common statistics historically (Vollman, on the left) and in the modern day (Cane, on the right). This article is part of a series to introduce readers to their system, and to demonstrate how it can give you an edge in fantasy hockey.


For the third consecutive season, the Arizona Coyotes had a defencemen as their scoring leader – but this time it was 24-year-old Swede Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He also led the team in goals, by a whopping eight-goal margin over Sam Gagner (now of the Flyers). This accomplishment leaves him with few historical peers on which to base this year's projection.


Rob's Take: This century, the only other defencemen to match or exceed Ekman-Larsson's 23 goals last year were Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, Shea Weber (twice), and Sheldon Souray (twice). How did they fare the next season? Green scored 19, Gonchar 18, Weber 16 and 15, and Souray 3 and 4 (due to injuries). So, it seems that 17 is a surprisingly reasonable projection, assuming he stays healthy, which is exactly the result achieved by the historical projection system, on the left. However, this is a very simplistic view of the situation, which is why the more modern method on the right views 17 goals as more of a best-case scenario.



Of the aforementioned defencemen, Weber is most like Ekman-Larsson. While Green, Gonchar, and Souray are more strictly puck-moving (and puck-blasting) defencemen, much like former teammate Keith Yandle, Weber also handles a lot of his team's heavy lifting, just like Ekman-Larsson. On a player usage chart, you'll always find these two in the top left, taking on top opponents in both zones, instead of the bottom right, where the league's highest scoring defencemen are normally found. Arizona's talent-thin roster means that its reliance on Ekman-Larsson to shut down top opponents could further limit his focus on generating and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.


In the end, someone has to score in Arizona. Keith Yandle is gone, Shane Doan is about to turn 39, and both Max Domi and Dylan Strome have zero games of NHL experience. At 24 years old, Ekman-Larsson is in his prime, and may be the team's only real scoring option – especially from the point. In my view, that makes it reasonable to expect his excellent numbers to continue.


Matt's Take: There aren’t likely to be very many bright spots for the 2015-2016 Arizona Coyotes, but if there’s one player to give fans hope for the year to come it’s the young Swede from Karlskrona. Looking through both his modern and historical comparables reveals a list that’s stacked with the star defencemen of the game today. Both projection systems seem to agree that Larsson is the prototypical modern defenceman, with Shea Weber, Dustin Byfuglien and Mike Green’s names occupying 8 of the 20 comparable slots across both lists. 


The Shea Weber comparison in particular stands out – the seasons that show up as most similar to OEL are his last four years playing alongside Ryan Suter, which obviously made helped propel Weber to the superstardom he enjoys today. In contrast, Ekman-Larsson has largely had to earn his success without an all-star partner alongside him on the blueline. Although Zybanek Michalek (his most common partner at even strength over the last 3 years according to Hockey Analysis) is no slouch, he certainly doesn’t add the same dynamic to the game that Suter, a player who has only been below 30 points twice in his career, does. The Swedish blueliner has had to carry more of the load on his own over the course of his young career, which bodes well for his ability to maintain his past pace and build on it going forward.


The other factor at play here, however, is the broader team that’s going to be surrounding OEL. Weber's Predators were a playoff team in each of the four years that appear as comparable seasons, while the Coyotes are shaping up to be anything but that in the coming year. With their sights set on Auston Matthews in the 2016 Entry Draft, it seems unlikely that Arizona will be rushing up any of their young talent to the NHL anytime soon. As such, expectations for the former Olympic silver medalist may need to be tempered a bit – while the historical projections have him coming in above 50 points, the modern projections and the baseline rate are both slightly more pessimistic and have him putting up around 40 points. Given the scarcity of support he’s likely to see this year, a cautious view is probably well warranted with a total coming somewhere between the low end of his historical predictions and the aforementioned 40 point estimations most likely.


For complete projections on over 700 active NHL players, Vollman and Cane Historical Projections 2015 is available exclusively through the Dobber store, for just $4.99 – or it's free if you bought the Fantasy Guide using the coupon code found on page 151!