The Numbers Game

by Ryan Van Horne on January 2, 2010
Gabriel Bourque

Statistics must be used properly — and with caution — when evaluating prospects


It’s one of the best times of the year to watch prospects. The World Junior Tournament brings the world’s best junior players together and provides an excellent opportunity to compare prospects that rarely get a chance to play against each other. Even though countries such as Latvia and Austria — which ride up and down a continuous relegation-promotion escalator — provide little competition, this tournament is a rare treat for prospect watchers.


It’s because of teams such as Latvia and Austria that one has to be careful about paying too much attention to statistics. I’m looking right at you Gabriel Bourque. Some might be impressed by his three goals and five assists in four games, but when you realize that all but one assist came in Canada’s tournament opening 16-0 whitewash of Latvia, the shine comes off.


Whenever possible, try to watch a player against his peers. That’s why scouts love the world junior tournament. Some prospects play in junior leagues, some play in college and some play in professional leagues in Europe. This tournament provides an opportunity to see prospects playing against one another and provides a great opportunity for comparison.


Don’t fall into the trap of making an evaluation based just on stat watching. Sure, statistics should be considered, but a smart fantasy hockey GM – and a real hockey GM and scout – don’t put too much of an emphasis on them. When you do use statistics, keep a couple important things in mind when you do make comparisons. These factors are taken into consideration by scouts when they are watching a player.


One important factor to consider when assessing a player is age. Lots of people focus on stats such as goals and assists, but they don’t look at a player’s age. Also, consider how many years a player has been in the league. A 19-year-old lighting it up in his fourth year of junior is not as impressive as a 17-year-old draft eligible prospect doing it in his second year.


A 20-year-old rookie on a tear in the American Hockey League is more noteworthy than a 22-year-old doing it in his third season. An 18-year-old who was just drafted out of Europe can have modest totals as a rookie in the Swedish Elite League, but be a better prospect than a CHL player who is in his third year of major junior and putting up gaudy numbers. European pro teams often have junior-aged prospects on their teams and they can sometimes struggle to put up good numbers because they get limited minutes. Also, Russian prospects tend not to get high assist totals because they’re pretty stingy giving out assists over there.


Another thing to look at is the offensive production level of the league. There is still a misconception still that the QMJHL is all offence. While it has the highest goals per game total of the three CHL leagues, it is not nearly what it was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. The WHL has shed its image as an all-offence league like it used to be in the 80s, but the QMJHL has not.


The WHL is the lowest scoring and QMJHL is the highest scoring, but the difference isn’t nearly as big as some think. Goal scoring comparison in 2008-09 for the three CHL leagues:

5,158 goals scored = 6.51 goals per game

4,667 goals scored = 6.86 goals per game

4,210 goals scored = 6.87 goals per game

Keep this in mind, too, if you want to comparing the production of prospects in different league. Doing a little math can help you bust a myth and provide a great tool to compare stats