Leagues in Translation: Zibanejad Edition


If you listened to Murray's press conference yesterday he seemed to be of two minds on Zibanejad and where he stands. After praising Mika's game he remarked – "In my experience young players get better as the year goes on". On the other he thought sending Cowen back to Spokane and the experience of playing in the WJC was instructive and crucial to his development. If the organization has tipped their hand I haven't seen it.

But…assuming Mika does show enough to stick after 9 games, what would be a reasonable point projection for his rookie campaign?

Going strictly off the preseason Z-Bad would be good for a cool 41 goals over 82 games…and…uh…zero assists.

To tackle the question slightly more intelligently we need to consult Gabe Desjardins list of NHL Equivalencies and Minor-League Translations (NHLE):

"One way to evaluate the difficulty of one league relative to another is examine the relative performance of players who have played in both leagues.  Players rarely play significant time in two leagues in the same year, but they often play in one league in one year and in another the next.  As long as a player’s skill level is approximately constant over this two year period, the ratio of his performance in each league can be used to estimate the relative difficulty of the two leagues.

Historically, the only statistics available are goals, assists and games played.  With so little data, the best quantity to compare is a player’s Point-Per-Game rate (PPG).  The difficulty of a league relative to the NHL can be determined by dividing the PPG that a player had in that league in one year by the PPG he had in the NHL the next year, or vice-versa.  The PPG should be adjusted for the assist per goal rate in each league since European leagues don’t award a second assist as often as the NHL does."

In Zibanejad's case Gabe has found that 1 point scored in the SEL equates to .78 in the NHL.

Below is a recent list of forwards who came directly from the SEL to the NHL at 20 years of age or younger. Their final SEL season PPG* and their rookie NHL PPG are the first two columns. The third column is their SEL PPG x NHLE SEL translation (0.78). And the fourth column is the percent difference between the third and the second columns.

* in the interest of broadening sample size I've included any playoff games when calculating SEL PPG.

 Player SEL PPG  NHL PPG NHLE PPG % Diff.
Anze Kopitar 0.54 0.85 0.42 +102
Nicklas Backstrom 0.88 0.84 0.69 +21
Matthias Tedenby 0.40 0.37 0.31 +19
Magnus Paajarvi 0.55 0.42 0.43 -3
Jacob Josefson 0.43 0.35 0.34 +2
Marcus Johansson 0.51 0.39 0.40 -3
Mika Zibanejad 0.33  – 0.26  –

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what can we draw here?

Kopitar is the obvious outlier, he more than doubled what Desjardins NHLE predicted. Closing his SEL season strong with 11 points in 10 playoff games is something the system doesn't account for. Every other players PPG fell coming from the SEL to the NHL, although not always by as much as 0.78. Backstrom and Tedenby slightly outperformed their predictions while Paarjarvi, Josefson and Johansson's rookie numbers were more or less on the nose. Over 82 games Zibanejad's 0.26 PPG would be good for 21 points. Finally, every player in the table played their rookie season at 19 or 20, whereas Mika would be 18 in 2011-12.

This method is certainly not infallible, it has blindspots. There are many other variables in play here from ice time, to linemates, to age and physical maturity. But assuming Zibanejad isn't Kopitar (stay with me), history suggests his PPG will fall somewhere below the 0.33 rate he scored at last year in the SEL. Every player has to learn the NHL game at some point, and it's possible this is the right time for Mika. But while some players have nothing left to prove when they leave their respective leagues for the NHL, this is far from one of those cases.

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