While some reporters head off into the summer sunset to drink margaritas yours truly will be hard at work delivering interviews from eight hockey media members. These are individuals whose work I will be referencing many times throughout the year or simply interesting people who I thought would provide for incredible summer reading as we move closer to the season.
My first interview is with Hayden Speak who is the founder/creator of prospect-stats.com. This is a website which does not get nearly enough hype. It is incredibly well built and once you get the hang of its many features you will spend countless hours looking through the mounds of compiled data. The Twitter page is still under 1,500 followers which is a travesty as Hayden is pumping out blog posts that are must reads. He is continuing to grow the offerings of his website which, I reiterate, is a must for anyone who is interested in the future stars of the NHL.
Question: For those reading who are unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your website prospect-stats.com?
Hayden: “Prospect-stats is a site for finding advanced stats of the top developmental leagues where future NHLers are playing now. Right now, the site has stats for the AHL, the three CHL leagues (OHL, QMJHL, and WHL), and the USHL”
Question: Alexander Nylander is a player some Sabres fans are beginning to give up on as far as living up to the 8th Overall Selection in 2016. His AHL numbers certainly are not on pace with his older brother. Where do you stand on Alex Nylander moving forward?
Hayden: “As far as living up to the 8th overall pick I generally feel like that’s a losing game to play. Every team can look over their picks and find some player that was drafted later that they wish they’d picked instead but that’s a sunk cost so there’s no purpose harping on it. I feel that Alex Nylander is still a good NHL prospect and what he’s been able to do in the AHL in his Draft + 1 and Draft + 2 seasons is indicative of a player that could develop into a solid middle six winger.”
Question: The Buffalo Sabres have just wrapped up their Prospect Development Camp. Mataj Pekar made a ton of noise, Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin stole the spotlight, and Pilut broke the top off of a goalie’s stick. Where would you rank the Buffalo Sabres prospects pool and are there any guys who you would highlight that some readers might not know much about?
Hayden: “In terms of high-end talent Buffalo may take the cake with Dahlin and Mittelstadt. But I feel that their prospect pool is a little weak in terms of depth. Rasmus Asplund will likely make it as an NHLer but his ceiling may be as a third line center. I know people that really like Cliff Pu but his statistical profile doesn’t entirely live up to the reputation. Marcus Davidsson stands out to me as a prospect in the Sabres system that deserves to be talked about a bit more, he’s been in impressive in the SHL his Draft and Draft + 1 seasons and seems like he has a good shot of being an NHLer in the future.”
Question: The Sabres recently acquired Tage Thompson from the St. Louis Blues in the deal for Ryan O’Reilly. What would you want to tell Sabres fans about his game and what are your thoughts on the trade in general?
Hayden: Overall, I think St. Louis comes out on the winning side of that trade. Tage Thompson did very well in the AHL last season and should be able to fill a third line role in the NHL this season, potentially growing into a second line player in the future. But personally, I feel like the 1st round pick in that trade has more potential of turning into a true impact player for the Sabres going forward.
Question: I’d like to shift to some overall analytic discussion. As someone who tracks prospects before they enter the NHL I’m sure you get asked: “How does ‘player x’ compare to ‘player y’ who is already in the NHL?” Do you believe there are metrics/visualizations that help with this conversation?
Hayden: I don’t really use comparables. First, the comparables often don’t actually line up with reality since no two players truly play the same way. Second, you often end up with situations where players just get filed into archetypes like every tall defender being compared to Chris Pronger … or every center that plays halfway decent defense being compared to Patrice Bergeron. I think it’s more effective to look at overall trends and say “players who performed this well were successful this often” rather than trying to pick out one or two players that they remind you of.
Side note: Love that take! I’ve been asked a lot about Tage being the next *insert tall forward here*
Hayden: There’s also a great anecdote from basketball about this where Daryl Morey made a rule that his scouts could only compare a prospect to an NBA player if they were of different races and when he made that rule his scouts no longer came up with comparables because the players didn’t have that physical resemblance anymore.
I think you see a similar thing happen in hockey but with nationality, i.e. all Swedish defenders are compared to Karlsson
DJ: When it comes to Rasmus Dahlin it has always been Lidstrom, Karlsson, Hedman when talking comparables. I’m sure Sabres fans will love to hear this perspective.
Hayden: Right, and all three of those players play incredibly different games so having them all be comparables for one player doesn’t make sense if they aren’t even comparables for each other.
Question: This leads to my next question. When looking at defenceman prospects who are still yet to transition into the NHL do you find any metrics helpful in determining where they project (Top-Pairing, Top-4, Bottom-Pairing)? In the case of Mattias Samuelsson to keep this Sabres centric, do you think fans should be interested in tracking anything in his Draft+1 year?
Hayden: Since Corsi isn’t available for most developmental leagues it’s difficult to gauge how strong a prospect is defensively so you can’t get a complete understanding of a prospects abilities. But what we do know is that in developmental leagues the players that produce points tend to do better than those that don’t. And even players that aren’t known for their point production in the NHL often have a history of being point producing players in their developmental years (Ron Hainsey was over a point per game defender in NCAA, his NHL season high is 39 points. Paul Martin was almost a point per game defender in NCAA, his NHL season high is 37 points). So, for Samuelsson he did well producing points in the USHL and you’d want to see that continue and compare his point production to other defenseman who played in the NCAA for their Draft + 1 season
Question: Do you think these Corsi/advanced metrics are going to be available in the near future?
Hayden: Some of that is currently available to teams through external companies that sell data they’ve tracked. As far as publicly I think it will happen eventually, it’s just a matter of time. The QMJHL started tracking shot locations in 2012-13, the OHL started tracking shot locations in 2015-16. So leagues understand that fans have interest in better data being available and they’re making improvements it’s just going to take some time since it will require training trackers, changing their tracking process, hiring people to track every game, etc.
Question: Well, now I’m getting excited about the future! Well what about yourself and prospect-stats, what does the future hold there? Anything you want to plug?
Hayden: Recently I put out my xG model which I’m excited to see how that performs throughout next season. Also I put out my updates for my draft value model DEV which I’ll be continuing to improve upon for the 2018-19 season. Outside of that I have a couple more ideas for research projects that I’d like to do next season, and hopefully adding more leagues to the site.
Question: Alright last question, I know it’s early July, but if you were going to predict the 2018-2019 Buffalo Sabres spot in the standings based on the roster they have now where do they stack up? It’s an even more loaded division and the Sabres have taken residency in the basement of the Eastern Conference, but is there room for optimism?
Hayden: I don’t think the Sabres will be bottom of the division again but I’m also not expecting them to rocket up the standings. The top three of the Atlantic should be tough to crack again this season, so they could contend for one of the wildcard spots but based on the moves they’ve made so far this offseason I’m not ready to make that bet.
Thanks to Hayden for taking part in this and be sure to give him a follow @3Hayden2 and @Prospect_Stats. Once again, the website he runs can be found at Prospect-Stats.com and it is well worth a bookmark.