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Who Would You Rather – Evgeny Kuznetsov or Taylor Hall?

Michael Clifford

Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions.

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There was a little kerfuffle over the weekend that was caused by an article over at NHL.com, written by Deputy Managing Editor Adam Kimelman. The subject of the article was what would the 2010 NHL Entry Draft look like if it were to take place again today with the same players, and with the obvious benefit of the hindsight of five years of data.

Articles that re-draft previous years are common in any sport. They are a good chance to see how players of the same age have fared since the draft year, figure out where GMs went wrong/right (and why), and generate conversation among fans. Boy, it has generated conversation.

The reason for the kerfuffle was the top-5. It reads as follows:

  1. Tyler Seguin (Dallas – C) – Zero argument here.
  2. Ryan Johansen (Columbus – C) – As many points as Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews over the last two seasons. Still not great defensively, but his production is excellent.
  3. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis – RW) – There’s an argument to be made he should be second on the list, but as a general rule, I defer to centers over wingers when players are anywhere near similar, so this isn’t egregious.
  4. Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington – C) – In the author’s words, “… solidified himself as a long-term answer at second line centre with … 37 points in 80 games this season.”

Anyone familiar with the 2010 Draft – Taylor or Tyler – might be wondering at this point, “Where is Taylor Hall?” He was in fact fifth on this list, one spot behind Kuznetsov. The reason for the kerfuffle is now in full focus.

As is implied above, Seguin seems to be the clear number 1. Due to his position, it’s fair to say Johansen is number 2. After that, there’s a real argument between Tarasenko and Hall for the third spot. Kuznetsov?

What Do We Know

When outlining anything, it’s always important to establish what is known. This is what is known about Taylor Hall:

  • From Hockey Reference, his 0.88 points per game since he came into the league as an 18-year-old (he turned 19 in November of the 2010-2011 season) is better than Joe Pavelski (0.83), Rick Nash (0.80), and Matt Duchene (0.76). All three were Olympians in 2014.
  • His 2.27 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five, again, since he came into the league as an 18-year old, is 11th out of 240 forwards who have at least 3000 minutes of ice time. That’s slightly higher than both Ryan Getzlaf (2.26) and Corey Perry (2.22), Max Pacioretty (2.20), and Pavel Datsyuk (2.19). Out of the 10 forwards ahead of him, Hall is the youngest, and three of the five wingers ahead of him are likely in decline or done (as in, Martin St. Louis was ahead of him but he has retired). The other two wingers being Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane.
  • Injuries have been a problem. Out of a possible 376 regular season games since entering the NHL, Hall has played 299, or about 79.5-percent. On an 82 game basis, that’s only 65 games a season in the lineup. The shoulder issues are a concern, but his rookie year was cut short by a high ankle sprain sustained in a fight, and his ankle injury this past season was the result of getting hit with a shot in practice. Shoulder injuries are not uncommon for young players (just look at his teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), or hockey players in general, and he has had those. The fact that two of his three injury-plagued seasons were due to a fight and a practice accident has to be taken into account here, though. It should be noted the injuries are not mentioned in the NHL.com article.
  • He drives offence for his line mates. His defence is still lacking, but that’s the same argument for Ryan Johansen, and the Oilers haven’t been good defensively for nearly a decade anyway.
  • His best seasons points-per-game-wise (2013 lockout-shortened season and 2013-2014) were when he was playing against the top competition in the Western Conference. Among his top-15 most common opponents in that span were the Sedin twins, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Paul Stastny, Joe Pavelski, and Matt Duchene.

So we know Hall has had injury problems, but some of them weren’t really of the “he’s injury prone” nature. He’s been an elite producer, even against some of the best players in the West, and importantly, he’s coming into his prime as a producer.

What do we know about Kuznetsov?

  • He’s played one (1) full NHL season. His rookie year was technically 2013-2014, but he only played 17 regular season games.
  • In his one full NHL season, his 37 points in 80 games produced a point-per-game mark (0.46) lower than 18-year old rookie defenceman Aaron Ekblad (0.48) and 20-year old sophomore Elias Lindholm (0.48).
  • His points per 60 minute rate at five-on-five this past season (1.33) was 199th out of 262 forwards with at least 750 minutes played. That’s the same mark as Martin Erat, and lower than Scott Gomez (1.37).
  • He was awful in face-offs, finishing at 44.6-percent for the year. Face-off importance is overblown, but coaches would rather have their centers win them than lose them. That’s all while playing against third line competition amongst his teammates. So if we’re going to give an advantage to a center over a winger, he should be good at what he’s relied upon. In the face-off circle, he is not good (yet, at least).
  • He can drive offence, but not nearly to the level of Hall, and is just as bad defensively (on what should have been a more defensively structured team). There’s also an enormous disparity in a per minute production rate between the two (roughly 24 five-on-five points per 1200 minutes).

Everything Kuznetsov does, Hall does as well, if not much better. They don’t play the same position, but Hall has established himself as a top line winger. To date, Kuznetsov has struggled to establish himself as a true second line center.

It should be noted that the Oilers will be better next year. It’s been said before, but at least there seems to be stability in net, a defence corps that has improved (thanks, Andrej Sekera), and young guys like Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and of course, Connor McDavid are set to make a positive impact on the team very soon.

The nature of the article is one to drive conversation. That’s fine; it’s what’s needed in the offseason. To assert that Kuznetsov has a brighter future than Hall, though, seems to be a bit off: over the last three years, the only players who have produced a higher points per 60 minutes than Hall are Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jamie Benn, and Corey Perry.

The intent isn’t to disparage a writer, or a player. It’s to look at the performance we have seen and give an informed opinion for the future. A potential second line centre or an established elite winger? This seems to be an easy choice.

Featured Image Credit: By Sarah Connors (Flickr: Blues vs. Oilers-9093.jpg) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons