August 29 2013 01:59PM
I noted in my random thoughts piece yesterday that one of the key questions for the Flames this year is whether Sven Baertschi is a capable NHLer or not. On that note, Christian Roatis recently went over a long list of comparable youngsters to try to determine just what a reasonable expectation would be for the 20 year old this season. A follow-up showed most FN readers expect him to settle between 40-50 points.
Of course, besides his own talent and effort level, the one thing that will determine whether Baertschi fulfills those expectations is his role on the club. Scorers obviously need ice time to put up points. With that mind, I investigated a list of kids who scored at around the expected rate (40-50 points over 82 games) around their 20-21 year old season since 2003-04. That yielded a list of 29 names:
The Data & Discussion
|19||James van Riemsdyk||21||75||21||19||40||17||0.53||2.31||14:32:00|
I excluded guys who played less than 50 games for sample size reasons. The list is ranked by total ice time. I also included shot rate per game for added context.
It's a decent list of players, featuring a number of stars and mostly capable NHLers overall (Steve Bernier and Patrick Eaves being the lone exceptions). Overall, this group scored at an average rate of 0.53 PPG, or 43 points over an 82 game schedule.
The mean total ice time for these 29 guys was about 15:16 per game, while the median ice time was just under 15 minutes. That makes for a nice line in the sand of Sven - 15 minutes per night. We'll assume a couple of miniutes of PP time, meaning he needs about 12-13 minutes at even strength per game (assuming next to no PK time).
Last year, eight Flames forwards averaged 15+ minutes per night. Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay are gone, whittling things down to Curtis Glencross (18:14), Mike Cammalleri (18:03), Lee Stempniak (17:54), Matt Stajan (17:09), Jiri Hudler (17:09), and Mikael Backlund (15:07). Stajan and Backlund are centers, leaving Baertschi competing with Hudler, Glencross, Stempniak and Cammalleri for ice time (at least, prior to the trade deadline).
That's a bit of tall order. Cammalleri, Stempniak and Glencross are more or less guaranteed to be fixed in the top-6 absent injury or a sudden drop-off in play, so Jiri Hudler is the guy Baertschi will have to bump in order to get top-6 ice time. Hudler isn't a great two-way player, but neither is Baertschi at this point in his career and Hudler is definitely a more proven scorer, albeit with a fixed ceiling at about 40-50 points. Either Sven will have to come out and fundamentally outplay Hudler or the coaching staff will have to commit to developing the kid at the top of the rotation in order for him to get the requisite ice time to hit 40+ points.
Glancing at the player list again, it's certainly possible to break the 0.48 point-per-game plateau with less than 15 minutes of ice, but the player usually needs something extraordinary going for him to do so (a high shooting percentage, great line mates or a lot of PP time).
That said, it's more likely Sven will need more ice time than less in order to break 40 points in his rookie season. Fifteen minutes per game or more seems to be the rule of thumb. It's going to be challenging for him to hit that level because the Flames still have more than a few established NHLers on the roster, despite the fact it's an underwhelming group overall. Even if Hartley and Feaster are determined to give Baertschi as many reps at the top of the rotation as possible, he will have to at least keep his head above water to maintain that position on the team. That is, until the club sells a few bodies at the deadline.
PS - I looked at a list of guys who scored at a 60+ point pace around 20-21 years old just in case Baertschi blows up this year (fingers crossed), and the 19 guys who hockey reference spit out are pretty much all NHL stars with the lone exception of Nikolai Zherdev (who was run out of the league for personality reasons more than anything). A lot of stars didn't quite clear that hurdle so it doesn't mean Baertschi won't develop into something if he doesn't...but if he does manage 60 points or more this season then we probably have an elite player on our hands.
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