Gaudreau’s Rookie Season in Context

Johnny Gaudreau, the 2011 4th round choice of the Flames, has been having something of a rookie year. He sits at 53 points in 69 games, becoming the highest scoring Flames rookie since 1996-97, nearly two full decades, when Jarome Iginla registered 50 in 82 game. He’s electric, shifty and one of the most exciting players in the league with his ability to turn a game on its head with one play. How does he compare to the Flames all time best rookie seasons?  

Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury and Jarome Iginla had some of the most remarkable rookie seasons in Calgary Flames history, are also acknowledged as three of the greatest Calgary Flames of all time and, in time, will all be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  

Joe Nieuwendyk, a 2nd round pick, served his official rookie season in 1987-88, after two dominating years and Cornell University, where he tallied 51 goals, 46 assists and 92 points, winning the Calder and the Lady Byng in the process.  

Theo Fleury, an undersized mighty skilled might, like Gaudreau, was just barely drafted in the 7th round despite a spectacular point filled junior career. He played 36 games and playoffs in the Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup team but his official rookie year came the year after in 1989-90 where he amassed 31 goals, 35 assists and 66 points in 80 games.

Jarome Iginla, a 11th overall selection of Dallas Stars, traded to Calgary for one Joe Nieuwendyk, is an icon in Calgary.  His rookie season in 1996-97 featured 21 goals, 29 assists and 50 points.  He went on to become the all-time leader in nearly every offensive category for the Flames and will probably hold those titles for a good while, maybe forever.

But each of these players played in eras vastly different from Gaudreau’s. The ’80s were high flying, crazy goal scoring days. Goalies were less than stellar and let in just short of 12% of their shots. The ’90s were more focused on “defense.” Clutching, grabbing, water skiing behind opponents breaking down the ice was all fair game so powerplays fell to record lows. As a result goals were much reduced in this era. Goalies also got much better and only let in 9% of their shots now. Today, still few powerplays are called and goalies have gotten even a little bit better, letting in 8.7% of their shots. So the problem when trying to make comparisons of players of today with players of different decades is that not all things are equal across decades. It was easier to score in the 80’s and there were more goals so it’s hard to tell how Gaudreau’s pace of 63 points compares to Nieuwendyk’s 92 points. To get around this issue we are going to look at all four players’ rookie seasons in the context of Nieuwendyk’s 1987-88 rookie season.



Capture 5

Methodology: If you’re looking at the data thinking Nieuwendyk didn’t score 101 points, he had 92… you would be correct. In the ’80s, they only played 80 games and Nieuwendyk only played 75 of them. To make everything equal I’ve standardized all of seasons to assume the player played 82 games. With Gaudreau, I’m assuming he’s going to keep the same scoring pace, sh %, pp points/total ratio, etc.

I then used Nieuwendyk’s season as the benchmark to compare against Fleury, Iginla and Gaudreau’s rookie seasons. To get their total goals, I first determined by what percent each player was shooting over the league average shooting % of their actual seasons. I multiplied that by the league average shooting % of 1987-88 (11.8) and multiplied that by each players goals. Similarly, for assists, I determined what the ratio was for the player’s total assists/team’s total goals ratio and then multiplied again by the team’s total goals/league average’s total goals ratio. I do this because if I don’t factor in if the player’s team scored above or below the league average it skews their point totals. For instance, if I just used league average goals, Fleury’s points would come down while Iginla’s would come up. I then summed the two stats together to get the adjusted point total.   


By following this method, we find that Nieuwendyk still comes out as having the best Calgary Flames rookie season in terms of points. But we see that if we place Gaudreau’s rookie season in the context of 1987-88, he would improve by 22 points and be over a point per game player, scoring approximately 85 points. Conversely, Fleury did score in the high 60’s and Iginla would have been close behind his scoring total in 1987-88. Gaudreau’s having an incredible year rookie season. One of the best ever.

Let’s look a little deeper at the totals though. Every one of the player’s shooting % was well above the league average. However, Nieuwendyk’s was more than double the league average (24.10% compared to 11.8%). A reason for this abnormality could be Nieuwendyk’s ES/PP point splits. Generally, elite players score 30-40% of their points on the powerplay. Fleury, Iginla and Gaudreau all followed this path. When we look at Nieuwendyk’s numbers he scored 49% of his points on the powerplay.  In fact, he scored 31!!! goals on the powerplay and scored 28% of all of the Flames powerplay goals that year. Not to mention, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, with MacInnis and Suter on the point and a whack of talent up front, the Flames had a top 2 powerplay for 5 years straight. Nieuwendyk never again scored 49% of his points on the powerplay. His pp point ratio was generally in the high 30% for the rest of his career. Even if Nieuwendyk had an abnormal pp point ratio in his rookie year but not massive outlier year like this, maybe he scores 40% of his goals on the powerplay, this would bring his point total down around the low to mid 80’s.  


Context is everything and when we put Gaudreau’s season into the context of Nieuwendyk’s era his rookie season shines through as one of the best ever.  In the ’80s, Gaudreau would probably be over a point per game player.  Moreover, when we look at the data a little bit deeper and find the huge abnormalities in Nieuwendyk’s rookie year, we could argue that Gaudreau could be having the best rookie season of them all.

  • Burnward

    Amazing. Love this cross-generational analysis that evens out the playing field as much as possible. We can’t take Gaudreau for granted; we have a special player on our hands.

  • everton fc

    Another amazing thing about Gaudreau is he’s durable. So far, at least. I see him, Monahan, Brodie, Backlund, Russell and Bouma as the core. Exciting times for Flames fans.

  • mk

    So you’re saying Gaudreau is pretty alright? 🙂 I love how some people will argue he shouldn’t win the Calder over Forsberg because he’s too small. Oh well, fools will be fools.

    It’s weird having a team where the offense doesn’t strictly follow one player around the ice (*ahem Iginla era*). Johnny Hockey is awesome! Seanahan is awesome! Hudler having the time of his career (other than that whole Cup thing he did)! Woo!

    Also, here’s to hoping Gaudreau’s guarantee is better than Feaster’s. 🙂

      • beloch

        Player ###### Rookie Season Age ##### Pre-Rookie season NHL games:
        Johnny Gaudreau ———– 21 —————— 1
        Joe Nieuwendyk ————- 21 —————— 9
        Theoren Fleury ————— 21 —————— 36*
        Jarome Iginla —————– 19 —————— 0

        Today’s rules state that a player must have no more than 25 games of previous NHL experience to be considered a rookie, so Fleury’s real rookie season, by today’s rules, was one year earlier when he put up 34 points in 36 games.

        Comparing Gaudreau to Nieuwendyk is an apples to apples comparison. They were the same age and had nearly the same amount of experience. Fleury has a big advantage because he had half a season of experience before his “rookie” season, in which he was the same age as Gaudreau. Iginla jumped into the NHL straight from the WHL, so his rookie season is still especially impressive. Interestingly enough though, he produced just 1 more point during his 21-year-old season than he did during his rookie season, although the quality of his line-mates was lower.

        Edit: Changed Iginla’s rookie age to 19 per Toppolzer’s suggestion.

        • Byron Bader

          Um, Firstly Iggy was 19 his rookie season (born July 1977), and he didn’t play right after he was drafted. He was draft in 95. He was 19 his rookie season from game 1 to game 82.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Hey Byron! I like the article, how can one not get excited about Johnny Gaudreau & Money playing together. I do have a bit of confusion on your math for Nieuy. First you say he tallied 51 goals & 46 assists for 92 points. Then in the numbers chart you show Nieuy with 56 goals & 45 assists for 101 points. Math is right but where did those numbers come from?
    I think the actual numbers in Nieuy’s rookie season read as 51 goals & 41 assists in 75 games. Might change your analysis slightly.

    • Byron Bader

      They only played 80 games in the 80’s. Nieuwy only played 75 games of the 80. He might have been injured or something but I leveled everything to an 82 game playing field.

  • Reidja

    I didn’t think it was possible to get more excited about Johnny. Thanks for the article. Another that would be interesting is to compare a bunch of metrics, his usage, possession, zone entries, counting stats etc. against some of the elite young players of the past 5 or so years. To get an idea of where he stacks up against today’s best.

  • Burnward

    If you look at the % of goals Nieuwendyk scored compared to what that team scored (397!!!!! That’s FIVE goals a game! YARG!) and do the same for Gaudreau, Johnny’s has a higher percentage.

    Credit to Darren Haynes.

  • everton fc

    Compare Johnny (4th round pick) with the Oilers first overall picks:

    Nugent-Hopkins 18-34-52 in 62 games

    Taylor Hall 22-20-42 in 65 games

    Nail Yakupov fared better in the lockout season:
    17-14-31 in 45 games. But he has been a bust since!

  • Parallex

    You really think Theo is going to end up in the Hall of Fame? I mean on talent and accomplishments he deserves it… but I think his tendancy to salt the earth behind him probably keeps him out.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Thank goodness Bob benched him that one game. That one single viewing from the press box really made Johnny the player he is today.

    Whether you use this method or Haynes’ or just watch the games, it’s pretty obvious Johnny is something truly special.

    Those that turned on him so quickly at the start of the season when he was stuck on the 4th line playing all of 7 minutes with the likes of Bollig and saying he needed to go to the A should be hanging their heads in shame.

    Amazing what happens when skill meets opportunity and patience.

  • Burnward

    Johnny deserves a TON of credit for getting to this point. I am just so excited to watch this kid play every night. Him and Monahan have been pure entertainment gold. I love Monahan’s net presence and Johnny hockey can put the puck on his stick from anywhere in any situation. Just awesome! Bennett is going to be stepping into an ideal situation next year. He’ll have Monahan as a 3 year pro, Backlund as a true seasoned Vet, Guadreau oozing confidence and Bennett will be able to slip into a sheltered rookie role to start the season without having too much pressure.

    I predict a similar season next year regarding points/wins however I think their underlying numbers will justify their position. In two years the Flames will be expected to make the playoffs. In 3 – 5 years they may be a top tier team if their young players follow their projected development curve.

  • Burnward

    The fact that Forsberg is still considered the front-runner for the Calder by some analists is just mind-boggling. He had a great start, but for the last 25 or so games, he’s been practically invisible. It should be a two-horse race between Ekblad and Gaudreau now. Both have been consistent all season long. Outside of Gaudreau’s 5 game pointless skid at the beginning of the season, he’s only gone more than two games without a point twice. Once in November and also last month. And both those skids ended at 3 games.

    • mk

      I’m with you on this one. Though, I’m having a hard time deciding between Gaudreau & Ekblad. That kid in Florida is having a heck of a season – this really highlights the difficulty of deciding between players of different positions.

      • Burnward

        For me it comes down to the fact that Gaudreau has been instrumental in getting his team to the playoffs. What bigger influence an you have?

        Its Gaudreau all the way for me and in all honesty if he keeps up his current pace I will be pissed if he doesn’t win it.

        Calgary was pegged as a bottom 5 team this year. But in large part because of Gaudreau they are contending for and currently sit in the playoffs. You cannot say that about Ekblad.

  • Burnward

    Wow! Fabulous use of weighting and adjusting for various factors in each era, as complete and accurate a generational comparison as I have seen in a while. Makes sense when I look at your bio, hats off to you Byron!

    I wonder if it would be possible to build a spreadsheet and algorithm where we can compare players between generations, other than the massive amount of data points necessary should be a fairly easy process I think.

    This is the kind of advanced analytics we need!

    • Byron Bader

      Thanks man.

      I was thinking of this. The algorithm wouldn’t be too tricky. You need quite a bit of information but yeah then you just need to pick a reference point to set as the baseline and the equation would just be as easy as a copy paste.

  • Burnward

    Let’s put it this way: Aaron Ekblad was the number one draft pick of the class of 2014. Coming into this season, there was little doubt the very physically-mature Ekblad would crack the starting lineup of the Florida Panthers. Yes, he’s younger, but has him listed at 6’4″, 216 pounds.

    Johnny Gaudreau, a fourth round selection, was far from a lock to make the rebuilding Calgary Flames this year. Some people called for him to spend some time in the AHL. Some people thought he wouldn’t be able to handle the grind of a rigorous 82 game schedule across Canada and the States. On skates, soaking wet, I still have a hard time believing Johnny Hockey is 5’9″, 150 lbs.

    If #13 finishes the season with the most points among rookies, he should by all rights win the Calder.

    Or we riot. jk we’re not Vancouver