What can we expect of Johnny Gaudreau’s sophomore year?

Johnny Gaudreau is but a newbie. He’s 21 years old – though he’ll be 22 this summer – with one season under his belt. A very, very good season, but just one. 

While we probably know where he stands – he’s a first liner already – how have others, who have had similar seasons, followed it up? What about other youngsters?

Using @MannyElk’s statistical similarity calculator, hosted on War on Ice, we can get a quick look at which players have had seasons comparable to Gaudreau’s rookie year. These are based on scoring rates per 60 minutes, offensive contributions, general possession stats, and ice time.

The top five names that come up? Andrew Ladd, Kyle Brodziak, Ales Hemsky, Miroslav Satan, and Sam Gagner. To clarify, though: none of them were in their rookie years when they performed at a similar level.

Very few rookie years come up, actually: only Matt Duchene’s. Only four players to score high similarities to Gaudreau were younger than him at the time of the season recorded: Duchene, Gagner’s sophomore year, Aleksander Barkov, and Jordan Staal. Let’s include Nino Niederreiter as well, because his 21-year-old season compares to Gaudreau’s, and Gaudreau’s birthday is only a month before his.

The similar years

Here’s how these nine players, in their specifically similar seasons (ranging from similarities of 97.55%-96.26%), statistically compare to Gaudreau’s rookie year:

Player Season Age Goals Assists Points Points per game Rel CF% Rel SCF% ZSO%
Johnny Gaudreau 2014-15 21 24 40 64 .80 3.08 3.21 55.97
Andrew Ladd 2010-11 24 29 30 59 .73 3.85 3.18 49.41
Kyle Brodziak 2010-11 26 16 21 37 .46 2.98 3.61 41.45
Ales Hemsky 2013-14 30 13 30 43 .57 2.78 4.74 47.63
Miroslav Satan 2008-09 33 17 19 36 .55 2.23 2.84 50.00
Sam Gagner 2008-09 19 16 25 41 .54 2.47 1.67 54.93
Matt Duchene 2009-10 18 24 31 55 .68 1.23 1.58 49.21
Jordan Staal 2008-09 20 22 27 49 .60 2.32 2.86 39.96
Aleksander Barkov 2014-15 19 16 20 36 .51 2.37 5.05 47.56
Nino Niederreiter 2013-14 21 14 22 36 .44 2.12 3.00 56.82

There are a few things to note here:

  • While all these players were found to have comparable seasons to Gaudreau’s rookie year, Gaudreau was easily the greatest scorer of the bunch.
  • Part of this has to do with the more sheltered circumstances he played in. Gaudreau was among the most sheltered of these players in regards to zone starts; the only other guys to start more often in the offensive zone were Gagner and Niederreiter, but their scoring wasn’t nearly as great. Staal was doing a pretty good job in a heavily defensive role for his age, though.
  • Ladd aside, Gaudreau’s team benefited the most from his being on the ice, as seen by his second highest rel CF% out of everyone in the table. Duchene – the only other rookie on the list – has the lowest. He was still a positive, but didn’t provide as great of an impact as the others.
  • Gaudreau is a little less up there when it comes to relative scoring chances, though. While Barkov’s 5.05% is easily king, Gaudreau’s 3.21% is pretty good without seeming unrealistic to maintain.

The following seasons

Speaking of maintaining numbers: according to the similarity score calculator, those were nine players who had seasons most comparable to Gaudreau’s this past year. If we look at how each of those players followed up their Gaudreau-like years – Barkov aside, because his comparable year came this year – then in theory, we might be able to predict what kind of season Gaudreau has next year.

Obviously, there are a lot of different factors to take into account here – players’ age, for one thing (Satan was at the end of his NHL career for his comparable season), or switching teams entirely (Hemsky) – and this is hardly a proven metric, so consider this a thought experiment.

Here are the players’ numbers for their following seasons:

Player Season Age Goals Assists Points Points per game Rel CF% Rel SCF% ZSO%
Andrew Ladd 2011-12 25 28 22 50 .61 6.63 3.95 57.90
Kyle Brodziak 2011-12 27 22 22 44 .54 0.25 0.82 37.88
Ales Hemsky 2014-15 31 11 21 32 .42 -0.47 -1.96 58.11
Miroslav Satan 2009-10 34 9 5 14 .37 2.90 2.30 29.00
Sam Gagner 2009-10 20 15 26 41 .60 3.91 3.43 48.22
Matt Duchene 2010-11 19 27 40 67 .84 0.13 2.29 53.89
Jordan Staal 2009-10 21 21 28 49 .60 2.95 1.71 49.38
Nino Niederreiter 2014-15 22 24 13 37 .46 2.10 1.80 42.93

With the older players – Ladd, Brodziak, Hemsky, and Satan – scoring was mostly down, with the exception of Brodziak. At the same time, possession was mostly down as well, except in Ladd’s case. His possession statistics shot way up, even though he wasn’t putting the puck in the net nearly as much; this can be attributed to his high increase in offensive zone starts.

Hemsky and Satan are the oldest of this group, and provide the results that can most likely be nixed due to extreme circumstances Gaudreau is unlikely to face: namely, Hemsky went to a completely new team, and Satan was on the verge of NHL retirement. Satan barely played in the NHL that season, while Hemsky perhaps wishes he barely had as well, because his year was a disaster.

Looking at the younger guys

It’s the younger players – Gagner, Duchene, Staal, and Niederreiter – who are more interesting, and whose futures Gaudreau could end up mimicking. Their offensive outputs increased (Staal aside, who remained consistent): in particular Duchene from his rookie year, where he went from .68 points per game to .84. 

A jump like Duchene’s may not happen, but at the same time, there are factors pointing towards Gaudreau scoring more next year. In theory, he’ll have the same linemates he did for the second half of the season, and that was a combination that worked wonders together. 

He’ll also have a full year’s worth of experience under his belt. Remember Gaudreau’s complete inability to get on the board until he was a healthy scratch six games into the season? This is a little unfair, but if you exclude those first five games he played, he would have been at .85 points per game in his rookie season.

There shouldn’t be a need to healthy scratch him in his second year.

Possession is more of a mixed bag among the younger guys, though. Gagner and Niederreiter’s offensive zone starts both went down, but while Gagner’s relative corsi and scoring chances still rose in response, Niederreiter floundered, and his relative scoring chances in particular dropped. Duchene and Staal, on the other hand, started receiving more offensive zone starts, and Duchene’s relative corsi plummeted – although his scoring chances went up – while Staal’s possession improved, but his relative scoring chances dropped.

All in all, it’s a very mixed bag.

What to expect?

First off: Gaudreau is probably going to score more. All of the younger players who had similar years to him did just that, and with a year of experience under his belt, Gaudreau should only improve. He’s definitely not as his peak yet.

Secondly: offensive zone starts are probably going to play a role. When Ladd’s went up, so did his corsi; when Brodziak’s went down, so did his. 

Gagner and Niederreiter both received additional responsibilities when their offensive zone start ratio dropped, and while Niederreiter’s relative scoring chances appropriately dropped with it, Gagner rose above, and continued to improve.

Duchene and Staal both received additional sheltering, and it had opposite impacts on their game: Duchene scored more, but his possession plummeted; Staal’s scoring remained the same, his possession improved, but his relative scoring chance data fell.

Gaudreau was already very sheltered in his rookie season, and it’s unlikely he gets sheltered further; especially now that he has not only proven he can play in the NHL, but because Sam Bennett will be around to potentially take over that role. The good news: of all the younger guys, Gaudreau was most similar to Gagner, who improved across the board despite receiving additional responsibilities.

The best case scenario for Gaudreau, then, is to ultimately follow up his season the same way Gagner did his. And Gagner was the fifth most similar to him, while being closest to age and circumstance. Gaudreau is already the better scorer, but if he can replicate what Gagner did, then he should be in for an excellent sophomore season.

  • JBudd

    Did Kane come up at all when making these comparisons? Seems to be the guy everyone throws out based on style of play. Be interested to seeing an article to see how well the numbers support that.

    • RKD

      The only people to bring up this comparison are a Flames fans. It would be nice, but Kane was a 1st overall pick whose rookie year was significantly more impressive. Oh ya, he was 18 as a rookie too…

      As much as we want that comparison it’s unlikely. Although I’ll be the first to admit Johnny surprised me this year. So I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

      I fear this season has set the bar irrationally high for both the team and some of the young kids. A sophomore slump is a real thing and I’d think most kids level off for 2-3 years before jumping to elite in year 4-5. Expecting him to get 75 or 80 pts next year is crazy IMO.

      65 should be a good target with 80 in a few years. That puts him in the top 10 NHL scoring.

  • Christian Roatis

    I’ll be interested to see how he develops, because if he somehow takes a step forward next season, production wise, the Flames will have a superstar on their hands.

    Also, I don’t think ancient Miroslav Satan should be a comparable, but I understand how he was selected.

    • beloch

      Over Gaudreau’s three NCAA seasons he scored at paces of 1.00 ppg, 1.46 ppg, and 2.00 ppg. He transitioned well to college hockey and took big steps forward each season after that.

    • Ari Yanover

      Like beloch noted, his NCAA progression was outstanding and bodes very, very well. His points per game didn’t really go up as he went up levels, but he didn’t really play at any consistent level until he reached college where, well, yeah.

      That’s what has me interested – he’s only ever gotten better, whether he’s advancing another level or improving at the one he’s at. Except there’s a finite amount of improvement to be had, and he’s now at the highest level. So… it’s interesting.

  • Burnward

    There are no limits to this kid. Any doubts I had have been erased with his play in the playoffs. I wouldn’t be shocked if he sniffs 100 at some point during his career.

    He is very special. Johnny at 27 is a scary thought.

  • RKD

    Monahan never had the so called ‘sophomore slump.’ The only reason he started slowly because of an injury/illness. He ended up improving as a player in all areas of his game not just his offensive production. I think the comparables to Duchene or Kane are a lot closer than the ones listed above. Johnny hockey has elite hockey skill, he’s going to be a top player for years. That second year is very hard to predict, a lot of players take a step back but recover nicely in their third year, some keep building like Monahan and keep improving.

  • RKD

    Monahan never had the so called ‘sophomore slump.’ The only reason he started slowly because of an injury/illness. He ended up improving as a player in all areas of his game not just his offensive production. I think the comparables to Duchene or Kane are a lot closer than the ones listed above. Johnny hockey has elite hockey skill, he’s going to be a top player for years. That second year is very hard to predict, a lot of players take a step back but recover nicely in their third year, some keep building like Monahan and keep improving.

  • RKD

    Monahan never had the so called ‘sophomore slump.’ The only reason he started slowly because of an injury/illness. He ended up improving as a player in all areas of his game not just his offensive production. I think the comparables to Duchene or Kane are a lot closer than the ones listed above. Johnny hockey has elite hockey skill, he’s going to be a top player for years. That second year is very hard to predict, a lot of players take a step back but recover nicely in their third year, some keep building like Monahan and keep improving.

  • RKD

    Monahan never had the so called ‘sophomore slump.’ The only reason he started slowly because of an injury/illness. He ended up improving as a player in all areas of his game not just his offensive production. I think the comparables to Duchene or Kane are a lot closer than the ones listed above. Johnny hockey has elite hockey skill, he’s going to be a top player for years. That second year is very hard to predict, a lot of players take a step back but recover nicely in their third year, some keep building like Monahan and keep improving.