Comparing Johnny Gaudreau to the NHL’s other top scorers

When Johnny Gaudreau burst onto the scene in the 2014-15 season, it was a pretty exciting time. Here was a kid, previously considered too small to play in the NHL, defying expectations by taking the lead in rookie scoring and ending up a Calder finalist. How was he going to live up to that?

Well, by being nearly a point-per-game player in his second season and finishing top 10 in league scoring.

And that was just his second year.

So as we wait for Gaudreau’s next contract, let’s take this moment to compare him to the other top 10 scorers from the 2015-16 season.

The basics

All stats are exclusively from the 2015-16 season.

Player Age Position Points Per Game
Patrick Kane 27 RW 1.29
Jamie Benn 26 LW 1.09
Sidney Crosby 28 C 1.06
Joe Thornton 36 C 1.00
Erik Karlsson 25 D 1.00
Johnny Gaudreau 22 LW 0.99
Blake Wheeler 29 RW 0.95
Joe Pavelski 31 C 0.95
Evgeny Kuznetsov 23 C 0.94
Artemi Panarin 24 LW 0.96

There are a couple of things to note here.

First, Gaudreau is the youngest player of this group. He isn’t a major outlier – Kuznetsov, Panarin, and even Karlsson help see to that by being in their early-mid 20s – but he is the youngest. That suggests he should still have new heights to reach as opposed to, say, Thornton, who, now at 37 years old, probably isn’t going to magically improve much beyond his own point-per-game performance. Out of this group, Gaudreau could very well leave the most to look forward to.

Second, his position isn’t unique at all. Karlsson is the major outlier here; otherwise, five of last season’s top 10 scorers were wingers, while four were centres. 

Third, he had the sixth highest points per game among this group – and he was, in fact, ninth overall amongst players who played at least half the season. (Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, and Tyler Seguin sneak in above him in that department.) And Gaudreau was only one point off from actually being a point per game player himself – which would have tied him at fourth – so there’s that, too.

And fourth: take a look at who’s around who in the top 10. Kane and Panarin were linemates. For that matter, Thornton and Pavelski were teammates, too; that’s 40% of these players who clearly had someone just as good as them offensively to play with.

Benn had Seguin, who was a top point per game player. Crosby had Malkin. Kuznetsov had Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, who were 15th and 16th in league scoring.

That leaves three players who didn’t get the help these guys did: Karlsson, Gaudreau, and Wheeler. They had Mark Stone, Sean Monahan, and Mark Scheifele, who were all just outside the top 30 in NHL scoring. Still good partners, but not quite the level the NHL’s other top scorers from 2015-16 had to work with.

That’s another mark of a really special player.

The circumstances

Here’s the usage chart for the top 10 scorers of the 2015-16 season. Remember: further to the right means more offensive zone starts relative to his team, further to the top means tougher competition faced, bigger circles mean more ice time, and bluer circles mean a greater CF% rel (with redder ones meaning worse). Via Corsica (click for full-sized image):

top 10

Gaudreau is that red circle grouped in with Thornton and Pavelski. But because the Blackhawks seriously specialize their player usage, let’s remove Kane and Panarin from this chart; they were heavily sheltered, much more so than the rest of the league’s top scorers.

top 10 no hawks

Okay, that’s better. Kane and Panarin are much further off to the left; the remaining eight don’t have quite that level of separation between them.

From this, we can see that Gaudreau was still one of the more sheltered players here. Looking at the x-axis, we can see that everyone was still sheltered, to some extent – Wheeler the least one, but even he had more offensive zone starts than defensive – but Gaudreau is definitely up there, nearly identical to the Sharks’ forwards and behind just Karlsson.

The five players who scored more than Gaudreau during the 2015-16 season either were more sheltered than Gaudreau (Kane, Karlsson), were used roughly the same way as him (Thornton), or were less sheltered but just that dominant (Crosby, Benn).

Relatively, Gaudreau was a negative corsi player compared to his peers; however, that isn’t anything to fret about too much: just look at Kane and Panarin in the first chart. Ideally, he’d be closer to the blues Thornton and Pavelski sported, but it’s possible a coaching change alone and natural growth – remember this was only Gaudreau’s second season – could get him there.

Gaudreau probably isn’t going to be a guy the Flames ever really turn to in order to carry out defensive responsibilities. But as long as he can continue to be one of the best at putting the puck in the net – or helping it get in there – then that really doesn’t matter. He’s got his role, and he’s already excelling at it.

  • SoCalFlamesFan

    I want to love Johnny, I think he is a great offensive threat but he is NOT an all round player. He is goal scorer and possession player but seems to struggle at play in his own zone.

  • beloch

    Honestly, Gaudreau hasn’t looked that bad at defense to my eye. He’s actually a great back-checker. Pretty much every time the other team is on the rush, Johnny’s nipping at their heels trying to intercept passes or outright rob the puck from between their legs. Gaudreau is good enough at doing this that other teams recognize it and you often see their rushes fizzle out awkwardly because they’re trying to keep the puck as far away from Johnny as possible.

    In the defensive zone, Gaudreau wins more than his fair share of foot-races to loose pucks. He does sometimes look a little lost and not in the best position, but that’s something he can be expected to learn over the next few seasons.

    In short, while the wizard may not guard the gates most days, who do you put out there when another wizard comes a knockin’? Gaudreau is going to be a fine power on power option sooner than some may think. Whether or not using him that way is the best for the team is another matter entirely.

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      Johnny is a wizard in the neutral zone but is the first the leave the zone and have a break away. I understand why this is but you don’t find backlund doing this.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Karlsson is only 25? It feels like he’s been around forever. And good lord he is ridiculous. If it wasn’t for people (incorrectly) calling him a huge defensive liability he would be regarded as the Orr/Bourque/Lidstrom of our time.

    • Jake the Snail

      I wonder if Johnny and Monny would go for bridge contracts? and get handsomely rewarded when their play picks up and Tre has dumped the high salaried low achievers on the roster?

    • supra steve

      Will be interesting, won’t it?

      If JG is thinking like Kane/Toews and PK Subban, he probably wants the largest payday his agent can manage, and he doesn’t care if there’s anything left for his teammates. I almost forgive PK though, as he was forced into that bridge deal before he really stuck it to the Canadiens on his third deal…but he’s still overpaid.

      If he is thinking more like Gio and Crosby, then he will want to make sure he makes a good rate, but is not all about maximizing his own personal income.

      He will retire as a wealthy man either way, if he settles for a little less than max dollars, he is more likely to retire as a champion.

      • jupiter

        Not to mention the un-tapped endorsement money he is sure to make in the near future.

        I’ll bet that endorsement money would be even larger if he was playing in a bigger market.

  • Stu Cazz

    I love Johnny and I certainly hope he can agree to terms with the Flames. Is he worthy of anything >$7.5M AAV? Certainly not in my view. He is just coming off his EL contract, although a proven top 10 player he has not taken his team beyond the first round, has not won a Stanley cup and at this point is not an all round player who struggles imensly on the road without line change advantage.

  • Theo4HoF

    The only thing that worries me is Phaneuf looked really good in his first two seasons too. We all know how well that turned out.

    I also have gut feeling that Gaudreau’s contract negotiations will go through preseason and maybe even a few games into regular season like Subbans did once. Who knows though.

  • Just.Visiting

    I have a really simple perspective on salaries, and it’s in the context of the entertainment business.

    It’s who would I pay money to watch.

    JG is the most exciting Flames player I’ve ever seen. There’s something happening on almost every shift that impresses me.

    The players who people would pay money to see should be at the top of the pay scale-whatever that (surreal) pay structure should be.

    What I don’t get at all is the salary structure at the depth level that sees a lot of guys in the league getting $3-5MM for reasons that escape me totally, other than for the fact that they are good enough to fill a roster spot.

    What is truly hurting the teams in their efforts to try to manage salaries isn’t what the top guys are getting, it’s what the teams are willing to pay the OK and depth players. That is what creates the salary escalation at the top.

    • beloch

      Full story is here. Francis reports a long-term (7 or 8 years) deal could be signed as early as tomorrow, and estimates it will be somewhere between 6.3M and 7M AAV.

      Hopefully this is true! Once Monahan signs, Gaudreau’s contract should follow fairly quickly, assuming his agent is holding out until he sees what Monahan gets.

      • Craig

        My guess on Monahan is 6.5-6.7 AAV. Mackinnon is 6.3 so I don’t think it’s too much more, but I think it”s more.

        Then Hopefully Johnny signs for 7, or 7.5. I know Johnny has a lot of Family pressure to go back east, but I really hope he realizes that this Flames team could take off in the next two years.

        • Randaman

          Take off where? From what I hear there will be no new building with the economy in the tank.

          Public funding has been turned down unanimously.

          Seattle? Portland?

          The truth of the matter with Johnny ( who I really like by the way) is that the team has control for the length of his next contract which I think will be two years. He wants to be back in the eastern US with family and where he will get the big endorsement dollars.

          I hope he stays so him and Connor can go head to head for many years.

          As for the point per game stats in the article, I like how Connor (1.07 PPG) was conveniently left out. Bias? Naaaaahh!!

          • Baalzamon

            As for the point per game stats in the article, I like how Connor (1.07 PPG) was conveniently left out. Bias? Naaaaahh!!

            Yeah… except he wasn’t left out.

            Third, he had the sixth highest points per game among this group – and he was, in fact, ninth overall amongst players who played at least half the season. (Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, and Tyler Seguin sneak in above him in that department.)

            The first chart was the league’s leading scorers (hence why they aren’t listed in order of PPG). McDavid wasn’t among the league’s leading scorers because he didn’t play enough games.

  • Derzie

    Johnny is trending to be a 9-10M player in 3 years. Negotiating with him starts at 7.5M for 2 or 3 years. No less than 8M to get him long term. We’ll have to overpay early to get him to give up on 9-10M later.