Excellence coming soon from Charlotte?

Rather than getting down about the Dallas loss, I decided to try to figure out how plausible it is for internal growth to turn the Canes into an excellent team fairly soon. Wilson does a great job of keeping us current on the Checkers, but I was wondering how the Canes' prospects in Charlotte are doing compared to other AHL prospects of the same age. I'm no expert at evaluating hockey talent, but I can make crude numerical comparisons between players competing at the same level. That's what I've done. I'm probably wrong about everything. On the other hand, the world's greatest experts on hockey talent said Jeff Skinner was a 2nd round pick. Numbers may be misleading, but apparently the expert observations of hockey scouts aren't much more reliable. So here goes.

Before adjusting for age, keep in mind that in absolute terms, Zach Boychuk is tied for third in AHL scoring with 25 points in 24 games. Jerome Samson is in 7th place with 24 points in 24 games, Chris Terry in 28th place, Oskar Osala in 47th, Zac Dalpe in 83rd, and Drayson Bowman in 139th. Dalpe and Bowman have of course played only 14 games in Charlotte because of the time they spent with the Canes. More on those two below.

The First Cut

My first pass at adjusting for age was to eliminate AHL scorers born before 1987. That cut leaves Boychuk ranked 2nd in the league (behind Canadiens' 1st rounder Max Pacioretty, a year older than Boychuk and a veteran of 86 NHL games compared to Boychuk's 33), Samson 3rd, Terry 11th, and Osala 19th. That's right--Terry moved up 17 places and Osala 28. It shows what a big influence age and experience have on AHL scoring and suggests it may be interesting to cut another age cohort.

The second cut after the jump.

2 Out of 3 Isn't Bad, and Neither Are 3 Out of 6 and 4 Out of 8

Eliminating players born before 1989 knocks out Samson and Osala and many other players. Boychuk ranks 1st in the league among this even younger age group and Terry 3rd. Two of the top 3 isn't bad at all, but this excludes players like Dalpe and Bowman who have played subtantially fewer games. Also excluded are other teams' prospects promoted to the NHL, such as Nazem Kadri of the Leafs and Luke Adam of the Sabers.

So I decided to calculate points per game for the 1989 and younger group (though beyond the first 80 scorers in the league, I did not check carefully to ensure that I didn't overlook anybody who meets the age criterion - I looked carefully at Canes' prospects and scanned the rest). It looks to me as though Kings' prospect Andrei Loktionov is most productive in the youngest age group with 1.21 points per game, followed by the Sabers' Luke Adam with 1.12, and Boychuk with 1.04. Next come Zac Dalpe and Nazem Kadri at 1.00 and then Bowman and Mikkel Boedker in a tie for 6th with 0.86. Terry is 8th with 0.79 points per game. That's right, 3 of the top 6 and 4 of the top 8 in per-game scoring among the youngest cohort of AHL players are Canes' prospects.

What if anything does all this mean for the rest of the 2010-11 season and the future? For starters, it was inevitable for demotion to Charlotte to take some luster off Canes' forward prospects so it's nice to see that very few AHL prospects in their age cohort are doing better than they are. The other names that turn up after these sorts for age are mostly well-known players drafted very high. Kadri was drafted 7th overall, Boedker 8th overall, Max Pacioretty 22nd, Luke Adam 44th. Don't know why Loktionov wasn't drafted higher unless it's the Russian factor. He has made the Kings at age 20 and scored the game-winning goal in a 4-3 victory over the Canes this year. If those players are good NHL prospects, so are several of the youngest Canes in Charlotte. We shouldn't leap to the conclusion that Boychuk, Dalpe and Bowman will be average NHL players or worse.

Furthermore, Terry and Samson continue performing at a high enough level in the AHL to merit serious NHL consideration. They are young, productive players competing mostly against older and more experienced AHL pros who clearly benefit from their experience. And then there's Osala. He's good and getting better. He's also big and Finnish and neither of those things hurts his chances for promotion. In short, the Canes really do have hot prospects in Charlotte and probably can become an excellent offensive team fairly soon.

It's harder to tell what's up with defensive prospects. Carson, Sanguinetti and Borer will play in the NHL at some point, but likely won't provide an upgrade over current Canes' Dmen with the possible exception of Harrison. Some of the other defensive prospects like Dumoulin, Faulk and perhaps Alt and Biega will make it to the Canes someday and probably have higher ceilings--in some cases, much higher. But the current Canes' defense is as good as we're likely to get without a trade or a major free agent signing. Not likely given the salary budget.

I'd be remiss not to mention players on the current Canes' roster with 1988 and later birth dates: Skinner was born in 1992, Sutter in 1989, and Tlusty and McBain in 1988. It's not their fault that they're not generating AHL statistics this year for the sake of my comparison. All will obviously get better with experience and make the Canes a better team. It's hard to forecast how much improvement we'll see. Skinner is a sure thing, but how high will he get this year and next? Stamkos had 23 goals his first year and Tavares 24. Skinner is on that kind of pace for this year. Tavares is on about the same pace this year as his first. Stamkos scored 51 goals in his second season (aided by talented linemates). Big difference. Will Skinner be more like Tavares or Stamkos in the second year? (Is it nuts to look at top overall picks as the point of reference?) Sutter is already very good. Will he become a big, fast power player when his body fills out? Will Tlusty look like a high 1st rounder when his knee is fully recovered? Is McBain going to be closer to the phenom of last season or the disappointment early this season? Finding the answers to these questions may be alternately frustrating and fun (like last night's game against the Stars and the previous games against the Caps and Bruins).

The crude comparisons above suggest that the Canes' bright future is NOT a mirage.There is every reason to expect a half dozen Canes' AHL prospects to turn into above average NHL players. It's not crazy to hope that a couple of those prospects will become NHL stars and Skinner a star on Staal's level. It's even remotely possible that one of the top offensive prospects in Charlotte could have an impact this year if given regular shifts in the top 9. (There's only one way to find out.) Canes' talent at forward is bound to get substantially better from internal development.

What's still very unclear is whether JR can find a way to improve the defense when big shut-down defensemen command such high salaries. Can the Canes consider adding another high salary and keep Pitkanen and Gleason? Will the Canes uncharacteristically try to rush Dumoulin if he decides to leave BC and would that really help?

More to the point, would the phantom investor who lurks on Canes Country please deposit a $100 M check with Peter Karmanos? I am not authorized to speak for Bob or the rest of the Canes Country staff, but I feel certain they'd be willing to throw in special posting privileges and make a home in a Canes-centric aquarium for a fish named after you.

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