It appears that Michael Rasmussen has become the whipping boy this season for the advanced stats aficionados as I have gotten plenty of feedback on how having him top five or even top seven is much too high. I have received several tweets suggesting rather strongly that his goals stats are inflated because he got a bunch power play goals, so he mustn’t be very good 5-on-5, and will have a tough time doing anything of note at even strength in the NHL.
When I brought this up with an NHL head scout last night his response was “They do NOT understand PROJECTION!! It is not what they do today but what they can do as a pro.”
This is a point that has been drilled into me in the past decade while being mentored by NHL scouts – you cannot get too hung up on performance…every time you watch these players…project how they would fare in the NHL in the future. Advanced stats can help clarify some things and help identify some strengths or weaknesses in a player…but to properly judge a player’s NHL upside it’s tough to beat the eye test…you cannot do it by strictly looking at numbers and guessing. All I know is that in the 15+ viewings I had of Rasmussen I saw a 6-6 center with soft hands that can skate, pass, shoot really well (his release is elite) and score goals. He was on pace for 25 ES goals….for a raw 6-6 center…there is absolutely nothing wrong with that total.
A couple of players in recent drafts that have drawn some comparison to Rasmussen are Ryan Johansen and Mark Scheifele, two of the larger centers taken in the top ten in the past decade. There were also grumblings in their draft years about their stats totals not justifying their draft position. Well…let’s look back at their production in those seasons:
Johansen had 16 ES goals and Scheifele had nine ES goals while adding 13 on the power play. With the explosion in advanced stats over the past five years I can well imagine the roasting Winnipeg scouts would have gotten for taking a player with such inflated power play stats..there’d have been people tweeting that Scheifele would never score ten ES goals in an NHL season and certainly not ever be top-two center….not with those wholly underwhelming ES stats and inflated power play totals.
Well…turns out the scouts were right..you had to project his NHL upside….he was still raw and they saw the puck skills, shot, vision, smarts in a 6-3 frame..they projected that he should be a top-ten pick. Today? He may be one of the top ten players in the NHL…time has shown he was in fact drafted too late.
Johansen didn’t exactly set the WHL on fire his draft year either, and there were lots of whispers about his skating speed and work ethic…he had a tendency to be lazy at times…and 16 ES goals…how could he possibly be a top 4 pick? Well…because scouts saw the size, hands, puck skills, shot, vision, sense….his NHL projection was good.
For Rasmussen to have been on pace for 25 ES goals was just the opposite of being worrisome…in fact, it was quite good. He’s close to 6-6 and still only 17 years of age… he has some muscle to put on his large frame, and when that happens he will be faster, bigger and stronger.. next season he will be a beast in the WHL. Two years from now, if he isn’t already in the NHL, he’ll be virtually unstoppable. And if 20 of his 50+ goals two years from now (barring injury) come on the power play? Last time I checked, powerplay goals were worth the same on the scoreboard as ES goals…one. I don’t know of any NHL coaches who are averse to a player scoring on the power play.
Rasmussen will be a top-ten pick in this year’s draft,,.and if my projections are correct…he will one day be a 6-6 center who consistently scores 30+ goals in the NHL. That will make him a very rare breed, indeed.