Recently, we finalized the rankings for our site’s Top 20 Leafs Prospects. Review them from the top down here, starting with Auston Matthews. As you’ll note, we had Mitch Marner at #2 and William Nylander at #3. I, however, did not.
My personal rankings had Nylander at 2 and Marner at 3 and I’d like to get into details as to why that is. I teased this analysis in my Nylander post so I apologize for taking this long to get it out here. I want to make absolutely sure that I’m aware the difference is very small. They’re basically on the same pyramid tier. But I had to put one at 2 and this is why I made that Nylander.
Everyone is aware that centers are more valuable than wingers. It’s a topic of debate at every draft, on whether to take the most talented player or the one at the more valuable position. Most notable here would be the debate between Strome and Marner where Strome, the center, was selected one position higher than Marner, despite them being largely equal talents (Marner being the more talented one if anything).
In the last 2 years, Mitch Marner has not played center for more than a few games. It’s pretty clear that he fit better in the Knights system as a right winger, and I expect the same to be true for him as a Leaf. There has been very little, if any, indication that the Leafs intend to develop Marner as a center.
However, the same cannot be said of William Nylander. He played all of last year at center, including in the NHL. Additionally, his time in the SHL the previous year was played at center. There’s a real opportunity for Nylander to be a top-level, puck controlling center not unlike Nicklas Backstrom, Logan Couture or Claude Giroux.
For me, while when drafting you should take the more talented player (BPA) every time. But, the same is not true when ranking prospects against each other post-draft. Even if we were to say Marner and Nylander are equally talented, Nylander would be more valuable for playing a more important position. +1 for Nylander.
Production itself isn’t a great tool to use as a comparison. Sure, Marner scored 119 points in the OHL. But how does that rank against Nylander’s 45 points in the AHL, or 13 NHL points? On their own, comparing the numbers against each other isn’t easy.
Instead, we’ll use projection tools to compare them. These tools amass the production stats from their junior careers, account for the leagues they played in, and create an output that suggests how successful they will be in the NHL. We’ll compare Marner and Nylander’s outputs against each other to see whose is better.
Before I start, I know there are gripes with NHLe. But I’m going to use it here because if there are two leagues that have an abundance of data available to make reliable projections, it’s the AHL and the CHL, where Nylander and Marner respectively played last season.
I’m also going to use the pGPS stats that were shown in the prospect rankings, which will be compared in a table below.
|NHLe||ES NHLe||ES PrimP NHLe|
We can see that the all-situations NHLe numbers clearly favour Marner, but when you break it into even strength only (a far more stable production measure) Nylander and Marner are exactly even. Still, Marner is projected to score more, so +1 to Marner.
|pGPSn||pGPSs||pGPS%||pGPS PPG||pGPS PP82||pGPSr|
I want to clarify the meanings of those numbers before we continue. The most important number there is pGPSr, which is a hybrid of the pGPS% and pGPS PPG numbers to produce an overall score. While Marner’s comparables scored more in the NHL, there were fewer of them, so Nylander gets the edge in this regard. +1 to Nylander.
PROBABILITY OF FAILURE
Of course, we all know that Nylander is a year older than Mitch Marner, This itself doesn’t necessarily favour Nylander. However, what does favour Nylander is the level of competition to which he has proven himself. He has been dominant in the SHL at 18, as well as dominant in the AHL at 19, to complement a strong outing in the NHL, again at just 19.
Marner, while absolutely destroying junior hockey, has only destroyed junior hockey. This isn’t a negative against Marner, but it leaves room for uncertainty. The longer a prospect is successful, the lower the probability of failure.
So, if both players are playing at very high levels, essentially equally impressive at their respective levels, the one further along in their development path, is more valuable. I’ve drawn up a generic graph below to illustrate my point. Assume that ceiling and floor are functions of performance, and that value is average of ceiling and floor. Also assume that performance level relative to the league their in stays constant.We get something that looks like this:
I see this as the general trendline for a prospect. We can see the ceiling and floor estimates converge to actual NHL value. Usually, this takes longer than 4 seasons, around 5-6, but I’ve shown 4 for simplicity. We also see the value steadily rising as the players progress, despite the assumption above that their performance has gotten no more or less impressive along this time. The reason I set it up like this is that the probability of failure (a player talent dropping to their floor) decreases as the seasons go on. Thus, the floor rises. And because of this, value rises. Nylander’s floor is higher than Marner’s floor due to us seeing the same level of elite performance for an additional year. So, I see him as more valuable. +1 to Nylander.
So by my completely arbitrary and meaningless scorecard, Nylander wins 3-1. We can also note that each and every win was squeaky close. That’s why everyone sees these prospects as so equally valuable. However, since Nylander got more of those wins, he is the more valuable prospect. And that is why he should be ranked as the Leafs #2 prospect.