The Top “Young Guns” in NHL History

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Photo by “Djcz” via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t think we engage the idea of the place in history that many of today’s best players hold, and I partly attribute that to the difficulty of finding points of comparison across generations. Simply using raw scoring data doesn’t do the best job because a.) everyone knows Gretzky wins, and b.) we know that scoring fluctuated drastically in the 1980s, and it wasn’t because all the best shooters and passers were playing then. With that in mind, I’ve stewed over ways to bring these different generations together, in such a way that we can be comfortable comparing them. It’s led me to build a couple of metrics that move a little bit away from the counting statistics (G, A, PTS) and towards some metrics that demonstrate a player’s share of their team’s results.

The two metrics I’m focusing on for these young guns both relate to offensive measures, but I think that generally they also allude to a player’s importance to play overall. I tend to agree with Vic Ferrari’s assertion (see his third comment here) that forwards and only a select number of defensemen play much of a role in driving offense, and recalling some of the player types implicated in Steve Burtch’s work over at Pension Plan Puppets on Shut-Down Index, I’d propose that players that drive possession (forwards and defense) more generally will return some signals in regards to shooting or playmaking. Whether that simply means, in the future, we’ll get more from simply looking at passes and shots (or robots will do the whole darn thing and save me the trouble), I can’t say. For now, though, I created %TSh, or percentage of team shots, which expresses the proportion of team shooting a player does (in games they played), and %TA, which does the same exercise with team assists. While the issue of whether this expresses positive possession players is ripe for debate, it’s indisputable that players strong in these metrics will be drivers of offense for their teams.

In that spirit, I wanted to delve into some nifty historical data; I’ve been able to go all the way back to 1967-68 with data on %TSh and %TA, and it returns some fascinating studies on NHL legends vis-à-vis today’s stars. For this piece, I’m focusing on the players that get everyone excited, so-called “young guns,” or players under 25 that have already demonstrated their ability at the top level. How do contemporary young guns measure up all-time?

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