Comparing Johnny Gaudreau to the NHL’s other top scorers

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:02 am by Ari Yanover

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.