The Nashville Predators current prospect pipeline features three forwards who were drafted by the organization out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, or QMJHL, of the Canadian Hockey League: Yakov Trenin (2015), Anthony Richard (2015), and Pavel Koltygin (2017) (Bear in mind, this does not include Frederick Gaudreau and Pierre-Cedric Labrie who were not drafted.) All three of these young players were drafted with varying degrees of excitement and different levels of expectations. Their common denominator, the QMJHL, has long been regarded as the wildcard junior league. It’s been said that it’s easier to score there than in the OHL or WHL, that players are harder to project, and that there are more one-season wonders or busts. It’s fairly difficult to prove most of that, and the Predators continue to go back to this league at the draft table.
With this established, I will be using this Prospects’ Report to test a few hypotheses in relation to Trenin, Richard, and Koltygin’s future in the organization.
Theory #1: Depth scoring in the QMJHL has decreased significantly over the past 17 years
There are plenty of examples of high-profile prospects that have lit up the QMJHL over the years: Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nico Hischier, etc. My general belief is that high NHL draft picks - typically generational or elite players - have maintained a similar level of scoring in the QMJHL since 2000. The caveat, however, is that players drafted in later rounds into the NHL from the QMJHL have scored at a significantly lower rate since 2000.
This is relevant because of our three prospects’ draft position. Trenin was a second-round pick, Richard was a fourth-round pick, and Koltygin was a sixth-round pick. Although talent in the NHL draft is not easily separated by round, I generally group the first and second rounds together, the third, fourth, and fifth rounds together, and the sixth and seventh rounds together to categorize talent.
To test my theory, I recorded the career points-per-game in the QMJHL of every player drafted into the NHL from this league from 2000 to 2017 and separated them by round selected. This test excludes players who played in the QMJHL after being drafted by an NHL team like Alexander Radulov and Nikita Kucherov.
Below is a scatter plot of all this data. It’s a bit confusing, so I added lines of best fit for each round to demonstrate how scoring has changed over the past 17 years. To be clear, this is not a complete correlation. Players can fall in the NHL draft despite scoring at high levels for a variety of reasons and vice versa. This does, however, indicate how the cut-off to be considered an NHL talent has changed in the QMJHL over almost two decades.
So, what can we learn from this? Well, first and foremost, my theory is generally wrong. If anything, scoring has bunched-up somewhat from round to round over the past 17 years: first round picks seem to be scoring less and mid- to late-round picks have closed the gap. Reminder, this is an incredibly loose test that ignores many variables. I’ll dive deeper into those variables when analyzing the three prospects in question further.
As mentioned above, there are many factors that are relevant when discussing junior scoring and prospect potential. Before comparing Trenin, Richard, and Koltygin to their peers, let’s understand where they came from and what style they play.
Yakov Trenin played in the QMJHL from ages 17 to 20 (he turns 21 this month) for a total of 169 regular season games; he scored 1.15 points-per-game over that span. Before the QMJHL, he spent two seasons in Russia compiling 2.85 points-per-game. He also played 22 games in the MHL - the premier junior league in Russia - and scored 0.64 points-per-game. He was drafted by the Predators in 2015 after scoring 1.16 points-per-game in his first QMJHL season.
Trenin plays a puck possession game. He’s a big body, an excellent passer, and has fantastic vision. He reminds me slightly of Ryan Johansen but with more bulk and physicality.
Richard played in the QMJHL from ages 16 to 19 for a total of 232 regular season games; he scored 1.03 points-per-game over that span. Before heading to Val-d’Or, he played one and a half seasons of AAA Midget hockey in Quebec compiling 0.81 points-per-game. He was drafted in 2015 after nearly three seasons in the QMJHL.
Considered more of a late-bloomer, Richard plays a smaller, faster game than Trenin and uses a more deceptive shot more frequently.
Kolytgin, who currently plays in the QMJHL, has been there since he was 17 (he turns 19 in February). He has, to date, played 106 games and scored 0.75 points-per-game. Similar to Trenin, Koltygin spent 36 games in Russia scoring 2.11 points-per-game before a brief 17 game, 5 point stint in the MHL. The Predators drafted Koltygin after his first season in Drummondville where he scored 0.72 points-per-game in the regular season.
Koltygin came overseas and surprised many as one of the highest scoring rookies in the QMJHL. His game reminds me a lot of Trenin’s, but he isn’t nearly as big. This year could be considered a slight disappointment for him to date.
Theory #2: Trenin produced at an above-average rate compared to his peers; Richard & Koltygin produced at average or below-average rates during their junior careers
“Peers” can be a very general term, so to get a better idea of how these three Preds’ prospects produced relatively, I set some parameters:
- I used the categories of rounds listed above: 1st & 2nd, 3rd-5th, and 6th & 7th.
- I compiled all players drafted into the NHL from the QMJHL during the two seasons before and including the season Trenin, Richard or Koltygin were drafted. So, for the first two it was 2013-2015 and for Koltygin in was 2015-2017.
- I set a minimum of 15 games played to compare AHL production after these players graduated from the QMJHL. In Koltygin’s case, neither he nor his peers have reached the AHL yet.
The basis for this theory has a lot to do with Trenin. His junior numbers were never eye-popping, but I always felt he was scoring at a great rate. Richard seemed average to me, and Koltygin has disappointed me so far. But, let’s look at the numbers:
The average points-per-game amongst all of Trenin’s peers based on the above guidelines (players drafted in the 1st or 2nd round between 2013 and 2015) was 1.17 PPG - slightly above Trenin’s mark of 1.15. However, if you exclude Jonathan Drouin and Nikolaj Ehlers as outliers, that number drops to 1.10 PPG.
I selected the four players from the above parameters with the most similar QMJHL points-per-game as Trenin. His junior scoring was maybe not as high-end as I had anticipated. When it comes to the AHL, Trenin has actually only played 20 games. So, while his career PPG and shots per game this season are relatively lower, we don’t have much of a sample size.
Richard’s group - 3rd through 5th round picks from 2013 to 2015 averaged 0.98 points-per-game in the QMJHL, so he was slightly above average.
Among a more specific group of peers, Richard brings up in the back-end of AHL production. He’s also played significantly more games in the AHL than the other four. Last season seemed like a down year for him in Milwaukee, but he has already surpassed his previous point total this season, and he is shooting at an elite level currently.
Koltygin showed the largest positive margin over his group’s average points-per-game. Said group averaged 0.66 PPG in the QMJHL, while Koltygin has scored 0.75 PPG to date.
Since Koltygin’s group has yet to play in the AHL, I wanted to compare career points-per-game to this season’s numbers. This group of players is almost all in their second full season of junior hockey, so a jump in production from year to year would not be crazy. We can see here Koltygin is scoring just slightly above his career mark while others have made significant improvements. What’s more concerning is how little he is shooting relative to his peers: typically a full shot less per game.
Theory #3: I’m out of theories...but let’s talk about the future!
There is much uncertainty with these three Preds’ prospects. Trenin has all the opportunity in Milwaukee but is sidelined with an injury; Richard is settling into his game and shooting well - hopefully, the points start coming; Koltygin is playing on a good team with the chance to make a deep run this season.
It’s one thing to make the comparisons I did above, but, once again, there is a lot ignored. Young players defy numbers frequently whether they are late bloomers, need a change of scenery, or something else. Regardless, I think it’s important to see what the organization has behind its initial wave of forward prospects.
For this final section, I am going to analyze Trenin, Richard, and Koltygin using a statistic known as NHLe. There’s a lot of work that’s been done on this subject, but I think Richard Hammond summarized it best:
NHLe is an equivalency formula designed to give us an idea of how a player would perform at the NHL level using counting numbers (points).
Essentially, each league outside the NHL is given an equivalency score. This was first done by Gabe Desjardins but has progressed nicely over the years. Now, Rob Vollman does an excellent job keeping these values updated.
The formula is pretty simple:
[(Points / Games Played) x 82] x League NHLe Score = NHLe
Using this, I’ll chart our three prospects’ actual AHL scoring (except for Koltygin), projected AHL scoring and projected NHL scoring. The science behind the NHL projection is less exact because it’s based on a player going straight from the QMJHL (or wherever) to the NHL. Regardless, this will give us a decent look ahead.
For reference, the most updated QMJHL NHLe Score is 0.25; the AHL’s is 0.47.
This chart is somewhat encouraging. Obviously, none of these players are expected to be elite producers, but this shows that Trenin and Richard have another gear to potentially hit in the AHL. Koltygin seems par for the course for a late round pick, but I imagine things could change if he shot more. Through the formula above, Trenin is projected to hit 54 points in the AHL, Richard is projected to hit 65, and Koltygin is projected to hit 34. Those numbers drop to 25, 31, and 16 respectively in the NHL.
Remember, there are so many variables at play here. Much can change between the AHL and the NHL. Koltygin is only 18 years old. Trenin is sidelined with a major injury. Richard has shown great improvement on an offensively struggling Admirals team.
It can be dangerous assigning NHL comparables to these players, so I will refrain from doing so. Regardless, I think each player gives us some insight into what needs improvement or what to expect:
- Trenin is a player to watch when he returns from injury. I still like his chances to see a large bump in offensive production based on the way he plays.
- Richard seems to be settling into his game and shooting well. Let’s hope that continues.
- Next season may be the year to watch for Koltygin. He’s still young and not playing the best minutes on a team gunning for a championship. He should have an increased role next year. In the meantime, let’s hope he starts shooting more.
All draft data is courtesy of hockey-reference.com. Stats are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and prospect-stats.com. Special thanks to Richard Hammond, Ian Tulloch and Rob Vollman for their work with NHLe. If you want to check out all the data I compiled, feel free to DM me on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.