(This was originally published at Bolt Prospects and being logged here.)
Despite the large void the NHL lockout has created, the hockey season is already long upon us as various amateur and professional leagues throughout North America and Europe have already wrapped up their preseasons and are set to begin or are already in the thick of regular season action. The Lightning’s new AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, open their 2012-2013 season tonight with an impressive roster that boasts most, especially the nucleus, of last season’s Calder Cup-winning roster and an infusion of talent with varying professional experience (J.T. Brown, Brett Connolly, Danick GauthierRiku Helenius, Dmitry Korobov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Nightingale, Matt Taormina and J.T. Wyman). In the absence of big-league action, watching much of the (currently foreseeable) lifeblood of the Lightning’s future skate and bond together is a much-welcomed tonic.

The ensured presence of Brown, Connolly and Wyman is, of course, the byproduct of the ongoing NHL labor dispute but what has been good for the goose has also been good for the gander as teams throughout the AHL have been similarly bolstered. Still, though winning a second-consecutive organizational championship isn’t going to come easy, Syracuse appears to have the makings of a juggernaut with such an intriguing blend of youth, depth and experience at both ends of the ice.

With Martin St. Louis‘ career is in its final stages and Ryan Malone’s tenure in Tampa probably nearing its last act, however, between the pedigreed draftees (Connolly, Alex Killorn, Namestnikov, Richard Panik) and last season’s free-agent signees (reigning AHL MVP and Rookie of the Year, Cory Conacher, the diminutive but nearly as productive Tyler Johnson and the Lightning’s late call-up, Brown), it’s the young scoring forwards in that will, in all likelihood, be under the microscope in Syracuse; it’s an open secret that the plan is for replacements to come from within.

No matter how we might be inclined to handicap the race to the Lightning’s top-6 before or after this season, having so many of the Lightning’s young guns set to play together, if nothing else, will provide an opportunity to assess the concept of League Equivalencies, a statistical approach to approximating a player’s, future offensive contributions (were he to make the jump) in the NHL from production in other leagues. As Josh Lile of Defending Big D, in his assessment of the Dallas Stars pipeline, succinctly explains:

“A league equivalent point total basically says ‘based on what this player did in this league we would expect that production to translate to ____ in the NHL.'”

Another contribution from hockey statistician Gabriel Desjardins, league equivalencies are an adaptation of one of Bill James’ ideas for baseball’s sabermetric community. Desjardins’ work was introduced in 2005 but it’s application has really only become somewhat commonplace in recent years. Scott Reynolds has long-since provided the extra wrinkle of adjusting equivalencies for age.

Below are the corresponding NHL equivalencies for the signed forwards in the Lightning organization currently assigned to Syracuse. To get a projection for a full NHL season for each player, point totals were divided by games played to find scoring rates (points per game) which were multiplied by 82 before adjusting for the league by finally multiplying by the league quality (or relative difficulty to the NHL) and rounding the equivalencies to the nearest whole number:

NAME 11-12 AGE LEAGUE QUALITY GP G A P PPG NHLE
Angelidis, Mike 26 AHL 0.45 54 14 13 27 0.50 18
NHL 1.00 6 1 0 1 0.17 14
Brown, J.T. 21 NCAA 0.41 29 24 23 47 1.62 54
NHL 1.00 5 0 1 1 0.20 16
Conacher, Cory 22 AHL 0.45 75 39 41 80 1.06 39
Connolly, Brett 19 NHL 1.00 68 4 11 15 0.22 18
Gauthier, Danick 20 QMJHL 0.29 66 47 39 86 1.30 30
Johnson, Tyler 21 AHL 0.45 75 31 37 68 0.90 33
Killorn, Alex 22 AHL 0.45 10 2 4 6 0.60 22
NCAA 0.41 34 23 23 46 1.35 45
Labrie, Pierre-Cedric 25 AHL 0.45 56 14 21 35 0.63 23
NHL 1.00 14 0 2 2 0.14 11
Namestnikov, Vladislav 19 OHL 0.29 63 22 49 71 1.12 27
Palat, Ondrej 21 AHL 0.45 61 9 21 30 0.49 18
Panik, Richard 20 AHL 0.45 64 19 22 41 0.64 24
Wyman, J.T. 26 AHL 0.45 29 6 6 12 0.41 15
NHL 1.00 40 2 9 11 0.28 23

It’s important to keep in mind that these scoring translations do not establish an absolute benchmark for NHL performance but they do possess strong predictive value, especially at younger ages. Of course, player production, especially after moving to a new league, is sensitive to changes in ice time, role and usage (i.e. zone-starts, quality of teammates and competition) or even injuries. You see this bear out pretty clearly above with Angelidis, Brown, Killorn and Wyman, who spent time in two leagues, especially the latter three. Also, Connolly may have spent all of last season with the Lightning but he provides another recent example when you account for his production in juniors (not historically elite but still very impressive), which makes a pretty stark comparison to his disappointing totals as an NHL rookie:

Season AGE League Quality GP G A P PPG NHLe
2008-2009 16 WHL 0.29 65 30 30 60 0.92 21
2009-2010 17 WHL 0.29 16 10 9 19 1.19 28
2010-2011 18 WHL 0.29 59 46 27 73 1.24 29

Obviously making the jump to the most difficult league last season played a role in the the precipitous drop-off in production but Connolly’s scoring rates in his age 16 and 17 seasons (the bulk of which are typically maintained during a player’s peak scoring years) and other dynamics to his rookie season explored previously expounded upon should make it clear it’s way too early to get down on the 2010 1st rounder. With a more prominent and consistent role in Syracuse, expect Connolly’s production, at a still-tender 20 years of age, to approach his immense potential again. It’s not hard to imagine Vladislav Namestnikov experiencing something similar this season as a first year pro on a stacked Crunch squad.

Again, league equivalencies provide a framework for assessing where players are at, offensively, in NHL terms. Over the course (at the mid-point and conclusion) of this season, we’ll take a look at these forwards’ equivalencies again and explore trends, but, in the meantime, let’s all enjoy some actual hockey, eh?

Written by Michael Gallimore

Michael was born, raised and still lives in the Tampa area. His coverage of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL and hockey in general appears at Bolt Statistics (which he founded) and Bolt Prospects (as a staff writer). His analysis and opinions have also been featured at Raw Charge and as part of a “Blogger Roundtable” on the Lightning’s official site.

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