I find the names famous, but am wondering of the comparables are good ones or bad ones. In order to be a good comparable we should be able to spot similarities in levels and performance at specific ages along the development curve, and we should be able to track their arrival in the NHL as contributors at approximately the same time.
Let’s take a quick look at each player and how they developed.
The earliest record I can find of Leclair as a hockey player is at 16 years old in US High School Hockey. He played for Bellows Free Academy and scored 41-28-69 in 22games. The following season he went 44-40-84 in 23 games and was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2nd rd (33rd overall) in 1987 (at age 17).
LeClair went to college at age 18 and played all 4 seasons at Vermont. He was a famous junior age player though, and was on two WJC teams for the USA (7gp, 4-2-6 in 87-88 and then 7gp, 4-6-10 the following Christmas/New Year’s). His 4 year points-per-game progression in college was 1.097, 1.167, 1.6 and then 1.36 (the junior season was cut in half). At the end of his 4th college season he was signed by Montreal and went right to the show in the spring of 1991 (age 21). He was named to the ECAC 2nd All Star team that summer.
By Age 24 (end of the ’93-94 season) Leclair had:
- spent only 8 games in the minor leagues
- played 215 NHL games, scoring 48-65-113 (.526)
- helped his team win the Stanley Cup in 1993
- his 24 year old NHL stats were: 74gp, 19-24-43 (.582) on a team that scored 283 goals.
- he ranked 6th among forwards in team scoring for 93-94.
I can find stats on Bertuzzi dating back to when he was 15 years old, 90-91. He played for the Sudbury Legionaires of the OMHA (48gp, 25-46-71) and the Sudbury Cubs of the OJHL (3gp, 3-2-5) that season. He played for Guelph of the OHA beginning at 16 and spent 4 years there, compiling junior career totals of 229gp, 116-165-281. His final junior season was 62gp, 54-65-119 and he was amazing in th playoffs that spring, 14gp, 15-18-33. He was named to the OHL 2nd All-Star team his final season. Bertuzzi went straight to the NHL at age 20.
By Age 24, Bertuzzi had:
- spent zero games in the minor leagues.
- played 326 NHL games, scoring 74-87-161 (.493)
- played in two World Championships for Canada
- he went 9gp, 5-4-9 for Canada in the second WC’s
- his 24 year old NHL stats were 80gp, 25-25-50 (.625) on a team that scored 206 goals.
- he ranked 4th among forwards in team scoring for 99-00.
The earliest record I can find of Dustin Penner playing hockey is at age 19. He was playing for Minot State University-Bottineau Lumberjacks of the NCAA-3 and scored 23gp, 20-13-33 at that level (we don’t really know how good the hockey is so I’m not going to say except it’s clearly below where the other two were playing at age 19). He lost a season (probably because of the transfer rule) but at age 21 he played NCAA hockey for Maine Blackbears and went 43gp, 11-12-23 that season. He was 7th in team scoring. Penner was undrafted, signed and turned pro at age 22 where he scored 77gp, 10-18-28 with Cincinnati in 04-05. He ranked 8th in team scoring. He blossomed at age 23 in a big way. Penner had a monster AHL season (57gp, 39-45-84) and got his ticket punched to the NHL where he got playing time and did some things (19gp, 4-3-7) to get noticed.
By Age 24, Penner had:
- spent 134 games in the minor leagues.
- played 101 NHL games, going 33-19-52 (.515)
- had two deep playoff runs with the Ducks
- helped his team win a Stanley Cup
- his 24-year old NHL stats were 82gp, 29-16-45 (.549) on a team that scored 254 goals.
- he ranked 5th among forwards in team scoring for 06-07.
Are they comparables? Well, some of the things on the list are the same, but the age difference upon arrival in the show is pretty big I’d say. The number of minor leagues games required to make an impact (even at a more advanced age) is a tell, but on the other hand Penner performed well as a 24-year old (he’s certainly in the range).
I don’t like these comparables because they didn’t track in a similar fashion really until this season. The other two resumes have a much better foundation, are more trustworthy. I think there are comparable players in NHL history who’ve had terrific careers as All-Stars and Cup winners. The best comp I could think of off the top of my head is Peter Mahovlich, who kicked around for a time before arriving in Montreal and playing with a Murderer’s Row.
However, that’s the exception that proves the rule. It’s a not often repeated phenomenon and honestly the comps of LeClair and Bertuzzi for Dustin Penner can’t really be trusted. It doesn’t mean he’s going to fail miserably, hell he might score 40 goals with Hemsky (you have to like his PP numbers for next season).
I’m just saying that we should be thinking in terms of a Pete Mahovlich “one in several hundred” comp as opposed to a clear connection between Bertuzzi, LeClair and Dustin Penner.