Matheson’s Penner Comp’s-Bertuzzi and LeClair

This is John Leclair about 1829 (okay, early 1990s). In today’s Edmonton Journal Jim Matheson asks the question “can (Penner) be another John LeClair or the second coming of Todd Bertuzzi?”

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:

  1. spent only 8 games in the minor leagues
  2. played 215 NHL games, scoring 48-65-113 (.526)
  3. helped his team win the Stanley Cup in 1993
  4. his 24 year old NHL stats were: 74gp, 19-24-43 (.582) on a team that scored 283 goals.
  5. 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:

  1. spent zero games in the minor leagues.
  2. played 326 NHL games, scoring 74-87-161 (.493)
  3. played in two World Championships for Canada
  4. he went 9gp, 5-4-9 for Canada in the second WC’s
  5. his 24 year old NHL stats were 80gp, 25-25-50 (.625) on a team that scored 206 goals.
  6. 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:

  1. spent 134 games in the minor leagues.
  2. played 101 NHL games, going 33-19-52 (.515)
  3. had two deep playoff runs with the Ducks
  4. helped his team win a Stanley Cup
  5. his 24-year old NHL stats were 82gp, 29-16-45 (.549) on a team that scored 254 goals.
  6. 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.

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19 Responses to "Matheson’s Penner Comp’s-Bertuzzi and LeClair"

  1. godot10 says:

    Pedigree, smedigree.

    Bertuzzi was a bum on his way to nowheresville until Mike Keenan put him through his wringer.

    Penner is a late blooming college player…a big fat kid who finally figured out how to get fit and from A to B.

    Pisani didn’t have much of a pedigree either.

    Lupul looked like a pretty good players in the playoffs playing with Penner and Marchant.

    Getzlaf and Perry looked like pretty good players playing with Penner. (Okay, Getzlaf is going to be a better player, and has a pedigree.)

    Wouldn’t Vanek have even been drafted higher if he wasn’t Austrian?

    How much bigger a threat will Penner be playing with Hemsky?

    By the time Hemsky is finished dangling, Penner can get to where he has to be.

  2. Chris says:

    I agree that the career paths of the three players are not necessarily comparible. However, I think Penner’s development curve is thrown off by the fact that by all reports he grew seven inches in height from the age of 17 onwards. Balance and filling out his frame would have subsequently lagged somewhat during that time.

    As for the quality of hockey in Minot, its actually not bad. That US college and UND typically recruit the best hockey players from southern Manitoba who don’t go play in the WHL. But it is a second tier program.

  3. jon says:

    Agreed that the history does not compare Penner well to these players. It’s interesting in that Penner is actually a very unique player. Much like you I looked into history recently and found some interesting things:

    -At the beginning of high school he was 5-8 and 120 pounds. From the beginning he had a lot of difficulty finding teams at the junior and college level who were willing to let him play.
    -By the time college came around he had shot up to 6-2 but was still unable to find any school of repute to take him in. Problems were poor coordination and terrible skating. Eventually had to settle for a second-tier school with Minot State University-Bottineau.
    -After a year there he was discovered as a raw talent by some coaches from much better colleges (University of Maine, I believe). Apparently they showed him to work on those aspects to his game using established training regimes.
    -Struggled after first year in the pro game with Cincinnati. Apparently worked hard in the off-season and as you put it, blossomed in his second pro season. Could be a case of just taking a bit of time to grow into his body as well, as he essentially grew 8 inches in 24 months.

    Regardless of what one thinks about the offer sheet, it’s interesting to ponder if Penner is an example of those mysterious players who are “better suited to the pro game.” Might be something to closely watch some of our coke machine prospects coming out of college this year to see if their development paths bear any resemblance to Mr. Penner’s.

  4. voxel says:

    How about comparing Penner to Ryan Clowe? (same age – didn’t have a break out year until last)

    I wouldn’t be happy with a $4M version of Clowe, but I wouldn’t be crying if either were on my team.

  5. PDO says:

    Well that…

    And Bertuzzi is one of the better playmakers in the league. At the very least he’s a plus passer.

    Penner had 15 assists.

    I’m not a counting numbers guy by any stretch… but there’s just no way to make 15 assists look good.

  6. Asiaoil says:

    Looking to historical averages to give you any insight into a player with a development path as odd as Penner’s is in word………useless.

    He’s an outlier, an oddball and all the comparables and averages are out the door – he’s the point on the chart that you go “wow that’s weird ” and toss

    PS – I want the old calm reasoned LT back – try cutting back on the writing my friend and enjoy the summer more – this stuff is supposed to be fun :)

  7. Lowetide says:

    Asia: These aren’t my comps, they’re Matheson’s. As for the summer, it’s been exceptional and I have enjoyed it thoroughly.

    As for the calm, reasoned LT, I’ll make you a deal. When logic and reason return to the Oilers decision making process, I’ll be there. :-)

  8. PDO says:


    We’re gonna lose you, aren’t we? Asking for the Oilers to show logic at this point is like asking for the Esk’s to make a comeback.

    Though I’m sure your wife is loving it and already planning the parade ;)

  9. Lowetide says:

    PDO: Funny you should mention that lol. I’m trying to get the TV remote away from here so I can watch Vladdy Guerrero bat on FOX but those damn green Riders take precdent over everything outside the Copper and Blue it seems (plus she’s bringing me beer). :-)

  10. PDO says:


    I’m watching Vlad bat AND I have beer.

    And the Rider fan isn’t here right now, she’s off preparing for Nationals, so I’m safe…. for now. I’m sure the humiliation/parade planning will come eventually =D

  11. Daniel says:

    Am I right that Penner didn’t play organized hockey until high school? If so, I actually feel better. He’s a fast learner, and might still be a ways from his full potential.

  12. mike says:

    LT, the logic and decision making seem pretty clear to me. Assembling a group of 22 – 24 y old kids from northern climates who are smart and can skate. Its a game for kids, and its kids who have the gas to win rings.

    I think Klo’s strategy, if employed through out the league, will specifically favour only the teams willing and able to dump their superstars.

  13. mike says:

    I forgot about the comparisons. The question isn’t so much where they’ve been but where they’re going.

    Trade decisions are based more on psychology than statistics for sure. If you want stats, think Yashin. If you want playoff performance, Parise may be next.

  14. oilerdiehard says:

    Did Kevin Stevens not enter the NHL at the same age after going the college route + a year in the minors?

  15. oilerdiehard says:

    PDO – Penner had 15 assists.

    I’m not a counting numbers guy by any stretch… but there’s just no way to make 15 assists look good.

    I believe it took Torres 3 or 4 years in the NHL to top 14 assists.

  16. SKAHA TRUTH says:

    Don’t relocate to Seattle for work if your kids are hockey players. Currently under investigation by USA Hockey for illegal activities, Sno-King is the worst coaching and worst hockey imaginable!

  17. Lowetide says:

    2 things:

    1. I get the feeling people think they are my comps. They’re not. I haven’t even tried to find comps for Penner because it would be needle in a haystack.

    2. I have never thought of moving to Seattle, but it’s a very nice city. Sno-King sounds like they need a PR guy.

  18. Dennis says:

    Kilger’s turned his game around but there were a lot of years why he got a job because of the size of shoes he wears. Isbister’s living on the same promise as well.

    It’s hard to project size and it’s hard not to get excited when someone that big scores that many goals at that age/years of experience.

    I dunno if I’d want to use LeClair as a comp, though. In his heyday you couldn’t get the puck from him and the Big E and does anyone else remember that LeClair had this big booming slapper that he could score with? Plus, I think he was bigger compared to the rest of the league and that’s probably not as much of an advantage for Penner

  19. lionhearts says:

    PENNER the good things about him his size. Each year he gets better. Compared to Bertuzzi contract this is a sweet deal. He played way less than Ryder or the other guy making 4 mill. Because he had less time on ice with the ducks line. I think Im in favor of Penner now. But i would be happpy if burke signs him as well. Then next year we go after Getzlaf. I think Penner is better than Perry. I know hes a better deal than Bertuzzi. And Burke is pissed cause he coulda signed him for 3 mill easy. He waited to lon and edmonton made a not bad play.

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