Riley Nash and Expectations

Recently there have been concerns expressed about the development of Riley Nash. Part of this is because the organization has been critical of him (for staying at Cornell instead of doing what he’s told) and part of it is because (offensively) he appears to be running in place.

When these sorts of things occur, I find it best to go all the way back to the week before the draft and remind ourselves of what scouts and scouting services were saying about the player.

Redline: Big, raw, naturally athletic kid who can skate, shoot and pass. Also likes to get his nose dirty.

ISS: Well rounded player, competes hard every night. Utility player who can contribute in a variety of ways. Two-way player.

Over the many posts with regard to Nash on this blog we’ve established that he is a player with a wide range of skills as opposed to a purely offensive or defensive player. One of the best ways to show this is to look at a bunch of players in a similar situation and see where Nash slots in. Between 1999 and 2007 the Oilers drafted 16 forwards who were freshman (at 18 or 19) in the NCAA. Here they are with their age and points-per-game totals.

  1. Mike Comrie (18) 42gp, 19-25-44 (1.048)
  2. Riley Nash (18) 36gp, 12-20-32 (.889)
  3. Andrew Cogliano (18) 39gp, 12-16-28 (.718)
  4. Brad Winchester (19) 33gp, 9-9-18 (.545)
  5. Geoff Paukovich (18) 39gp, 12-9-21 (.538)
  6. Dwight Helminen (18) 39gp, 10-8-18 (.462)
  7. Colin McDonald (19) 37gp, 10-6-16 (.432)
  8. Eddie Caron (18) 34gp, 6-7-13 (.382)
  9. Joe Cullen (18) 29gp, 4-6-10 (.345)
  10. Brock Radunske (18) 41gp, 4-9-13 (.317)
  11. David Rohlfs (19) 43gp, 7-6-13 (.302)
  12. Jake Brenk (19) 21gp, 3-3-6 (.286)
  13. Chris Vande Velde (19) 38gp, 3-6-9 (.237)
  14. Chris Legg (19) 23gp, 2-3-5 (.217)
  15. Patrick Murphy (19) 22gp, 1-2-3 (.136)
  16. Matt Glasser (19) 12gp, 0-0-0 (.000)

Those who have played in the NHL in bold. Nash is near the top of the list, squeezing between a couple of undersized players. At the end of that rookie season Nash was named ECAC rookie of the year and was named to the all-rookie team. The following season he was named to the ECAC All-Star team (his boxcars were very similar, 36gp 12-22-34). I think this clearly shows that although Nash is billed as a more complete player than Comrie or Cogliano, there is a strong offensive element with this player.

The worry over his offense is coming from this season, a year in which Cornell is both highly rated and has more weapons. Let’s have a look at Nash’s yearly totals as a percentage of team offense.

  • Freshman 36gp, 12-20-32 on a team that scored 102 goals (31.4%)
  • Sophomore 36gp, 12-22-34 on a team that scored 92 goals (36.9%)
  • Junior 17gp, 5-9-14 on a team that scored 54 goals (25.9%)

He is in fact off the pace from previous season. Now, let’s have a look at when he’s scoring his points and compare that to previous seasons.

  • 09-10 EV: 17gp, 3-3-6 (.353)
  • 09-10 PP: 17gp, 2-6-8 (.471)
  • 09-10 PK: 17gp, 0-0-0

We know that Nash has scored a lot of his points on the PP at Cornell, and with the knowledge that he’s unlikely to be the best 5×4 option at the NHL level those EV point totals are important to track. A closer look at his current season tells us he hasn’t posted anything on the powerplay since January 1st. Nash might be getting less PP time as the season rolls along.

  • 08-09 EV: 36gp, 8-12-20 (.555)
  • 08-09 PP: 36gp, 4-10-14 (.389)
  • 08-09 PK: 36gp, 1-0-1 (.028)

A few things about this season: He led his team in scoring and much of it was at even strength. Also, he apparently scored 35 points instead of the 34 that has been recorded pretty much everywhere. This sort of thing happens from time to time, and I may have misremembered (thanks Roger Clemens) writing something down twice. Either way, if we’re building a case for his offense drying up this would be a really good place to start: Riley Nash of 09-10 is off the pace from one year ago. It’s at even strength too, on a team that scored 59 EV goals in 08-09.

Now we’re all the way back to his frehman season.

  • 07-08 EV: 36gp, 5-10-15 (.417)
  • 07-08 PP: 36gp, 7-10-17 (.472)
  • 07-08 PK: 36gp, 0-0-0

As a freshman Nash scored well at EVs (team scored 63 goals) and had his best season overall on the PP (although this year is basically a match it also isn’t over yet).

I’d say the worry here is the EV number, which is going to be where Nash scores most of his points when turning pro. Cornell scored (by year) 63, 59 and (so far) 36 goals at even-strength during Nash’s Cornell career. That current number projects to 76EV goals and would represent a team high for the Redmen. Nash’s 6 points in 17 games is off the pace. There’s still half a season to go and we can probably assume that senior center Blake Gallagher is eating his lunch a little at even-strength and PP; the fact that it is happening in Nash’s junior season suggests he has either played less than in previous seasons, has played in bad luck, or is underperforming.

We need to acknowledge also that the Kevin Prendergast may (strictly in hockey development terms and depending on how this season rolls out) be correct: perhaps Riley Nash stayed to long at the fair.

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