Thursday, July 17, 2008

Alex Radulov: A rising star

I have to say I'm a little surprised at some of the reaction in the wake of the news Alex Radulov has signed to play in Russia next season.

For one, many observers, in my opinion, vastly underrate what he brings to the table.

Of Radulov, The Hockey News' Ken Campbell says he "hasn't even scored a total of 50 goals in his two NHL seasons and he’s prone to long periods of low productivity." Spector called the whole saga "a minor irritant," while Puck Daddy asked "Why have a massive fight over a kid who's a poor man's Alex Semin?"

I disagree.

Two factors that one has to consider, first and foremost, in evaluating Radulov's 26 goal, 58 point sophomore season:
  1. He was 21 years old

  2. He played primarily on the second-unit of one of the weakest power plays in the league
Keep those in mind as I get into the stats here.

Scoring 26 goals as a 21-year-old is quite a feat these days, something that's been done almost exclusively by the NHL's elite. In the past decade, only 26 different players have scored 25 or more goals at 21-or-under (using ages as of Feb. 1).

Here's that list, sorted by peak number of goals in a single season:
  1. Alex Ovechkin (x2)
  2. Evgeni Malkin (x2)
  3. Eric Staal
  4. Ilya Kovalchuk (x3)
  5. Rick Nash (x2)
  6. Sidney Crosby (x2)
  7. Joe Thornton
  8. Mike Comrie
  9. Simon Gagne (x2)
  10. Anze Kopitar
  11. Patrice Bergeron
  12. Jeff Friesen
  13. Nathan Horton (x2)
  14. Marian Gaborik (x2)
  15. Marian Hossa
  16. Jordan Staal
  17. Jarome Iginla
  18. Paul Stastny
  19. Alex Tanguay
  20. Nikolai Zherdev
  21. Dany Heatley
  22. Alex Radulov
  23. Ryan Getzlaf
  24. Vinny Lecavalier
  25. Patrick Marleau
  26. Sergei Samsonov
It's a pretty nice list to be on, even at the low end. In general, producing as many as 25 goals at such a young age is an excellent predictor of future success.

Then there's the matter of just how Radulov put together such a remarkable season.

Playing 16:24 a game, he managed 58 points while putting up just four goals and two assists with the man advantage, making him one of the league's most prolific players at even strength (15th in the NHL).

On a per-minute basis, Radulov was the ninth-highest scoring player in the league at 5-on-5 last season. At 21.

The real wonder is that he didn't get more time on the first power-play unit.

During one especially strong stretch last season, Radulov produced 17 goals and 30 points in 30 games from Christmas until March 1. All but one point came at even strength.

In fact, if you take all 158 players who had 40 or more points last season, Radulov rates way up at the top of the list for percentage of points scored at even strength, with nearly 90 per cent of his points scored without the benefit of a man advantage:

Name Tm GP Pts PPP PP% EVP EV%
1 David Booth FLA 73 40 2 5.0% 38 95.0%
2 Alex Radulov NAS 81 58 6 10.3% 52 89.7%
3 Wojtek Wolski COL 77 48 5 10.4% 43 89.6%
4 John Madden NJD 80 43 3 7.0% 36 83.7%
5 Jochen Hecht BUF 75 49 7 14.3% 41 83.7%
6 Brandon Dubinsky NYR 82 40 7 17.5% 33 82.5%
7 Robert Nilsson EDM 71 41 8 19.5% 33 80.5%
8 Viktor Kozlov WAS 81 54 11 20.4% 43 79.6%
9 Andrew Cogliano EDM 82 45 7 15.6% 35 77.8%
10 J.P. Dumont NAS 80 72 16 22.2% 56 77.8%

By comparison, Alex Kovalev scored just 41 per cent of his points at even strength last season (the full list is here).

Part of the problem is definitely that Radulov simply wasn't effective on the power play in 2007-08, but I'd be good money that would change going forward as he (a) was given more plum ice time and (b) matured into a top line role.

Radulov's pedigree is incredible, and he is probably the best European import player to ever play in the Canadian junior leagues. At 19, he had 61 goals in 62 games with Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts, scoring 152 points in the regular season and then 55 more in 23 playoff games.

If he in fact does play in the KHL next season, the Predators are losing quite a player, someone who could easily score 35 goals and close to a point a game next year in a larger role.

Nashville can't replace that from within — no team could. And the NHL might be down a burgeoning superstar.

For a Nashville perspective on all things Radulov, The Forechecker is your man: "If this indeed pans out," he says, "it is obviously a crushing blow to the Predators organization."

I couldn't agree more.

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At 6:48 a.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get some of the dismissive attitude, either. Watching the Predators as the fan of an opponent, Radulov was probably the player who worried me the most, just because he might do nothing (since he was still so young and inexperienced) or he might explode at any time.

I wonder if he had been given more minutes and a bigger role with the team last year if he would still be in Nashville, if part of the reason he wanted to leave was because he felt that he wasn't being given the opportunities he deserved.

I also am curious about his agent. He only had one more year on his deal, then with no contract if he wanted to jump to Russia he would have had a much less cluttered path, or he could have gotten a larger contract from Nashville. He only had to be patient for one more year, and the big money from somewhere wouldn't have gone away in the next season. It would have avoided the whole question of breaking a contract to sign elsewhere.

At 9:48 a.m., July 17, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Yeah, I was quite taken aback by the unfounded trashing of his ability. 50 goals by age 21 is no small feat... if he continues at that clip for a 16 year career, that's 400 goals. And it's more than reasonable to assume Radulov would have higher goal totals in there than the average of 25.

I don't think you need to point out the PP vs. ES argument to point out Radulov's abilities. Obvious it shows there's a hell of a lot more production in him, but just his age and his production is reason enough to realize he's a special player in the league. He's the Preds' one true potential offensive star. No disrespect to Steve Sullivan, but Radulov was easily going to put up the top point totals in the franchise's history if given even just one more year or two.

He didn't seem unhappy in Quebec... I wonder what happened. Maybe it is just icetime frustration.

At 9:50 a.m., July 17, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Also agree with anonymous that Radulov would have been better served to jump ship next year. By taking this course he pretty much burned the bridges back to the NHL if he so chose.
2) Sure he'll earn some nice Rubles in Russia, but we still have reservations about a league largely being propped up by a single commodity (oil). It might stay this high or higher for a few years, but it could also take a tumble at some point and where does Alex go from there to earn big money? Always best to keep ones options open, and it would appear that Radulov has put all his pucks in one oily basket

At 10:23 a.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are delusional if you think there aren't teams who would pay him obscene amounts of money to come back from the KHL, "burned bridges" or no.

At 10:30 a.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fight is basically between NHL and KHL so Radulov's skills are thrown under the bus.

But at the same time in this fight one player doesn't mean much. At least not Nashville's second line player.

Btw, Barry Trotz might know something about coaching and hockey so maybe there's a reason Radulov is getting what he is getting icetime wise.

At 10:38 a.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Radulov obviously is good, but not that good. He was scratched several times during Worlds 2008 in Quebec. But they didn't even invite Kovalev. :-)

faux - that single commodity that you've mentioned, called oil, will only go up in price because it is limited and will be gone in 50-100 years. W/o it human civilization will cease to exist. No oil, no food, no nothing.

At 10:43 a.m., July 17, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

W/o it human civilization will cease to exist. No oil, no food, no nothing.
Didn't realize Ed Stelmach was a Mirtle fan.

At 10:53 a.m., July 17, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Anonymous: Oil gone in 50 years? LOL Been hearing that prediction for 30+ years now. By estimates we should be dry in a decade, right? LOL
2) NHL teams may want Radulov back some day, but there will be a little nasty thing called a contract that he'll have to abide by.

At 11:21 a.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess is it's due to the fact he plays in Nashville. The Preds have some very solid young talent - or had in the case of Radulov which is really unfortunate.

Radulov could be a consistent 30+ goal scorer at the age of 22. He's obviously not in the same category as Malkin, Ovechkin, E. Staal, Nash, and probably Anze Kopitar; but he's likely in the group right below those top end guys amongst players who are in their early 20s.

This is a big loss because he is a young guy who was poised to really become a top 25-ish goal scorer in the NHL.

At 11:37 a.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Faux, interesting how you've picked 50 years. Didn't I say 50-100? Doesn't matter, maybe we still have 1000 years, but the fact is oil reserves are declining, and the price won't go down. As a trend it will go up, and so will KHL.

Wikipedia: In 2005, the US Department of Energy published a report titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management. It stated, "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

At 12:05 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't we attribute alot of his points to the freakishly good second half that Dumont had?

(I had Dumont on my fantasy team and seem to remember Radulov being in on alot of Dumont's points)

At 12:29 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Radulov is a good young talent with lots of upside but he also has some baggage according to some reports.

I think this defection proves that talks about his lack of character are not without merit.

I still don't understand all the fuss about KHL. It's Russia, they have salary cap that's 1/3rd of what we have here, they can only have five non-Russian players in line-up, their avg. attendance is less than half what friggin Nashville's getting...

All of sudden KHL is all news all the time? So NHL lost Chris Simon, Ray Emery, Jaromir Jagr and Radulov but the league will survive even without such stars.

At least WHA went after Bobby Hull and also had Gordie & Wayne playing in that league.

At 12:33 p.m., July 17, 2008, Blogger Kel said...

I know we should stay with hockey, but I promise to be short.

First of all, the world will never run out of oil because as supply shrinks, price goes up to curb demand. (In the end, when there's little oil left, price will be so high that few people will be using it) For oil, it takes longer but we're already seeing the effect of high oil price. Reports after reports are saying that Americans are driving less, and gasoline is about half of US's oil demand. On the other side, high oil price will make it economically viable to extract oil from costly sources, increasing supply. I believe speculation plays a key role in driving up oil prices. There are people who points out that speculators don't take oil home. I'm highly suspicious that there are companies in the less civilized world providing hoarding services for speculators. The US inventory may be low or normal, but I find it hard to believe oil demand doubled or supply halved in just a few months while the price doubled. Oil supply and demand data are difficult to obtain and often inaccurate due to the nature of oil producing countries. Hoarding must be happening to a large degree by now.

At 12:49 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's appropriate that Kovalev and Jagr should be mentioned in the comments.

No matter how talented a player, if he doesn't want to be in a particular situation, he's a liability.

True for Jagr at times in his career. True for Kovalev at times. And it would be true for Radulov.

Good. F. Riddance.

At 1:02 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think those that dismiss the KHL truly understand the reality of the league's economic position. This league is intentionally being positioned between the AHL and NHL on a talent and salary level.

A player with Radulov's abilities is exactly the talent level that would deliver superstar results in that level of competition.

The players that the NHL teams with unbalanced payrolls use to fill the bottom of the rosters now have an opportunity to earn better money than NHL minimum in another country.

We have already seen that Russian-born players no longer will put up with 'paying their dues' on the buses in the AHL.

Looks to me like the dwindling talent pool will accelerate contraction out of the non-hockey markets. Post lockout, the fianancial strength of hockey has been coming from places where fan support is strong instead of the areas where the forecasted new fans never seemed to arrive.

The universe unfolds as it should.

At 1:18 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think those that dismiss the KHL truly understand the reality of the league's economic position. This league is intentionally being positioned between the AHL and NHL on a talent and salary level.

Like the Japanese professional baseball league is a little lower than the MLB level, but definitely higher in talent than AAA minor leagues?

At 1:26 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know much about baseball and its development, but it seems that the baseball talent pool is deeper so the 'raiding' of players is not as prevalent.

At 1:49 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

KHL is big competition to Swedish Elitserien, Swiss A League and Finnish League.

AHL is young men's league and clearly below Elitserien. Both in level of hockey and in salaries.

No European top player wants to play in AHL but some are willing to do it just to make it in the best league in the world.

What did Janne Niskala make in Milwaukee last season? 100.000usd? He was the best D in Sweden year before and could've made 600.000usd in Sweden.

Now he signed with Tampa when he had a chance to play for Atlant in suburb of Moscow for three times the money Tampa gave him.

This is the point. NHL is the best league and it's still a dream for most hockey players. KHL tries to compete with money but it will only work so far.

Where would you live and play? Tampa, Florida or anytown Russia? If Edmonton is Siperia of the NHL then what is Omsk, Siperia where Jags is going to get money for his gambling depts?

At 5:41 p.m., July 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eliteserien Anonymous,

You missed my point. The KHL is not trying to be the best league. They are simply offering another option for players to earn a very good living.

As a Russian, Radulov is likely to be treated as a superstar. Emery and Simon chose a foreign culture and star treatment over being used as whipping boys by the North American hockey media for their transgressions. How long will it take before some Marty Reasoners of the world do not wait for the Thrashers and head to Riga, Latvia to finish their careers as heroes for double or triple what they can get under the NHL's cap?

The KHL is a threat to the bottom of the NHL rosters and the top of the AHL rosters for talent. Their salary structure is intended to be a competitive option for players that slot in there.


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