And So Goes BU: Jack Eichel’s Season So Far

According to the IQR test, Jack Eichel isn’t quite an outlier.

In his freshman season with the Boston University Terriers, Eichel has put up 35 points in 21 games. He leads the NCAA in both total points as well as points per game, and that’s not considering that BU plays UVM in a few hours.

Much of the buzz surrounding Eichel surrounds the 2015 NHL Draft: he’s the only possible competitor to McDavid (unless you’re Don Cherry, then he’s a “nice kid”), but he was underwhelming at World Juniors, but he shouldn’t have been named captain of Team USA, but he plays college hockey instead of in the CHL, but he’s only a consolation prize. Sorry you lost the draft lottery, have this other guy– we promise you he’s still quite good.

World Juniors is a short tournament, with an inevitably small sample size. There’s a lot more to look at: Eichel is slowly putting together an insane season at BU, and he’s doing it as a true freshman.

More and more NHLers are taking the college hockey route, with 31% of the league now comprised of former NCAA players. However, it’s still often hard to compare between the two North American leagues. Eichel’s putting up 1.67 points per game? Yeah, but McDavid’s at 2.6, so you know.

A quick primer is probably in order: the NCAA skews older than the CHL, and scoring is lower. It’s not uncommon in the NCAA to have 20 year old freshmen and 24 year old seniors, whereas an overager in the CHL is 20. As a true freshman (Eichel turned 18 in October), Eichel is routinely being matched up against teams that are older and bigger than him. It’s his first year in the league. For reference, the next two top scorers after him are Jimmy Vesey, a junior out of Harvard, and Zach Hyman, a senior out of Michigan. The next closest freshman in scoring is Dylan Larkin, another memorable name from World Juniors, and he’s at a still-very-impressive 1.42 ppg.

I wanted to put Eichel into context with like players. Using a combination of this list from College Hockey, Inc, and the Elite Prospects database, I compiled a sheet of all former NCAA forwards with more than 20 NHL games played by season, listed by points per game. All are current active players. This includes notables such as Jonathan Toews (.93 ppg his freshman year at North Dakota, followed by 1.35 his sophomore year), Zach Parise (1.56 ppg his freshman year), and Phil Kessel (1.31 ppg his one and only year at Minnesota).

Preemptively, there are a few problems with the following data. There’s a solid twenty years worth of players, and none of the scoring is era-adjusted. That’s where two of the outliers actually do come in– Marty St. Louis, his junior year with Vermont, where he put up 2.43 points per game, and his sophomore year, where he put up 2.03. Scoring in college hockey is actually much lower than in was in the 90s, and while one day I’d like to calculate that, today is not that day. It’s worth noting that the college hockey season is much shorter than the NHL. This dataset also does include players like Mike Brown and John Scott, who it’s easy to say Eichel will be better than.

That being said, I’ve got some numbers and a chart for you.

image (4)

Unfortunately, the chart isn’t color-coded by age, so you’ll have to trust me when I say there’s generally a jump in production between years. We can see that the median value also is well below a point per game. There’s a few data points far to the right: Chris Kunitz’s senior year at Ferris State about fifteen years ago, Marty St. Louis for a few years at UVM twenty years ago, and Johnny Gaudreau’s Hobey-Baker-winning (and outliers) junior season last year, where he scored 2 points per game. The other data points near where Eichel is now are St. Louis again, and Kevin Hayes his senior year at BC, where he was a very good senior on a line with Johnny Gaudreau.

Out of 364 individual seasons played, the average NHL-bound player scored .89 points per game. The standard deviation is .36, with the upper fence for outliers using the IQR rule at 1.92. Right now, Jack Eichel’s points per game is 2.16 standard deviations above the mean. He’s in very good company, and it bodes well for his upside as an NHL player. He may not be an outlier, but his season as of now is more productive than 95% of the ones that came before it.

I’m not using this to directly compare Eichel to McDavid, but more to say that Jack Eichel is having one of the better freshman seasons we’ve seen in years. He’s no consolation prize: he’s a massive part of BU’s success this year, and will likely be the determination on if they get to the Frozen Four, let alone win a national championship. There are over a dozen games left, including the Beanpot– you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t try and catch at least one.

If you’re Jack Eichel, you might want to start thinking about where best to display your Hobey Baker come spring.

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