There's been a lot of talk about Griffin Reinhart lately. This has come from two sources, really.
1. Islander fans trying to get excited about their top prospect, just named MVP of his league's finals and now in the Memorial Cup; and
2. Edmonton fans and media talking about the local kid who is the shutdown D for the Local Juniors team and whether they should or should not be trying to trade for him.
There's a lot of extreme positivity and negativity going around, so I thought I'd try to explain why you should feel some of both here.
Why you should be positive:
Reinhart is the Isles' top prospect right now (given the graduation of Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson) for a reason. Scouts love the kid's defense - from the typical scout to Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus/ESPN, who's a bit more statistically inclined.
He's big, yes, but also the top defender on his leagues's best possession team - a team that also won it all this year. We don't have fancystats for the WHL really, but odds are the #1 D-Man on an elite possession team is a pretty good possession D Man.
And we actually do have SOME fancystats. A Portland Winterhawks fan named Megan decided to track zone entries and entries defense for the WHL Final between Portland and Reinhart's Oil Kings. You can find the results here: http://shinnystats.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/118/. But the money shot of course was this:
No EDM defender broke up more carry-in attempts than Reinhart, despite playing the toughs. In addition, Reinhart also drastically limited shots against per targeted entry, especially when facing the top two lines.
It's way too early to see if these stats translate directly to the NHL, but the evidence is clear that Reinhart is definitely an elite DEFENSIVE D-Man in the WHL.
Why you should worry:
This isn't to say there isn't a reason why a bunch of the Edmonton stat-inclined folks are strongly arguing against acquiring Reinhart. Rhys of That's Offside! did a great series of posts on D-Men in the draft. You can find them here, here and here. Rhys found that D-Men who were unable to score even .6 PPG in Juniors during their draft year tended to bust at a much higher rate than scoring D-Men. A money graph that keeps circulating is this one:
The reason for this is probably two fold, although it's not completely clear. First, if a defender has good offensive skills, they have a greater margin for defensive error since they can provide more than D. Second, to have good offensive skills in juniors probably requires the same skills that lead to success at D on the NHL level - good passing, good possession work (keeping the puck out of your own zone), etc.
This is not to say, and this is KEY, that those who fail to have such offensive skills are doomed. Note that 41% of top 25 picks who didn't meet the criteria were "non-busts," meaning they played a good amount of NHL games. A bunch of these guys of course, increased their scoring in their draft +1 year - Marc Staal had .4 PPG in his draft year, but exploded to .860 in Draft+1, Bradon Coburn went from .358 to .545, Dion Phaneuf went from .423 to .694, etc.
Reinhart's draft year actually just hits the cutoff (.621 PPG), which obviously was a good sign. But his point production, unlike the vast majority of top 15 drafted D men has declined by a bit, rather than improved over the last two years - .492 in his Draft+1 Year, .467 in his Draft+2 Year. These are worrisome #s.
For comparison's sake, I pulled all the CHL D-Men picked in the top 15 from 2000 to 2012, when Reinhart was drafted. That came out to 39 guys. 6 of these guys went straight to the NHL (Doughty, Bouwmeester, Bogosian, Kulikov, Fowler, and Schenn) Of the 33 who remain, Reinhart's Draft+1 season (I'm using D+1 because more of these guys were in the NHL by D+2) wound up being 28th, and the 5 guys below him are not pleasant comparisons: Alex Plante (Complete Bust), Boris Valabik (Hilarious Bust picked because he was 6'7" and no other reason), Dylan McIlrath (Hilarious Ranger bust), Keaton Ellerby (#6 D man who's been waived) and Duncan Siemens (An Avs D Prospect who has yet to make it, who prior to this season's upside was a #2 D Pair).
Siemens actually is really close, and make for alarming comparisons:
None of that is to say that Reinhart is doomed to be a bust. What Rhys' work showed was that the odds of NHL success were higher with offensive performance in juniors. The key word there is "Odds" - we're simply talking about chances of success here - we cannot predict anywhere close to the future entirely. And even the Siemens comparison isn't the greatest - Siemens has nearly 3 times the penalty minutes, suggesting an inferior ability to handle opposing forwards. Siemens was also on an inferior team, and probably thus an inferior possession team. There's a reason he went 10th instead of 4th.
All of this is to say that Reinhart probably won't be an elite NHL D-Man (Elite NHL D-Men score points, Reinhart isn't likely to start finding that in the NHL), but none of this is to say that he can't be an average to pretty good one. The Oil Kings' possession #s, the scouts' reports, the 7 games of zone entry data all show things to be very encouraged about Reinhart. But the lack of points should also be a worry for Isles' fans. Reinhart will come in next year either starting in the AHL or likely on the third pair, behind Hamonic-deHaan and Visnovsky-Hickey. He won't be asked to do a ton, which is the best possible situation.
He's our top prospect for a reason. But let's not overrate him and let's not go ballistic on those who suggest he may not live up to his draft pick. There's a pretty good chance he won't. But then again, the Isles don't quite need him to.