On the very edge of the first round, we reach one of this draft most contentious players: Tri-City Americans centre Michael Rasmussen, Surrey born and raised, 6-foot-5, rangy, smooth, hard shooting and physical. There’s a lot to like about Rasmussen’ bio, and but for looking below the surface, it’d be easy to forgive the services that have had him ranked in the top 10 for most of the year.
But we have looked below the surface already, and the word on Rasmussen’s even strength scoring rate is out. It’s time to take another look at Rasmussen, and remind ourselves why not to get too high, but also not too low on him. Expecting a first line centre will likely lead to disappointment, but you shouldn’t expect an outright bust either. I still expect Rasmussen to provide value to an NHL squad, depth role though it may be in, and that’s why he’s landed at number 32 on our Top 100.
- Age: 18 – April 17th, 1999
- Birthplace: Surrey, BC, CAN
- Frame: 6’5″ / 203 lbs
- Position: Centre
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Tri-City Americans
- Accomplishments/Awards: CSSHL Champion (14/15)
Cohort Based (pGPS)
A big, skilled forward who uses his size well…has improved his skating substantially from his midget days…for a player his size, he moves phenomenally well, smoothly and with impressive power…does a very good job of consistently getting to the greasy areas of the ice; he wins a lot of battles in those areas due to his size and reach…goes to the net and blocks the goaltender’s view while looking for deflections and rebounds…not flashy hands, but can carry the puck using his body extremely well to protect it…has underrated vision and playmaking ability…needs some work on his shot as he currently lacks consistent accuracy and quickness in getting it off his blade…just knows how to utilize his strengths to make a difference…uses his reach to disrupt opponents and get into lanes…willing to block shots…has a ways to go, but could be special and has loads of upside.
Rasmussen is an excellent two-way center who missed half the season with a busted wrist. He was a key cog in Tri-City’s resurgence and was one of the few bright spots for Canada at the Hlinka. More of a scorer than a playmaker, his massive frame and soft touch around the net helped him cash in with 32 goals in 50 games.
From Corey Pronman of ESPN (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):
It’s easy to imagine why some scouts would be optimistic about a 6-foot-6 center with significant scoring numbers. Although Rasmussen has put up a ton of goals this season, I’ve been more impressed by his passing skills. He’s a smart playmaker who plays at a pro-level pace. Rasmussen is also solid defensively and wins puck battles using his size. His main drawback is his skating.
From Kevin Olexson of McKeen’s Hockey (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):
Michael Rasmussen is a big bodied left handed center who scores goals. He has a great work ethic, and his physicality and shot are already pro ready. He has a compelling combination of power and skill, and he excels in close around the net. His statistics are impressive, as he scored 32 goals in 50 games, but if you watch the vast majority of his goals, they are tap ins from up close or around the crease. I would expect him to dominate more than he does, and he excels as a specialty teams player on the power play as he does not produce as well at even strength and will struggle at a higher level of play. If drafted very high, he may disappoint, as he projects as more of a middle six forward, providing a strong physical game with checking ability.
We all knew that we were going to come back here. When I published that rather infamous article on Rasmussen back in February, I finished off with this:
At this point, I won’t go as far as saying “Don’t pick him”. But if the bottom falls out of the Canucks’ season and they end up with a top ten selection, this will likely be a topic that we revisit.
As it happened, the bottom did fall out of the Canucks season, and this is a topic that we are revisiting.
I meant it when I said I wouldn’t go as far as saying “Don’t pick him”. Michael Rasmussen is a good hockey player and he likely has a future in the NHL. As should always be the case, this is about making sure that you get value appropriate to the draft slot you are using. In terms of the Canucks at fifth overall, that is absolutely not appropriate value. This is no longer just about the Canucks though – this is a Nation-wide series, and these rankings are open to any fan and applicable to any team. So our job is to find out exactly where Rasmussen makes sense in the draft.
In order to do that, we have to revisit why we view Rasmussen differently than the traditional scouting community. Stats and scouting will differ on few things more than the size of a prospect. Hockey is a sport typically populated by large individuals, and Rasmussen has tantalizing size. In fact, his size was used as the first line of defence against my statistical criticism, after it was referenced in The Hockey News Draft Preview.
Hockey Twitter went a little crazy earlier in the year when a stats blogger questioned Rasmussen’s 5-on-5 scoring ability. The fact that the Tri-City center hails from Canucks territory in a year when Vancouver selects high brought out the crazy in fans, but those who work for NHL teams aren’t concerned. “A lot of teams want that big center,” said one scout.
When one makes assumptions based on preconceived notions, one tends to be led astray, and that is likely the case here. While size has a slightly positive relationship with whether a player makes it to the NHL, there is evidence to suggest that this has more to do with the bias of scouts and coaches and managers than any actual advantage. Furthermore, once a player establishes themselves in the NHL, size is a very poor predictor of their ability to produce points.
As much as the old school hockey thinkers long for large defensive players to punish opponents, clear the crease and generally be “hard to play against”, hockey is a game where the idea is to outscore the opponent, and size has not proven to be helpful in that regard. Even with defencemen, point production in pre-NHL leagues is a far superior predictor to size, and without point production, large players do not succeed. The effect of size with forwards is even less pronounced.
Size does have its inherent advantages in hockey. There’s an obvious positive relationship with strength and body density, which are helpful qualities, and a longer reach (derived from both an increased wingspan and a longer stick) which can be beneficial in both offensive and defensive situations. However, these are not the types of qualities that we should be looking for in a first round prospect, and so they aren’t really relevant here. Casting size aside now, we’ll instead look at production.
Rasmussen’s production on its own is nothing to frown upon. He collected 55 points in 50 games, and combined with his age and size and a variety of other factors, his statistical cohort has a high level of Expected Success (62%) and Production (58 points per 82 games) and a series of impressible comparable players like Ryan Getzlaf and Trevor Linden.
Rasmussen underlines one of the chief problems with cohort based models like pGPS however, and that is that it is unable to take situational scoring into consideration, and that happens to be our chief concern.
The primary red flag with Rasmussen is his 5-on-5 scoring rate – that’s what originally brought him to our attention, and that’s still that main issue now. To be clear, this isn’t a bias against power play scoring. There is nothing wrong with scoring a ton of points with the man advantage – in fact, it is another strong predictor of NHL success. Even the situational ratio is not necessarily important, so long as the even strength scoring is at a reasonable level.
The concern here is that Rasmussen scored just 15 points at 5-on-5 in 50 games this season, despite averaging an estimated 15 minutes per night at 5-on-5. This gives him a 5-on-5 Point per 60 Minutes (P60) of 1.52, which was 180th in the WHL this season. While his goal rate is more than fine, he produced very little in terms of assists at even strength. Both his A1 and A2 per game rates were below WHL average at 5-on-5, and just barely above it among the first time draft eligible group.
The following diagram demonstrates several contextually factors for Rasmussen’s scoring, including a breakdown of situational production, his intra-draft year age and the percentile ranks of his production rates.
There are a couple of related things that I’ll draw attention to. First, his EV A1 rate is extremely low. Consider that in conjunction with the graph in the bottom left, which shows EV A1 scoring as the highest weighted point type (determined by year-to-year repeatability at the NHL level and correlation with NHL production). This combination of factors works heavily against him in adjusted scoring, as does his lack of 5-on-5 production as a whole.
Using the SEAL Adjusted Scoring metric, Rasmussen ranks 31st among a sample of draft eligible forwards from the CHL, USHL, and NCAA. Far from the high end prospects that populate the top of the chart, Rasmussen is surrounded by players that are set to go in either the second or third round – certainly not the top half of the first. His even strength scoring was a major factor in the reduction of his per game rate following the adjustments.
Looking For Caveats
There are holes to be poked in this evidence – nothing is conclusive after all. For instance, this was only one season, and an injury shortened one at that. In 2015-16, as a 16-year old, Rasmussen scored 26 5-on-5 points in 63 games. Compared to the 19 he scored in 50 games this season, the per game rate doesn’t change much (0.41 to 0.38), but there is a full year of development to consider.
Linemates should also be considered as contextual evidence. Rasmussen spent the majority of the season with undrafted 21-year old winger (and team captain) Tyler Sandhu, and saw a variety of wingers on the other side including 19-year old Jordan Topping and 20-year old Vladislav Lukin. All three of these players had substantially better 5-on-5 scoring rates than Rasmussen, making the 2017 draft prospect a bit of an anomaly. The fact that teammate (and fellow 2017 prospect) Kyle Olson performed well while replacing Rasmussen as the second line centre following Rasmussen’s injury is also notable.
Speaking of Olson, you might recall this graph from the profile I did on him last week:
Here we see the discrepancy in team relative on-ice results between Olson and Rasmussen – one is highly positive, while the other is noticeably negative. Rasmussen’s 5-on-5 GF% of 41.9 is not only one of the lowest on his team, it’s one of the worst among draft eligible WHLers. Only 24 first time draft eligible forwards have lower goal ratios, and none of them are in serious consideration for this year’s draft, let alone in consideration for the first round.
Statistical evidence leads us to believe that Rasmussen is a more suitable selection at the back end of the first round or in the early-to-mid second round. In the right spot, he’s not going to be an outright bad selection. He has an array of tools that may make him successful as a professional. He’s got a decent shot, he’s a good skater, and he’s defensively responsible. His vision is not overly impressive and passing isn’t exactly a strength of his game.
He’s pegged as more of a goal scorer, and he does have an exceptionally hard shot, but his release and accuracy still need work. This year he scored a large portion of his goals from directly in front of the net, an area that he simply isn’t going to have as much success in at higher levels, but he does have the ability to score in other ways. Given that he’s not a gifted distributor, he needs to play to his strengths and shoot the puck a lot more.
But Rasmussen is not going to be a first line centre in the NHL. Middle six expectations may be more readily met, and while that is a very valuable commodity, it’s not one that you’d want to use a first round pick on. Not when there are players with top six scoring potential littered throughout the first round.
We’ll find out in about three weeks from now where Rasmussen is going to go in the NHL Entry Draft. A couple of months ago, he seems like a lock to go in the top ten, but he has fallen on most lists since then. Even McKeen’s, who had him at 3rd as recently as a couple of months ago, now has him 10th on their list, and in our consolidated rankings he has fallen to 14th.
Anything can happen on draft day. It takes a lot of GM’s passing on a player for him to fall through the first round, but it only takes one to reach on him. At some point, Rasmussen’s name will be called, and he will enter an NHL organization, and that’s just fine. At the right time, it could even be a great addition. But if your team is picking in the first round, they’d probably be better off going in a different direction.