June 11, 2024

Here are the top North American 2024 NHL Draft prospects according to analytics

The 2024 NHL Draft is full of favorites. That’s true for the analytics community, too.

Hockey analytics are a growing part of the industry and has continued to blossom over the years. One of the most popular aspects of analytics are the microstats, which looks at each individual piece of a player’s game using simple actions to paint a picture. That includes transitional stats, passing stats, shooting stats, and defensive stats. It looks at each time a player has possession of the puck. One of the most diverse tracking data sets out there belongs to Lassi Alanen and Mitchell Brown on Public Tableau.

Using their wide expanse of data on the 2024 draft class, we can observe some of the analytical darlings who deserve a taller pedestal this season.

Let’s take a look at the top analytical prospects in the 2024 draft class, starting with North American-based eligibles.

Goal-scoring standouts on offense and defense

The most important stat, at the end of the day, is wins. And to win, teams need goals. The goal of each game is to score more than the other team, so acquiring players who can do just that is of great importance. One category to help project this is  expected goals — a measure of the quality of scoring chances off of shots taken by a player.

The forward who led in this category was Marek Vanacker. In 126.8 minutes tracked at five-on-five, Vanacker had 2.531 expected goals per 60 minutes (xG/60). Vanacker, No. 80 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2024 draft, translated that to 36 goals in 68 games with the Brantford Bulldogs in the Ontario Hockey League. 

Zayne Parekh proved to be a standout on the blue line. Parekh, ranked No. 7, recorded 1.067 xG/60 across 184.3 minutes tracked. That was significantly ahead of the next best defensemen, though it is unsurprising seeing his stats. In 66 games with the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL, Parekh scored 33 goals. 

Other forward standouts: Cole Eiserman (2.495 xG/60), Beckett Sennecke (2.405).
Other defense standouts: Carter Yakemchuk (0.833), Henry Mews (0.785). 

Playmaking standouts on offense and defense

Next up is playmaking. In this case, Brown tracked expected primary assists for each player. A primary assist is awarded to the last player to touch the puck before the goal-scorer. Expected primary assists per 60 (xA1/60) measures the quality of the shot taken by the shooter off of the highlighted player’s passes.

The forward who stood out the most was Christian Humphreys. In 149.3 minutes tracked, Humphreys, slotted in at No. 65 in FCHockey’s ranking, generated 1.701 xA1/60. That comes off of a season in which he generated 35 assists across 52 games with the US National Team Development Program. That also includes his 17 assists in 23 games in the United States Hockey League.

Parekh led the way yet again for rearguards. This time, the discrepancy between Parekh and the next best defender was even more significant. In fact, his xA1 was more than double that of the next defender. Parekh recorded a 1.588 xA1/60 on the season. With 63 assists across 66 games, Parekh had an outstanding season when it came to offensive production. 

Other forward standouts: Luke Misa (1.653), Mac Swanson (1.652).
Other defense standouts: Zeev Buium (0.676), Artyom Levshunov (0.642).

Highest overall impact on the offensive zone

Expected primary points per 60 minutes (xP1/60) also paints a picture. This stat combines the previous two categories to find out what player truly dominated in all aspects of the offensive game. For forwards, Cayden Lindstrom finished tops amongst his peers. Lindstrom, across 140.9 minutes tracked at five on five, recorded 3.854 xP1/60. Overall, this season, Lindstrom, ranked No. 8, netted 46 points (27 goals, 19 assists) in 32 games with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League. Despite a season shortened due to injury, Lindstrom absolutely left his mark. 

On defense, yet again, it was Parekh with a 2.655 xP1/60 mark. And the gap between he and the second-highest blueliner — Cole Hutson — was significant. Hutson, No. 41 on FCHockey’s board, recorded a 1.277 xP1/60 mark after scoring 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) in 51 games with the US National Team Development Program.

Other forward standouts: Andrew Basha (3.562), Teddy Stiga (3.521).
Other defense standouts: Artyom Levshunov (1.232).

Highest offensive involvement

So, which player contributed the most for their respective teams? Brown’s Offensive Involvement analytic, looking at the percentage of a teams expected goals that a single player shot or set-up themselves, paints a favorable picture of forward Trevor Connelly. Across 191.4 minutes tracked at five-on-five, Connelly accounted for 32.39% of the xG share fort his Tri-City Storm of the USHL. Connelly, No. 15, had 78 points (31 goals, 47 assists) in 52 games and, despite the concerns held with the player, there’s no doubt he is one of the most offensively skilled players in the 2024 draft.

Once again, Parekh dominated on the blue line. Parekh contributed to 18.29% of Saginaw’s xG share. The second player on the defensive side was Levshunov. In 190.5 minutes tracked at five-on-five, Levshunov contributed to 13.45% of the xG share for Michigan State in the NCAA. Levshunov, a freshman, had 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists) in 38 games, and is ranked 10th at FCHockey.

Other forward standouts: Tij Iginla (29.1%), Macklin Celebrini (26.92%).
Other defense standouts: Zeev Buium (12.25%).

Best rated offensive player

This category is a grade based on the volume and efficiency of an individual player in the offensive zone. This combines all the previous offensive categories, plus a few additional analytics Brown tracks. This grade is also adjusted for the quality of the team that a player plays on, and is a ‘z-score’ grade. That means if a player ranks better than every single player in offensive grade then that player ranks in the 100th percentile. If a player lands in the exact middle, he lands in the 50th percentile. These scores are mixed together with forwards and defenders. It also includes previous draft classes who still play within the junior levels since 2016. 

It was Connelly again who landed atop the forward rankings, slotting in the 99.7 percentile of players — the best among forwards in the class. 

For defensemen, Parekh landed in the 100th percentile — tops in the class. That is not surprising after looking at his aforementioned offensive numbers. 

Other forward standouts:Cayden Lindstrom (99.4),Tij Iginla(99.3).
Other defense standouts: Artyom Levshunov (98.0), Carter Yakemchuk (95.6).

Best transitional player in the class

The transitional game through the neutral zone continues to grow in importance in the NHL, and this category is the exact same definition as the offensive ratings — it is a culmination of volume and efficiency when it comes to exiting and entering the offensive zone, with the top scores being in the top percentile of the class. 

The best transitional forward is Berkly Catton, who placed in the 100th percentile of the class. Catton had a phenomenal season with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL, where the No. 4-ranked prospect amassed 116 points (54 goals, 62 assists) in 68 games. His impact in the transitional game is what has helped him generate those chances and points. 

For blueliners, it was Harrison Brunicke who led the way. Brunicke ranked in the 96.4 percentile in the class when it came to transitioning the puck. Brunicke, who had 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 40 games with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, and four points (one goal, three assists) for Canada at the 2024 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, is No. 51 on FCHockey’s draft board.

Other forward standouts: Cayden Lindstrom (98.9), Trevor Connelly (98.7).
Other defense standouts: Artyom Levshunov (95.2), Charlie Elick (94.9). 

Best forechecker of the class

This next category can have a big impact under the surface — forechecking and generating turnovers in the offensive zone. Brown combined offensive zone retrievals and forecheck entries to measure the impact. Offensive zone retrievals are defined as pucks that are collected and possessed by an attacking forward after a dump in. Forecheck entries are recorded when a forechecker forces a turnover and gains possession when the opposition is regrouping or looking to breakout. 

For this, we only looked at forwards, with Keets Fawcett topping the charts. Fawcett, across 88.3 minutes tracked at five-on-five, recorded 13.585 retrievals and forecheck entries combined per 60 minutes. Fawcett, who had 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 65 games with the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, is unranked at FCHockey.

Other standouts: Beckett Sennecke (12.495),  Sacha Boisvert (12.468).

Best rush defender of the class

Gauging rush defense is a key to evaluating how well a blueliner is able to defend. The stat used from Brown’s data is entry prevention rate relative. This analytic shows the rate at which defenders prevent a zone entry against, relative to the average of the defenders in the class. As an example, if a defender scores a 15% rate relative, that means they were 15% above the average of entry preventions amongst all defenders tracked. 

The standout defender in this category is Brunicke. Brunicke recorded a 12.5% entry prevention rate relative to the rest of the class across 156.2 minutes tracked. He could be one of those players that fell under the radar despite the underlying numbers painting a much better story.

Other standouts: Parker Von Richter (12.39%), Adam Kleber (11.99%).

Best defensive zone player in the class

The next category looked at was defensive rating. It takes a number of microstats that Brown tracked, such as defensive plays per corsi against, rush defense, and other categories. 

The highest rated forward in the defensive zone was Fawcett, who had previously stood out as a forechecker. He ranked in the 99.6 percentile in the class in defensive impact. With his impact as a forechecker and defensive player based on these underlying stats, could he carve out a future bottom-six role and be one of those playoff players that garners praise? 

On the blueline, the top-rated player was Tory Pitner. Pitner ranked in the 98.5 percentile of players in the class across 129.8 minutes tracked at five on five. This comes after a season where he recorded 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 50 games with the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL. Pitner is ranked No. 98 at FCHockey.

Other forward standouts: Macklin Celebrini (98.3), Beckett Sennecke (97.0).
Other defense standouts: Owen Protz (97.6), Adam Kleber (97.1).

Best overall player in the class

Finally, the final category looked at for North American skaters in the 2024 class was overall rating. This is a measure of overall impact, ranked by percentile, by Brown. This takes into account the previously mentioned grades in the offensive, neutral and defensive zones.

The top forward in overall grade was a tie between two top-flight players: Macklin Celebrini and Lindstrom, at the 100th percentile. Celebrini, who was an absolute phenom as a freshman with Boston University and is the youngest-ever recipient of the Hobey Baker Award, is the consensus No. 1 pick for the 2024 draft after nabbing 64 points (32 goals, 32 assists) in just 38 games in the NCAA.

On the blue line, the top-rated defender is Parekh. He ranked in the 99.2 percentile of defenders, as his offensive performance was absolutely lethal and warranted the No. 1 spot. He is the No. 3 ranked defenseman overall at FCHockey.

Other forward standouts: Tij Iginla (99.4), Trevor Connelly (99.2).
Other defense standouts: Artyom Levshunov (97.8), Harrison Brunicke (97.3).

This article included just North American skaters from the USHL, NCAA, WHL, QMJHL, OHL, and other leagues across North America as tracked by Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown).

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