A Tale of Two Centers

Let’s take a look at two players. Both are around the same size, at 6’2” and just over 200 lbs. Both play center and both are well respected by their teammates and fans alike. Both are considered excellent two-way players, but only one of these guys is on the verge of becoming a superstar, has a Selke Trophy nomination and was invited to fight for an Olympic medal. Since these two guys are a year apart in age, we’ll compare their careers from when they finally stuck in the NHL (’05-’06) through the first few games of ’11-’12.

Ok, here is Player #1:

SEASON GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG % PPG PPA SHG SHA GWG TOI/G
’05-’06 82 10 13 23 1 79 119 8.4 1 1 0 1 2 14:03
’06-’07 48 6 10 16 1 40 88 6.8 0 0 0 0 0 16:26
’07-’08 80 21 16 37 1 79 177 11.9 4 4 2 0 2 19:03
’08-’09 82 26 33 59 8 61 179 14.5 10 8 2 2 2 19:28
’09-’10 82 25 50 75 1 104 214 11.7 12 14 1 2 5 19:38
’10-’11 82 41 32 73 24 66 260 15.8 15 15 3 1 7 20:30
’11-’12 13 2 5 7 0 10 34 5.9 2 4 0 0 0 19:13

And here is Player #2:

SEASON GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG % PPG PPA SHG SHA GWG TOI/G
’05-’06 73 7 14 21 -9 26 118 5.9 1 2 0 0 1 11:13
’06-’07 73 8 10 18 -2 29 119 6.7 2 1 3 1 0 13:35
’07-’08 82 21 16 37 -3 35 122 17.2 8 2 2 0 4 14:02
’08-’09 82 23 30 53 -1 31 185 12.4 9 15 1 1 3 17:17
’09-’10 78 25 34 59 16 34 222 11.3 12 9 1 1 4 18:17
’10-’11 82 16 32 48 14 46 207 7.7 4 9 1 2 3 18:25
’11-’12 15 2 7 9 0 2 30 6.7 2 1 0 0 0 18:46

Find out who these guys are, after the jump.

Until they began to diverge a bit in the ’09-’10 season, these two guys had career stats that were quite similar. Player #1 has clearly gotten more ice time in recent years (almost 2 minutes more per game) which could correspond to the better numbers. Let’s see how that ice time breaks out.

Player #1:

SEASON GP ES TOI/G SH TOI/G PP TOI/G TOI/G
2005-2006 82 10:47 2:36 0:38 14:02
2006-2007 48 11:35 3:42 1:07 16:25
2007-2008 80 13:39 3:16 2:07 19:03
2008-2009 82 13:44 3:19 2:23 19:27
2009-2010 82 14:12 2:39 2:45 19:37
2010-2011 82 14:18 2:33 3:37 20:29
2011-2012 10 12:21 2:01 4:36 18:59

Player #2:

SEASON GP ES TOI/G SH TOI/G PP TOI/G TOI/G
2005-2006 73 9:00 0:16 1:55 11:13
2006-2007 73 9:57 2:06 1:32 13:36
2007-2008 82 10:09 2:35 1:18 14:02
2008-2009 82 11:41 2:57 2:38 17:16
2009-2010 78 13:13 2:06 2:57 18:17
2010-2011 82 13:07 2:18 2:59 18:25
2011-2012 12 13:26 2:24 2:25 18:16

Player #1 seems to have started out his career as more of a PK guy who has slowly started seeing more and more time on the power play. Player #2 is a bit more even in special teams responsibility but was, at one time, not a trusted PK guy. From these numbers, you’d probably expect Player #1 to be a 1st/ 2nd line guy, while Player #2 is a 2nd/ 3rd liner.

What about the other intangibles?

-Player #2 takes fewer penalties than Player #1, with less than half the career PIMs

-Player #1 averages 1.2 hits per game to Player #2’s 1.0 with both players having over 100 hits in ’10-‘11

-Player #2 isn’t as good at faceoffs (49% career) as Player #1 (53%)

-Player #1 blocks more shots per game (.84 to .56)

-Player #2 fights much less often, with 3 career fights compared to Player #1’s 19

-Player #1 leads in Take Away/Give Away ratio 2.8:1 to 1.1:1

-In the playoffs Player #1 is a .21 Goals Per Game/.69 Points Per Game player while Player #2 is close behind at .19 Goals Per Game/.62 Points Per Game

-Player #2 can play all three forward positions and has been known to play defense as well. Player #1 is a center.

 

So, who are these two players?

Player #1 is Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks. Player #2 is the Washington Capitals’ own Brooks Laich.

 

So, with only a few statistical exceptions separating them, why are these guys so far apart in terms of use and recognition? There could be several reasons. Keep in mind that Kesler has been under pressure to produce ever since Vancouver matched the offer sheet he signed with the Flyers before the ’06-’07 season (and justifying that salary). That salary, along with his status as a 1st round draft pick, could explain his increased ice time at a younger age. Coverage during the Winter Olympics could be another reason, with far too few recognizable stars on Team USA’s roster to work with for prime time network TV. Unfortunately for Brooks, Hockey Canada’s talent depth is greater than Team USA’s, so he didn’t get a serious look for the Olympic team. Plus, with teammates like Ovi, Backstrom, Green and Semin, poor Brooks tends to get passed over by the media. But those of us who have the pleasure to watch Brooks night in and night out know just how good he is.

I mean, could Kesler play a full game back on defense? I think not.

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