Last week The Great Connecticut Hope was called up from Hamilton. With him he brings fan expectations of a transformed player, a newly-miinted NHL scoring machine.
While this could indeed be the future for Pacioretty and the Habs, it is far from a certainty. The call-up and the expectations together make it the perfect time to address what an AHL goal is worth at the NHL level.
AHL to NHL equivalency has been a topic of interest to statistics fiends for years. I can't really do full justice to the story, so I'll give you some links to start you on the treasure hunt, should you wish to follow that path (Behind the Net, Copper and Blue. To boil it down to the simplest conclusion, most people doing these calculations determined that the average AHL call-up will score less than half of the goals he scored in the minors once up in the big league.
An important consideration is that there are many examples of players who defy the rule and seem to exceed the pace they should score at in the NHL based on AHL numbers alone. Copper and Blue notes TJ Galiardi who scored at a clip that was 36% higher than his AHL rate - more than triple what the average would have had us expecting.
There are examples of this on the Habs too. Take Tomas Plekanec. He was a consistent 20-goalscorer at the AHL level (scoring 19, 23 then 29 goals in three seasons). Now he is a consistent 20-goalscorer at the NHL level (20, 29, 20, 25 in his last 4 seasons). Cammalleri scored a goal basically every other game at the AHL level and has done the same in his best NHL campaigns (including last season with playoffs).
Of course, when averages are fed by extreme cases of success, they are also often dragged back down by pretty extreme duds. look at the current AHL scoring leaders probably has more potential to bring down the average than to bring it up a la Galiardi. Jason Krog, Darren Haydar? Not all AHL scoring machines have an NHL-ready talent to translate. We love Mathieu Darche, but his 30+ goal days in the AHL won't be replicated in Montreal.
Basically this tells me something. Goalscorers score goals at all levels. A quick check will tell you that Kostitsyn, Gionta and Pouliot all scored with pretty good frequency down under as well. It also tells me that just glancing at AHL scoring stats probably won't tell me what i want to know.
Pacioretty ready to break free?
Perhaps he is. As I only have stats to go on and not many first hand viewings of late, I'll stay open-minded.
Let's imagine for a minute that he lives up to all expectation that he brings. He is a 0.63 GPG player at the NHL level. With the games remaining, that would mean he'd score 33 goals by season's end.
OK, not very realistic. let's try to account for a hot streak by averaging in his play in the AHL last season. That brings us to a more sane 0.42 goals per game, and 22 for the remainder of the season. Let's call this the best case scenario.
The average scenario would have him dropping production by more than 50%, multiplying his totals by a factor of 0.44. Based on his numbers from this year alone, the stats gurus would downgrade his 0.63 GPG to 0.28 GPG. In the remaining games that gives 14 goals.
Let's apply the same trick as above to account for a streak that probably doesn't represent his entire future. 0.42 GPG * 0.44 = 0.185 GPG. Based on this more realistic average projection, we'd expect him to get 9 or 10 goals. We'll call this the realist's expectation.
As for the pessimist. Well he's seen Pacioretty in the NHL before. By his calculation, MaxPac is a 0.07 GPG player, so he's looking forward to a grand total of 3 to 4 goals over the 52 remaining games unless Max is demoted. This is probably the worst case scenario.
3 to 22 goals. Where do I think he'll fit? In all honesty, based on his entire history in every league he's played in, somewhere just below the average. But I haven't seen him play this month.
Whatever the case may be, I think it's probably a good idea to temper expectations for the AHL leader in goals just now with a bit of statistical and reflective history. Pacioretty provides another option for a goal once in a while, but he's unlikely to supplant Mike Cammalleri for while.