Balls and Sticks Podcast


Balls and Sticks

Episode 13: The Young Guns

Meg's hockey-heavy weekend (0:32), an update on the recent NHL headlines (3:53), incoming rookies who could compete for the 2019 Calder (9:50), a debate over which of last year's rookies will score the most points next year (24:04).

In today's episode, which you can listen to above, we attempted to answer the following question, posted last month on NHL's Instagram:


My instinctive answer, without looking at any underlying data, was Calder winner Mat Barzal. Barzal led this group in overall points, at 85, with Keller second at 65 (though Boeser was on pace for 73 points if he hadn't missed 20 games due to injury). Connor had the most goals with 31, though again, Boeser was on pace for 38—which would have put him at close to top 10 in the league.

But let's take a look at the numbers from last year, starting with their performance at even-strength.

Data from Rob Vollman.  All data apart from SH% and IPP% are per 60 minutes.

Data from Rob Vollman. All data apart from SH% and IPP% are per 60 minutes.

Shown above are points, primary assists, goals, expected goals (shot attempts weighted by location), unblocked shots, shooting percentage, and individual points percentage (the percentage of on-ice goals to which the player contributed a goal or assist).

DeBrincat, Connor, and Boeser were the strongest in terms of getting off unblocked shots, and unsurprisingly, those three also led the pack in goals and shooting percentage. The average shooting percentage for forwards in the league usually hovers around 10 percent, though some players are capable of sustaining an above-average percentage over their career (exhibit A: Steven Stamkos). I am very curious to see what Boeser's shooting percentage looks like next year.

Data from Rob Vollman.  All data apart from SH% and IPP% are per 60 minutes.

Data from Rob Vollman. All data apart from SH% and IPP% are per 60 minutes.

Shown above are the same metrics as before, but this time on the power play. Barzal, Keller, and Boeser spent the most time on the power play, in terms of average TOI per game. (For context, both Barzal and Keller logged approximately 250 power play minutes.) Boeser was the most successful, with over three goals per 60, and his 7.6 points per 60 on the power play was good enough for 11th in the league, among skaters who played at least 100 minutes. He scored over 40 percent of his points last year on the power play, and he spent nearly 80% of those minutes playing alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Shown above are percentiles for several pass-based metrics, from Ryan Stimson's Passing Project. Some definitions:

xPrP60: Weighting of primary shot contributions on likelihood of becoming goals/assists
ixA60: Likelihood of an assist accounting for preshot movement
PSC60: Primary shot contributions (shots + shot assists, which are passes that lead to a shot)

Barzal looks pretty good across the board here. Boeser is lower on the assist metric, which makes sense given his lower assists per 60. (Boeser collected over half his points on goals, compared to around a quarter for Barzal. Boeser ranked in the top 15 in the league on that measure, among skaters who scored at least 50 points.)

To sum it up, I believe it'll be close, but I would still go with Barzal (you can hear Hannah's pick by listening to our episode above!), even though his upcoming season will certainly be affected by the departure of John Tavares. They didn't play on the same line last year at even-strength (Tavares centered the first line with Josh Bailey and Anders Lee, Barzal the second with Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier/Andrew Ladd), but they did share time on the power play—nearly 90% of Barzal's PP minutes were with Tavares. Barzal will likely get more minutes in the first-line center role, although he averaged only about a minute less than Tavares last year, but he might also face tougher competition.

All of that said: it wouldn't surprise me at all if Boeser edges out Barzal. He will likely be playing with the same linemates as he did for most of last year (Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi), and if he stays healthy all year, keeps that shooting percentage above average, and finds a home on a productive power play, he should have an impressive year.

Meghan Hallhockey