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NHL Analytics: Classifying Offensive Wing Types

Recently, I proposed using league averages in goals per 60 minutes and assists per 60 minutes to add a wrinkle to the ways that labels are applied to players. I classified centres with 2,500 mins played since 2012 into the following categories; All-Around, Scorers, Playmakers, Bottom-Six.

Take a look at that work and the conclusions here here.

That led to some interesting points about players like Nazem Kadri and Matt Duchene (both deserving of leading offensive roles) and Travis Zajac and Paul Stastny (bottom-six offensive production). Jeff Carter’s averages were a little surprising as well. The well-known sniper has actually provided enough assist work to qualify as a playmaker, relative to his peers.

Here, I’ll take a look at the same classification system when applied to NHL wingers. First, a couple of notes on what these classifications are useful for. At the end, I’ll say a little about what these classifications cannot do (which is just as important).

 

Some Thoughts on Method

The idea is simple enough. By using the average goals and assists rates for the top players at a position, it is easier (and perhaps more accurate) to apply familiar player terminology (“Ovechkin’s such a sniper,” or, “Lucic isn’t much of a playmaker). The goal/assist stats are per 60, which helps to even out differences in absolute production that stem from variations in minutes played.

*as always, all statistics here are drawn from War-on-Ice.com

 

On the x-axis, a player’s assist totals per 60 minutes are plotted. The per/60 rate stat prevents players that benefit from greater playing time don’t necessarily dominate the sweet spots in the visualization. For example, Tampa Bay Lightning winger Alex Killorn is close to Daniel Sedin in the bottom right quadrant of the graph.

On the y-axis, a player’s goals per 60 are plotted. The same playing time equalization factors in here, allowing Brendan Gallagher to be counted among the league’s better goal scorers despite crossing the 20-goal mark for the first time last year.

The differences in TOI are indicated by colour. The grey circles represent average playing time among this group, red represents below average, blue represents above average.

Based on each player’s relation to NHL averages, it’s possible to be objective when assessing certain player labels.

 

Bottom Six

Players that score and assist on goals at below-average rates are found in the bottom-left group. This group includes “bottom-six” skaters like Dustin Brown, Justin Abdelkader, and Nathan Gerbe.

 

Goal Scorers

Found at the top-left of the graph, players that score at above league-average rates but gather assists at a below-league-average rate, are considered goal-scorers. Well-known talents like Alex Ovechkin and Max Pacioretty are here and Brendan Gallagher joins this group.

 

Playmakers

In the bottom-right quadrant of the graph are players that assist on goals at above-average rates but score at a below-average rate. They are considered playmakers. This is a somewhat surprising group that includes Jakub Voracek, David Backes, Kyle Okposo, and Daniel Sedin.

 

All Around

The league’s biggest stars fill out the top-right portion of the grid. Phil Kessel is here. Corey Perry, Jamie Benn and Taylor Hall lead the way in this quad.

 

Some Names That Stick Out

Kessel’s embattled tenure in Toronto has mercifully ended.

During his time in Toronto, Leafs fans readily acknowledged Kessel’s immense sniping ability. The swift-skating winger tallied 181 goals in his 446 games as a Leaf and was often the solitary game-changing offensive weapon for the team. With 247 goals to go with 273 assists, Kessel has managed a 0.78 points per game pace in the NHL, along with 3.4 shots per game.

But, when compared with his cohort over the past three years, it’s clear that Kessel has much more to offer his new teammates in Pittsburgh.

Plotted near Patrick Kane, Jordan Eberle and Alex Steen, Kessel’s even strength assists rate of just over 1.1 assists per 60 (along with his elite mark of over one goal per 60) make him a member of the “All-Around” quad. Though Kessel’s assist totals and on-ice style may mislead, he is actually among the game’s best wingers in terms of point production per minute.

Skating with Sidney Crosby (or Evgeni Malkin. Or both…) Kessel’s all-around abilities may be better highlighted playing with other elite NHLers.

Kyle Okposo is another interesting and positive surprise in this group. Noted for his power forward, goal-scorer skill set, Okposo appears in an interesting spot relative to his peers. Plotted near Jiri Hudler and Jakub Voracek, Okposo straddles the line between the All-Around and Playmaker quads. His goals per 60 is NHL-average but his assists per 60 rate is elite among this group. Linemate John Tavares’ influence here is clear but Okposo’s position on the graph is still cause for a re-imagining of his ability profile.

While Kessel and Okposo receive boosts in overall perception when rated against their peers, Abdelkader and Dustin Brown aren’t so lucky.

Including Abdelkader’s breakout 2014-15 stats, the speedy winger has been a below-average offensive contributor over the past three seasons. His goals per 60 rate approaches average but his assists rate lags well back of average in this cohort. Could Abdelkader manage a strong follow-up to his breakout performance in his walk year? Sure. Is he a valuable, experienced member of the Red Wings? Certainly.

But is he deserving of a first-line role and a potential big-ticket free agent deal next year? This graph suggests that he’s more like a bottom-six offensive producer than a deserving member of a slot alongside Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

Meanwhile, the decline of Dustin Brown is a path well-trodden. Once an offensive contributor and key cog in the Los Angeles’ Kings lineup, Brown’s play has slipped far. After five straight years of 50-point-or more scoring, Brown has managed less than 30 points in each of the last three years. He’s been reduced to a third line plugger’s role and carries one of the most regrettable deals in the NHL. This graph reflects that situation. After the seven years left on his ~$5.8 million contract, Brown may slide off of the graph entirely.


What This Can’t Do

Offense is more than just goals and assists. That’s clear.

Primary and secondary assists aren’t separated out in this analysis (yet). This results in some inflation in the A60 rate for some players more than others.

And no one would suggest that reducing a player to a singular label (“all-around,” “playmaker,” or whatever) is a good way to know everything there is to know about someone.

But what this chart can do is add another small piece to understanding how players contribute to their team’s offense and the rate at which they do so relative to their peers. Many players appear exactly where one might predict. An interesting selection of others show skills (or a lack of skills) that challenge the eye test.

As for Kessel, it’s fair to imagine that skating alongside Crosby or Malkin will create the best opportunity he’s ever enjoyed to showcase his all-around skills.

 

What do you think? Which player placement surprised you the most? The least?

  • http://todaysslapshot.com/author/stierney/ Sean

    Though Jamie Benn Art Ross winning point total wasn’t incredibly impressive, the winger has dominate the all-around G60 + A60 category over the past three years.

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