Category Archives: NHL
The Caps prevailed over the Panthers 2-1 in a shootout. The Caps are now 3-0-2 on the year. Here’s a look at some stats from the game, particularly the #fancystats.
-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 49-35 Caps. Close-game shot attempts were also in favor of the Caps, 48-32.
-W-L on faceoffs, 41-22 Caps. In no particular order: Burakovsky 2-3, Backstrom 15-6, Laich 3-1, Brouwer 4-0, Kuznetsox 6-4, Chimera 1-1, Fehr 10-7.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Andre Burakovsky at +28.44%
-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Chris Brown at -29.17%
-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts for with 29.
-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Panthers shot attempts with 20.
-The toughest ZS% went to Matt Niskanen at 50%
-6 Caps had a 100% ZS%: Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Liam O’brien, and Chris Brown
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 80% ZS, +18.26 CorsiRel
All data pulled from War on Ice.
In case you haven’t heard, the Caps recently released a fan-voted list of the top 40 Caps in franchise history. On this list was Alex Semin, who I’d consider the most divisive player in franchise history. Yes, he’s even more divisive than Mike Green or Brooks Orpik’s contract. No doubt, Semin was frustrating at times. He took penalties in areas of the ice that seemed unnecessary. But Semin was often given an unfair amount of grief in his time here. He’s an under appreciated player, so I’m glad to see him being recognized as one of the better players in the history of the Caps.
Semin was one of my favorite players during his time here. I spent far more time than I ever hoped to defending him. Maybe I’m just a paranoid Sasha lover, but I’d imagine some people will bemoan Semin’s inclusion when he is celebrated as making the top 40. When they do, my fellow Sasha lovers, here is a list of rebuttals when they start to talk about him being lazy, enigmatic, and undisciplined.
-Semin scored 198 goals for the Caps, good for 5th all-time. At 469 games played, he is the only player in the top-7 to be under 500 GP.
-Semin’s 211 assist places him 19th on the Caps all-time list.
-Semin is the franchise’s 16th leading scorer in terms of points.
-During his time with the Caps (2003-2012), Semin’s 1.45 Goals per 60 minutes of play were second to only Alex Ovechkin. His 1.56 Assists per 60 were 5th among all players who played 82 total games or more for the Caps between 2003-12. His 3.01 points per 60 rank second, again only trailing Ovechkin.
-His G/60 ranked 4th among the 852 NHL players who played 900+ minutes between 2003-12. His P/60 ranked 29th
-Semin’s 53.25 close-game CF% ranked 82nd among the same group.
Semin also made the players around him better. WOWY stats are only available back to 2007, but here’s Semin’s teammates fared playing with him vs. playing without him. These are the 10 players who spent the most TOI with Semin from 2007-12.
Every one of these players, the 10 who skated the most amount of minutes with Semin from 2007-12, saw an improvement in their possession numbers when playing with him as opposed to without him. In fact, the top 26 skaters, in terms of TOI together, to skate with Semin during this time period saw an improvement in their possession numbers.
Alex Semin was excellent during his time here in Washington, despite what some fans’ frustration level with him might have led you to believe. His place among the top 40 Caps ever is well deserved. While I’d argue he’d be pretty high up on the list if the 40 players happened to be ranked, I’m satisfied just knowing that the lazy narratives on Semin didn’t win out when it came to voting for the 40 greatest Caps in franchise history.
The Caps beat the Devils 6-2 to move to 2-0-2. Here’s a look at some of the #fancystats from the game.
-Shot attempts at 5-on-5 were 45-35 in favor of the Devils. Close-game shot attempt totals were 34-25, Devils.
-W-L on faceoffs, 37-32 for the Devils. In no particular order: Ward 2-1, Fehr 6-10, Brakovsky 4-4, Backstrom 5-5, Burakovsky 4-6, Brouwer 5-6, O-Brien 0-1, Brown 1-1, Laich 3-3.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Eric Fehr at 39.61%
-The Caps worst Corsi Rel player was Chris Brown at -22.73%
-Mike Green and Karl Alzner were on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts with 13.
-Nate Schmidt was on the ice for the most shot attempts against with 19.
-The toughest ZS% went to Andre Burakovsky at 33.33%
-The easiest ZS% went to Troy Brouwer at 77.78%
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: 50% ZS, -8.23 CF%
All data pulled from War on Ice
The Caps fell to the Sharks in a shootout, 6-5. The Caps are now 1-0-2 on the season. Here’s a look at some stats from the game, particularly the #fancystats.
-The Caps had a 5-on-5 shot attempt advantage of 55-37. In “close” score situations, the advantage was 6-3, Sharks.
-Caps W-L on faceoffs. Backstrom 8-11, Burakovsky 3-6, Kuznetsov 3-5, Johansson 1-0, Latta 3-1, Ward 4-2, Laich 4-2.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Green at +27.01%
-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Laich at -21.93%
-Nick Backstrom was on the ice for the most Caps shot attempts with 25.
-Matt Niskanen was on the ice for the most Sharks shot attempts against with 20 (But 24 for the Caps)
-The toughest ZS% went to Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson, who didn’t start any shifts in the offensive zone.
-Liam O’Brien and Evgeny Kuznetsov saw the highest ZS% at 83.3%.
-Only 3 Caps were below 50% CF: Laich, Chimera, and Ward.
-Nate Schmidt (possession monster) update: Nate was on the ice for 13 shot attempts for and 7 against for a CF% of 64% and a CorsiRel % of +5.79
All stats pulled from War on Ice
After a successful start to the 2014-15 season, the Caps now enter their first full week of play. With a 1-0-1 record against the Canadiens and Bruins, they’re looking to extend their momentum to the three games slated for this week. Here’s a look at the upcoming games, featuring the Sharks, Devils, and Panthers.
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography
10/14 vs. Sharks
Of the three teams visiting the Verizon Center this week, the Sharks are easily the most formidable opponent. Despite blowing a 3-0 playoff series lead over the eventual Cup champs, they remain a dangerous team. They’ve played two games thus far and won both by a significant margin–4-0 over the Kings and 3-0 over the Jets, respectively.
The Sharks’ success can be chalked up to a high-powered offense, rock-solid defense, and superb goaltending. However, they allowed at least 30 shots in both games, something the Caps were frequently guilty of last season. The Sharks also killed off all seven penalties they’ve taken so far, but only capitalized on one of their 12 power-play opportunities. And they (unsurprisingly) dominated the Jets in possession, but couldn’t out-shoot the Kings.
The Caps failed to out-possess the Bruins, yet came away the clear victors. The reverse happened in their season/home opener against the Habs, a game in which they failed to score on five power-play opportunities. Against the Bruins, however, they notched two of a potential four power-play goals, courtesy of Ovechkin and Green. And of the five goals they’ve scored so far, three have been at even-strength. Establishing a strong forecheck and avoiding defensive miscues will be key against the Sharks, given their exceptional offense.
10/16 vs. Devils
In two games, the Devils look like an entirely different team from last season. They no longer have an anemic offense; in fact, they’ve scored five or more goals in their two contests. The first, a 6-4 win over the Flyers, saw goals come from seven different players. Former Flames sniper Mike Cammalleri made his presence known, tallying two goals in the victory, while Wayne Simmons also lit the lamp twice. However, the Devils gave goalie Schneider a workout by allowing 39 shots and taking only 26.
Their following game, a crushing 5-1 rout of the Panthers, again saw a handful of players notch goals. After going 0-for-3 on the power play, the Devils capitalized on two of five possible opportunities. Their penalty kill success rate shot up from 60% to 87.5%, though they gave the Panthers eight possible chances to tally power-play goals.
The Devils totaled 33 penalty minutes in their two games. Given the Caps’ success on the man advantage, undisciplined play could easily set the Devils back. If their possession numbers don’t improve significantly, the Caps could have a reasonably winnable game on their hands. Before heading to DC, the Devils visit the Lightning. How they fare against one of the Eastern Conference’s strongest teams will further highlight their strengths and weaknesses.
10/18 vs. Panthers
It’s been a while since anyone took the Panthers seriously, and even the addition of top draft pick Aaron Ekblad won’t change that. However, the Panthers have done decent damage control in their two games played, including a decent fight against the rival Lightning, where they lost 3-2 and allowed 32 shots on goal. The game was unsurprisingly dominated by penalties (21 minutes for Florida, and 32 minutes for Tampa.) The Panthers finished with a 57.1% success rate on the penalty kill.
Their next game was a 5-1 loss to the Devils, which I mentioned in the previous breakdown. The Panthers out-possessed the Devils but failed to generate offense. The lone goal came from Derek Mackenzie, who also registered five hits.
Taking on the Panthers shouldn’t be a challenge for the Caps. The two teams faced one another three times last season, with the Caps sweeping the series. However, each game was decided by a single goal. As always, establishing a lead and protecting it should be the Caps’ objective.
The Caps beat the Bruins 4-0 to move to 1-0-1 on the season. Alex Ovechkin had 2 goals while Mike Green and John Carlson added 1 a piece. Here are some stats from the game.
-The Bruins had a 5-on-5 shot attempt advantage of 42-25. The close-game 5-on-5 shot attempt totals were 8-7 in favor of the Bruins.
-Caps on faceoffs: Backstrom 3 for 10, Burakovsky 1 for 5, Laich 2 for 8, Kuznetsov 2 for 4, Ward 1 for 2, O’Brien 1 for 1, Brouwer 1 for 1. Ouch.
-The Caps best CorsiRel player was Karl Alzner at +33.30%
-The Caps worst CorsiRel player was Brooks Orpik at -34.00%
-Matt Niskanen led all Caps in on-ice shot attempts for with 16
-Brooks Orpik was on the ice for most shot attempts against with 21
-Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera saw the toughest zone starts, starting just 25% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
-Liam O’Brien, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johnasson saw 100% ZS%.
-Only 3 Caps had a CF% above 50%. Karl Alzner (57.69%) , Matt Niskanen (57.14%), and Joel Ward (60%).
-Only 4 Bruins had a CF% below 50%, but who cares about their names
-Nate Schmidt, possession monster update: -15.35% CorsiRel. Not even Nate is perfect.
All numbers courtesy of War on Ice
Photo by Amanda Bowen, RRGB Photography
When the Caps hired Barry Trotz as their head coach this offseason, he hardly needed an introduction to local hockey fans. Trotz has ties to the area and the organization, having coached the Baltimore Skipjacks and Portland Pirates in the early 90’s. In 1997, Trotz was hired as coach of the Nashville Predators, where he stayed until being let go at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Trotz has coached 1,196 regular season games, good for 14th all-time.
While it’s far too early to start drawing conclusions about Trotz’s job performance here in DC, first impressions have already been made before the season has already started. I, for one, am impressed and encouraged by Trotz’s work so far. Here are 3 things Trotz has done to impress me thus far.
1) Troz has made it clear that Braden Holtby is his #1 goalie.
In our season preview, I talked about why I expect big things from Holtby this year. Last season, Holtby appeared to lose his confidence at times and was benched for lengthy periods of time by former Head Coach Adam Oates. This was despite the fact that Holtby, in a “down” year, still finished 8th in the NHL in 5-on-5 save% among goalies who appeared in at least 41 games. For perspective, 8th place put Holtby just a touch below Henrik Lundqvist. It appears that the ruining of Holtby is over and on its way to being repaired. The new regime instantly named Holtby their #1. They’ve also brought in the greatest goalie coach in the world, Mitch Korn. The signing of Justin Peters makes it even more clear that Trotz and company are full speed ahead with Holtby as their starter. This is such a breath of fresh air after the Oates regime and their treatment of Holtby.
2) Despite a crowded blue line, Nate Schmidt made the Opening Night Roster
The Caps have a logjam on the blue line. When healthy, they have a clearly established top 6 that doesn’t even include veterans John Erskine and Jack Hillen. After this, the Caps have younger players who have seen some playing time over the past two seasons, such as Tomas Kundratek, Steve Oleksy, Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, and Nate Schmidt. With such a crowd, comprised of so many veterans, it would be understandable if these younger players got lost in the bunch in the limited time their new coach had to evaluate them. Schmidt standing out enough in Trotz’s eyes to make the club is a good sign.
For some reason, despite being one of the better possession players on the team last season during his time in Washington, Schmidt did get lost in the crowd and spent far more time in Hershey than he should have.
Puck possession is important. Nate Schmidt was one of only 3 Caps defensemen last year who improved the team’s possession play with him on the ice vs. with him off the ice. He may get sent back down to Hershey once the team begins to get healthy, but the fact that he is on Trotz’s radar and seemingly pretty high up the depth chart is encouraging.
3) Eric Fehr is getting the first crack to play alongside Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin
If you’ve read this blog, or any number of others Caps blogs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re thrilled to see Fehr on the top line to start the season. Simply put, he’s the best option. When healthy, Fehr showcases the hands that one would expect from a first round pick. He’s got size but can still move. Oh, and his possession numbers when playing with Backstrom and Ovechkin make him the best option to play with them, by far. Fehr thinks it’s wise to bet booze on the fact that he’ll score 15 or more goals this year. I agree.
It’s the start of a new season. While I was highly critical of a certain offseason signing, I’m feeling optimistic about the Caps chances to have a bounce back year. One of the main reasons for this is that my first impression of Barry Trotz is that his reputation as a stellar NHL coach is well deserved.
We didn’t post very much last season. Personally, I didn’t post much the past two seasons as I navigated my way through Grad school while working a full-time job. But we’ve started posting more this summer and plan to be much more active this season. We’ve even added a new writer, Margaret Stuart, who you should follow on Twitter. So thanks for reading. Check back often throughout the season for more frequent posting than last season.
There is no shortage of season previews available on the Caps. Given that, this preview isn’t meant to be an exhaustive recap of the summer or of story lines certain to arise during the season. Instead, I wanted to give answers and opinions on a few things.
Additionally, some of our recent posts have covered preview-ish type material.
First, here’s a question we got on Twitter
Pat Holden: I’d expect a defensemen to get dealt before a forward, but sticking to the subject of the question, my guess would be Marcus Johansson. Johansson has had 4 seasons to find his niche here in Washington and he’s yet to do so. Barry Trotz has already said that Johansson will be used at wing this year, not the greatest vote of confidence for a guy on a team lacking Center depth who was drafted to play Center. If Johansson doesn’t have a coming of age prior to the return of Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson, he’s going to be fighting to get a sweater each night. Johansson is an asset who probably has some value on the trade market. If he can’t realize that value here in Washington and becomes scratched on a regular basis, he will be dealt.
Margaret Stuart: The easy and accurate answer is Marcus Johansson. A quick look at the roster sets him apart from his teammates, and not in a positive way. Who else is a viable trade candidate? The Caps can afford to ship him off–he doesn’t fill a specific, in-demand need. Every other forward on the team has a clearly-defined role, even if his place among the lineup is undefined. Johansson, on the other hand, lacks this clarity.
Is he a center or a left wing? Having scored eight goals last season, where does he fit on a team in need of secondary scoring? His lack of physicality isn’t ideal for a bottom-six player, and his even-strength production doesn’t merit top-six minutes.
With a cap hit of $2 million, Johansson won’t be difficult to take on. A change of scenery might benefit Johansson, although it’s unclear what exactly a team would acquire him for. His all-around play is solid, and his relative Corsi was positive. The latter will help the Caps shop Johansson, given the rise of advanced stats. But Johansson deserves another shot to slot into the lineup, and a handful of new coaches could mold him into the type of player the Caps can’t afford to lose. If this isn’t the case, he’s in the last year of a two-year deal–he’s a natural choice for trade bait.
One optimistic prediction about the season
Pat Holden: Braden Holtby will be widely considered an elite goalie around the NHL by the end of the season. (Peter from RMNB covered this in his predictions. I pinky swear this was in my draft of this post before reading that. I was going to remove it from my post but decided not to. Because really, Holtby’s play took such an undeserved beating last year that it doesn’t hurt to hammer home the point that he’s quite good).
Last season, Holtby caught a lot of heat for the Capitals problems. Last season, ultra-tinkerer Adam Oates messed with his style and Holtby played in front of a defense often comprised of multiple players who should have been in Hershey or the press box. Yet, Holtby still finished 8th in 5-on-5 save% of all goalies who played in 41 games or more. His 92.89 mark finished just below Henrik Lundqvist, who posted a 93.06%. Was Holtby shaky at times last year? Absolutely. But Holtby wasn’t the problem in Washington. In fact, Holtby has never been the problem.
Holtby is now being coached by Goalie Whisperer Mitch Korn. The defense in front of him is stronger than any other defense during his time here in Washington. This is Holtby’s year.
One less optimistic prediction about the season
Pat Holden: Joel Ward, meet regression to the mean. Regression to the mean, Joel Ward.
Ward was great last season and figures to play a big role on the Caps 3rd line again this year. However, if you’re expecting Ward to match the 24 goals and 25 assists that he piled up last season, you’re going to be disappointed. Ward shot 18% last year, which is well above his career mark of 11.1%, and about 10% above the league average. Ward’s PDO of 102.66 last year is certain to come back down closer to 100. This is not a knock on Ward or to say that he won’t play well this year. Ward was a good player last year and will almost certainly be a good player again this year. But he was also lucky last year. That luck is likely to regress a bit and it’s not because of a drop in quality of Ward’s play.
For example, last year Ward had 133 SOG and shot 18% for 24 goals If Ward again manages 133 SOG again but shoots at his career mark of 11.1%, he will score 15 goals. Ward will still be a contributor to this team, but his offensive totals are all but certain to drop.
Margaret Stuart: Caps trade Green and get little in return. To state the obvious, defense has long been an Achilles heel for the Caps. MacLellan addressed this weakness by signing Niskanen and Orpik to long-term deals. The moves raised questions about Green’s role with the team, given the capabilities of the former Pittsburgh defensemen.
Green is the epitome of an offensive defenseman, but the past few seasons have signified a drop-off in his scoring abilities. Enter the fancy-stats argument: last season, Green had some of the highest possession numbers on a lousy possession team. If the Caps wanted to trade Green tomorrow, they’d find some takers. His stock has gradually fallen, but he’s still a valuable asset.
What could the Caps get in return for Green?
Worst-case scenario, they receive a meaningless draft pick or two, coupled with a bottom-four NHL defenseman. The Caps have enough budding young blueliners in their system to fill that role. Calling for trades is premature, but the Caps should receive a high-quality offensive talent in return for Green. Parting ways with No. 52 means losing a veteran leader and weakening the defense. But if the Caps are struggling enough to trade him, they probably can’t afford to be choosers.
Where will the Caps finish this year?
Pat Holden: I’m not big on predictions of where a team will finish in the standings, but this is a season preview so I feel some sort of obligation to provide one. The only team in the division that I think will definitely finish above the Caps are the Penguin (sorry!). But the only team in the division I think the Caps are certain to finish above are the Hurricanes. I’d say it’s unlikely that the Caps will finish above the Rangers. In the end, I think the Caps will end up in a tight battle for 3rd in the division/a Wild Card spot with the Islanders, Devils, Blue Jackets and Flyers. How’s that for vague? Fine. In the end, the Caps will grab the 2nd Wild Card spot in the East with 95 points (41-28-13).
Margaret Stuart: The Caps will finish among the top-four Metro teams. The Metropolitan Divison is unique in that it lacks a truly elite team. The Penguins are still in the running for a Cup, but they’re arguably on their way to becoming fringe contenders. Even the Rangers, who made it to the Cup Final, look weaker on paper than they did a year ago. Beyond these “frontrunners,” the rest of the division is up for grabs–only Carolina is poised to be a true basement-dweller.
If the Caps can patch up the 2C situation, their revamped blueline makes them a far greater threat. And the penalty kill and shots-allowed, two areas in need of fixing, are being addressed. The preseason is…well, the preseason, but it’s yielded mostly positive results thus far.
On the offensive front, Burakovsky may be the team’s most pleasant surprise, providing secondary scoring to supplement Ovechkin. If Trotz & Co. can elicit a Young Guns-era performance from Green, that alone is a red flag to other teams.
Given their improved play in both zones, I predict the Caps will finish fourth in the division, and their 96 points will qualify them for the postseason via the first wild-card spot. Their record will be 42-28-12. (Bear in mind predictions are notoriously inaccurate.)
Thanks again for reading and be sure to come back and visit us often this season.
The Caps made a few additions to the team this summer via free agency. I’ve already written about Brooks Orpik. And then I wrote about him some more. Oh, and then I wrote about him some more. I also wrote about the Caps new backup goalie, Justin Peters. But I haven’t written in much detail about Matt Niskanen, who the Caps signed in July to a 7 year, $40.25 million deal.
Niskanen appeared in 81 games last season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, totaling 10 goals and 36 assists for 46 points, all career highs. Niskanen’s previous career-high in goals was in 2007-08, his rookie year, when he had 7. Niskanen’s previous career high in assists (29) and points (35), came in 2008-09. A large part of the career-highs was the fact that Niskanen saw more PP TOI/Game (2.87) than any other time in his career, and was more productive in these minutes (3.87 P/60) than ever before.
A closer look at some other numbers will help give context to Niskanen’s season. Here’s how Niskanen stacks up to the Caps defenders who played the most minutes last season, as well as Brooks Orpik.
FenClose rel%-The percentage of unblocked shot attempts a team takes when that player is on the ice vs. when he is off the ice. Think of it like +/- but for shot attempts, and expressed as a percentage. A player with a 0% Fen Close rel means his team does the same with him off the ice as on. A positive FenClose rel% means that the team does that much better, in terms of unblocked shot attempts, with that player on the ice than when he’s off. A negative number means that a team does that much worse with the player on the ice than when he’s not. If you’re skeptical as to how much this stat matters, here is a chart showing the top Fenwick teams of recent years.
ZS%-This is the percentage (ratio) of offensive zone to defensive zone face-offs for a player. A lower percentage indicates a player is assigned “tougher” minutes as he is on the ice for more defensive zone face-offs.
QOC TOI%-This is the quality of competition a player faces as measured by the average time on ice of the opposing players he faced.
“Close” game situations are games within a goal or tied in the 1st or 2nd period, or tied in the 3rd. It is used so score effects don’t inflate or deflate a player’s numbers in blowout situations. All FF% and ZS% below are in close-game 5-on-5 situations only. QOC TOI% is from all situations at 5-on-5. Yes, I realize it’s unconventional to look at ZS% only inc close game situations, but if possession numbers can be skewed because of score effects, deployment can be as well, as coaches are much more likely to just roll lines with a large lead.
|Player||ZS%||QOC TOI%||FenClose Rel%|
Zone Starts-Niskanen faced tougher zone starts than any other player in this chart. I’ll be honest, I was really surprised by this when I looked at the stats. I expected him to be a strong possession player, but I thought he’d be deployed more in the offensive zone, since he is thought of as an offensive-minded defenseman, much like Green and Orlov. But really, this makes a lot of sense. Putting a guy with good foot speed and a knack for strong breakout passes is the exact kind of player you’d want to help you get the puck out after a defensive zone draw. I hope this deployment continues in Washington. He can clearly handle it.
Quality of Competition-Niskanen faced the 5th toughest competition out of the 7 players listed here. Niskanen isn’t generally regarded as a “shutdown” D, so this makes some sense. However, one has to wonder, with Niskanen slotted to lineup next to Karl Alzner this season, if he will see an increase in the level of compeition he is deployed against.
Possession-The Penguins saw a 5.87% improvement in possession in close-game situations with Niskanen on the ice vs. with him on the bench. If he can continue this trend, the Caps will be on their way to getting their money’s worth this season. To put this in the context of Caps players fans may be more familiar with, noted possession standout Mike Green saw similar competition as Niskanen, much easier zone starts, and only a slight edge in possession.
Matt Niskanen brings to the Caps a puck-moving defenseman who can handle tough zone starts but still be a driver in terms of possession. He’s also capable of quarterbacking the power play, although it remains to be seen which defenseman Barry Trotz will have quarterback his top PP unit this season. While many may judge this deal by Niskanen’s offensive totals, I’ve already discussed why this may not be an accurate indicator of his play. His PDO, which was north of 103.0 last year, is almost certain to regress towards to the mean, while it remains to be seen if he’ll be given the chance to rack up points on the PP. But I, for one, expect Niskanen to be worth his price tag, both in his offensive totals as well as in other areas of his game.
What do Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have in common?
They’re poised to make a splash for the Washington Capitals in their first (full) NHL seasons. Neither is a natural centerman, but both have worked to adapt to the position under coach Barry Trotz. And both are in the running for second-line center.
But who is more qualified for the position? Who will be most successful?
It’s tough to predict offensive totals for rookies like Burakovsky, who shone in the uber-inflated OHL. Scoring runs high, and he was one of the league’s strongest offensive players. That’s not to say Burakovsky won’t be successful, but he had incredible linemates during his time with the Erie Otters. In Washington, he won’t be paired with a handful of scoring machines like Connor McDavid or Dane Fox. Trotz has penciled him in as the team’s 3C, where he’ll probably spend most minutes with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera–both effective, grinding, play-driving wingers.
In the OHL, Burakovsky played left wing. The Otters’ surplus of high-quality centers helped set him up (literally) to score 41 goals in 57 games. His 46 assists were also impressive, and hopefully indicative of his. If Burakovsky centers Ward and Chimera, he’ll be aiming to help Ward and Chimera continue their positive trends in scoring. In the preseason, he’s played his new position with a variety of linemates, even on the first line. Trotz is clearly pleased with the results and all but stated that his position on the team is secure.
So how likely is Burakovsky to steal the 2C spot from Kuznetsov?
Let’s turn to the statistics side of things (my efforts to track down fancy stats in major junior have been far from successful.)
Rob Vollman, author of Hockey Abstract, estimates Kuznetsov will score well above 40 points in his upcoming season (the specifics can be found here.) Kuznetsov made his NHL debut last spring, and put up nine points in 16 games. His offensive totals and position have been hotly debated since he was drafted in 2010. At present, it appears that Trotz will employ Kuznetsov as the team’s second-line center, a position that requires superb setup skills in addition to goal-scoring ability.
While Kuznetsov has been guilty of some egregious defensive lapses, Trotz seems fairly unconcerned with these growing pains. He described himself as “patient” in evaluating the rookies’ progress, adding that “in the long run, they’re going to get better and better as they play more and more.”
Slotting two rookie centers into the opening night lineup appears to be cause for concern. Strength down the middle has been lacking for the Caps in recent seasons. But both players have versatility, albeit in different ways. Each could revert to playing wing. And if Burakovsky struggles with bottom-six minutes at the NHL level, he’s still eligible to play in Hershey. Kuznetsov has multiple, successful seasons at the pro level under his belt, and he spent some of that time as a center.
However, a strong center must be able to win faceoffs. Neither Burakovsky nor Kuznetsov has excelled in winning the draw. If Trotz is correct and patience pays off, both will blossom into faceoff-winning machines. Faceoffs in particular seem to be tricky; Eric Fehr cited them as a reason for his discomfort at the center position. But there’s always the possibility that Burakovsky makes a strong case for the 2C role midway through the season, and he gets bumped up at Kuznetsov’s expense. Stranger things have happened (see: Beagle centering Ovechkin.) For the time being, however, Kuznetsov is arguably the best guy for the job.