Ottawa’s and St Louis’ top-six dilemmas, Alex Galchenyuk’s improvement prospects, and thoughts on Evgeni Malkin.
It is Thursday, which means I will have an open thread over at the Dobber forums for readers to stop in and drop a line. The thread is intended for readers to ask whatever fantasy (or non-fantasy) hockey question that has come to mind. I get Twitter questions all the time, but Twitter isn’t really a great medium for nuance. This is where the thread can be beneficial.
Looking for trade advice? Projections? Input on keepers? I will be around throughout the day to answer whatever might pop up. As always, the thread will be open around lunchtime, and again, the only questions I avoid are prospect questions. I leave those up to the capable prospects team here at Dobber.
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Last week I brought up the topic of Mark Stone/Mike Hoffman. This got me thinking about something else: what is the top-six going to look like?
I pose this question because for a decent chunk of the season last year, Hoffman wasn’t playing in the top six (with Mika Zibanejad, specifically). Rather, he spent about 30-percent of last season playing in Ottawa’s bottom-six. This is important for Hoffman because it would represent a decline in ice time, and likely a decline in production. This is also important for Zibanejad.
Over the last two seasons, Zibanejad has played just under 1800 five-on-five minutes. Of those 1783 minutes and change, he has played a little over 1130 minutes without Hoffman on his line. The team’s goals for per 60 minute rate when Zibanejad is on the ice without Hoffman? 1.96. With Hoffman? 3.03. Hoffman is a finisher, and that seems to bear out in the numbers.
Using goals-based results can be precarious because of the relative infrequency of goals. The shot attempt rates aren’t too different. I do think Hoffman, though, is a guy who will have a reasonable impact on how often the team scores when he is or isn’t on the ice.
Without Hoffman, Zibanejad has averaged about 1.5 points per 60 minutes over the last two seasons. With Hoffman, Zibanejad’s mark is a little over 2.0. Should the team feel the need to have Hoffman in the bottom-six again, I have little doubt this will hinder Zibanejad’s production. Something to keep in mind for those thinking Zibanejad might improve his production next year.
Twitter tends to be my suggestion box. I spend most of my days reading and researching, and the things I find their way to my timeline at some point.
I caught myself wondering out loud what the St. Louis top-six will look like next year. The subtraction of T.J. Oshie that brought the addition of Troy Brouwer has muddled things a little bit. Oshie is the only player that was in St. Louis’ top-six last year that won’t be back, so the natural assumption is that Brouwer will take that spot, leaving the second line winger combination of Jaden Schwartz/Vladimir Tarasenko intact.
I am not so sure this should be the case. The injury to Jori Lehtera means there are questions as to whether he will start the season on time. This would seem to leave David Backes and Paul Stastny as the top two centres for the Blues on opening night. Small sample size alert, but this is what Stastny and Dmitij Jaskin where able to do together in what would amount to roughly 25 games worth of ice time at five-on-five:
It is clear that Stastny drives this duo – as he’s done for the majority of his career – but in their limited time together, Jaskin and Stastny played pretty well together. I highlighted the zone starts to show how they were able to reach that shot attempt rate despite more d-zone starts, but admittedly, zone starts, for the most part, are overblown, as shown by David Johnson.
Anyone who follows my work knows I’m a huge fan of Jaskin, as he was productive last year, and probably deserves a bigger role. Maybe Tarasenko should slide up to play with Backes, and Jaskin up to the second line. I will say that I don’t think that happens, at least out of the gate, but it’s more ammo for the pro-Jaskin crowd when it comes to a draft day flier.
Alex Galchenyuk is becoming an interesting fantasy case. There is no denying that he possesses all the skill in the world to be a high-level producer, but can he live up to that, given his situation?
It seems likely that Montreal’s top line will be Max Pacioretty–David Desharnais–Brendan Gallagher. Those three guys rank first, sixth, and second, respectively, in goals scored at five-on-five for the Habs over the last two years. There were just four other players who scored 15 goals or more at five-on-five: Galchenyuk (23), Tomas Plekanec (25), Lars Eller (18), P.A. Parenteau (15). Notice how low of a bar that is (7.5 goals at five-on-five per year), and the options for the second line after Galchenyuk/Plekanec. There are none.
I assume this is where Alex Semin comes in to at least have a shot at making that second line potent. Other than him, though, there is no one else that can join that line that can be relied upon to score. Dale Weise? Zack Kassian? Devante Smith-Pelly? I am not hopeful.
Without a true trigger man on that second line – and maybe Semin is that, but that’s definitely an open-ended question – I don’t know how Galchenyuk improves too much on the 20 goals and 26 assists he had last year. Maybe he gets to 25 and 30? That would be a good year, but nowhere near his ceiling. Unless Semin recoups his magic from a few years ago, I’m not very optimistic about Galchenyuk reaching his production potential this season.
It sure would be nice to another proven scorer in Montreal like, say, Mike Cammalleri…
In a Ramblings earlier this summer, I mused that I could see Phil Kessel starting the season alongside Evgeni Malkin. The reasoning was that Sidney Crosby can carry just about anyone, could play a bit more of a shutdown role against the other team’s top line, and that would free up Kessel/Malkin to run wild on secondary matchups.
It looks like that will not be the case. Coach Mike Johnston stated earlier this week that Kessel will indeed start the season on Crosby’s wing. This certainly has fantasy impacts, and Neil Parker wrote about the left wingers in that top-six yesterday.
Malkin has not been the same player without James Neal on his wing. The goal scorer brought a dimension to the game that the Penguins haven’t been able to fill since he was traded to Nashville. Over the last four seasons, which intentionally includes the most recent season when Neal was gone, Malkin has played about the same amount of time without Neal as with him. Without Neal playing with Malkin, the team’s shot attempt rate drops about 10-percent, and they score about 0.8 fewer goals per 60 minutes. That is a huge drop-off, and kind of like Hoffman/Zibanejad, the need for a player to finish is evident in the big decline in goal rates.
The Pittsburgh top-six was a big carousel last year, though that was mostly due to the injury to Pascal Dupuis, and decline in production from guys like David Perron and Chris Kunitz. Kessel does seem destined to at least start the year with Crosby, and that’s very good news for both parties involved. If Kessel stays there all year, I feel confident in saying Crosby should be the top pick in drafts.
Even if he’s healthy for 80 games, without a triggerman on his line, I don’t know if we see the 90-100 point Malkin that we would expect. Rather, he would probably be the 80-90 point player he would have been last year had he played close to a full season. Taking into account that Malkin has missed about 25-percent of his regular season games over the last six years, I’m not so sure he’s a top-10 pick anymore.
*Individual numbers from Hockey Abstract. Without/With you stats taken from Hockey Analysis/Puckalytics