Cage Match: David Pastrnak vs. Nikolaj Ehlers

Rick Roos

2016-11-16

Exploring the fantasy value and potential of Nik Ehlers and David Pastrnak. Who is the beter own?

 

We’re covering our second match between 2014 first rounders, this time pitting David Pastrnak against Nikolaj Ehlers. Who’ll have better stats by the end of 2016-17; and for those in keeper leagues, which player represents the best long term investment? Cage Match is here with the all-important answers!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Pastrnak, 20, was selected 25th in that 2014 draft, and surprisingly – given Boston’s depth – played 46 games with the Bs in 2014-15, posting 27 points but ending with 24 in his last 28 contests. Last season saw him not only stay above the point per every other game mark (26 points in 51 contests) but also once again end stronger than he started, with all but six of those points coming in his final 35 games. This season Pastrnak has been superb from the moment the puck dropped, with eight points in his first seven games before being suspended for two contests, and not missing a beat since returning (six points in seven games).

Ehlers was grabbed 16 spots earlier by Winnipeg, yet unlike Pastrnak didn’t transition directly into pro hockey. But Ehlers’ second straight season of 100+ points in juniors made it clear he was ready for the big time, and sure enough he landed in the NHL last season, posting 38 points in 72 games. He also had hidden rookie production, as 24 points came in his final 30 games, setting expectations high for 2016-17. And after a somewhat slow start (four points in 11 games), he gelled when put on a line with Mark Scheifele and Patrick Laine and proceeded to post ten points in next five contests.

Both players are still on ELCs. Pastrnak’s ends after this season and has a $0.925M cap hit, while Ehlers, despite being drafted earlier, has only a $0.894M cap hit this season and next. For those in leagues that count AAV, Pastrnak’s figure is identical to his cap hit while Ehlers’ is $1.594M.

 

Ice Time

 

Season

Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

2016-17

16:22 (D.P.) – 5th

17:57 (N.E.) – 4th

2:22 (D.P.) – 6th

3:27 (N.E.) – 4th

0:00 (D.P.)

0:01 (N.E.) – 12th

2015-16

13:56 (D.P.) – 8th

16:06 (N.E.) – 8th

0:28 (D.P.) – 9th

2:18 (N.E.) – 6th

0:00 (D.P.)

0:00 (N.E.)

2014-15

13:58 (D.P.) – 10th

1:41 (D.P.) – 9th

0:00 (D.P.)

 

Pastrnak had similar data for 2014-15 and 2015-16, other than his PP Time having been drastically cut. There’s a reasonable explanation for his PP Time plummeting, in that the breakout of Ryan Spooner and the additions of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes (during the summer of 2015) pushed Pastrnak into a lesser role with the man advantage last season. For 2016-17, however, with Beleskey and Hayes seemingly not panning out, Spooner starting slow, and – perhaps most importantly – Loui Eriksson now gone, Pastrnak has seen a nice (and apparently sustainable) jump in Ice Time, with it all having come on the PP and him still having no SH duty. This is an encouraging trajectory for Pastrnak and, in turn, for poolies who own him.

 

Ehlers was bestowed with better Ice Time as a rookie, and in his case the jump for 2016-17 wasn’t hard to foresee, what him having 13 games of 19:00+ in his final 20 contests last season. One possible issue with Ehlers is his Ice Time for 2016-17 thus far has been somewhat irregular, with it ranging more than 3:00 above his average four times, yet also more than 3:00 below his average three times. Pastrnak has seen more stability, with just two games where he was more than 2:00 below his average Ice Time and none more than 2:00 above. Beyond that, Pastrnak has spent over 70% of his ES shifts with the same linemates (Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand), whereas Ehlers has bounced around, not spending even 35% of his ES time with the same linemates.

 

What this means is as great as Ehlers has been playing of late, his specific role is apparently still being carved out. On the other hand, Pastrnak seems less in flux, although it does surprise me to see him below 16:30 per game, which, given his scoring pace, suggests he might be getting lucky bounces.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2015-16

0.39 (D.P.)

0.29 (N.E.)

1.02 (D.P.)

0.40 (N.E.)

0.29 (D.P.)

0.34 (N.E.)

2.11 (D.P.)

2.32 (N.E.)

0.02 (D.P.)

0.15 (N.E.)

2014-15

0.17 (D.P.)

0.43 (D.P.)

0.24 (D.P.)

2.02 (D.P.)

0.06 (D.P.)

 

There are several positives for Pastrnak, as normally rookies go out of their way to get Hits, PIM, and Blocks, hoping to make an impression; but then in subsequent years they might feel they have less to prove, and, in turn, their output in those categories drops. Yet Pastrnak saw his totals double in PIM and Hits (plus rise in Blocks and SOG) as a sophomore. His PPPts dropped, as expected given his PP Time cratering by more than two-thirds. For 2016-17 thus far, his Hits and PIM are a bit lower, but still well better than 2014-15. And his PPP have increased (four in 14 games) in keeping with his PP Time jump.

 

Ehlers’ rookie numbers in PIM, Hits, and Blocks weren’t as low as Pastrnak’s; but unlike Pastrnak, his haven’t spiked as a sophomore, although there’s been a bit of improvement in each so far. Ehlers’ PPPts as a rookie were solid, and as with Ice Time he hit his stride as the season progressed, with eight of his 11 total PPPts coming in his final 35 games (note, however, he only has two PPPts for 2016-17 so far).

 

Ehlers’ SOG also bloomed late, as he fired 2+ SOG in nine of his final 12 rookie contests. Interestingly, if Ehlers is able to keep up his current shooting and scoring pace for the rest of 2016-17 and not miss more than four total games, he’d stand right at 2.4 SOG per game and over 100 points in his first 150+ career games. How well have others fared who, since 2000-01, met the same criteria through their age 20 season? More than half have at least one 85+ point season to their credit (Ilya Kovalchuk, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Marian Gaborik), a couple have posted 70+ points at least twice (Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar), and then there are three youngsters for whom the jury is still out (Nathan MacKinnon, Jeff Skinner, Evander Kane).

 

Pastrnak also has produced numbers that allow for player comparables. And it turns out, since 2000-01 just seven other skaters played 95+ games in their teens during which they averaged 0.53+ points per game, scored 25+goals, and averaged 0.25+ goals per game. Six of the seven are on the list we saw above for Ehlers, with only Rick Nash being on the Pastrnak list but not the Ehlers list, and Patrick Kane, Evander Kane, and Patrice Bergeron being on Ehlers’ list but not Pastrnak’s.

 

Does this mean Ehlers and Pastrnak might have a similar career trajectory? Quite possibly; but Ehlers’ list was premised on him being able to continue his current SOG and scoring pace for the remainder of 2016-17, whereas for Pastrnak the applicable stats had already been achieved over the course of two NHL seasons, albeit in only 25 more total games than Ehlers played as a rookie. In other words, Pastrnak has somewhat of a bird in the hand advantage.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

Team Shooting % (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

13.9% (D.P.)

9.0% (N.E.)

8.71% (D.P.)

8.17% (N.E.)

79.3% (D.P.)

58.5% (N.E.)

50.0% (D.P.)

62.5% (N.E.)

50.3% (D.P.)

56.3% (N.E.)

2014-15

10.8% (D.P.)

8.74% (D.P.)

81.5% (D.P.)

60.0% (D.P.)

69.4% (D.P.)

 

These are encouraging numbers for Pastrnak, for several reasons. First, despite his OZ% (like his PP Time) dropping considerably from 2014-15 to 2015-16, his scoring nearly kept pace. Moreover, in both seasons his 5×5 IPP was right at 80%, suggesting he drives offense. Also, although his personal shooting % jumped to 13.9% last season, his team shooting % was virtually unchanged (and, it turns out, below league average of 9.00%). Thus, although Pastrnak might’ve had a few more goals than he “deserved” last season, his overall scoring was, if anything, a bit low due to his team shooting %.

 

For Ehlers, the data suggests someone who was victimized by bad luck to at least a moderate degree as a rookie. After all, his 8.17% team shooting % was well lower than the 9.00% league average, although in fairness it still put him in the top half among forwards who skated 750+ minutes at 5×5, so that didn’t hold him back too much. But his IPP at 5×5 was definitely quite low, ranking him just 221st among 260 forwards who skated 750+ minutes last season.

 

The issue is trying to predict the future based on these numbers for Ehlers. With Pastrnak, as was noted above, we have the benefit of two seasons worth of data, although as also was stressed he’s only played about 20 more total games than Ehlers. Fortunately, although we’re not yet 25% into 2016-17, we can look at data on Ehlers to provide further insight. And that insight is very promising; his 5×5 IPP is an elite 84.6%, his PDO/SPSV is a very normal (1003), and his team and personal shooting % are 10.4% and 9.5% respectively, which are well within reason. This seemingly validates Ehlers’ current scoring pace, which through 17 games, stood at 67 points.

 

As for Pastrnak, his 2016-17 metrics are all higher than Ehlers’. His PSDO/SPSV is 1052, his team shooting % 11.72%, and his personal shooting percentage 20.8%. Yet his 5×5 IPP is only 60.0%, although given his two seasons of roughly 80% 5×5 IPP that likely is a rare bit of bad luck he’s facing so far this season. But overall, this data suggests Pastrnak’s 2016-17 point per game scoring is a temporary mirage.

 

Who Wins?

 

If you own either player, or – even better – both, then things are looking very bright for your fantasy team. This is a rare case when the combatants are quite even in terms of their data and even their player comparables, so the winner will depend largely on surroundings and situation.

 

Pastrnak has seemingly cemented a top six role on a team which, since 2009-10 has had 13 instances of forwards scoring 60+ points, but no 70+ point scorer. Plus, virtually every other member of Boston’s top six is 28 year old or older, and thus due to slow down in coming seasons. Conversely, within the same time frame, the Jets/Thrashers featured only nine 60+ scorers but also a 78 point scorer. And they have several players (Ehlers, plus Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele) within or even prior to their prime.

 

What does this mean? Pastrnak might be a safer pick for the here and now, but Ehlers might have more home run potential, especially since Pastrnak is slotted alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who are at or past their peak, whereas Ehlers’ has teammates (Scheifele, Laine) with whom he’s played regularly this season and, at a combined 41 years old, could still get much better.

 

For those in one year leagues, Pastrnak wins, but barely. What it boils down to is notwithstanding the good luck Pastrnak has received in 2016-17 so far, he has two seasons worth of data to draw from and his spot is both safer in terms of him staying there and how that line will produce. But Ehlers holds the edge in keepers due to more homerun upside.

 

To put it things the context of numbers, I see Pastrnak as a virtual lock for 60-65 points this season, but with less chance to reach 70-75+ in the coming years. Ehlers could still produce 60-65 in 2016-17, yet is at higher risk of slipping below 60 due to his role still being carved out. But in future seasons, Ehlers has a more realistic path to 70-75+ points based on his own talent and the ability to line up with equally talented players who won’t be past their prime.

 

 

 

 

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency CGY Players
24.5% JOHNNY GAUDREAU ELIAS LINDHOLM SEAN MONAHAN
22.3% MIKAEL BACKLUND ANDREW MANGIAPANE MATTHEW TKACHUK
18.9% SAM BENNETT DILLON DUBE MILAN LUCIC

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