Ramblings: Power Forwards are the Worst, Gusev, Hughes Bros, Rielly & J.T. Miller (Oct. 16)

Cam Robinson



Jack Hughes has had a difficult start to his NHL career. We’re six games in and he’s failed to record a point. Even more concerning is his extremely cushy deployment hasn't been helping matters. Three of his 16 total minutes per night have come on the man-advantage and he’s seen a very healthy 76 percent offensive zone starts. Yet, he can't buy a point.


There are signs of life though. According to Natural Stat Trick, while Hughes is on the ice, the Devils have controlled 54 percent of the scoring chances and 65 percent of the high-danger chances. That's not too shabby.


The 18-year-old is the first-ever play to step out of the US National Team Development Program and go straight to the NHL. He’s a little undersized and not at all used to playing against professional competition. The hiccups were very easy to forecast. In addition, he’s bounced all over the Devils lineup as the team desperately searches for ways to create cohesion in a group that was altered greatly over the offseason. 


However, the fine print indicates a bounce will go his way shortly. And when it does, the flood gates could begin to burst. Those of you in keeper leagues should be kicking the tires on the cost of acquisition. There’s a decent chance that it’s lower today than it has been in his short period of exposure. 



Brother, Quinn, is also experiencing some early success with the underlying numbers. And the… overlying numbers? 



While the underlying numbers are promising for the Hughes brothers, they aren't as much for Nikita Gusev. Statistically speaking, the first-year winger having three points in six games is palatable. Especially as he's been apart of the line blender and has found himself in the bottom six for stretches. However, his presence on the ice has not been as impactful. In all situations, he's been a drag for his team with the Devils controlling just 36 percent of the scoring chances while he's out there. 


I'm not ready to sell my Gusev shares though. I feel this team needs at least another month to gain cohesion and see what they can do. The members of that power-play unit are too good to be held down for long. 



Speaking of poor starts, Kevin Fiala was a healthy scratch on Tuesday for the Wild. For those of us who predicted another step forward for the skilled winger, the first two weeks have been especially unkind. In five games, he has just one assist and seven shots on goal. He’s failed to mesh well on either of the top six lines. 


Clearly this trip to the pressbox is designed to light a fire under the 23-year-old. We’ll see how toasty his cheeks are when he gets back. 


It didn't do much good for the Wild on Tuesday night though as the Maple Leafs handed them a 4-2 defeat. Morgan Rielly was a catalyst, recording four assists on the night. Toronto may give up a few too many goals against this season, but they're also going to score a boatload. And Rielly will be a major part of that. 


For my money, he's the second-best fantasy defenseman to own in a keeper league – that's right Rasmus Dahlin owners, you've got the top dog. Rielly should feast for a few seasons and has the talent, quality of mates, and deployment needed to push for a point-per-game as early as this season. 


On the flip side, Tyson Barrie's power-play deployment has fallen off a cliff. He has a single assist on the man-advantage while seeing just over two minutes on the second unit per game. This is a player who has relied on the PP for 47 percent of his production the last two seasons. Owners should be hoping for 50 points, but realistically, low-40s is probably happening. 


His agent must be pissed. 


Filip Forsberg didn't play in the final 10 minutes of the Preds victory of Vegas. Something to monitor.



In the six seasons since Tomas Hertl snapped home 4 goals and we were gifted one of the greatest (non)quotes in sports history, we’ve seen that feat accomplished 21 other times.


The Canucks laid a whooping on the Red Wings on Tuesday, and their big dogs came out to play. The power play – which had been abysmal, converted on three of five opportunities. Brock Boeser had three assists, Elias Pettersson chipped in with a goal and two helpers. Ditto for Alex Edler. And JT Miller kept things rolling with two goals. 


Detroit has the ability to make teams look good, but this was a nice step for the Canucks and for those who bought in on the rejuvenation. 


P.S. Miller looks very comfortable on the top line. I don't expect him to be moved off of it any time soon. 



The Jets suffered another loss, this time at the hands of the Coyotes. Darcy Kuemper was good once again stopping 38 and upping his save percentage to .955 on the season. Antti Raanta is going to need to tear the starter's role from his cold dead hands. 



The discussion around power forwards is fraught with inconsistencies. Firstly, it’s difficult to nail down a precise definition of the term. Normally we consider power forwards as big-bodied forwards who can impact the game on the scoresheet and bring a physical presence to the rink each night. 


However, the typical progression of this style of player is often that we wait longer for their ceiling, often extending the four-season rule to a six or seven-season hope. But here’s the kicker, while waiting a little longer for something to age can be quite rewarding when talking about scotch or wine, PFs shelf life tends to nosedive quicker as well. 


I decided to test the theory and look at six prominent power forwards and how their careers have played or are playing out. Jamie Benn, Corey Perry, James Neal, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley and Thomas Vanek. I chose to focus on wingers for this exercise as centres can sometimes be a little more insulated and the age-related loss of a half step of quickness can be masked a bit more easily. 


I decided to break the players' careers into two parts: Age 24-28 and Age 29-33 seasons. This assumes that we’re grabbing a snapshot of the player’s peak and then the descending seasons. Obviously, we’ll see the overall production trend down in the back half. But the significance compared to non-power foward types reflects the impact age has on this breed of player. 


Jamies Benn 

 ·     Age 24-28 seasons – 403 in 404 (172 goals) 1.00/0.43 

·     Age 29-33 seasons 55 in 84 (28 goals) 0.65/0.33 

Results: – 0.45 points-per-game / -0.10 goal-per-game


Rick Nash

·      Age 24-28 seasons 313 in 355 (156 goals) 0.88/0.44 

·      Age 29-33 seasons 216 in 342 (127 goals) 0.63/0.37

Results: – 0.25 points-per-game / -0.07 goals-per-game


Corey Perry

·     Age 24-28 seasons 352 in 369 (172 goals) 0.95/ 0.47 goals

·     Age 29-33 seasons 229 in 333 (109 goals) 0.69 /0.33 goals

Results: – 0.26 points-per-game / -0.14 goals-per-game


Dany Heatley

·      *Age 25-28 seasons 362 in 317 (180 goals) (lockout) 1.14 /0.57

·      Age 29-33 seasons 248 in 356 (112 goals) 0.70/0.31

Results: -0.44 points-per-game / -0.26 goals-per-game


James Neal

·      Age 24-28 seasons  – 273 in 328 (142 goals) 0.83/0.43

·      Age 29-32* seasons 111 in 209 (62 goals) 0.53/0.29

Results: -0.30 points-per-game / -0.14 goals-per-game


Thomas Vanek

·      Age 24-28 seasons 315 in 384 (162 goals) 0.82/0.42

·      Age 29-33 seasons 250 in 338 (103 goals) 0.74/.30

Results: -0.12 points-per-game / -0.12 goals-per-game


The decline begins even before the dirty-30 birthday for many of these bigger wingers. They can have incredible peaks (when they hit), but there are also countless examples of teams waiting on a bigger player to reach new highs, only to discover they’re just simply bottom-six forwards. However, holding onto these assets past their early-expiration date is unbecoming. 


The advice: Sell early. You’ve already missed the boat on Perry (or maybe you didn’t, in which case, hazah to you!). But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the past. Maybe Benn still carries the cache of a high-producer in some people’s eyes. Maybe Neal's ridiculous 38 percent conversion rate to start the year can be masked. If so, sell on, people. 


Here are a few other players who fit this mould today and could be set up for the quicker decline down the line: Matthew Tkachuk, Gabe Landeskog, JVR, Nino Niederreiter, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha, and Tom Wilson


Other than selling the early, the other lesson to be learned is to not waste your time on power winger prospects – unless they’re the absolute cream. The Ovechkin (there is only one Ovechkin), Iginlas, Kakkos of the world are worth your time and won’t be much of a wait. But a player like Max Comtois, Kristian Vesaliainen, or Serron Noel just isn't worth the wait. 



Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson




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