Geek of the Week: Eichy Breichy Hart Candidate

Ben Burnett

2019-12-22


MacKinnon, McDavid, Pastrnak, and Draisaitl are just a few names that have come up in Hart Trophy conversations so far this season. But a 6-1 loss for the Buffalo Sabres against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, when they just so happened to be missing their franchise center Jack Eichel, should go to show how vital the 2015 second-overall pick is to the Sabres’ surprising start to the year.

Yes, the Sabres are in the playoff picture in mid-December, and it’s no coincidence that Eichel paces the team with 51 points. In fact, he leads the team’s scoring race by 17 points in just 36 games. What he’s accomplished thus far on an otherwise mediocre team is pretty fantastic. With Eichel on the ice at even strength, the Sabres are +21 on the season, a league best mark. When Eichel’s off the ice, however, the Sabres are an average +2 squad.

Looking under the hood of Eichel’s career-high 116-point pace season though we can see some percentages that are bound to come down. He’s shooting 8 percent higher than he’s managed to shoot in any of his four previous years. He’s also on pace for 37 power-play points, a feat that would be difficult to accomplish on a unit that’s been league average this season.

The main reason Eichel has been so successful in 2019 is an extremely high shooting percentage at 5 on 5. Those numbers tend to regress. So moving forward, the expectation should be that he’d see a pace closer to what he’s been able to put up over the first four years of his career.
 

Season

Team

GP

Goals

Shots

S%

2015-2016

BUF

81

12

168

7.14

2016-2017

BUF

61

11

172

6.4

2017-2018

BUF

67

16

151

10.6

2018-2019

BUF

77

16

202

7.92

2019-2020

BUF

36

13

80

16.25


Given the 8 percent average over the last three years, it seems much likelier that Eichel finishes this season closer to 10 percent than 16. While he’s not shooting at a higher rate per 60 minutes, he is playing a career-high 17:23 at even strength, and over four minutes per night on the man advantage.

As mentioned earlier, Eichel’s current power-play pace seems unsustainable based on his previous production. Both his shooting percentage and IPP are at career highs, while his shots / 60 rate is the lowest it’s been since his rookie season. I’m assuming that’s because he’s ceded more shots to rookie sniper Victor Olofsson, but he’s seeing points on 89 percent of goals scored while he’s on the ice, and he’s also out-scored his expected goal mark on the power play by three. While Eichel is most certainly the player who dictates the Buffalo power play, those rates likely don’t bode well for Eichel’s chances of continuing this strong pace.

When projecting a player like Eichel it’s important to remember this will likely be a career year. But what you need to look for is what numbers we think can be sustainable. In Eichel’s case, his shooting percentage is much higher through the first half of the season than we’d expect to continue in the second half. So he’s not likely going to top 50 goals, despite his first-half pace. But how good can we expect him to be?

I’ll project Eichel’s rest of season production using averages of his recent on-ice and personal shooting percentages. These numbers should help us assess just how valuable Eichel is, and whether or not he’s a decent sell-high option for owners who would like to cash in on a likely top ten valued player.

Projection:
 

 

TOI

GP

G

A

Pts

SOG

Sh%

ES

17:23

45

12

19

31

122

10%

PP

4:02

45

5

12

17

40

11.80%

Per 82

21:43

82

16

56

87

295

11%


So one thing that’s nice is Eichel does seem likely to continue his career-best power-play point pace to an extent. I’d expect him to post a 31 PPP pace rest of season. Given his current 116-point full-season pace, it seems reasonable that he’d be a decent sell-high. But I’m not sure that’s an obvious decision, despite what the numbers say. Eichel’s got one of the sharpest shots in the game, and he’s getting into his prime. Maybe he’s going to shoot above his first four season averages the next few months. Should that be the case? We could be looking at a 95-point player, and those are tough to find. For now, if you can turn Eichel into a Brad Marchand or a Nikita Kucherov in one-year leagues? Sign me up. Otherwise, hold tight and enjoy the ride.

If you’d like to ask me about a possible Jack Eichel transaction, message me @burnett_hockey or check out my podcast work @avgtimeonice.

UPCOMING GAMES

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