When discussing which players have been good or not, be it for fantasy hockey or in the real world, quite often "good" is a proxy for "lucky". At the same time, some players are good enough to keep getting "lucky" year after year; I don't think it'd shock people if Nikita Kucherov or Connor McDavid rated highly in an area we consider to be loaded with randomness like secondary assists.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have players that get unlucky. Again, looking at the inverse, some guys are so bad (relative to other NHLers) that they will consistently get "unlucky" with things like shooting percentage.
Those two ends of the spectrum only cover a handful of players each, though. Most players aren't so exceptional that our typical rules of evaluating players don't apply or are so bad that they didn't even belong in the NHL two years ago, let alone now.
I want to discuss some of the players in the meat of the curve and how they performed in the 2019-20 season. We're going to look at differentials between individual goals scored per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 and their individual expected goals scored per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. We'll look at extreme cases for guys we don't consider elite players.
Individual expected goals is not a perfect measure, and just because a guy has an expected goals/60 of 1.00 doesn't mean we should always expect him to score at that rate. Things like puck movement and shooter talent mean a lot. But absent player tracking which would allow us to easily track the movement of the puck prior to every goal, it's the best we have right now.
The scope has been limited to forwards with at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 this year. We're looking at the difference between their actual goals/60 and individual expected goals/60. Good? Good.
Here are the top-20 forwards with the largest differential, meaning they wildly outscored their expected goals:
Some of those names make a lot of sense. It's not surprising to see guys like Brad Marchand, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak, Artemi Panarin, Nikita Kucherov, or Leon Draisaitl. There are other surprises though, so let's dig into those. Data from Natural Stat Trick.
I've been on the record saying I think Kubalik should at the very least be in the top-3 for Calder Trophy voting this year, and based off different metrics like WAR per 60 minutes, there's a good argument he should win it outright.
That's not to say that he hasn't been lucky. He obviously has been, as evidenced by his 19.3 percent shooting at 5-on-5, the third-highest on our list. Players just can't sustain that for years on end; tops in the league over the last three seasons is Brett Connolly at 16.7 percent, and he's the only player over 16 percent. Sustaining 19 percent year in and year out is just not in the kards for Kubalik.
To that end, though, we can't discount the possibility that he is a true 30-goal scorer. He reached 30 goals this year in 68 games, yes by virtue of a high shooting percentage, but he also did it skating 14:22 per game. If we get to next season and he's playing 17:30 a night, that could be more than enough additional ice time to offset the impending shooting percentage decline.
The question becomes his draft cost. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
I mean this when I say it: Connolly is one of the most fascinating players in the NHL, hands down. I say that because he was a highly touted prospect a decade ago – it's easy to forget he was the sixth overall pick in 2010, the one with Hall and Seguin at the top – but struggled mightily early in his career. In fact, he debuted as a 19-year old for Tampa Bay in 2011-12, spent a couple years in the minors, and eventually was traded a couple times. Over his first five years and 210 regular season games, he scored just 27 goals.
Fast forward to 2017 and now with Washington, Connolly scores his second consecutive 15-goal season. Not world-beating, but good for a guy playing a third/fourth-line role. He followed that up with 22 goals last year with the Caps, before tallying 19 this year with Florida in 69 games. From 2017-20, his individual goals/60 rate of 1.06 was higher than Brayden Point (1.05), Leon Draisaitl and Kyle Connor (1.03), and Brock Boeser (1.01).
So here we have a guy who was a highly-touted prospect, failed to stick at the NHL level, found his game playing down the lineup in Washington, and is now, 10 years removed from his draft year, scoring at rates similar to some of the best offensive players in the world. Yeah, he is a fascinating player.
The question is if he can get more ice time. The Panthers have a couple big UFA wingers this year in Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, so if neither returns, maybe he can get consistent second-line/top PP minutes. I don't think that's realistic, that's just the best-case scenario.
A hidden gem in the desert, Garland had 22 goals in 68 games this season. That's coming off a half-season where he scored 13 in 47 games. Like Connolly, he doesn't play a lot of minutes, which is why his goals/60 is so high; over his two seasons, his goals/60 of 1.18 tied him with Marchand and Draisaitl, and put him ahead of names like McDavid, Meier, and Stamkos. Unlike Connolly, though, he's not doing it with sky-high shooting percentages. Over these two seasons, he's about the 80th percentile in shooting percentage (11.5 percent), which is higher than average obviously, but nowhere close to the guys leading the way at 15-16 percent.
He was never a big scorer in the AHL but there are some talented and unheralded forwards in Arizona that can help him find the back of the net. His shot volume is something to behold, as he shoots about as often as guys like Tyler Seguin, Nikita Kucherov, Jakub Vrana, Dylan Larkin, Nazem Kadri, and Alex DeBrincat. I'm not sure what his true shooting talent is, but as long as he keeps shooting as much as those guys, I like his chances of being a 25-goal guy.
But like some others, he needs more ice time. He was skating just 14:09 per game this year and that's not enough to warrant rostering in many fantasy leagues, especially when he doesn't rack the PIMs, PPPs, or hits. All the same, if he can get to 17 minutes a night with his shot volume, then 30 goals are well within reach.
The last guy I want to talk about is Mike Hoffman. As you can see, his individual expected goals rate this year is very bad, but his actual goals is not. If we consider him an upper-echelon goal scorer – not the elite tier, but a step below – then we have to admit his shooting talent is a big reason for that. But there's something else bugging me: just how reliant he is on power-play goals.
The concern is that he's a UFA. Does he re-sign with Florida? Maybe, maybe not. And if he doesn't, where does he end up? Is it somewhere with an elite power play like Florida's, like Edmonton? Does he go somewhere with a lot of cap room and is rebuilding/re-tooling, but with a much worse power play, like Anaheim or Montreal? We just don't know what the future will hold.
Regardless, what he's showing over his career is that to flirt with, or push past, 30 goals, he probably needs double-digit PP goals. That level of PP production, year in and year out, is difficult for any player that is not among the handful of elite in the NHL, and Hoffman is not one of them.
That's why I worry about Hoffman's future fantasy value. He is likely going to need top PP minutes on a good power play to maintain scoring rates and there's no certainty he'll get both those things. We'll have to wait and see where he lands.
Those are the guys I wanted to talk about today. For my next Ramblings, I'll look at the other side, and players who underperformed in goal scoring in 2019-20. Until then, wash your hands.