Ramblings: Stat comparisons for Robert Thomas, Lawson Crouse, and Kevin Fiala

Michael Clifford

2020-04-09

How players compare to one another is quite often how we process information in sports. What I mean is how a certain talent possessed by Player A compares to Player B, assuming we have a good handle on what Player B brings. Someone could say that so-and-so is nearly as good a playmaker as Nicklas Backstrom or Mark Scheifele, and we know what that talent entails, because those guys are proven players in that specific regard.

I thought it would be fun to just go through the accumulated stats from some players this season and how they compare to those around them. This isn't to be definitive one way or another about anyone, but just to get us thinking about players in a way that we may not have thought about them previously. Most of the data is from Natural Stat Trick and we'll go through just a handful of situations.

 

Robert Thomas had as many primary assists at 5-on-5 in 2019-20 as Jonathan Huberdeau, Brayden Point, and Teuvo Teravainen.

It should be mentioned that in this instance, we're talking about raw primary assists, and not a rate. He had as many as Point in the same number of games (66) but over 100 fewer minutes (943 to 829). He also had more total assists at 5-on-5 (25) than Aleksander Barkov (23), Elias Pettersson (22) and Taylor Hall (21). Hey, that all seems pretty good?

I have written over the last several months about the slow breakout of Thomas (feel free to peruse our archives) and how he was turning into an elite playmaker. I'm at the point where I think his floor is basically Nick Schmaltz, and I mean that as a compliment. (Schmaltz is also very much underrated, but that's for another day.) The thing with him is that it's not just a one-year blip, either, as he has the exact same primary assist rate as Elias Pettersson and Patrick Kane. Ever heard of 'em?

I do think the comparison to Schmaltz is apt in more way than one, though. Like Schmaltz, Thomas brings next to nothing in peripheral stats; Thomas is in the 10th percentile for shot rate and the 5th percentile for hit rate. In other words, not only does he not help in those categories, he actively hurts fantasy rosters. That's always been the problem with Schmaltz; he's a great playmaker, but what else can he bring?

It's the shot rate that really hurts here. Guys putting up tons of points can overcome the lack of hits (Artemi Panarin this year; Phil Kessel in years gone by) but guys can't put up tons of points without scoring some goals. When we look at the names around him in shot rate the last two years, even the top-end players within the low-shot guys – David Krejci, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Johansen – don't score very often; there's a reason it's hard to rely on much more than 60 points for any of them.

So, we get back to the original points: Robert Thomas has shown himself to be a great playmaker, and one comparable to the just-below-elite tier already in his young career, but can he bring more than that? If he's posting seasons of 15 goals, 50 assists, 120 shots, and 15 hits, does that scream great fantasy option? I get that he still has some growth to do as a young player but he has a long way to go before his peripherals become acceptable; even if his shot rate jumped by 50 percent – which would be enormous growth – he would still just be in the 70th percentile for shot rate. So, yes, he'll keep getting better, but there is a long way to go.

 

Lawson Crouse has a higher 5-on-5 shot rate over the last two years than Evgeni Malkin and Brock Boeser.

Count me among the people who not only thought Crouse was overhyped and as a result, a terrible draft pick by Florida. (And even if Crouse does pan out – and we'll get to that – the fact that within the next 10 picks we saw Denis Gurianov, Jake DeBrusk, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot all get taken is probably another point in Crouse for sure being overhyped, given where he is in his NHL career compared to some of those guys.) Things weren't looking too good with 13 points in his first 83 regular season game, including a good chunk of time in the AHL.

Things have turned around the last couple years. He posted 25 points in a full season a year ago and had the same total in 66 games this year. There are serious concerns about his assist rate – he's about the 10th percentile at 5-on-5 the last two years, and that's quite bad – but his individual expected goals have climbed the last two years, posting higher rates than his first two seasons. While his individual shot rate has been somewhat consistent for his career, he's getting better looks at the net. Those better looks are why he managed 15 goals in 66 games this year while playing under 14 minutes a night.

That he's showing the ability to score 15-20 goals is huge here. Crouse is a guy who can put up monster hit totals, as he's posted over 200 in each of the last two seasons, and he was short-changed one-fifth of the season this year. If he can score 20 goals and put up 250 hits while landing something like 150 shots on goal, well, we could have a special multi-cat talent.

It's the question of line mates that bugs me. His three most-common line mates in 2019-20 were, in order, Derek Stepan, Carl Soderberg, and Phil Kessel. Those are guys we want to see Crouse with. The year before it was Josh Archibald, Mario Kempe, and Nick Cousins. Those are not guys we want to see Crouse with.

Soderberg and Hall are both UFAs, and Derek Stepan has a year left on his deal. There are not a lot of great forward prospects in the pipeline. Will Crouse continue getting good line mates, or will it revert back to pre-2019? That's going to be the difference between 10-goal, 250-hit seasons and 20-goal, 250-hit seasons.

 

Kevin Fiala had the same points/60 rate at 5-on-5 in 2019-20 as Patrick Kane, and higher than Elias Pettersson, Sebastian Aho, and Auston Matthews.

I think like a lot of fantasy hockey players that pay attention to prospects year in and year out, I was excited for Kevin Fiala when he was getting regular minutes in Nashville. The problem is he had one bad season, fell out of favour, and was traded to Minnesota.

I'll be honest: I wasn't excited about the trade. Minnesota, at best, had an aging core and unproven young players. I would have rather seen him stay somewhere in Nashville's top-six. Well, needless to say, it's worked out pretty well for Fiala and the Wild.

When I see a big jump in point rates, I look at two things: goals and secondary assists. That's because a big jump in goals can mean a big jump in shooting percentage, which is unsustainable, and a big jump in secondary assists is also unsustainable. The goals are fine; his 1.01 goals/60 lines up well with his 2017-18 season (1.03) and his 2016-17 season (0.98). We've seen him score at this rate a couple times already in his young career. That's fine.

The secondary assists are a bit more of a concern. He's never posted a rate higher than 0.3 secondary assists/60 minutes in his career and his rate in 2019-29 was 0.54. That's high.

One thing about that is that it's high for him, but not compared to the league in general – he's around the 75th percentile in secondary assists/60 this year. That's not extreme by any means. And when we consider that Fiala has elite playmaking numbers from things like zone entries/exits, maybe it was a matter of his line mates finishing for once.

The last problem is his individual points percentage, or IPP. He's near the 95th percentile in that regard, and that's high. But again, he sits just under 83 percent individually, and he's had two seasons over 75 percent. So even if it's high, even in comparison to the league, it's not wildly different from what he's shown in the past.

I've long said that Fiala is an elite talent just waiting to break out and that finally happened in 2019-20. There are some concerns with rates in a couple areas, but the thing is, if we're operating with the assumption that he's an elite offensive talent – and I am – then increasing rates of points percentage or secondary assists don't overly concern me. It could simply be a case of a real good player finally living up to his potential and having the groundwork in prior years to support that improvement, which he does.

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 BUF Players
30.4% JACK EICHEL SAM REINHART JEFF SKINNER
24.2% ZEMGUS GIRGENSONS JOHAN LARSSON KYLE OKPOSO
20.1% CURTIS LAZAR WAYNE SIMMONDS JIMMY VESEY

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