Top 10 High Offensive Zone Starts

Tom Collins

2020-08-31

Last week, we looked at fantasy-relevant players that had significant more defensive zone starts than in the offensive zone.

For some of these players, that usage has hindered their offense. After all, starting in the defensive zone means you're 200 feet away from scoring.

However, starting in the offensive zone doesn't always help either. As I mentioned last week, generally speaking, two types of players get offensive zone starts: Elite scorers and those awful on defense. This week, I thought we should look at players that get favorable offensive zone starts.

Below are 10 players that had favourable offensive zone starts (minimum 20 games).

To keep it simple, I won't be looking at truly elite players such as Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon or Jack Eichel. In fact, except for one or two players, everyone on this list could be considered a disappointment this season. Because they get so many starts in the offensive zone, you can't count out a rebound next season if the same usage continues.

10. Jesperi Kotkaniemi

The Canadiens tried a lot of things to get Kotkaniemi going this year, but nothing worked and he was eventually sent to the AHL. One of those things they tried was to give him a ton of offensive zone starts. Starting in the offensive zone on 64.2 per cent of his shifts was the 10th-highest percentage in the league. Last season, that percentage sat at 61.73 percent. He's struggled offensively in these two seasons, but players in their first couple of seasons generally get favorable zone starts. 

9. Vincent Trochek

For most of his career in Florida, Trocheck started the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, reaching almost 60 per cent in 2017-18. Strangely enough, that year with the highest defensive zone starting percentage was his most productive as put up 31 goals and 75 points. This year, his number of offensive zone starts skyrocketed to 58.2 percent. I'm thinking that after he struggled last year and early this year, Florida was hoping the offensive zone starts would be beneficial. They weren't. However, in 55 games with Florida, 60.8 percent of his shifts began in the offensive zone. In seven games with Carolina, that dropped to 49 per cent (and 50 per cent in eight postseason games).

8. Vince Dunn

I touched upon this last week when talking about Parayko, but Dunn could be the best bet to take over Alex Pietrangelo's spot if AP leaves in free agency. Dunn has averaged nine power-play points in each of his first three seasons in the league despite being on the second unit. Dunn averaged two shots per game this season and has run the top power-play before. He also gets plenty of offensive zone starts, averaging around 59.46 percent offensive zone starts in three years and 59.4 this season.

7. Shayne Gostisbehere

Last week, I wrote about how Ivan Provorov gets all the defensive assignments because the Flyers can't trust Gostisbehere to start in the defensive zone. Ghost is all about offense, and this year saw his offensive zone starting percentage at 60.3 percent, his highest since 2016-17 when that percentage sat at 67.72 per cent. In this year's postseason, that percentage rose even further to 68.2 percent, although he only played five games and was a healthy scratch for seven. There are rumors the Flyers will try to trade Gostisbehere, so it will be interesting to see if a new squad would continue to give him favorable zone starts.

6. Evgenii Dadonov                                                                                            

In his first two years back into the league, Dadonov started in the defensive zone the majority of the time. This year, his offensive zone starting percentage skyrocketed to 63.7 percent. That may seem high, but it's important to note that six forwards on the Panthers all reached at least 58.8 percent. The Florida players who normally started in the defensive zone were the likes of Brian Boyle, Colton Sceviour and Dominic Toninato (maybe this partly explains Sergei Bobrovsky's struggles). Back to Dadonov, he is a UFA this offseason, and while his salary won't be astronomical, he is a player that can score 70 points in the right situation.

5. Clayton Keller

I often get amazed at teams that don't choose to use their elite players in the offensive zone more often. For some players, I get that they are great defensively so it makes sense. However, Keller started in the offensive zone on 65.1 percent of his shifts (Phil Kessel was right behind at 64.1 per cent). And then you have Taylor Hall, who started in the offensive zone on only 53 percent of his shifts (and just 51.6 percent in Arizona and 54 percent in New Jersey). I understand wanting to get Keller going, but he has started in the offensive zone about two-thirds of all of his shifts, and he's still not scoring.

4. Matt Duchene

Being the shiny new toy sometimes has its advantages, as the new team is desperately trying to prove that a big free agent signing or a big trade wasn't a mistake. For three of his last four years in Colorado, fewer than 50 per cent of his shifts started n the offensive zone. That went to 50 percent in his first year in Ottawa to a then career-high 57.53 percent with Ottawa and Carolina last season. This year, it jumped up even higher to 63.1 percent, the highest on the Preds. It didn't help, as Duchene struggled to score and was on pace for 52 points.

3. Alexander Radulov

When Radulov was lining up with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, you could expect a lot of offensive zone starts. However, he spent more time away from those two than with them this season, but Radulov is the one still getting the offensive zone starts compared to the other two. His starts in the offensive zone went up 2.7 percentage points from the 2018-19 season to 61.9 per cent this year, the highest of his NHL career. Benn's offensive zone starts dropped four percentage points to 53.5 percent, while Seguin's dropped 5.3 percentage points to 51.3 per cent. Those three have been reunited for the majority of the postseason, but expect similar usage numbers next year if they are split up again.

2. Torey Krug

Krug started in the offensive zone on 71 percent of his shifts. Since the NHL started keeping track of offensive zone starts in 2009-10, Marc-Andre Bergeron is the only other defenseman to have a higher offensive zone percentage in one season (minimum 20 games), reaching 74.1 percent with Tampa Bay and Carolina in 2012-13. Krug's offensive zone starts have been increasing for each of the last few years, but will the unrestricted free agent get the same opportunity if he winds up in a new spot next season?

1. Elias Pettersson

Pettersson started an insane 71.4 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone this year, the highest among all players with at least 20 games. That's the 18th highest percentage since the NHL started keeping track of the stat (strangely enough, seven of the top 18 spots are occupied by Vancouver Canucks). I feel like Pettersson is a little overrated (people seem to think he'll be the next Connor McDavid instead of having more realistic expectations of him), however, there's no denying his talent and his production. And favorable zone starts will help a lot with that production.

UPCOMING GAMES

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency COL Players
20.1% PIERRE-EDOUARD BELLEMARE MATT NIETO LOGAN O'CONNOR
17.5% NAZEM KADRI VLADISLAV NAMESTNIKOV VALERI NICHUSHKIN
17.2% ANDRE BURAKOVSKY NATHAN MACKINNON MIKKO RANTANEN

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