Cage Match: Rasmus Ristolainen vs. Ivan Provorov

by Rick Roos on August 15, 2018


This week’s combatants are two young, stat stuffing rearguards in Rasmus Ristolainen and Ivan Provorov. Both are already contributing well in multi-cat leagues, but questions remain as to whether they can raise their offensive game to the next level, especially amid stiff competition from teammates (i.e., recent first overall selection Rasmus Dahlin for Ristolainen, and Shayne Gostisbehere for Provorov). Let’s determine who’s the better short and long term own. Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Ristolainen, 23, was selected eighth overall in 2013 and ended up playing 34 games both for the Sabres (four points) and in the AHL (20 points) that same season. Despite his poor NHL showing, and given Buffalo’s on-ice struggles, he was with the Sabres to stay starting in 2014-15, posting 20 points in 78 games. The next season, amid the arrival of Jack Eichel, Ristolainen saw his scoring output more than double to 41 points, then he followed that with an even better 45 points in 2016-17, leaving poolies drooling over what lay ahead for Risto. Then last season he ended up stuck in neutral, with 41 points in 73 games; however, a closer look reveals 28 of those points came in his last 42 contests, so he ended very strong.

Provorov, 21, was drafted seventh overall in 2015 after a point-per-game campaign in the WHL, to which he returned and improved to 73 points in 62 games, making it impossible for Philly to keep him away from the NHL any longer. As a rookie in 2016-17 Provorov displayed maturity and skill well beyond his years, but also hit a major rookie wall with only 11 of his 30 points in his final 38 games. For 2017-18, Provorov took a step forward offensively, and this time ended stronger than he started, with 23 of his 41 points in the second half of the season.

Ristolainen’s contract carries a $5.4M yearly cap hit and will expire (leaving him a UFA) in 2022, while 2018-19 marks the last year of Provorov’s ELC that dings the cap at a mere $0.894M and will result in him being an RFA next summer unless he’s extended beforehand.

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2017-18

26:30 (R.R.) – 1st

24:09 (I.P.) – 1st

3:41 (R.R.) – 1st

1:46 (I.P.) – 2nd

2:46 (R.R.) – 1st

2:35 (I.P.) – 1st

2016-17

26:28 (R.R.) – 1st

21:59 (I.P.) – 1st

3:12 (R.R.) – 1st

1:43 (I.P.) – 3rd

2:59 (R.R.) – 1st

2:50 (I.P.) – 2nd

2015-16

25:17 (R.R.) – 1st

3:08 (R.R.) – 1st

2:38 (R.R.) – 1st

2014-15

20:37 (R.R.) – 4th

2:00 (R.R.) – 3rd

1:19 (R.R.) – 6th


Both players have something in common, namely being thrust into major roles at a very young age. In fact, they’re two of only five rearguards since 2000-01 who played 1975+ minutes in a season by age 21. Who were the other three? Just Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and Drew Doughty, each of whom scored 50+ points at least twice and 60+ points at least once.

That having been said, those three phenoms each posted 59+ points by their third season, which Ristolainen failed to do and seems highly unlikely to occur for Provorov this upcoming season, which marks his third. Note that if we lowered the minutes requirement to 1950, another name would’ve been added to the list – Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has yet to post even 40 points in a season. But that’s something both Provorov and Risto have already done; so the question becomes whether they most closely compare to Karlsson/Doughty/Phaneuf, or to a player like Vlasic, who’s far more valuable in “real hockey” versus fantasy?

With Ristolainen, one thing to keep in mind the team in front of him thus far. The Sabres have scored 198 or 199 goals in each of the past three seasons, meaning Risto has factored into at least 20% of the team’s total points during those campaigns. Going back to Phaneuf’s 50-point 2007-08 and 60-point 2008-09, Calgary tallied 229 and 254 goals, respectively, in those seasons and Phaneuf also was logging over 5:00 per game on the PP. With Doughty’s 59-point 2009-10 season, the Kings had 241 goals and he also had a bloated – by today’s standards – PP time of 4:25 per game. Thus, Risto’s 40-45 points in each of the past three seasons are less unlike the much higher outputs of Phaneuf and Doughty than it would first seem.

As for Provorov, he doesn’t have the “excuse” of playing for a low scoring team, as the Flyers potted 249 goals last season, meaning Provorov had a point on about one-sixth of the team’s goals. But in his case, and unlike Risto and those other three, Provorov wasn’t thrust into a true “top dog” role on his team right from the get go, as Shayne Gostisbehere stood firmly in the way of true “across the board” top deployment by being the sole rearguard deployed on Philly’s PP1. In other words, Provorov is #1 in terms of overall minutes, but he’s lacking the PP time that even Risto is getting, and is receiving far less than what the likes of Doughty and Phaneuf had.

Of course with Ristolainen, his top dog status stands to take a hit with the likely arrival this season of Dahlin. Or will it? No doubt the team will want Dahlin to succeed; but there hasn’t been a 40+ point 18-year-old defenseman in the NHL in over 35 seasons, so the odds are stacked against Dahlin making an immediate mark on the scoresheet. Yet him scoring points isn’t the only thing that could hurt Risto’s production, as the fact that Risto is so versatile might lead to him keeping similar overall ice time but having more of it come at ES or on the PK, or with a poorer offensive zone starting percentage in order to shelter Dahlin.

To see what the possible scoring effect might be if Dahlin plays a chunk of 2018-19 with Buffalo, I looked at the three instances of 18-year-old defensemen playing 40+ games for a team since 2000-01 (Zach Bogosian for Atlanta in 2008-09, Aaron Ekblad for Florida in 2014-15, and Jakob Chychrun for Arizona in 2016-17) to see what the effect was on the previous season’s team leader in d-man scoring. Sure enough, in each case the top scoring d-man from the previous season scored fewer points during the debut campaign for the 18 year old, with the scoring drop being at least 20% in each case. While past results don’t dictate future occurrences, this certainly is not encouraging data for Risto and poolies who own him.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.65 (R.R.)

0.24 (I.P.)

2.82 (R.R.)

1.78 (I.P.)

1.52 (R.R.)

2.03 (I.P.)

2.49 (R.R.)

2.47 (I.P.)

0.31 (R.R.)

0.06 (I.P.)

2016-17

0.73 (R.R.)

0.41 (I.P.)

2.46 (R.R.)

1.35 (I.P.)

2.03 (R.R.)

2.02 (I.P.)

2.35 (R.R.)

1.96 (I.P.)

0.31 (R.R.)

0.07 (I.P.)

2015-16

0.40 (R.R.)

1.69 (R.R.)

1.67 (R.R.)

2.46 (R.R.)

0.25 (R.R.)

2014-15

0.33 (R.R.)

1.55 (R.R.)

1.74 (R.R.)

1.55 (R.R.)

0.11 (R.R.)


Both are multi-cat assets, Risto slightly more so due to his higher PIMs. But in leagues which count hits, SOG, and blocks, these are premier d-men. Where concern arises is on the PP. With Risto, in each of the past three seasons more than half his total points have come with the man advantage. And of all the areas where Dahlin could make a dent in Risto’s ice time, the PP seems the most obvious. Still, Risto shoots a lot, and he’s never averaged more than 0.75 SOG per game on the PP, which means he’s firing plenty of pucks on net at even strength. So it might just be a case of sustained bad luck, although three seasons worth is hard to envision. We’ll check on that next.

As for Provorov, we already know he’s getting PP2 scraps; however, plenty of other rearguards who are in a similar situation do more with what they’re given. For example, last season Provorov ranked 55th among all d-men in PP time on ice but only 70th in PPPts. Part of that could be playing on the lowly Flyers’ PP2, which consisted mainly of Jordan Weal, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, and an aging Valtteri Filppula. The good news is with the addition of James van Riemsdyk, either a skilled player from the potent Flyers’ PP1 unit will slide down to PP2, or the team will balance out its PP with two top players on each unit. Accordingly, Provorov should have a better crop of forwards taking the ice with him on the PP; so either he steps up and does better, or perhaps he sheds more PP minutes. Time will tell.

On the plus side, Provorov’s SOG rate increased nicely from his rookie season to 2017-18, and was 2.57 per game in the midst of his 23 points in 42 games to end the season. Yet his SOG rate on the PP stayed roughly the same, which is not encouraging. He simply might not have the makings of a PP QB, which of course would put a definite ceiling on his production.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

5.92% (R.R.)

8.78% (I.P.)

40.6% (R.R.)

43.6% (I.P.)

52.2% (R.R.)

47.7% (I.P.)

48% (R.R.)

54% (I.P.)

2016-17

7.04% (R.R.)

6.35% (I.P.)

42.1% (R.R.)

50.0% (I.P.)

44.7% (R.R.)

48.3% (I.P.)

56% (R.R.)

37% (I.P.)

2015-16

6.55% (R.R.)

45.6% (R.R.)

43.6% (R.R.)

53% (R.R.)

2014-15

5.25% (R.R.)

43.5% (R.R.)

37.3% (R.R.)

50% (R.R.)


Overall, this data is not especially encouraging for Ristolainen owners. For one, his IPP has dropped in each of the past two seasons, albeit not by much. Still though – that could be a sign he’s focusing more on being a defenseman first, rather than hitting the scoresheet. There’s also the fact that his 5×5 team shooting percentage has been very poor in each of his seasons. To some degree that’s due to the lack of scoring of Buffalo as a team; however, this could be further evidence (beyond, as we saw above, more than half his points in each of the two past seasons coming on the PP) that Risto is more preoccupied, at least at ES, with keeping the other team from scoring. Lastly, he’s had more secondary than primary assists in three of his four seasons, further indicating that he’s not dialed into the offense. Overall this does not paint the picture of a player who’s poised to break out in the scoring department, let alone with Dahlin entering the picture. Instead, it represents one who prioritizes his defensive duties first and foremost and relies on the PP for most of his scoring.

Provorov’s 2017-18 data sends a mixed message. His 5×5 team shooting percentage was approaching 9.0%, suggesting offense was indeed happening with him on the ice. Yet his IPP dropped and secondary assist rate increased, so either those could be signs of unsustainable bad luck or the beginning of him trending in the wrong direction. For now, we’ll think the former, due to better numbers as a rookie; but this definitely bears watching for 2018-19.

Who Wins?

If you’re a Ristolainen owner you can’t feel great after reading this. Based on his PP to ES production, plus his luck metrics, the takeaway is he simply doesn’t place a priority on scoring. And now with Dahlin in the fold, that situation might only get worse, as it has for other top d-men when they’ve been on the same team as an 18 year-old rookie who played 40+ games. What’s more – Risto’s past success and name recognition will keep his cost high – too high to justify obtaining in one-year leagues, making Provorov the winner in that format, as 40 points looks to be Provorov’s floor and he should benefit from better talent on PP2 with him this season.

In keepers it’s an interesting picture, mainly because of Risto being a UFA in 2022. If Dahlin becomes an immediate star, it’s possible Risto could look to sign elsewhere, in which case he could be traded as soon as the 2020-21 season, which could greatly increase his value. Then again, Ristolainen might just end up being more Vlasic than not regardless of where he plays or what stage of his career – that is, content to play a sound game without much attention paid to the score sheet. Meanwhile, with Gostisbehere not set to be a UFA until 2024, Provorov could be looking at a long wait until – if ever – he becomes an all-around top dog ala Victor Hedman or Drew Doughty. In truth, I think both might be quiet sells in keeper leagues due to their potential being able to net you more than what they’ll actually be capable of even three or even five years down the road.

 

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