Filip Forsberg vs. Evgeny Kuznetsov

by Rick Roos on August 19, 2015

Who is the better player to own in your keeper league – Filip Forsberg or Evgeny Kuznetsov? Rick Roos investigates…

Keeping with my post-tournament run of covering younger players, this week’s combatants are Filip Forsberg and Evgeni Kuznetsov. And just like last week, we’re faced with trying to figure out how things will unfold for one player who started 2014-15 red hot but cooled (Forsberg) and another (Kuznetsov) who emerged from 2014-15 unspectacularly, but looked on the cusp of excellence by season’s end. Who’ll produce better in 2015-16? Cage Match starts now!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

Kuznetsov was selected 26th overall by the Caps in 2010. But within a year he was already a massively hyped NHL prospect, what with posting 32 points in 44 KHL games as an 18/19 year old. And things only improved from there (85 points in 100 games over his next two KHL campaigns, 24 points in 14 WJC games, and seven points in 13 World Championships contests), leaving as the only question when Kuznetsov would jump to the NHL. That ended up happening in March 2014; and although Kuznetsov was a bit raw at times, he showed he wasn’t out of place, on his way to nine points in 17 contests.

Expectations naturally were high for 2014-15; but Kuznetsov struggled early on, with no more than six points in any of the first five months of the season. Then something clicked, and he posted 13 points in 19 games to finish the season. And although his production slid to only seven points in 14 playoff games, that included two eye opening multi-point efforts.

Forsberg was drafted two years later (11th overall), also by the Caps, who then shockingly flipped him to Nashville at the 2013 deadline for Martin Erat. Although Erat’s tenure in Washington was just okay, Forsberg wasn’t exactly doing much for Nashville early on (18 games during 2012-13 and 2013-14, with six total points with a collective -13 rating).

All that changed in 2014-15, as Forsberg stormed out of the gate with 38 points in 39 games. But since he finished the year with four points in four April games, that means there was a stretch of only 21 points in 39 games during the first few months of 2016, leaving poolies wondering what to project for Forsberg this season.

Kuznetsov will make $3M per season in 2015-16 and 2016-17, while Forsberg will complete his ELC in 2015-16, with a $0.89M cap hit and $1.46M AAV.

 

Ice Time

Because neither played even 20 games in 2013-14, I’ll only include 2014-15 data in all tables.

 

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)

2014-15

13:19 (E.K.) – 8th

17:19 (F.F.) – 4th

1:22 (E.K.) – 6th

2:49 (F.F.) – 3rd

0:01 (E.K.) – 11th (tied)

0:01 (F.F.) – 11th (tied)

 

The 26 point scoring edge held by Forsberg is at least somewhat explained by their differences in Total Ice Time. But Forsberg also was tied for 25th in points per 60 minutes at 5×5 among 262 NHL forwards who played 750+ minutes at 5×5 (2.23), whereas Kuznetsov was way down at 199th (1.33). Meanwhile, Kuznetsov made better use of his PP Ice Time, as among 195 forwards who skated 100+ minutes at 5×4 he had the ninth best points per 60 minutes (6.66), versus 63rd for Forsberg (4.34).

 

Kuznetsov’s radically different production at 5×5 versus 5×4 is somewhat hard to explain, as if we look to Frozen Pool the quality of his 5×5 and 5×4 linemates was fairly comparable:

 

35.19%

EV

20 BROUWER,TROY – 90 JOHANSSON,MARCUS – 92 KUZNETSOV,EVGENY

8.96%

EV

20 BROUWER,TROY – 25 CHIMERA,JASON – 92 KUZNETSOV,EVGENY

25.84%

PP

65 BURAKOVSKY,ANDRE – 92 KUZNETSOV,EVGENY – 42 WARD,JOEL

13.7%

PP

65 BURAKOVSKY,ANDRE – 92 KUZNETSOV,EVGENY – 8 OVECHKIN,ALEXANDER – 42 WARD,JOEL

12.66%

PP

92 KUZNETSOV,EVGENY – 21 LAICH,BROOKS – 8 OVECHKIN,ALEXANDER – 42 WARD,JOEL

 

Thus, the answer might lie in especially bad luck at 5×5 and/or especially good luck at 5×4. We’ll check on that below. For now, let’s look more at Ice Time trends to help forecast 2015-16.

 

It’s difficult to see what led to Kuznetsov’s breakout in March 2015 (ten points in 14 games), as his 13:56 average Ice Time that month was less than his 14:36 for February (six points in 14 games) and barely above his 13:40 for January (four points in 13 games). Beyond that, five of his ten March points came in games where he received 14:19 or less of Total Ice Time.

 

Focusing on the playoffs gives useful insight. Kuznetsov averaged 15:53 or more in ten of 16 playoff contests; but what’s interesting is the three lowest Total Ice Times that Kuznetsov had in the playoffs were in OT games while his highest overall Ice Time also came in an overtime contest. In twelve non-OT games, he ranged from 15:40 to 17:45, with nearly as many games of 17:00+ Ice Time (three) as 16:00 to 16:59 (five). Considering that Kuznetsov had plenty of 16:00 – 18:00 Ice Times when things counted most, the tea leaves suggest he should be poised to receive between 16:30 and 17:30 of Total Ice Time per game in 2015-16.

 

Forsberg’s regular season average Total Ice Time was never lower than 16:28 in a given month. But he only averaged more than 17:53 per game in each of the last two months, which leaves us wondering whether that was a good sign (i.e., the team continued to lean on him despite him not producing as much) or a bad sign (i.e., the team might rethink continuing to give him more Ice Time in 2015-16 because of his comparative lack of production).

 

Like Kuznetsov, we can look to the playoffs for added information, although Nashville had only four non-OT games, in which Forsberg received 15:10 (hat trick), 17:36 (scoreless), 17:43 (assist), and 18:24 (goal and assist). From this admittedly small sample size, we see he was able to produce well when receiving both high and low Ice Time in key games. In the end, based on performance and circumstances, Forsberg might see only a modest gain in Total Ice Time, to 17:30 to 18:00 per game for 2015-16.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2014-15

0.30 (E.K.)

0.29 (F.F.)

0.53 (E.K.)

1.31 (F.F.)

0.18 (E.K.)

0.34 (F.F.)

1.58 (E.K.)

2.89 (F.F.)

0.16 (E.K.)

0.23 (F.F.)

 

Things are pretty one-sided in favor of Forsberg. In fact, even if Kuznetsov had received 4:00 more in Ice Time (to equal Forsberg) and seen these stats increase proportionally, he still would’ve had a much lower output than Forsberg in all areas except PIM (where both are below average). Kuznetsov’s only saving grace was on the PP, where he produced 70% of Forsberg’s output despite receiving less than half as much PP Ice Time. Of course we still have to see next how (un)lucky both were with the man advantage before drawing any firm conclusions.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2014-15

8.7% (E.K.)

11.0% (F.F.)

1028 (E.K.)

997 (F.F.)

57.1% (E.K.)

68.3% (F.F.)

70.6% (E.K.)

72.7% (F.F.)

55.6% (E.K.)

69.6% (F.F.)

 

No, Forsberg’s OZ% isn’t a typo; and it tied him for second at 5×5 among the 307 forwards who played 60+ games in 2014-15. Although of course we have to figure it will drop in 2014-15, the reality is it might fall less than one would think. The reason is Nashville actually had five forwards with a 5×5 OZ% between 59.5% and 69.8%, thanks largely to the fact they also had Paul Gaustad (11.1% OZ%, lowest among the 307 forwards), Eric Nystrom (17.1% OZ%, second lowest), Gabriel Bourque (28.0%, 301st), and Taylor Beck (29.4%, 300th). All but Beck are returning to the club for 2015-16; and with the Preds having made the playoffs, there’s no reason to suspect they’ll employ a vastly different approach to offensive zone starts. Long story short – it’s more likely than not we’ll see Forsberg’s OZ% remain above 60% for 2015-16; and with that, he’ll continue to get ample opportunity to produce well.

 

Moreover, Forsberg’s PDO is just fine, as is his personal shooting percentage. His combined IPPs also are fairly reasonable, although unlikely to improve.

 

The good news for Kuznetsov is his 5×4 IPP put him at a somewhat high but not entirely unsustainable 39th among the 195 forwards who skated 100+ minutes at 5×4 in 2014-15. His 5×5 IPP was extremely low, placing him way down at 238th among the 262 forwards who skated 750+ minutes at 5×5. And although his PDO was on the high end of the “normal” range of 970-1030, his OZ% was reasonable for a scoring forward (77th out of 307) and his personal shooting percentage was lower than the entire league-wide average of 9.1%, which includes defensemen. All in all, this suggests not only wasn’t Kuznetsov unsustainably lucky overall, but there’s realistic room for his production to improve even if his linemates and Ice Time don’t see a significant upgrade.

 

Who Wins?

 

Picking a winner here is a great way to underscore that predicting fantasy performance should be based first and foremost on reality, as somewhat influenced by talent and potential, not the other way around. In this case, it might be that Kuznetsov has more pure hockey skill than Forsberg and could produce better if they were put into exactly the same circumstances. And while both of those things are worth knowing, what matters far more is the often cold hand of reality, which tells us that Forsberg wins.

 

In short, Forsberg should be able to fall into much the same situation as last season, or at least enough of the same situation to get 60+ points. Plus, with his added experience and him no longer being as vulnerable to hitting the proverbial “rookie wall” that arguably took a tool on him in 2014-15, his production could rise even if all things stayed otherwise equal or perhaps even slipped a bit. I see him as all but assured to post 55 points for 2015-16, with better than a 50% chance of 60+ and a realistic shot of 65+.

 

The issue with Kuznetsov is because he came into his own as the 2014-15 campaign wore on, and since the Caps traded for T.J. Oshie to most likely occupy RW with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov’s ultimate destination is almost assuredly the second line. Long story short – Kuznetsov isn’t likely to see an upgrade in linemates at 5×5, although he could still find his way into a somewhat better PP spot. But all in all, despite his raw talent Kuznetsov might not even top 50 points in 2015-16, making him a bad value for one year leagues in view of his likely cost.

 

Of course if Kuznetsov stays below 50 points, he might become a bargain to obtain from an impatient keeper GM, as ultimately he does figure to get an opportunity to shine down the road (provided he doesn’t head to Russia for big money after 2016-17). So if your team is rebuilding, you might look for an opportunity to grab Kuznetsov. And if you have him in a keeper already, best to hold.

 

Forsberg might be worth owning in a keeper or one year league if the price is right, and that will have a lot to do with whether folks think his second half drop in production was a sign of ongoing concern (which we saw above it shouldn’t be). If you can grab him in a one year league among players expected to post 50-55 points, he’s probably worth taking, but resist the urge to select him much earlier. In keepers, definitely hold onto him if you already own him, and maybe make a soft inquiry about him if you don’t, as perhaps a GM might be looking to unload him for a lower than normal price out of fear due to his second half drop in production.

 

Brock Nelson vs. Aleksander Barkov 12 Aug 2015 Rick Roos
Winner of the Summer 2015 Cage Match Tournament 5 Aug 2015 Rick Roos
Cage Match Final – Biggest Risers/Fallers 30 Jul 2015 Rick Roos

 

 

 

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