Cage Match: Dylan Larkin vs. Robby Fabbri

by Rick Roos on June 8, 2016

 

This week’s match is between two of the highest profile rookies from 2015-16, Dylan Larkin and Robby Fabbri. Can either breakout big in 2016-17, or might one or both fall victim to a sophomore slump? Cage Match is here to guide you, so let’s dive in!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Larkin, 19, was selected 15th overall in the 2014 draft and played his age 18 season at Michigan, where he posted 47 points in 35 games (third in scoring among freshman; sixth in points per game among all collegians). Despite this, Larkin was a long shot to join Detroit in 2015-16, what with the team being notorious for taking its time with youngsters and having last dressed a teenager for even a single regular season game in 1999-2000.

Yet Larkin did break camp with the Wings; and after posting eight points in eight games, there was little doubt he’d remain longer than a nine game junior-eligible audition. When that success extended to 22 points in his first 28 games, Larkin earned himself a full season in Motor City. Unfortunately, Larkin hit a rookie wall, posting only seven points in his final 28 games and a single point in five playoff contests.

Fabbri, 20, was grabbed six spots later than Larkin in the same draft, after an OHL season that saw him more than double his previous season’s output and finish just outside of the top ten in points with 87. Nevertheless, Fabbri was earmarked for an OHL return for 2014-15; however, after 51 points in only 30 games he earned a promotion to the AHL, where he produced four points in three games.

Despite the depth in St. Louis, Fabbri secured himself an NHL spot for 2015-16. It was that same depth, however, which saw Fabbri often relegated to bottom six duty on his way to only nine points in his first 28 games. But he seized upon top six opportunities stemming from injuries to Blues forwards; and come spring, he not only posted 18 points in their final 24 regular season games but also tied for the team lead in playoff scoring (15 points in 20 contests).

Both players are ELCs which expire in 2017-18, with Larkin’s cap hit ($0.925M) and AAV ($1.425M) being slightly higher than Fabbri’s ($0.894M can; $1.106M AAV).

 

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)

2015-16

16:32 (D.L.) – 4th

13:18 (R.F.) – 9th

2:02 (D.L.) – 7th

1:26 (R.F.) – 9th

0:06 (D.L.) – 9th

0:00 (R.F.)

 

Fabbri’s Ice Time numbers are so low, they beg two questions: were they weighed down by low early season Ice Time; and would it be a different – and more encouraging – story if we just focused on the last 20+ games of the regular season plus playoffs, when Fabbri had become more productive?

 

Digging deeper, we see that of the 17 regular season games in which Fabbri played less than 12:00, ten occurred in his first 16 contests. But of the 14 instances of 15:00+, just seven occurred in his last 24 regular season games; and in five of those last 24 he played under 12:00. Also, despite tying for the team scoring lead, Fabbri only averaged 14:21 per playoff game, which, when factoring in 46 extra minutes from four OT contests, means that Fabbri’s average Ice Time per 60 minutes during the playoffs was 13:50.

 

Looking at PP Ice Time, although Fabbri’s average only put him 9th among team forwards, his PP linemates weren’t terrible (mainly Troy Brouwer, Paul Stastny, and Jori Lehtera). And perhaps more importantly, it wasn’t a case of Fabbri receiving nearly no PP Ice Time early and then lots late in the season. Actually, in his final 26 regular season games, he had twice as many where his PP Time was below 2:00 versus above. And in 16 non-OT playoff contests, Fabbri’s PP Time per game was above 2:00 only three times.

 

Also, we know Ken Hitchcock will be returning to coach the Blues, albeit for only one more season. But a 2017-18 return might not be in the cards for one or both of UFAs David Backes (19:13 Ice Time, 2:29 on the PP per game in 2015-16) and Brouwer (16:59 overall, 1:48 PP in 2015-16). Wildcards also include whether Vladimir Sobotka might return from the KHL, other up and coming players (e.g., Jaden Schwartz) standing to make Ice Time gains, plus the duration of Alex Steen’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.

 

Collectively, this paints a picture of Fabbri likely receiving 14:00+ per game next season, but perhaps not more than 15:00, at least not initially. Similarly, his PP Ice Time might stay below 2:00 per game, also at least to start. Considering the highest point total by any NHL forward who received less than 16:00 per game in 2015-16 was only 49, plus the fact that Fabbri had a good but not great 1.87 points per 60 minutes last season at 5×5, that would make it difficult for him to hit the 50 point mark in 2016-17 notwithstanding his 2015-16 late season and playoff success.

 

Larkin’s Ice Time indicates he was unquestionably within the Red Wings top six, but not quite among Detroit’s top couple of forwards. Like Fabbri, Larkin’s PP Time was surprisingly low in relation to his forward teammates; but when Larkin did take the ice on the PP, it was with arguably better linemates (mainly Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyqvist, Henrik Zetterberg).

 

Dissecting Larkin’s Ice Time in relation to his production, we see in his first 28 games (which saw him post 22 points) he received more than his 16:32 average in 13 contests. And sure enough, in his last 28 contests (when he posted only seven points), he skated more than 16:32 only eight times. Thus, Larkin’s production versus his Ice Time does not have similar disconnects as Fabbri. Also, Larkin’s 2.01 points per 60 minutes at 5×5 ranked him in the top 13% among 352 forwards who played 500+ minutes at 5×5 last season (versus top 23% for Fabbri).

 

Collectively, this makes me suspect Larkin might have been victimized by some unsustainable bad luck or, failing that, may have simply hit a non-recurring rookie wall toward the end of his freshman campaign. Either way, Larkin seems to have fewer Ice Time question marks entering his sophomore season than Fabbri.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2015-16

0.42 (D.L.)

0.34 (R.F.)

0.81 (D.L.)

0.71 (R.F.)

0.31 (D.L.)

0.12 (R.F.)

2.76 (D.L.)

1.58 (R.F.)

0.06 (D.L.)

0.11 (R.F.)

 

With Fabbri firing one fewer SOG per game but averaging nearly twice the PPP output as Larkin despite 25% less PP Ice Time per game, Fabbri might have benefitted from some unsustainable good luck while Larkin may have indeed been plagued by bad luck. Their other numbers are fairly close and pretty decent, with the exception being Fabbri’s Blocked Shots; his total of just nine for the entire season made him one of only two forwards (Jiri Hudler) to play 70+ games yet not even post 10+ blocks.

 

In terms of player comparisons, Larkin posted 20+ goals and 20+ assists while averaging 2.75+ SOG per game as a teenaged rookie, making him one of just eight to meet those criteria since 1990-91 (Eric Lindros, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jack Eichel). And the four who’ve already played six or more NHL seasons (Lindros, Hall, Kovalchuk, Crosby) had each hit the 80 point mark by that sixth season.

 

That’s not to imply Fabbri is without impressive comparables. He’s one of only seven who posted 15+ points and averaged 0.75 points per game during the playoffs as a rookie by age 20 (Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Adam Deadmarsh, Alexei Kovalev, Mike Modano, Marion Gaborik). And all but Deadmarsh tallied 86+ points at least once.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

10.4% (D.L.)

15.8% (R.F.)

1020 (D.L.)

992 (R.F.)

76.6% (D.L.)

72.2% (R.F.)

38.5% (D.L.)

72.7% (R.F.)

61.5% (D.L.)

53.3% (R.F.)

 

What’s concerning about Fabbri’s 15.8% Shooting Percentage is that although many 30+ goal scorers have similarly high percentages, forwards who scored fewer than 25 goals in 2015-16 but more than Fabbri’s 18 and had a Shooting % above 15.8% included unproven youngsters (J.T. Miller, Anthony Duclair, Joe Colborne), veterans who’ve never posted 45 points (Jannik Hansen, Artem Anisimov) and just one player (Milan Lucic) who’s ever scored above 60 points and just happens to have managed to post a higher shooting percentage than 15.8% four times. Not encouraging comparables.

 

Yet although his Shooting % data does not paint a promising picture, Fabbri’s IPPs were reasonable, as were his PDO/SPSV and his OZ%. Therefore, as a whole, Fabbri does not appear to have been helped by unsustainable luck in 2015-16.

 

Larkin has one number that stands out as high (his OZ%) and one as low (his 5×4 IPP). In the case of the former, the OZ% of both Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar were higher, and each of Zetterberg, Nyqvist, Abdelkader, and Brad Richards had an OZ% of at least 57.8%. Thus, Larkin’s could remain quite high in seasons to come.

 

As for Larkin’s 5×4 IPP, calling it low is a vast understatement. Among forwards with 150+ minutes at 5×4 last season, only six had a lower IPP. And among the 201 who played 100+ minutes at 5×4, Larkin’s stood 187th. His 5×4 IPP was so lousy, it would’ve tied him for 70th among 75 defensemen who played 100+ minutes at 5×4!

 

But here’s the interesting thing –even if Larkin had been a middle of the pack forward in terms of 5×4 IPP, the difference would’ve only been a couple of extra points. Why? Because only 13 points were scored in the 156 minutes Larkin took the ice at 5×4. That’s pitifully low; so does it mean Larkin is a poor PP performer who might be in danger of seeing his PP Ice Time cut? My take is no; his most frequent 5×4 linemates (i.e., Zetterberg, Nyqvist, Abdelkader) had such poor years that they likely dragged down Larkin at 5×4, not vice versa. Plus, this means there’s room for his PP scoring to rise; and considering his other luck metrics were reasonable, that should translate to a higher scoring output for 2016-17.

 

Who Wins?

 

Declaring a winner among two players who weren’t even alive when Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla were drafted is not an easy task, not just due to their young ages but also the fact neither has played more than 80 career NHL games. But despite the paucity of available statistic data to draw from, I think it’s a pretty clear victory for Larkin.

 

Fabbri is likely to be overvalued because he finished the regular season so strong then shined on the playoff stage. That’s concerning since his scoring will be capped by Ice Time which might increase only moderately for 2016-17. On the other hand, Larkin went from scorching hot in the fall, to disappointing in the spring. And although he’s still likely to be coveted by poolies, the fact that he ended 2016-17 on a low note should help keep his cost down while his production increases due to more PP success and the “rookie wall” being behind him.

 

The good news is that Fabbri might be a decent value by spring of 2017, since by then he’ll have likely disappointed in relation to lofty expectations. So if you want to acquire Fabbri in a keeper, be patient and you might be able to grab him for much better value within 6-12 months. As for Larkin, the time to act might be now, amid his poor end to 2016. If you wait until 2016-17 begins, it won’t take much for his cost to skyrocket back up.