Cage Match: Jack Eichel vs Mitch Marner

by Rick Roos on February 6, 2019

 

 

This week I’m covering Jack Eichel and Mitch Marner, who’ve long been on my radar, but I’d wanted to give a couple of seasons before I had them do battle. Let’s see who’s the better fantasy asset at present and for the future. This final Cage Match (more on that below) starts now!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

Eichel, 22, was selected second overall in 2015 after assembling a pre-draft resume that unquestionably would’ve led to him being picked first overall in any year other than one which featured Connor McDavid. As a rookie Eichel tallied 56 points, but that was for a Buffalo team which scored only 199 goals. As a sophomore and last season he nearly hit the point per game mark (57 in 61 games, then 64 in 67 contests), but in both cases played much better as the season wore on. That bodes well for him in 2018-19, as does the fact that he’s already been comfortably above the point per game mark for the entire season thus far.

 

Marner, 21, was picked two spots after Eichel in that same draft following 126 points in 63 contests in the OHL (second in league scoring). Toronto decided to have Marner return to juniors for his age 18 season, where he once again produced two points per game played (116 in 57 contests) to finish third in league scoring. With nothing left to prove in juniors and Toronto in need of offence, Marner went directly to the NHL for 2016-17 and tallied 61 points in 77 games, helping the Leafs up their goal output by 58 from the previous season. As a sophomore Marner certainly didn’t slump but also didn’t make a huge leap (69 points in 82 games). This season, however, Marner has been on fire since game one, and a fixture within the league’s top ten scorers.

 

Eichel inked one the most expensive ($10M cap hit per season) and longest duration (through 2025-26) contracts in the NHL. Marner is on the last season of his ELC that pays him $0.894M but will leave him an RFA this offseason on a team with Auston Matthews – among others – also to sign.

 

Ice Time (data in this and the other tables is current through February 3rd)

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)

2018-19

19:56 (J.E.) – 1st

19:42 (M.M.) – 1st

3:43 (J.E.) – 1st

2:35 (M.M.) – 1st

0:22 (J.E.) – 7th

1:04 (M.M.) – 5th

2017-18

20:09 (J.E.) – 2nd

16:23 (M.M.) – 6th

3:44 (J.E.) – 1st

2:12 (M.M.) – 2nd

0:48 (J.E.) – 7th

0:03 (M.M.) – 9th

2016-17

19:55 (J.E.) – 2nd

16:49 (M.M.) – 3rd

2:59 (J.E.) – 2nd

2:23 (M.M.) – 3rd

0:14 (J.E.) – 9th

0:08 (M.M.) -10th

2015-16

19:07 (J.E.) – 3rd

3:02 (J.E.) – 2nd

0:23 (J.E.) – 8th

 

Marner’s 130 points in his first two seasons are remarkable given the ice time he received. And it puts him in impressive company as if we look at players who – since 2000-01 – also scored 130+ points in their first two seasons by age 21 while playing under 3000 total minutes, the list consists of Marner, teammate Matthews and fellow young phenom Patrik Laine, plus Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid. Steven Stamkos and Eric Staal, the latter four each having at least one 97+ point season to their credit.

 

The possible issues are that, if we do the math, Marner’s additional 2:00 of non-shorthanded time he’s gained this season should not equate to a scoring increase the likes of what we’re seeing, i.e., his points per 60 minutes increasing by one (3.8) versus his rookie season (2.8). While it’s realistic that players improve as they’re surrounded by better talent and have time to mature, both of which are happening with Marner, his scoring gains for 2018-19 seem too high to count on continuing. Either that or we’re witnessing the emergence of a truly superb talent. Crunching more data will help us figure out which it might be.

 

As for Eichel, I would’ve thought he’d see a big jump in ice time this season, what with minute eater Ryan O’Reilly having been traded over the summer. But instead, Eichel’s overall TOI is down ever so slightly and his PP Time flat. What that means is, on the surface, his smaller jump in production as compared to Marner seems more legitimate and sustainable; however, at the same time it raises the question as to whether Eichel can enter the top echelon of scorers given his deployment. To determine that we’ll need to closely examine his other metrics/data as well.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2018-19

0.33 (J.E.)

0.39 (M.M.)

0.87 (J.E.)

0.35 (M.M.)

0.52 (J.E.)

0.47 (M.M.)

3.98 (J.E.)

2.76 (M.M.)

0.27 (J.E.)

0.29 (M.M.)

2017-18

0.47 (J.E.)

0.31 (M.M.)

0.77 (J.E.)

0.38 (M.M.)

0.52 (J.E.)

0.30 (M.M.)

3.67 (J.E.)

2.36 (M.M.)

0.30 (J.E.)

0.33 (M.M.)

2016-17

0.36 (J.E.)

0.49 (M.M.)

0.42 (J.E.)

0.53 (M.M.)

0.57 (J.E.)

0.50 (M.M.)

4.08 (J.E.)

2.28 (M.M.)

0.39 (J.E.)

0.27 (M.M.)

2015-16

0.27 (J.E.)

0.53 (J.E.)

0.31 (J.E.)

2.94 (J.E.)

0.26 (J.E.)

 

Looking first at Eichel, we see his SOG and PPPts rates (especially the former) are both very high – high enough there’s likely little to no room for improvement by him individually. Need proof? If Eichel once again averages 4+ SOG per game this season, he’d join Alex Ovechkin as the only forwards since 2010-11 to do so in two separate seasons while playing in 60+ games. Also, although he missed 37 games over the previous three seasons, translating to the 35th most PP minutes among all forwards, he still had the 20th most PPPts. Couple this with healthy ice times, especially on the PP, and the question arises as to why he’s not producing more now.

 

Digging deeper, we see Eichel is doing pretty much the best he can in view of the team around him and is already on a par with one of the NHL’s best centermen in terms of getting points on the goals scored by his team. Had Eichel played 82 games in each of the past three seasons and produced at the same scoring pace he did in the games he played, he’d have ended up with 211 points, or 34 more than his actual 177. Buffalo as a team potted only 596 goals (second lowest in the NHL) in those seasons; so if we up that by 34 we get 630, meaning that Eichel likely would’ve had a point on 33.4% of his team’s tallies. That seems like an impressively high rate – but is it? The answer is yes.

 

Consider Sidney Crosby, one of just three centers to average a point per game (1.11 to be exact) during this same three-season stretch. Pittsburgh had 789 goals over these three seasons, while Crosby’s 82 game scoring pace puts him at 269 points (versus 263 actual points) during the same three seasons. So if we up Pittsburgh’s goal total by six to account for the added Crosby goals had he played all 82 games, we see that he’d have had a point on 33.8% of his team’s goals, which is on a par with Eichel.

 

What this means is Eichel was seemingly a top tier talent from day one, even if top tier points weren’t there to show for it. While that is great because it suggests what he’s capable of, it’s inconsequential unless either he becomes a one-man offensive machine ala McDavid or Taylor Hall or the team around him improves to have more goals ala Crosby’s Pens. This season Buffalo is scoring more, as they’re at 145 goals already. Up that by three to 148 to account for Eichel’s full-season scoring rate (he missed three games) being 57 points, and the percentage of goals on which Eichel would have received a point if he played all 51 games is 38.5%, showing he can improve as the team around him improves, and boding well for the future if indeed Buffalo is a team on the rise.

 

Turning to Marner, concern arises when scrutinizing his PP scoring. If we recall Marner’s rather low – for a big scorer – PP Time per game averages from above, his PP production seems quite high. And in fact, it is indeed. Since entering the league (and including this season) Marner has 63 PPPts; and among those who have received less than his cumulative 494 minutes of PP Time, the closest in PPPts has only 51. While to some degree this signifies Marner is extremely talented with the man advantage, it also raises apprehension about sustainability, as did his P/60 rate. On the plus side, his spike in production has coincided with a jump in SOG, although not a big enough increase to offset these other concerns.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2018-19

8.9% (J.E.)

14.2% (M.M.)

10.60% (J.E.)

12.59% (M.M.)

72.0% (J.E.)

71.6% (M.M.)

65.7% (J.E.)

52.2% (M.M.)

33.5 (J.E.)

30.2 (M.M.)

38% (J.E.)

23% (M.M.)

2017-18

10.2% (J.E.)

11.3% (M.M.)

7.63% (J.E.)

8.48% (M.M.)

72.7% (J.E.)

75.8% (M.M.)

60.5% (J.E.)

54.2% (M.M.)

34.2 (J.E.)

31.0 (M.M.)

41% (J.E.)

42% (M.M.)

2016-17

9.6% (J.E.)

10.8% (M.M.)

7.30% (J.E.)

10.13% (M.M.)

76.0% (J.E.)

71.8% (M.M.)

50.9% (J.E.)

55.6% (M.M.)

34.1 (J.E.)

27.8 (M.M.)

42% (J.E.)

43% (M.M.)

2015-16

10.1% (J.E.)

7.21% (J.E.)

70.9% (J.E.)

53.4% (J.E.)

33.4 (J.E.)

31% (J.E.)

 

Sure enough, Marner’s 5×5 team shooting percentage is off the charts. Yes, in today’s higher scoring NHL the 9.0% rate that was considered normal for high scorers is now closer to 10%; but anything above 11% is still very suspect. And here we have Marner at 12.59%! A correction has to occur; and when it does, his scoring should drop. It’s also doesn’t follow that Marner is having by far his best season despite his lowest career OZ%. These things having been said, his other metrics suggest his scoring shouldn’t crater, as his IPP has been above 70% in each season, even as he’s playing with more talented linemates, and his secondary assists rate this season is far too low.

 

As for Eichel, it would be one thing if he’d been above a 70% IPP solely in past seasons when he was playing with subpar linemates; however, to see it still just as high for 2018-19 despite much better wingers is a very reassuring sign. Where concern arises though is his OZ% can’t get much higher than it is now, and his 5×5 team shooting percentage is also pushing into high territory even for an elite player. These metrics seem to further underscore – along with his SOG rate, PP scoring and TOI – that Eichel is pretty close to “maxed out” in terms of his scoring until/unless the players around him improve.

 

Who Wins?

 

Marner is the winner, as although his current scoring rate is too high the data suggests that when it drops it shouldn’t be by much, especially in view of his IPP and low – for him – secondary assists rate for this season. Plus, Marner has room for his ice time to improve, which might not ultimately happen in a Mike Babcock system but at least is possible. Compare this to Eichel, who’s seemingly already brought all he could to the table – that is, he’s playing about the best he can given his ice times, SOG, PPPt rates, and luck metrics. He could still improve if the team around him gets better but is far less of a sure thing than Marner, who thus emerges victorious.

 

Column Revamp

 

All good things must come to an end, and this will be the final regular installment of Cage Match. I hope you enjoyed reading it over the past five-and-a-half years as much as I loved writing it.

 

But just like in life, sometimes we enter new chapters; in this case, my column is getting a revamp. In place of Cage Matches will be a rotating schedule consisting of one edition of Goldipucks and the Three Skaters, one Tournament/Poll, one “Forum Buzz” column (where I highlight and comment upon active topics in the DobberHockey Forums), and one Mailbag column (where I answer your fantasy hockey questions, which you can email to [email protected] with the subject line “Roos Mailbag” or send as a private message to me at “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums).

 

Why is Cage Match ending? Truth be told, it’s no longer as much of a “must read” for poolies due to so much content – and the ability to compare players – being just a click away on Frozen Tools. Plus, by covering only two players (and not even goalies) the subject matter is not relevant to enough readers. For those who’ll miss Cage Match, keep in mind you’ll still be getting Goldipucks and the Three Skaters every fourth week, which as you know is kind of “Cage Match Light” plus covers an additional player. Maybe someday down the road Cage Match will return as a one-off – we’ll how things go.

 

Thanks to all the loyal readers. I hope you’ll enjoy the new content, which will start next week with my inaugural Forum Buzz column.