Cage Match: Rickard Rakell vs. Mark Stone

by Rick Roos on August 22, 2018


One of the countless great things about the Fantasy Guide (available for order here) is I can use the point projections to help pick what – on paper – should be even battles, like this week, with Rickard Rakell squaring off against Mark Stone. The Fantasy Guide has them at virtually identical scoring rates for 2018-19, but let’s see if one player has an edge (both for this season and down the road) according to the deep dive of Cage Match.

Career Path and Contract Status

Rakell, 25, was selected 30th overall in 2011 and returned to juniors for two more years of development that saw him post barely point per game numbers, making him not a standout in the high scoring OHL. But he nevertheless took the AHL by storm in 2013-14 by posting 37 points in 46 games and earning a call-up to the NHL, where he had a mere four points in 18 contests. Even still, it was clear to the Ducks that Rakell was above returning to the AHL, so starting in 2014-15 he was with the Ducks to stay, and he tallied a so-so 31 points in 71 games. But since then, all Rakell has done is increase his 82-game scoring pace with each passing season, going from 36 as a rookie to 49 in 2015-16, to 59 in 2016-17, to 73 last season. Notice though I referred to scoring pace – that’s because Rakell missed 10+ games in each of his first three seasons, and last season still managed to only play in 77 contests.

Stone, 26, was drafted 178th overall a year earlier than Rakell then proceeded to tally 229 points over his next two seasons in the WHL. He nevertheless spent the 2012-13 lockout in the AHL and returned there for 2013-14 until his 41 points in 37 games led to him coming to Ottawa to stay. His first full NHL season was a doozy, as he posted 64 points in 80 games. Unfortunately, he’s played in fewer games with each passing season, dropping first to 75, then 71, and finally to only 58 this past season. Yet for 2017-18 he had better than point per game output (62 points), which is all the more remarkable since it came on the woeful Sens. It also reversed a slight scoring dip that occurred in 2016-17, which had seen Stone post a mere 54 points in those 71 games.

Rakell is set to embark on year three of a six-year deal that carries a mere $3.789M cap hit per season, while earlier this month Stone avoided salary arbitration by signing a one-year deal that will ding the cap at $7.35M, or nearly double Rakell’s number. Both will be UFAs when their current deals end.

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

19:25 (R.R.) – 2nd

20:40 (M.S.) – 1st

2:44 (R.R.) – 2nd

3:06 (M.S.) – 2nd (tied)

0:07 (R.R.) – 14th

1:12 (M.S.) – 6th

2016-17

17:23 (R.R.) – 5th

18:34 (M.S.) – 2nd

2:16 (R.R.) – 4th

3:05 (M.S.) – 2nd

0:01 (R.R.) – 14th (tied)

0:03 (M.S.) – 12th

2015-16

16:04 (R.R.) – 5th

20:07 (M.S.) – 1st

2:14 (R.R.) – 4th

3:00 (M.S.) – 2nd

0:06 (R.R.) – 10th

1:13 (M.S.) – 7th

2015-16

12:34 (R.R.) – 11th

17:01 (M.S.) – 3rd

1:18 (R.R.) – 7th

2:24 (M.S.) – 5th

0:01 (R.R.) – 13th

1:24 (M.S.) – 5th


Rakell’s points progression pretty much mirrors his ice time spot on – that is, just as his scoring pace has gone up each season, so too have both his overall and PP ice times per game. Seeing that lends a lot of credibility to his scoring upticks. Moreover, he’s far from maxed out in terms of overall and power-play time per game, ranking 36th and 79th, respectively, among all forwards. Thus, there’s realistic room for him to see further ice time gain, and, in turn, further scoring gains as well, especially with the team continuing to not saddle him with non-productive, tiring shorthanded duty.

With Stone, there’s no such clear pattern. His ice times were virtually identical in 2015-16 as they were last season, yet his scoring pace was 66 points versus 87 last season. That doesn’t add up; however, we have an additional key data point in 2014-15 numbers, since Stone produced nearly the same output in 2014-15 as he did in 2015-16 despite far inferior deployment. So although we’ll look at SOG, PPPts and luck numbers carefully, just based on ice time alone it would appear that 2015-16 might be an outlier where he experienced unsustainable bad luck.

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.18 (R.R.)

0.17 (M.S.)

1.49 (R.R.)

0.91 (M.S.)

0.39 (R.R.)

0.67 (M.S.)

2.98 (R.R.)

2.27 (M.S.)

0.23 (R.R.)

0.20 (M.S.)

2016-17

0.17 (R.R.)

0.36 (M.S.)

1.14 (R.R.)

0.58 (M.S.)

0.45 (R.R.)

0.75 (M.S.)

2.49 (R.R.)

1.88 (M.S.)

0.17 (R.R.)

0.20 (M.S.)

2015-16

0.26 (R.R.)

0.50 (M.S.)

1.68 (R.R.)

0.73 (M.S.)

0.41 (R.R.)

0.72 (M.S.)

2.34 (R.R.)

2.01 (M.S.)

0.14 (R.R.)

0.20 (M.S.)

2014-15

0.14 (R.R.)

0.17 (M.S.)

1.11 (R.R.)

0.61 (M.S.)

0.31 (R.R.)

0.66 (M.S.)

1.48 (R.R.)

1.96 (M.S.)

0.12 (R.R.)

0.16 (M.S.)


This data should put even wider smiles on the faces of those who own Rakell. First and foremost both his SOG and PPPts per game have increased each season, lending further credibility to his higher points-per-game output with each passing campaign. Moreover, Rakell is an underrated multi-cat asset, or at least he is when it comes to hits. In fact, on a per game basis, Rakell offers a sneakily elite combination of hits and goals, as only Alex Ovechkin and, barely, Anders Lee had both a higher goals per game and hits per game rate than Rakell over the last two combined seasons.

Moreover, since 2000-01 only nine other players – by age 24 – had, like Rakell, amassed at least two seasons of 33+ goals, 14%+ shooting percentage, and 2.4 SOG per game. Among those who’ve played in the NHL longer than Rakell, the list consists of Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin, Jason Spezza, and Thomas Vanek. Say what you want about Semin and Vanek, but both had at least one 84+ point season while the others on the list were bona fide stars who each had multiple 90+ point seasons. Long story short, while past data is not predictive of future results, this is some pretty fine company to be in.

The only wrinkle is that each of them had a point per game season by age 24, so the fact that Rakell has not is of slight concern in terms of how valid it is to liken him to these player on the basis of these stats. Yet overall that’s a small asterisk on what is very, very encouraging data for Rakell, which serves not just to validate his output in recent seasons, but also to show there’s still room for realistic improvement in his SOG as well as his PPPts, suggesting, in turn, that his scoring gains could well continue.

As for Stone, it’s a positive that his SOG was highest in this past season; however, the jump as compared to the previous campaigns was not so substantial as to explain his increase in production, especially when coupled with a PPPt rate that stayed the same as it had been in his previous two campaigns and the aforementioned similarity in ice times to 2015-16. Right away that raises stronger concerns about unsustainable good luck in 2017-18, rather than the previously suspected unsustainable bad luck during 2015-16. As for multi-cat, Stone has been all over the map in terms of PIM, consistently good but not superb in hits, and superb – for a forward – in blocks.

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Personal Shooting %

Team Shooting % (5×5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

Average Shot Distance

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

14.8% (R.R.)

15.2% (M.S.)

10.50 (R.R.)

10.98% (M.S.)

70.4% (R.R.)

75.6% (M.S.)

54.0% (R.R.)

52.8% (M.S.)

27.5 (R.R.)

29.7 (M.S.)

48% (R.R.)

38% (M.S.)

2016-17

18.6% (R.R.)

16.9% (M.S.)

10.82 (R.R.)

8.77% (M.S.)

72.9% (R.R.)

60.9% (M.S.)

55.2% (R.R.)

53.3% (M.S.)

25.4 (R.R.)

27.3 (M.S.)

27% (R.R.)

47% (M.S.)

2015-16

11.8% (R.R.)

15.2% (M.S.)

8.65 (R.R.)

8.02% (M.S.)

62.3% (R.R.)

67.0% (M.S.)

58.6% (R.R.)

51.9% (M.S.)

25.6 (R.R.)

25.1 (M.S.)

43% (R.R.)

44% (M.S.)

2014-15

8.6% (R.R.)

16.6% (M.S.)

7.66 (R.R.)

10.47% (M.S.)

68.9% (R.R.)

68.1% (M.S.)

50.5% (R.R.)

52.3% (M.S.)

27.6 (R.R.)

23.5 (M.S.)

50% (R.R.)

42% (M.S.)


We can see that both players have two seasons with high 5×5 team shooting percentage; but to me they tell vastly different stories. For Stone, his numbers were highest this past season and not especially low in 2015-16. Between that and his SOG and PPPts, it looks as though he was indeed unsustainably lucky last season. Then again, his IPP also skyrocketed, which could be a further sign of unsustainable good luck but also suggests he had to carry his linemates, a theory which is supported by how much better he performed than any other forward on his team last season.

On the plus side, as Stone shot more in 2017-18 and from a farther average distance than any other previous season, he still was able to keep his personal shooting percentage very high. In fact, by having averaged 1.8+ SOG per year and with a 15%+ personal shooting percentage four times by age 25, he puts himself in some pretty fine company too, as the only players older than him to do so even three times since 2000-01 have been Steven Stamkos, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jonathan Toews, Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, Dany Heatley, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, and Thomas Vanek. In other words, a lot of the same names we saw above with Rakell’s comparison.

Yet here too there’s concern in that most of these players far eclipsed Stone’s SOG rate, with only Toews. Lucic, and Havlat failing to average at least 3 SOG per game in at least one season by age 25, and, perhaps by no small coincidence, being the least productive of the players on the list. Thus, Stone could well end up following their trajectory, which is one without multiple point per game seasons, especially since other than last season he had sub-70% IPPs, which is usually the threshold for top players.

As for Rakell, what a difference a year can make. This time last year Rakell was coming off yet another scoring gain but that time in the face of a very elevated 5×5 team shooting percentage and his first time above 70% IPP. Fast forward to now, however, and he essentially replicated those numbers, which cuts against either season being the by-product of unsustainable bad luck. Instead, it shows a player who’s coming into his own and both creates substantial offense (5×5 team shooting %) plus is able to find a way to factor into scoring (70%+ IPP). It’s also encouraging that even as Rakell had his most SOG and his average shot distance crept upward, he still kept his personal shooting percentage high, suggesting that he's a legitimate sniper who should be perennially counted on for 30+ goals, if not even more should he get more ice time.

Who Wins?

Rakell is the winner, by more than I’d have thought. His career progression has been legitimate and, more importantly, leaves room for further gains. At this point his points floor is likely 75 and he could top out at 85 points, or even more if surrounded by high quality linemates and given the ice time that truly elite forwards receive.

Stone is no slouch; however, he’s also no point-per-game player – not now nor down the road. Rather, he’s a player who should be counted on for production somewhere in the 60s most seasons, with a better chance to rise above 70 than to fall below 60. This, of course, assumes his skills don’t erode due to season after season of injuries. Also, if he ends up on another team next season and is able to play alongside a truly elite center, his points could rise to 75; however I believe last season will be his first and only taste of point per game output, brought on more so by unsustainable good luck combined with him having to carry the Sens.