Cage Match: Ryan Spooner vs. Victor Rask

by Rick Roos on January 27, 2016

Deep fantasy hockey analysis – Ryan Spooner and Victor Rask. Who is the better player to own?

One of the few things poolies regret more than jumping the gun to grab a player who doesn’t pan out, is waiting too long to feel confident the player is “for real” only to see the GM who took a chance on him enjoy the resulting benefit. But can we really tell the difference between someone who looks like he’s the real deal but turns out to be just a flavor of the week /month, versus a player who’ll actually pay dividends beyond the short term?

With this dilemma in mind, in today’s column we’re covering two players seemingly on their way to “for real” status – Ryan Spooner and Victor Rask. Is either one a “real deal;” and if they both are, then which should perform better for the near and long term? Let’s find out – Cage Match starts now!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Spooner, who turns 24 on January 30th, was drafted 45th in 2010 after averaging just over a point per game in two OHL seasons. He returned there for two more seasons, seeing his production inch upward. Starting in 2012-13, Spooner began three campaigns split between the AHL and NHL. Although he produced just below point per game numbers in each AHL campaign, his NHL games played and scoring pace improved with each season. For 2015-16, he’s in the NHL to say, and was a fantasy stud (11 points in 11 games) while David Krejci was injured.

Rask, who’ll be 23 in March, was drafted a year later in nearly the same spot (42nd). Like Spooner, Rask was productive in juniors after being drafted, collectively averaging over a point per game. Rask didn’t impress in the AHL (only 44 points in 86 games); but thanks to Carolina’s razor thin depth last season, he was able to jump into the NHL with both feet, compiling 33 points in 80 games, with 15 points coming in the final 23 contests alone. And this season he’s held fairly steady at a 50 point pace.

According to Cap Friendly, Rask is in the final season of a three year deal counting $0.68M against the cap, while Spooner is on year one of a two season contract with a $0.950 per year cap hit. Both will be RFAs when their deals expire.

 

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

14:49 (R.S.) – 6th

16:46 (V.R.) – 4th

2:43 (R.S.) – 3rd

2:48 (V.R.) – 2nd

0:11 (R.S.) – 9th

0:18 (V.R.) – 7th

2014-15

14:32 (R.S.) – 9th

16:20 (V.R.) – 6th

2:45 (R.S.) – 1st

2:29 (V.R.) – 3rd

0:05 (R.S.) – 12th

0:26 (V.R.) – 6th

2013-14

12:48 (R.S.) – 10th

1:49 (R.S.) – 6th

0:25 (R.S.) – 9th

 

I was surprised to see Spooner has essentially the same Ice Times this season and last, especially since for essentially a quarter of this season he was slotted into David Krejci’s top six spot. What it seemingly boils down to is when Spooner is not in the top six (whether as a center or, as occurred in some games last season and in the past two contests, as a winger), his minutes are quite low.

 

But given Spooner’s solid production seemingly no matter where he plays (for 2015-16 he ranks in the top ten in points per 60 minutes at 5×5 among the 440 forwards who’ve played 500+ minutes at 5×5, and the top 20 among the 115 forwards who’ve skated for 100+ minutes at 5×4) and Krejci’s return, the Bruins are left with a dilemma. The issue is Spooner is a natural centerman; and not only are Krejci and Patrice Bergeron signed for big money until 2021 and 2022 respectively, but they produce well and – at least for the moment – have more complete games than Spooner.

 

Interestingly, in the first three games since Krejci returned, Spooner centered the third line (playing 15:20), was LW with Bergeron and Brad Marchand (19:56 Ice Time), and then LW with Krejci and Loui Eriksson (16:16), scoring a point in each game. As poolies, how can we tell which will be the new normal for Spooner? Or are his line placement and Total Ice Time red herrings? The fact that Spooner recorded a point in each situation and has such a high points per 60 scoring rate underscores his versatility and production. Plus, he’s seemingly locked into Boston’s potent PP1.

 

Meanwhile, Rask stepped into – and has retained – a spot within the Carolina top six. Like Spooner, he’s also been a PP1 staple. So why is Rask not scoring more? At least in part, he’s a victim of Carolina’s poor offense, as although he’s lining up most often with Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Elias Lindholm, what they’ve had to offer since 2014-15 is not much more than the third liners Spooner’s mostly was “stuck with” on Boston prior to Krejci’s recent injury.

 

Let’s also not forget that in fantasy hockey, there’s a tendency to focus upon the potential of a player, like a Rask, without also giving enough consideration to his team situation. Not only is Carolina on pace to finish in the bottom third among team goals scored (for the third straight season), but it’s not clear if help is on the way. Although the team has ten of the Top 215 NHL Fantasy Prospects, its highest ranked forward stands only at 61.

 

Thus, maybe Rask will play great but see his stats suffer because of lack of talent around him; or maybe he’ll rise to the occasion and post very good stats, or he’ll fail to produce if/when the spotlight shines directly upon him. We get some hint by looking at instances since 2000-01 of players who posted 60+ points in their first, second, or third seasons while 23 or younger. It’s happened only 80 times in total, which is less than I’d have imagined. Also, far more often than not it was done either by an already elite player or someone on an offensively potent team. As such, it’s difficult to envision Rask making the leap into 60+ point territory next year, or perhaps even until Carolina rises to at least a middle of the pack offensive team.

 

Long story short – although Rask’s continued spot in the top six seems more locked in, the immediate future for Rask might actually be cloudier than Spooner, who’s shown he’s more versatile and able to produce in varied situations.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

FOW

(per game)

2015-16

0.56 (R.S.)

0.33 (V.R.)

0.73 (R.S.)

0.37 (V.R.)

0.25 (R.S.)

0.31 (V.R.)

2.04 (R.S.)

1.96 (V.R.)

0.29 (R.S.)

0.25 (V.R.)

3.14 (R.S.)

6.14 (V.R.)

2014-15

0.07 (R.S.)

0.20 (V.R.)

0.58 (R.S.)

0.52 (V.R.)

0.17 (R.S.)

0.45 (V.R.)

2.51 (R.S.)

2.15 (V.R.)

0.17 (R.S.)

0.13 (V.R.)

3.44 (R.S.)

5.85 (V.R.)

2013-14

0.26 (R.S.)

0.43 (R.S.)

0.26 (R.S.)

1.82 (R.S.)

0.26 (R.S.)

6.30 (R.S.)

 

Neither player shines in any category, with the exception of PPP. Although lower than Spooner’s, Rask’s rate of one PPP per every four games might be more impressive. The reason is Spooner, although skilled on the PP as evidenced by his 2013-14 PPP rate when he didn’t average even 2:00 per game and wasn’t on PP1, is seeing his output bolstered by the man advantage success of his team as a whole (the Bs are within the top two in PP%). After all, Spooner had similar PP time last season and led Boston’s forwards in PP Ice Time per game; however, his output not much more than half what it is so far for 2015-16, and Boston just so happened to sit 17th in PP%.

 

Contrast this to Rask, who achieved his PPP output despite only one other Canes forward having more than half as many PPP as him, and the team sitting 25th in PP%. Of course, we’ll have to look at Rask’s 5×4 IPP to ensure this isn’t unsustainable luck, especially in view of him being on PP1 last season and receiving similar PP minutes, yet producing barely half the PP per game as compared to 2015-16.

 

One other note – Spooner is C and LW eligible in Yahoo, while Rask is C only, which helps Spooner owners with roster flexibility. But considering Spooner is again producing under four FOW per game, there’s not much benefit in that category from slotting him as a LW on your fantasy team.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Spooner has a “N/A” entry for 5×4 IPP in 2013-14 because he didn’t meet the 50 minute minimum.

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

10.2% (R.S.)

12.2% (V.R.)

959 (R.S.)

989 (V.R.)

91.7% (R.S.)

58.3% (V.R.)

63.2% (R.S.)

85.7% (V.R.)

60.7% (R.S.)

61.1% (V.R.)

2014-15

11.0% (R.S.)

6.4% (V.R.)

1011 (R.S.)

967 (V.R.)

91.7% (R.S.)

60.6% (V.R.)

44.4% (R.S.)

45.0% (V.R.)

56.8% (R.S.)

57.4% (V.R.)

2013-14

0.0% (R.S.)

1010 (R.S.)

55.6% (R.S.)

N/A (R.S.)

64.9% (R.S.)

 

This splashes cold water on Rask’s 2015-16 PP scoring, as 85.7% is tied for fourth highest among 115 forwards who’ve played 100+ minutes at 5×4 this season. And the highest IPP by any forward who skated 100+ minutes at 5×4 last season was 85.7%. This means Rask’s PP scoring rate is most likely unsustainably high, although on the bright side he’ll probably settle around 0.20 PPP per game, since last season his 5×4 IPP was only 44.4% yet he still managed 0.13 PPP per game. The problem is, between this and a nearly doubled personal shooting % versus 2014-15, Rask’s scoring pace for 2015-16 becomes suspect; and him hitting 60 points in the near future becomes even more remote.

 

At first, Spooner’s 5×5 IPP for 2015-16 looks alarming, but him having the same percentage in 2014-15 (not to mention such a high points per 60 minutes rate at 5×5) essentially validates it, since together that’s not only a stretch of 77 games, but it also came with Spooner playing different positions and with different linemates. With this going for him, plus a consistent, reasonable shooting percentage, Spooner looks far more “for real” than Rask.

 

Who Wins?

 

This match wasn’t remotely as close as I thought it might be. Spooner wins convincingly, as his story simply checks out better than Rask’s. But that’s not to say Spooner doesn’t have some risks, or that Rask won’t make the leap.

In Spooner’s case, the next two years might see him shuttled from top six to top nine and from center to wing. But based on his locked in spot on PP1 and stretch of 24 points in his last 23 games, with fewer than half of those 23 games having featured him taking the place of David Krejci, it’s probably safe to figure on Spooner as a 60 point player, with the potential for even more.

Tin keepers, there’s the issue of what happens when Spooner’s deal expires in 2017. Since Krejci and Bergeron are not going anywhere, Spooner could be dealt, in which case his points could really explode. Then again, we also have to keep in the back of our minds the cautionary tale of Jordan Staal, who produced well for stretches as a Penguin despite most often not being in the top six, but then laid a fantasy egg once he was traded to Carolina and given all the top six time he could handle.

Meanwhile, Rask is in a tough spot. His numbers reflect underlying talent, but also show measurable benefit from unsustainable luck. If Eric Staal leaves Carolina, Rask will suddenly be “the guy” and given full opportunity to succeed or falter. Chances are he won’t post great numbers right away, but might slowly become a better and better. If your keeper team is rebuilding and the price is right on Rask, he might be worth getting in hopes he’ll pay dividends in 2-3 years. But tread lightly in one-year leagues.