Cage Match: The Better Fantasy Own – Jason Zucker or Jeff Skinner?

by Rick Roos on January 31, 2018
  • Roos Lets Loose
  • Cage Match: The Better Fantasy Own – Jason Zucker or Jeff Skinner?

Often in fantasy the choice between two players boils down to one who could be on the rise, versus another who’s seemingly more of a steady eddie. Cases in point are Jason Zucker, who could hit 60 points this season after never having previously posted more than 47, and Jeff Skinner, who twice has scored 63 points but with each passing year is seemingly less likely to take things to another level. Which is the better fantasy own now and going forward? Cage Match is on the case!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

 

Zucker, 26, was selected 59th overall in 2010 then played two college campaigns, producing above a point per game in both (91 points in 78 games overall). After that he split time in the AHL (dominating with 63 points in 77 games) and NHL (struggling with ten points in 41 games). Even still, by 2014-15 he was with the Wild to stay, posting 26 points in 51 games. But he failed to carry that momentum into his second season, as his point total dropped by three despite playing in 20 more contests. Last season he rebounded to 47 points in 79 games, and for 2017-18 is on pace to make a run at 60 points.

Skinner, 25, was the seventh overall selection in the same 2010 draft, and entered the NHL that season with a bang, tallying 63 points. From there, it’s been ups and downs. First, concussions limited him to only 106 games over his second and third seasons, yet he produced a still decent – especially under the circumstances – 68 points. A rebound to 54 points in 71 games in 2013-14 was promising, but then he cratered to 31 points in 77 games in 2014-15 before righting his fantasy ship with 51 points in 2015-16. Then last season he saw his output rebound all the way back to 63 points a full six seasons after first having produced the same total, and entered 2017-18 having scored 107 points in his last 136 games.

Zucker is making $2M this season, and is scheduled to be an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer, while Skinner is inked to a contract that dings the cap at $5.725M per season but ends after 2018-19, leaving him a UFA.

 

Ice Time (2017-18 stats in this and other tables are current through January 29th)

 

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

17:17 (J.Z.) – 4th

17:07 (J.S.) – 4th

2:25 (J.Z.) – 4th

2:16 (J.S.) – 5th

0:55 (J.Z.) – 9th

0:00 (J.S.)

2016-17

15:17 (J.Z.) – 7th

17:44 (J.S.) – 3rd

0:14 (J.Z.) – 9th

2:16 (J.S.) – 1st

0:36 (J.Z.) – 8th

0:00(J.S.)

2015-16

15:34 (J.Z.) – 7th

16:17 (J.S.) – 6th

0:55 (J.Z.) – 8th

1:58 (J.S.) – 4th

0:29 (J.Z.) – 9th

0:01 (J.S.) – 11th (tied)

2014-15

15:03 (J.Z.) – 7th

16:02 (J.S.) – 8th

1:16 (J.Z.) – 9th

2:06 (J.S.) – 5th

1:01 (J.Z.) – 7th

0:00 (J.S.)

 

We can see why Skinner’s scoring rate increased from 2015-16 to 2016-17, as last season he was a top line staple on the PP and ES. Although his 2014-15 non-SH ice times and rankings among team forwards were indeed the worst among these four seasons, they were not so bad/lower as to explain 31 points in 77 games. We’ll have to look closely to see if 2014-15 was indeed an unsustainable outlier.

 

Of concern to poolies who own Skinner is that although the emergence of youngsters Sebastian Aho and Teuro Teravainen hasn’t undercut Skinner’s total and PP ice times back to 2015-16 and earlier levels, he’s apparently no longer a top line option on the PP or even strength. In fact, although Skinner’s average PP time per game is improved from last season, his usage is down (47.8% to 42.8%.). If this continues, Skinner might have a tough time surpassing the 60 point mark again, in Carolina.

 

Zucker’s jump in production this season makes sense given he’s receiving nearly double the PP Time per game versus any previous campaign, plus nearly two minutes more per game overall. His SH duty is creeping back up slightly, yet still not enough to threaten his production. A closer look at his Ice Time, however, reveals it would need to improve still further for him to be a top scorer, as of the 57 forwards above him in points, only eight are averaging less total ice time per game than him.

 

Beyond that, Minnesota’s top forward in terms of overall and PP ice times is Mikael Granlund, at 19:13 and 2:50 per game respectively. Only nine NHL teams have an overall ice time leader among forwards averaging less than that per game, but a mere three have no forward averaging more per game with the man advantage, and just two– Toronto and Las Vegas – have no forward receiving either more overall or PP ice time. Incidentally, Carolina’s top forward in ice time (Jordan Staal – at 19:28) averages barely more than Granlund, and its top player (Teuvo Teravainen) in PP Time is averaging only 2:53. That of course affects Skinner negatively in a similar manner; however, Skinner is set to be a UFA in 2019, whereas Zucker will likely remain with Minnesota for a while due to his RFA status. Long story short, Zucker likely has an ice time ceiling, and, with that, a likely point ceiling too. To get a better idea of where that ceiling might be, we’ll examine his other data.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.57 (J.Z.)

0.41 (J.S.)

1.04 (J.Z.)

0.43 (J.S.)

0.51 (J.Z.)

0.26 (J.S.)

2.51 (J.Z.)

3.55 (J.S.)

0.18 (J.Z.)

0.14 (J.S.)

2016-17

0.38 (J.Z.)

0.35 (J.S.)

0.92 (J.Z.)

0.41 (J.S.)

0.53 (J.Z.)

0.35 (J.S.)

2.17 (J.Z.)

3.55 (J.S.)

0.01 (J.Z.)

0.19 (J.S.)

2015-16

0.28 (J.Z.)

0.46 (J.S.)

1.17 (J.Z.)

0.25 (J.S.)

0.46 (J.Z.)

0.20 .(J.S.)

2.22 (J.Z.)

3.14 (J.S.)

0.03 (J.Z.)

0.09 (J.S.)

2014-15

0.35 (J.Z.)

0.23 (J.S.)

1.31 (J.Z.)

0.61 (J.S.)

0.25 (J.Z.)

0.15 (J.S.)

2.43 (J.Z.)

3.05 (J.S.)

0.02 (J.Z.)

0.09 (J.S.)

 

To say Skinner’s SOG numbers are impressive is a vast understatement. But even more important is what they represent in terms of untapped potential. Skinner has played in over 500 games by age 25 while averaging at least 3.3 SOG per game. To put in perspective how remarkable those numbers are, consider that since 1990-91, only four other NHLers met those criteria: Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Kovalchuk, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Seguin.

 

Before we got ahead of ourselves in comparing Skinner to these four elite players, we have to pump the brakes when looking at Skinner’s PPPt rate. Only once has Skinner tallied 20 PPPts, and his career rate sits just above one PPPt per every six games. Looking at Kessel and Seguin, in every season where they bested even 70 points they had 20+ PPPts.

 

Yet Skinner’s PP shortcomings could be due to his supporting cast. For perspective, last season ten teams scored 50+ PPGs, whereas the Hurricanes have only one 50+ PPG campaign to their credit since Skinner has been in the NHL. Thus, his extraordinary SOG rate arguably should be given more weight than his PPPt shortcomings.

 

Zucker’s SOG rate was always healthy, with him in the top 70 among NHL forwards in SOG per 60 minutes in each of his NHL seasons. This season his rate is the highest of his career, owing of course in part due to added minutes; however, his trend from last season of more balanced goals and assists has been retained, signifying Zucker becoming a more complete, prototypical top six player.

 

Unfortunately, the player comparables for Zucker’s SOG and points outputs are not encouraging. To date, Zucker has played under 300 career games while posting fewer than 150 career points yet firing over 650 career SOG. Players who met the same criteria are mostly ones who teased poolies with potential fantasy greatness but fell short of the hype, like Radim Vrbata, Patric Hornqvist, Brian Rolston, Johan Franzen, David Booth, Craig Smith, and Jakob Silfverberg.

 

Of all the names on the list Silfverberg’s might be most analogous, as he too has been limited by his situation perhaps more so than his ability. Still, the fact that Zucker has fired so many shots despite not scoring a lot might be more of a worse sign for long term purposes than an encouraging one.

 

As for PIM, Hits and Blocks, Zucker holds the overall edge but is by no means a monster contributor. Still, in most seasons Zucker is good for double the PIM+Hits+Blocks per game than Skinner.

 

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

15.4% (J.Z.)

8.6% (J.S.)

8.75% (J.Z.)

6.62% (J.S.)

66.9% (J.Z.)

76.9% (J.S.)

43.4% (J.Z.)

68.7% (J.S.)

27.8 (J.Z.)

23.9 (J.S.)

41% (J.Z.)

50% (J.S.)

2016-17

12.8% (J.Z.)

13.2% (J.S.)

11.82% (J.Z.)

9.63% (J.S.)

65.3% (J.Z.)

75.9% (J.S.)

41.6% (J.Z.)

62.5% (J.S.)

26.4 (J.Z.)

23.3 (J.S.)

36% (J.Z.)

27% (J.S.)

2015-16

8.2% (J.Z.)

10.9% (J.S.)

7.51% (J.Z.)

8.93% (J.S.)

59.0% (J.Z.)

71.8% (J.S.)

51.3% (J.Z.)

58.3% (J.S.)

26.4 (J.Z.)

25.2 (J.S.)

30% (J.Z.)

13% (J.S.)

2014-15

16.9% (J.Z.)

7.7% (J.S.)

8.36% (J.Z.)

5.48% (J.S.)

74.3% (J.Z.)

66.0% (J.S.)

54.7% (J.Z.)

56.9% (J.S.)

24.0 (J.Z.)

29.8 (J.S.)

0% (J.Z.)

30% (J.S.)

 

For Zucker, we can see his transformation from someone who mainly looked to score goals, to a more complete player, what with an upward trend in average shot distance and secondary assists percentage. The fact that he’s right at a 60 point pace despite his team shooting percentage being below 9.0% is reassuring, since questions were raised by last year’s very high number. His IPP is a bit lower than what is normally seen from top scorers, so that too might cut against him ultimately rising into the 70+ point range, especially on this team. In sum, he looks like he can become – or perhaps already is -a legitmate 60+ point player, but a full-scale breakout into even semi-stardom looks unlikely.

 

As for Skinner, we see his IPP growing year to year, which means he has a nose for scoring but also that he feels he has to do more himself in order for his team to actually score. We also see some justification for his terrible output in 2014-15, as both his IPP and team shooting percentage were abnormally low. Focusing solely on his 2017-18 numbers, however, does not provide much to be excited about, as a high IPP combined with a secondary assists percentage at 50% doesn’t provide much hope for him to explode in the second half. Plus, all this is coming with a very high OZ%, which might not be something he gets next season, or even on a new team if he was to leave as a UFA in 2019.

 

Who Wins?

 

For the rest of this season and next, Zucker wins, as he’s likely to at least equal Skinner’s output, plus, due to his lack of pedigree, come at a cheaper cost to draft or in trade. But we can’t expect Zucker to have a full-fledged breakout, due to ice time limitations, discouraging past player comparables, and measuring sticks like IPP.

 

As for Skinner, based on his player comparables, it appears he’s a sleeping fantasy giant waiting to be awakened if/when he punches a ticket out of Carolina. The main concern is his PP production, yet that could be due to his situation more so than a lack of talent on his part. For those of you in keepers, I’d look to try and find a way to have Skinner on your team by this time next year, especially since by then he’ll likely have underperformed versus expectations and because your reward just might be Skinner rising to Kessel levels.