The Journey – Rookies at the Quarter Mark: Categorical Leaders

by Kevin LeBlanc on December 3, 2016
  • The Journey
  • The Journey – Rookies at the Quarter Mark: Categorical Leaders

Not surprisingly, Auston Matthews leads all rookies in numerous statistical categories.

The Journey takes a closer look at some of the rookie categorical leaders through the first quarter of the 2016-17 season.

Goals

Patrik Laine: Winnipeg Jets (15)

Auston Matthews: Toronto Maple Leafs (10)

Jimmy Vesey: New York Rangers (8)

Like many of you, I could sit around and watch Patrik Laine goal videos all day. His 15 goals are one back of Sidney Crosby’s 16 for the NHL league, with seven coming on the power play. It’s hard to imagine Laine not being a multiple 40-goal scorer in this league, and he has all the tools to push 50 year in and year out.

Laine’s 21.7% shooting percentage screams regression from here on out, but I’m not so sure it’s super inflated. It’s clear the Finnish winger will have no problem scoring on NHL goaltending with the array of shot types that he possesses, so he will likely be a high-percentage shooter for much of his career. Steven Stamkos is a good barometer for this, as he has one of the highest career shooting percentages among active players, and his offensive game is somewhat similar to Laine’s. Stamkos has finished a season 20% in shooting percentage just once (his injury-shortened season of 2013-14) but has finished four total seasons north of 17%. I could see Laine settling in between 15% and 17%, which is still elite.

Assuming an 82-game season with his current shot rates and a 17% shooting percentage, Laine is looking at 37 goals this season. And likely a Calder Trophy for the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Assists

Mitch Marner – Toronto Maple Leafs (12)

Brady Skjei – New York Rangers (12)

Zach Werenski – Columbus Blue Jackets (11)

No surprise by Marner topping this list, fresh off 159 total helpers in his last two seasons for the London Knights. The Maple Leafs rookie group of Marner, Matthews, William Nylander, and Nikita Zaitsev have accounted for over 25% of the team’s assists on the season, spurring the offense to a goals scored number (70) that is third in the Eastern Conference. Six of Marner’s 12 assists have been of the primary variety, a number ranks tied for fourth on the team, and one that I honestly expected to be higher. His six secondary assists are tied for tops on the team with Zaitsev and Nazem Kadri.

Perhaps more of a surprise to land in this top three at this point in the season is Brady Skjei, who has been a breakout rookie blueliner for the New York Rangers this year. The 22 year old has averaged 1.72 assists per 60 minutes this season, a number that ranks first among rookie defensemen who have played more than 20 games. In fact, there are only three defensemen who are averaging over one assist per 60 minutes with 20 games played, and they are Werenski (1.36) and Zaitsev (1.07). Unsurprisingly, the Rangers PDO numbers are high, so there is likely to be regression as season progresses, but Skjei has been one of the surprises of this rookie class a quarter into the season.

Shots on Goal

Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs (84)

Patrik Laine – Winnipeg Jets (69)

Mitch Marner – Toronto Maple Leafs (52)

Matthews has been the gold standard to start the season, averaging 2.5 shots-per-game, and out-pacing his rookie competition by 15 shots on goal. Not only does Matthews have the most shots on goal, he also has the most missed shot attempts as well with 32. Combined he has 116 shot attempts, with his next closest completion being Laine with 94. Toronto’s franchise center currently ranks fifth in the NHL in this stat.

Penalty Minutes

Matthew Tkachuk – Calgary Flames (45)

Derek Forbort – Los Angeles Kings (34)

Travis Konecny – Philadelphia Flyers (33)

Tkachuk had the pest label coming into the NHL, so it’s no surprise to see him topping the rookie penalty minutes list through a quarter of the season. He is a player who moving forward will be a multi-category asset, as he pairs his penalty minutes with offensive production. There were only two players (Wayne Simmonds and Brad Marchand) who put up 75+ penalty minutes, and eclipsed 60 points last season. As his career moves along, we could see this out of Tkachuk.

The Calgary forward has taken 16 penalties on the season, the most among rookies by five (Konecny – 11) with only one major and one misconduct figuring into his total. Forbort is tied for the lead among rookies with two fighting majors this season, and has padded his stats further with a game misconduct. He is a player who has been a solid peripheral stats player through 24 games, as you will see his name appear a few times in this breakdown.

Hits

Brandon Tanev – Winnipeg Jets (64)

Nikita Zaitsev – Toronto Maple Leafs (52)

Derek Forbort – Los Angeles Kings (52)

Despite playing just 12 minutes per night, Tanev is leading NHL rookies in hits with 64, averaging 2.5 hits per game. He has been a staple in the Jets’ bottom six this season, chipping in with 37 shots, 24 penalty minutes and 21 blocked shots. Tanev’s number is a bit inflated, as Winnipeg has played the most games among NHL teams this season with 26.

Zaitsev and Forbort lead rookie defensemen with 52 hits from the back end. They are the only two defenders who have appeared in 20 or more games that average over two hits per contest. Both players are featured on their team’s top pairing, with Forbort playing alongside Drew Doughty for the majority of his even strength shifts, and Zaitsev playing with Morgan Rielly.

Blocked Shots

Derek Forbort – Los Angeles Kings (56)

Ivan Provorov – Philadelphia Flyers (43)

Brandon Carlo – Boston Bruins (42)

Yet another category where Derek Forbort has proven his rookie worth. Although he only has six points on the season and has limited offensive upside, he could be a rare multi-category asset that winds up with over 100 penalty minutes, hits, and blocks. For his cap hit, that’s a valuable piece to have on your multi-category fantasy roster. Forbort is the only rookie currently averaging over two blocks per game, who has received regular playing time.

Both Provorov and Carlo have been significant parts of their clubs’ defensive corps this season. Provorov came in with a bit of fanfare, being rated as a top prospect, where as Carlo was not as highly touted for this season. Carlo’s minute munching and shot blocking were to be expected, as he is 6’5”, but Provorov’s shot blocking numbers say a lot about his positioning as a defender. His ability to get in front of that many shots despite being an average-sized player is impressive and a testament to his play as a rookie.

Faceoffs Won

Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs (110)

Devin Shore – Dallas Stars (96)

Christian Dvorak – Arizona Coyotes (90)

Another category win for Matthews. Unsurprising, considering he plays over 17 minutes a night. The young rookie not only leads his peers in faceoffs won, but also leads in attempts. Only Matthews, Shore, and Dvorak have attempted more than 200 faceoffs among rookies on the season.

It’s rare that rookie centerman come into the NHL and win draws at a dominating clip. Usually, first year players are sheltered with the types of faceoffs they are on the ice for, and last years first overall pick is no exception. Of his 110 attempted faceoffs, only 14 of those have come in the defensive zone. Matthews has won just 46% of his face-offs during his first season in the NHL, a number that is bound to rise as his career involves.

Wins

Matt Murray – Pittsburgh Penguins (7)

Juuse Saros – Nashville Predators (1)

Anthony Stolarz – Philadelphia Flyers (1)

It has been a down year for rookie goaltenders so far this season. The only one who has multiple wins is Murray, who is a rookie with an asterisk, as he was a huge reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season. Both Saros and Stolarz have both had stints in the NHL, but are likely a season or two away from making a real impact at the NHL level.

Last season, rookie goaltenders appeared in 378 games while compiling 154 wins. Through a quarter of the season this year, rookie goaltenders have only appeared in 21 games, and have notched only nine wins.

Quarter Mark Analytics Darling: Sebastian Aho

Although he hasn’t been setting the world on fire with his offensive numbers the way some of his fellow rookies have, Aho has shown early in the season that he has a foundation to build on in the coming seasons in Carolina. His 11 points in 23 games are solid for a rookie season, but a deeper dive into the numbers shows that that number will likely grow as the season goes on.

Aho is second only to Finnish teammate Jesse Puljujarvi in Corsi% among rookie forwards playing 20 or more games at 55.4%. More impressively, he has actually been on the ice for more defensive zone starts then offensive zone starts 91 to 84. His PDO is low at 964, as is the case with most Canes’ forwards, with a likely correction to the average coming for the rest of the season. The winger currently ranks eighth among all rookie forwards who have played 20 games with a points per 60 minutes rate of 1.89 and sixth among the same group with an assists-per-60- minutes rate of 1.37.

(Note: Statistics are up to and including Friday December 2.)

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