New York Islander Neutral Zone Play in the 2013-2014 Season

Three guys who are good at hockey. - Bruce Bennett

Good News, Everyone! As of last week, I finally finished rewatching every game of the Islanders' 2013-14 season and finished tracking the Islanders' play in the neutral zone and have obtained zone entry data for the team.

If you don't know what Neutral Zone Tracking and Zone Entries are, I'd encourage you to read my intro post about them, but if you'd rather not for some reason, I'll explain quickly here:

Zone Entries are the name given to each entry made by each team into the offensive zone from the neutral zone. In effect, I'm going through each game and tracking each time the puck travels from the neutral zone to the offensive/defensive zone.

What do I mean by tracking? Well, ,what I mean is that I'm tracking who gets the puck over the blue line, how they do so (via dump, tip, carry-in, or pass), and whether it's even strength or not.

The whole point of this exercise is that it essentially gives us a method to measure which players are winning the battle of the neutral zone, which is incredibly important to the game of hockey, but basically unmeasurable by traditional statistics. Teams that win the neutral zone win more games because they get more time in the opponents' zone and manage to get more chances to score than their opponents.

How do we tell if a team is winning the neutral zone? Well, quite simply, the better neutral zone teams not only get the puck more often into the opponents' zone, but they also get it into the opponents' zone with POSSESSION. In other words, better teams will carry or pass the puck into the offensive zone more often than they dump the puck in. Getting the puck into the zone with possession results in more than double the amount of shots on goal than getting the puck in via dump-in (or tip-in), so it's a major factor in winning hockey games.

The best teams in hockey tend to dominate the neutral zone, either by carrying in the puck as much as possible and/or by denying opponents' the opportunities to carry the puck in. Teams can also win the neutral zone simply by making more entries into the offensive zone than their opponent (regardless of type). These best teams tend to combine these three methods to dominate the neutral zone, which leads to domination of the overall game as well.

The Islanders were not one of these best teams. How can we tell? Well one way to measure this is called Neutral Zone Fenwick Close. Neutral Zone Fenwick uses the average # of shots (shots and missed shots in fact) after each type of entry (carry in or dump in) to estimate the # of shots we would expect from the play in the neutral zone on each team's net. Neutral Zone Fenwick Close % measures the % of shots we'd expect from neutral zone play to be taken toward the opponent's net while the game is close (within 1 goal for the first two periods or tied in the 3rd).

A # over 50% means that the team was winning the neutral zone (we'd expect them to be outshooting their opponent), while a # under 50% means they were losing. Last year, the Islanders were solidly above 50% - 50.7% to be exact - in neutral zone fenwick close. That's the mark of a good, though not elite team. This year, however, the Isles were at 49%, a meidocre to poor #. This means that when the game was on the line, the Islanders lost the neutral zone. That's not any way to win a hockey game.

Of course, not every Islander player was responsible for this failure, and some did better than others. Let's find out who. Some may be surprises, some will not be.

But first, a Legend for the statistics I'll be using below, and an explanation. If you don't feel like interacting with the math and just want to skip to the player analyses, skip the explanation, but I hope you all take the time to read it.


Individual Burden: The % of the Isles' entries taken by a player while that player is on the ice. The higher the amount, the larger role in the neutral zone of that player. Defensemen naturally have much smaller burdens at entering the offensive zone than forwards.

# of Total Entries: Total # of entries into the offensive zone for the season made by a player. Pretty self-explanatory

Individual Controlled Entry Rate:
% of a player's entries that were with "Control" - by carry-in or by pass-in. A dump-in or tip-in is an entry without control. Note that an attempted pass-in that doesn't connect is considered an entry without control.

On-Ice Entry %: The % of TOTAL entries made by both teams while a player was on the ice that are made by the Islanders. In other words, this measures which team made more entries while a player was on the ice. If there were 10 entries total while a player was on the ice, and the Isles made 6 of them, a player would have a 60% entry rate.

On-Ice Isles' Controlled Entry %: The % of the Isles' entries while a player was on the ice that are by carry-in. As you might expect, this is very related to a player's "Individual Controlled Entry Rate," although less so for D Men as forwards.

On-Ice Opponent's Controlled Entry %: The % of the Opponent's entries while a player was on the ice that are by carry-in. A lower # here means opponents are being forced to dump it in more often while an Islander is on the ice, so lower is better.

Neutral Zone Fenwick%: NZ Fenwick combines the above 3 stats to get a value that shows whether the team is winning or losing the neutral zone with a player on the ice, and by how much. What it shows is the % of unblocked shot attempts (missed shot and shots on goal, but NOT blocked shots) that we'd expect to be taken at the opponent's net while a player is on the ice, based solely upon the player's neutral zone performance. A NZ Fenwick of 50% means that we'd expect the teams to be even in shots while a player is on the ice based on his neutral zone play, over 50% means we'd expect the Isles to be ahead in shots, while under 50% means we'd expect them to be behind.

EXPLANATION OF HOW TO USE THESE STATS (Skip to next bold header if you want to TL;DR):

In general, Neutral Zone Fenwick is the complete measure of whether a player won or lost the neutral zone over the season. This is important because neutral zone results have been shown by others' work and mine own to be highly repeatable (the split half R^2 for this year's Isles is .503), more so than offensive zone and defensive zone performance. A player who has great neutral zone #s is very likely to repeat those next season - a player with great offensive zone #s may not be as likely to do the same.

THAT SAID, this does not mean that NZ Fenwick is all you should look at. My preliminary work suggests that Players have different amounts of control over Entry %, On-Ice Isles' Controlled Entry %, and On-Ice Opponent's Controlled Entry %.

It's pretty damn clear that forwards have a ton of control over On-Ice Isles' Controlled Entry % (this should not be surprising) - D men control over the same statistic seems to be less (although it's not clear HOW much less).

Both forwards and D have clear control over On-Ice Opponents' Controlled entry % - with D having more control than forwards, although it's not clear how much more. Again, this shouldn't be surprising.

The amount of control players have of overall On-Ice Entry % is a bit more unclear. Looking at three teams' last year (2013 Canes, Isles, and Oilers) and the Isles this year, it appears that both Fs and D have contol over this stat, but the extent is less than the control they have over the types of entries being made. In other words, players have more ability to prevent opponents from carrying in and making their own carry-ins than over who makes more entries into the offensive or defensive zone.

That said, when looking at the 3 teams above separately, I see a clear differences in the amount of control teams seem to have over the above 3 stats. So there's quite possibly an element of different team strategies and coaching affecting the repeatability of this data. Carry-ins are always better than Dump-ins for all of the teams looked at by a lot, but how repeatable teams are at preventing such and winning the overall entry battle may depend upon different team strategies.

OK, Stop Confusing Me: What Does This Mean? What Should I Look at?

The key #s below are, in ORDER OF IMPORTANCE:

  1. NZ Fenwick%
  2. On-Ice Isles' Controlled Entry %
  3. On-Ice Opponents' Controlled Entry %
  4. ...and THEN On-Ice Entry%.

So, a player who has a good NZ Fenwick% due mainly to a high On-Ice Entry% is less likely to repeat that neutral zone performance than a guy who has done so by preventing opponent carries or by ensuring that his team has control more often than the other guys. I'll point out these cases when we talk about the players below.

You may notice that I'm not presenting any per 60 #s this time around, and that I'm not using two of the three graphs that have usually accompanied my neutral zone data posts. There's a reason for that. I've done this tracking mainly in chunks - I tracked games 1-32 pretty much as they happened, tracked games 33-60 (up to the Olympic break) only a little bit behind, etc. I then didn't track games for a month, after which I tracked the remaining 22 games. It appears this resulted in a quirk in my data - apparently, without realizing it, I became a lot more stingy as a tracker for the last batch of games than I was in the first 60. In other words, in the final 22 games, I recorded less entries per game than in the first 60, almost certainly due to just me being a little more strict in what I was determining to be an entry and what was not.

The end result of this is that for players who were called up - or spent most of their time with the Isles - after the Olympic break, the per 60 #s look VERY different from the rest of the team. For example, with Anders Lee on the ice, I recorded the Isles with 77.6 entries per 60 and Isles' Opponents with only 74.1. But Frans Nielsen, who was Lee's most common linemate, was recorded as 82.2 entries per 60 for and 80.3 entries per 60 against. That difference in both #s is pretty much entirely due to Nielsen playing while I was tracking games 1-60, while Lee did not. It doesn't mean anything. And it means using per 60 #s on graphs simply skews the hell out of this data.*

*This is a big shame for me, but it shows right here the major issue with hand tracking these #s - there's no way to be 100% consistent in your methods and biases, and you might not notice when those things change. It's even worse across multiple trackers. This is why I'm excited about Corey Sznajder's three zone project, in which a single guy is tracking all 30 teams. In theory that should greatly reduce tracker bias like this, although, as you can see here, even with a single tracker, it can still be an issue. You should all contribute to Corey's work - the data is going to be tremendous.


*Different Zone Starts for different players have very minor impacts on their neutral zone #s. For those who care, the effect of an additional offensive zone faceoff is to reduce neutral zone fenwick by .09 shots. And this # is in fact overstating the effect - because the longer a shift is of a player, the less effect of the offensive zone faceoff. So the effect has little impact on the results at .09 shots per faceoff and the effect is probably lower than that....well, it's not worth talking about.


Okay now to the players' actual #s:

The Tavares Line


The Isles' top line is clearly an elite scoring line, thanks in large part due to John Tavares. This much is absolutely evident. However, even last year, they were not THAT strong of a neutral zone line. This is not to say the line has issues carrying the puck in - John Tavares is an elite puck carrier, Kyle Okposo is at least average, and Thomas Vanek, while a more limited neutral zone player, was also a strong carrier. The Isles carried the puck into the zone 55.7% of the time with John Tavares out there, which is a really strong rate.

But there is more than offense in hockey, and defense can be just as important. While Tavares' line had 55.7% of their own entries be the more valuable carry-ins, opponents managed to carry in an astounding on 56.2% of their own entries! In addition, Tavares' line only carried 49.6% of total entries. Despite the addition of a more-active carrier in Thomas Vanek, the Isles top line basically had the same #s as last year, but they were slightly worse in every direction. As a result, Tavares went from a slightly above average neutral zone player to a slightly below average one, which hurts when you play as many minutes as that line did. This would largely account for Tavares' decline in corsi and fenwick by the way.

It's worth noting that last year Kyle Okposo was on Frans Nielsen's line for most of the year (the NOB line for the latter half) and Okposo's neutral zone #s were very strong. However, this year, Okposo's NZ #s mirrored Tavares instead of Nielsen, although they got better when Okposo played with Nielsen after the Tavares injury.

The Nielsen Line


Frans Nielsen played his normal 2nd line/defensive line role for the first 60 games of the year, and then suddenly was thrust into the top line role after the Olympic break. Unlike Tavares, Nielsen only had one stable linemate all year (Josh Bailey) - with Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Pierre Marc Bouchard and Anders Lee being amongst those to fit onto his left wing throughout the year.

Regardless of whether this line was the first or 2nd line however, it KILLED in the Neutral Zone. With Nielsen on the ice, the Isles entered the opponents zone with possession 51.2% of the time, but let opponents do so only 44.6% of the time. So even though Nielsen's line wasn't entering the offensive zone that much more than opponents (Overall entries were 1300-1270 Isles), it was dominating the neutral zone simply by heavily preventing opponents from skating in with control (controlled entries were 665-583).

Two key notes: First, even after Tavares went down and this line shifted to the first line, it remained great in the neutral zone. Nielsen's #s with Lee and Okposo, both of whom only played with Nielsen after the Olympic break, were practically identical to his overall #s. For those arguing Tavares' #s are due to his role, this is a strong argument otherwise. Tavares just isn't strong at the defensive part of his game, especially in the neutral zone.

Second, I wouldn't buy too heavily into Josh Bailey's #s here. While both players played worse in the neutral zone when they were apart (they were together for 1680 entries, they were each apart for around 900 entries), things from this year and the last suggest that most of the neutral zone excellence here comes from Nielsen. Last year Kyle Okposo had the top NZ #s of this line, and those collapsed when apart from Tavares. None of this should be surprising - a center being more influential on defense is kind of textbook.

For most players that is. One possible exception is of course Michael Grabner, who played substantial minutes away from Nielsen again and again had terrific neutral zone #s (in fact, he played better without Frans).

Line 3 Players


The Islanders' did not have a consistent third line all year around. While the order of the first two lines may have shifted, there was clearly a Nielsen-led line, a Tavares-led line (till his injury) and a Cizikas-led line all season. The third was more of a mess - pretty much all of these players had time on different lines throughout, and none really was a solidified whole. A few other players we've discussed previously (Michael Grabner) and a few we'll discuss later (for instance, Matt Martin) spent some time on this line, but these 5 were the main guys who don't fit elsewhere.

As you might expect from a group of guys who didn't stick on any particular line too much, the results are a bit all over the place. I'm going to ignore talking about Regin since he's gone, but let's talk about the other four players here in two groups:

The Grinding wings: Colin Mcdonald and Cal Clutterbuck: This was CMac's second year on the Isles, and his neutral zone #s are basically the same as they were last year. CMac is a guy who takes an extremely active role in the neutral zone (2nd biggest on the team in fact, and the biggest last year!) but who almost always dumps. In fact, despite being amongst the team leaders in total entries, CMac had the lowest entry-with-possession rate on the team at 28%. CMac's dump-rate was basically the same regardless of who his linemates were - he dumped a ton on line 4 with Cizikas, sure, but he also would dump 70% of the time with Ryan Strome (or last year, with Keith Aucoin).

As you might expect, having McDonald on the ice drastically suppressed Islander entries with possession - the Isles had a 36.4% entry with possession rate with CMac on the ice. This is absolutely dismal. And he wasn't suppressing opponent carry-ins this year - opponents carried in 51.1% of the time against CMac. In short, McDonald was one of the worst neutral zone players the Isles' had this year, and yet he spent large amounts of time on the third line with skill players. Just awful.

Cal Clutterbuck is a similar-ish player to CMac, but was quite better in pretty much every dimension. Clutterbuck was also incredibly active in the neutral zone (making 29.6% of the team's entries while Clutterbuck was on the ice, good for 3rd/4th on the team), but unlike CMac, he'd carry-in an okay amount. Not that a 39% carry-in rate is good mind you, especially with the sheer amount of entries Clutterbuck made throughout the year.

But it's enough that he wasn't a total handicap in the neutral zone. Opponents won the carry-in war against Clutterbuck but not by a huge margin, so he was not horrible due to a decent entry% (how repeatable that is, as we talked about above, is a question, but those #s aren't horrible for a 4th or late 3rd liner, especially given Clutterbuck's other skills ).

The Skilled Prospects: Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome:
Nelson's Neutral Zone performance was unequivocally a success this season. Despite shifting constantly from line to line, center to wing, the team won basically every relevant neutral zone statistic with him out on the ice, even if just by a little bit. The Isles out-entered the zone with possession (48.3% to 47.6%), and out-entered the opponent overall (50.3%) with Nelson out there and individually, he was the Isles 3rd best at carrying the puck into the offensive zone, after Tavares and Nielsen. He also was quite active at carrying the puck in, taking a bigger neutral zone role than Nielsen by a bit and basically equivalent of that to Tavares.

All in a rookie season.

It's worth noting that Nelson's neutral zone #s on Tavares' wing were stellar in that small sample too (52% NZ Fenwick, 51.6% Entry Rate, 54% Isles Controlled Entry Rate, 51.7% Opponents' Controlled Entry Rate), so if you want to think about potential LW1s for Tavares, Nelson does have a bunch going for him. Nelson's problem going forward is almost certainly going to be whether he can put up a decent offensive production, rather than anything defensive or neutral zone related.

Strome's #s are a little less sexy in the neutral zone. Some of that is due to linemates: about half of Strome's ice time occurred with CMac on his wing (and a quarter with Matt Martin), who was a neutral zone disaster. That said, while Strome had a very nice NZ Fenwick% without CMac (51.4% is really good, opponents still carried in against Strome a pretty decent amount (53%!) and more than the Isles' did - his NZ Fenwick was very reliant upon entry rate, and that's less reliable.

Strome's overall fancystats were nice due to really good offensive zone #s, which may not be as repeatable as we'd like. But again, Strome's only 20 and there's plenty of room to improve. In addition, a friend who did some tracking of the AHL let me know that Strome was a carry-in MONSTER in the AHL, so the odds of him breaking out seem rather high.

Line 4 Players


Again, the fourth line really only had Casey Cizikas on it full time - even Matt Martin got off it after the Olympic break to play with Ryan Strome on 3rd line for a bit. The other AHLers also spent time all over the place, but we'll discuss them here as well since this is their likely spot for next year.

The only one of these guys with any ability to consistently enter the zone with possession was Casey Cizikas, who hit 49% on his controlled entry rate. Basically CC duplicated his #s from last year on this line: despite him carrying in a decent amount, his line barely carried it in as a whole (this is what happens when your three most common linemates have 30% carry-in rates), resulting in the decent opponent controlled Entry % not being enough to keep CC out of the red. And CC was in the red by a bit, 48% is pretty poor. A lot of this is linemates (with Nelson, CC was at 50%!) of course.

Matt Martin is one of those linemates, and is very similar to Colin McDonald, although he thankfully is a lot more passive in the neutral zone. Unfortunately, he dumps it in as much as CMac when he does make an entry (or well slightly less), although he allowed less entries with possession. The line of Martin-Cizikas-McDonald was a possession black hole, and the horrible neutral zone performance of this line was a clear reason why. Compare Martin's #s to Cal Clutterbuck and you'll see what a hitter who actually is decent at skating can do.

Halmo, Sundstrom, Persson

Then we have the three rookies. We have limited data for these three alas, so take these with a grain of salt. Halmo has the biggest sample, and it's pretty solid for a fourth line grinder type - he won every relevant NZ statistic, and he wasn't horrible (or good mind you) at getting the puck in with possession (and he did this with 75% of his minutes being with Casey Cizikas, who wasn't great otherwise). I'm skeptical he can continue these #s - we're talking about a not young kid who was an undrafted FA who has NEVER been considered a prospect by scouts - but certainly he deserves another look for fourth line grinder spot in camp.

Sundstrom's #s look amazing, although I'm kind of skeptical he can maintain a 36.3% opponent's controlled entry% in serious minutes (it's a huge outlier compared to other Isles). Like Halmo, he probably deserves a serious look for fourth line over one of Martin/CMac in training camp, of course (of course pretty much all of his ice time came with Halmo and Cizikas). Sundstrom has the best pedigree of this trio as well, so he's certainly worth a look.

John Persson's #s are all over the place, with a cartoony bad entry % married to a great entry-with possession rate and a decent ability to prevent opposing entries. Again, I wouldn't put any stock into any of those given how loopy they are. Persson had a 40% carry-in rate, which is solid for a fourth liner, albeit only on 35 entries.

In short, we don't have enough info on any of these three guys (although the sample isn't that bad for Halmo), but they all probably merit another look in training camp. I doubt any make the team barring a trade or injury of one or more of the other 4th line grinders, but I think they all make the case pretty well that our current 4th line grinders in CMac and Martin are fairly expendable, if not inferior to the guys who would replace them.

P.S. Yeah Eric Boulton's #s are cartoony bad again. Goons are not good at hockey. Nothing more to say there.


The Defense Corps



Kind of hard to judge Islander D-Men this year, since there was so much chaos in the D-Pairs. The Isles had 16 different D-Pairings manage at least 75 minutes of Ice Time, but only two pairings managed to stick for 40% of the Isles' total play at EV. The Isles' 3rd most used D pair was one involving Visnovsky, who was out for most of the year! So I've put the D Man individual and pairing #s above.

Before I quickly go over each D man, I'd want to answer one question that came up when I posted #s in the comments of a bits post earlier: The #s of each D Man with various forwards didn't change in any way you wouldn't have expected. With John Tavares, every D Man allowed more carry-ins than normal, while being on the ice for more Isles' Carry-ins as well. With Frans Nielsen, everyone allowed a lot less carry-ins and pretty much everyone was pretty positive overall. With Cizikas, everyone's overall #s were down. In short, there's little sense going over D Pair-Forward Interactions here (and D Men ice time with each forward group didn't differ that significantly).

Travis Hamonic:

Hamonic had two-faced year. When paired with AMac, his pairing was at best even in the Neutral Zone, allowing a ton of carry-ins by opponents but managing to win the overall entry war. Evidence provided by Corey Sznajder suggests Hamonic was great at defending opponent attempts to carry-in, and evidence from both Corey and Jess Schmidt at BroadStreetHockey notes that Amac was horrible at the same, so you can guess who was responsible for this.

When paired with de Haan, Hamonic allowed less carry-ins than the Isles managed, and had a strong neutral zone fenwick. The fact that the on-ice controlled % #s are near equal doesn't show how great this pairing was - while the Isles had control on possessions 44.5% of the time WITH 3-44 and opponents had 44.3% WITH 3-44, with neither guy on the ice, those #s are 46.9% for the Isles and 49% for opponents. Yeah, this was a real good shutdown pairing.

Individually, Hamonic drastically increased his carry-ins this year, putting up a 49% individual controlled entry rate, which is fantastic for a D-Man (short of the Mark Streit/Visnovsky 56% rates from last year, but those guys had a knack for doing this). Hopefully he continues improving this game next year.

Calvin de Haan:

Calvin de Haan staying healthy would be a huge addition to the Islanders next year. de Haan wasn't a great individual neutral zone performer 30% is fairly average for a D Man), but every other neutral zone # is fantastic, and he was positive with practically every other D partner - his #s with Donovan are particularly godly.

Thomas Hickey:

Thomas Hickey's #s by contrast were very D partner dependant. With Visnovsky again, the #s were fantastic - the Isles won the controlled entry battle by a lot when the two were together. Heck with Matt Carkner and Travis Hamonic the #s were pretty solid. On the other hand, the #s with Andrew MacDonald were a total train wreck (also with Radek Martinek). With Matt Donovan (more on this in a second), the overall NZ #s were solid, although this was incredibly dependent upon winning the entry % battle by a good bit (52.3%) - opponents carried in the easiest against the Hickey-Donovan pairing of any Islander D Pair.

Overall his #s were basically even (the low NZ Fenwick rate is driven by the more volatile Entry %, whereas controlled entry %s are basically even) and individually he was above average, if not amazing at entering with possession at 41%. If Visnovsky is healthy next year, those two should rejoin each other as an extremely effective pairing. Course, that might be a big if.

Matt Donovan:

Matt Donovan's Neutral Zone #s are at odds with his fancy stats. His conventional fancy stats, corsi, relative corsi, et al, are fantastic. The Isles won the possession battle with Donovan out there as long as he wasn't with Brian Strait, but shots against Isles' goalies with Donovan out there went in incredibly often (Fancy Stats would suggest this was a lot of bad luck, even if the eye test did seem to think he made a bit too many silly turnovers on the season).

That said, the neutral zone #s aren't very positive. It was DONOVAN, not AMac, who was the worst at preventing opposing teams from carrying-in, and this showed with pretty much every D Partner. In short, while Donovan's NZ Fenwick was exactly even at 50%, that was heavily dependent upon his great on-ice Entry%, and as noted above, that's probably a less repeatable performance than preventing opponents' from carrying in.

Are Donovan's fancy stats likely to collapse next year? It's certainly possible (I'd bet on de Haan repeating his performance a lot more than Donovan).

On the other hand, when Donovan was paired with de Haan, the pairing was arguably the best D Pairing the Isles put out all year. These are two kids who played with each other a bunch in Bridgeport, so it's certainly possible more familiarty with a good D Partner could help Donovan greatly drop his controlled entry % against. And Individually, Donovan was fairly solid at carrying the puck in (and seemed to get more comfortable at doing so as the season went on).

I think it'd be a mistake to cut ties with Donovan (unless you get decent value in a trade, but given his "horrible +/-", I'd be shocked if they pull that off) but he certainly needs a decent D Partner to help him if he does make our D Corp next year. If de Haan is with Hamonic, you need to find a D man who can help him deny controlled entries to shore up his weakness. Oh and under no circumstances should he pair with Brian Strait again.

Brian Strait:

Speaking of Brian Strait, he was a trainwreck by basically all type of fancy stats, including neutral zone ones. The Isles' entry-with control rate dropped to pretty mediocre with Strait on the ice, the Isles badly lost the Entry battle, and the opponents still entered with control a decent amount of the time. The Isles have another 2 years of Strait under contract, but it's time to cut bait here. There wasn't a single above average pairing with Strait last year, although the pairing with AMac was surprisingly okay - he's just not a plus defender.

Kevin Czuczman:

Czuczman, unlike Donovan, is someone who is clearly in the Isles' thoughts of their future - he trained with Tavares and Strome pre-season and the team was apparently extremely high on him, such that he replaced Donovan for a game (prior to an injury putting Donovan back in) to make his debut.

The fancy stat #s on Czuczman aren't good, but the neutral zone #s on him are mixed. He has a poor NZ Fenwick, but it's entirely due to a really low entry %. In contrast, opponents found it extremely difficult to enter the zone via carry-in against him, doing so only 42.7% of the time (compared to 45.2% for the Isles).

Contrast this to Matt Carkner, another sized DMan, whom opponents had no issues skating around as a pylon. It's possible to be a player that opponents overwhelm with entries, even though they're mainly dumps (this seems to be the pattern for Boulton), but it seems unlikely to be real here. Czuczman even was decent individually carrying the puck in and took a decently large sized role for an Isles D man in doing so. Czuczman even started to look better and more comfortable as games went on. His last 2-3 games where he partnered with Scott Mayfield had some impressive Neutral Zone #s (29 Carries vs 22 Carries for opponents, even though entries were 46-48 opponents).

In short, whereas Donovan is a guy I'd be worried about with fancystats that might collapse, Czuczman is a guy I suspect could have a fancy stat break out next year. I kind of think the Isles should start with him on the Bridge for a little bit just to make sure he's used to pro-level hockey, but there is a decent bit to like here, despite the negative fancy stats.

Lubomir Visnovsky:

Last but not least, when he was healthy this year, Lubo was still a beast. The one oddity with Lubo this year was that he stopped carrying-in the puck anywhere near as much, dropping from a 55% controlled entry rate (elite) to 43% (still very solid, but less than Hamonic for instance). That said, Lubo's #s were still beyond excellent.

While Lubo is well known for his offensive contributions, his great fancystats come from DEFENSIVE contributions - like last year Visnovsky was elite at denying opponents the ability to carry into the zone, (allowing 45.4% of entires to come via carry) while helping the Isles carry in themselves (the Isles did so 52.7% of the time with Lubo on the ice.)

One would hope that Lubo is healthy for next year and if he's not, it's a huge set back for the Isles going forward.

Conclusion: Bright Future?

In short, while the overall neutral zone picture was bleak, there's a lot to like about the Islanders going forward from this data. If Visnovsky and de Haan are healthy, you wind up with at least 2 strong neutral zone D Pairs in Hickey-Visnovsky and de Haan-Hamonic. Kevin Czuczman could develop into a 5th.

And some guy named Reinhart just won the WHL Championship as his team's best neutral zone defender - H/T to @ButYouCarlotta, whom you should all be following, for tracking for that data.

Offensively, there's a few more question marks. That said, Brock Nelson represents an additional neutral zone strength to existing NZ stalwarts such as Nielsen, Bailey and Grabner. Ryan Strome should develop into one as well, and if they give Tavares a NZ solid LW, he should bounce back as well (although he'll likely never be strong defensively here, his scoring should make that irrelevant if he can be just stronger than break even, ala 2013). There's a bunch of dead weight here (CMac and Martin particularly), but the future should be bright.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>

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