Evaluating 2013-14 rookie Islander forwards, and what to expect going forward

Body of evidence. - Bruce Bennett

Over the last season, the Isles debuted a whole bunch of rookies for their first significant NHL time. In particular, four rookie forwards got at least 20 games played in the show and I'd like to take a look at those forwards' overall statistics and what you might expect going forward. We'll go through each of these four rookies in order of games played in the NHL. But First, a quick legend of the stats we'll be using:

LEGEND (for some of the less common sense terms):

PenD: Penalty Differential - Penalties Drawn MINUS Penalties Taken. A Player with a positive Pen D has drawn more penalties than he's taken.

Corsi%: % of all Shot Attempts (SOG+Missed Shots+Blocked Shots) taken by a player's team while they're on the ice on 5v5. A Corsi% of 50% means that each team is getting an equal amount of shots while a player is on the ice; above 50% means the team is outshooting the opponent, under 50% means they're being outshot. Corsi has been found to approximate time of possession and scoring chance #s extremely well.

Relative Corsi%: Difference in Corsi% while a player is on the ice for a team and when he is off the ice. For example, a Relative Corsi% of 5% means that the team's corsi with the player is 5 percentage points better with that player than without him - while a negative 5% means the team is 5 percentage points better in corsi with him on the bench. This measure allows us to separate a player's performance from his teammates to a certain extent.

PDO: 5 on 5 On-Ice SH% + On-Ice SV%: PDO is a measure of luck - players and teams tend to have a PDOs around 100 (sometimes listed as "1000" instead) over their careers, although players can sustain PDOs between 99 (or 990) and 110 (1010) in certain circumstances. A low PDO can show why a players' low assist totals and +/- is going to bounce back, while a high PDO can suggest a step back is coming.

ZS%: or Zone-Start % - The % of non-neutral zone faceoffs a player is on the ice for that are in the offensive zone at even-strength. A Higher amount (over 50%, often up to the 60%s) makes it easier for a player to post good offensive #s and less-bad defensive ones, while a lower one signifies a more defensive role that a player might have trouble scoring with.

ZS% rel: or Relative Zone-Start %: The difference between a player's zone-start % and a team's zone-start % with him off the ice. A player may have a high looking zone-start % on some teams, which would normally signify an offensive role, except some teams (really good ones) have a lot more offensive faceoffs than defensive ones, so ALL their players have high zone-starts (and some bad teams have the reverse). This allows you to put relative corsi into more perspective, as that stat also compares players to how the team does without them.

QOC TOI% - or Quality of Competition Time on Ice %: This is a measure of the competition a player faces while he's on the ice at 5v5. This measures the time on ice (in terms of % of a team's minutes) of the average opponent on the ice while a player is on the ice. A higher # means the player faced tougher competition. There is some question about how much this differs from player to player over larger sample sizes, so it might not matter as much as you'd think.

QOC TOI% - or Quality of Teammates Time on Ice %: Same thing as QOC TOI%, except it measures the quality of your teammates instead. Unlike competition, it's pretty clear this matters a LOT. A team can't control completely who each player plays against, but it CAN control who they play alongside. Again higher = stronger teammates, lower = weaker ones.

Individual Entry 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.

Individual Controlled Entry %:
% 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 Team 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.

PS: A quick thank you to, which hosts all the non-neutral zone statistics used below. Extraskater is the best and you should all try to check it out every now and then.

On to the Players:



Birthdate:10/5/1991(13-14 season age: 23)
Acquired: 2010 NHL Draft, 1st round, 30th Overall

Brock Nelson is the only one of these rookies to get a full sample size for the season, and basically all the fancy stat #s are excellent. Played against roughly average opponents alongside roughly average teammates, and crushed them in shot differential - that Relative Corsi of 4.5% was tops amongst Islanders who played at least 30 games this season. Moreover, he had slightly less offensive zone starts than his teammates, making those #s even more impressive. And as covered previously in our neutral zone talk, Nelson was above average in basically every Neutral Zone # this year, and was excellent (3rd best on the team) at carrying the puck in himself.

A few things to note about him going forward though. First, he's going to be 23 next year, so he's not exactly a young rookie (contrast Strome, below). These are good signs, but improvement isn't likely to be huge over the next few years. Second, his point total is a little below what we would hope for Nelson, even with the plus possession play. You'd really like 20+ goals out of him going forward, which means he needs to get more SOG on net (although 7.7 is a not bad #) . Still, his assist rate might go up as he gets less unlucky next year - his teammates shot 7% at 5 v 5, while the average is 8% (the Isles as a whole only shot 7.3%, mind you).

The first line did fantastic with Nelson with Tavares, but if he wants to stake a claim to that spot, he does need to score a bit more for the Isles to feel comfortable with him on that spot.



Birthdate: 7/11/93 (13-14 Season Age: 21):
Acquired: 2011 NHL Draft, 1st round, 5th Overall

Ryan Strome is the other top forward prospect who debuted last year and his results are a bit more mixed. On one hand, the typical fancy stats are fantastic - he had weak teammates and not a lot of offensive zone faceoffs, but with Strome on the ice, the Isles still decently outshot the opposition. He also put up a decent amount of points given his teammates, and odds are he won't shoot only 7.9% next year, so the goal scoring rate should go up. And the # of shots he got on goal despite the lousy linemates is pretty damn good - good for THIRD on the team!

The neutral zone #s are a little less optimistic - he carried it in individually at a decent rate, but otherwise, he allowed opponents to carry it at a decent clip. Mind you, his on-ice control rate is low mainly because he played with two of the worst neutral zone carryers on the team for a good chunk of his ice time, so hopefully that'll get better.

That said, the key thing here is a # not in the fancy chart above. It's his age: 21 as of next season. Strome is 2-3 years younger than all of these guys and has a lot more room to grow. And those #s are still fairly decent for a rookie (more than such I'd say).



Birthdate: 7/3/90 (13-14 Season Age: 24):
Acquired: 2009 NHL Draft, 6th round, 152nd Overall

Anders Lee is, unlike Strome or Nelson, a guy who does not have a strong pedigree. 6th Rounders tend to be crap shoots, who tend to either not make the NHL or not be very good if they do. (Lee's already beat the odds there). In addition, even before this season, when Lee had already signed an ELC, he wasn't really rated as a really good prospect. This isn't to say that he wasn't likely to be an Islander at that point, but he was rated as a role player at best, someone you'd stick on your 3rd line. Add in the fact that he was the oldest of the relevant Islander forward prospects and you had reason to not be super high on Lee.

And then you get this hell of a 22 games. Ignore the point scoring for a second: unlike Strome or Nelson - Lee got lucky bounces when it came to scoring, and isn't likely to continue shooting 13.2% in the NHL when he managed 13% over his entire NCAA career (I'd bet he settles down around 10-11%). It's possible, but unlikely. Despite that, he'll still put up a bunch of goals at that rate since he gets so many shots on goal - Lee LED THE TEAM in shots on goal per 60, both overall and at even strength. In fact, for players with 250 or more 5 on 5 minutes, Lee's shot rate was ELEVENTH IN THE NHL (some of this is fluky - he drops to 39th in overall shot attempts, but that's still REALLY good).

Then you have the possession #s and neutral zone #s, which were great across the board. Top Relative Corsi on the team for any forward with 20 GP in not super favorable circumstances - decent competition, not high zone starts. Now Lee did get the benefit of one of the Isles best linemates in Frans Nielsen, but it's something to say when Frans played arguably his best when next to Lee. Lee's neutral zone #s drop off without Nielsen (although his other fancystats don't) but everything here would argue that he should clearly be on 51's Left Wing to start next year.

Again though, this is only 22 Games worth of data, and we can't forget Lee wasn't expected at all to put up such a performance. He's also not likely to improve much at his age, since he's so close to his peak. This could entirely be a total flash in the pan. That said, it's really intriguing and it would be huge found money if Lee could continue some of these #s. One area of obvious improvement he could use is in carrying the puck in, so let's see if that improves next year.



Birthdate: 5/15/91 (13-14 Season Age: 23):
Acquired: Undrafted

Speaking of lack of pedigrees, Mike Halmo is the perfect picture of it. An undrafted Free Agent out of juniors, Halmo was the perfect picture of AHL depth - a small tough guy who wasn't talented enough to put up good points #s in juniors. At best, Halmo would become a fourth liner. So of course he was on the first line at Bridgeport for some reason, reaping the rewards of playing with Strome and Lee.

That said, Halmo's #s actually are pretty solid for a bottom 6-er. Despite playing with Cizikas, who had lousy possession #s otherwise, Halmo was actually pretty positive. His neutral zone #s were also pretty solid, and the near 40% individual carry-in rate is at least acceptable for a 4th liner (compare CMac and Martin's 30%). Even if he didn't put up points, with him on the 4th line, the Isles were still above water, which is exactly what you want from a fourth liner, and what the Isles DID NOT have this year with Martin-Cizikas.

Of course, Halmo benefited from 60% zone starts, making it a lot easier to stay above water. 4th liners aren't likely to get such sheltering - Cizikas was around 44% for the season - so if he's to be a solid 4th liner, he'll need to handle weaker minutes. And well, there are multiple guys ahead of him on 4th line for the 4W spots - Martin, CMac, and Clutterbuck are all likely to play time there next season.

I think Halmo is someone who pleasantly surprised last year, and I hope we might see more of him next season in place of one of those three guys. But who knows if he'll get the chance.

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