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Hot and Not: What to make of Brock Nelson and Anders Lee's 15-16 Seasons?

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A statistical look at the underlying numbers between Brock Nelson and Anders Lee's seasons this year.

Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome
Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Islanders' trio of "kids" - Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee - came into this season with high expectations. However, their performances this year have been...well, uneven to say the least. I want to look statistically at the trio, starting today with the older two - Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, to see what we should expect going forward.  Ryan Strome deserves a more involved look - which I'll do another day.

Note: Some stats are from prior to Saturday's game against Carolina.

Brock Nelson:

Brock Nelson is tied for the team lead in goals, with 20 goals already this year in 53 games, which if it continues, would put Brock on a 30 goal scoring pace. He has been throughout the season, as Butch might put it, hot. Unfortunately, there's good reason to believe that this pace will not continue.

Let's look at Nelson's individual stats at even strength so far, where Brock has scored 15 of his 20 goals this year:

Nelson Indv

*All of the above stats are from before Saturday night's game.*

Nelson has taken roughly the same amount of shots, and gotten roughly the same amount of shots on goal on net this year as last year.  He's actually shooting from less advantageous positions as last year, so the expected goals (based on @DTMAboutHeart's formula) we would have expected him to pull off from those shots has actually declined this year. Yet, Nelson's goal scoring rate has nearly doubled, and that's entirely due to his shooting % completely doubling from 8% to 16%.

For those who aren't aware, shooting % of individual players in the NHL is very volatile, and tends to regress back toward the player's mean as more games are played.  Hot streaks based upon shooting % - or cold streaks based upon it, tend to end because suddenly the player's shooting % goes back towards normal. This is especially the likely case when we don't see a player's shots being taken from more advantageous situations as they were previously (or less).

In short, Nelsons' torrid goal scoring is almost certainly a bit of a fluke. His shooting may have improved in his third year in the league, but not to this extent. I's not like Nelson's shooting was fluky low last year, so to double it to an extreme - Brock is actually 13th in the league in 5v5 Shooting Percentage this year - is almost certainly something that will regress.  Is it possible that Brock's torrid pace continues through the end of this year?

Sure! Just like it was possible it lasted this long. But odds are it won't, and it's not because Brock is suffering a cold streak. Not that this means that Brock won't be a decently productive scorer - but he's likely to be on a 20 goal/year pace going forward, instead of 30, absent other changes.

Of course, there is more to hockey than scoring goals (although goal scoring is PRETTY important, don't get me wrong).  A player can be extremely valuable if they can drive play - either by creating shots for one's own team or by preventing shots by the opponents. (When we say shots here, we are referring to all shots, not shots on goal).  In Brock's rookie season, Brock Nelson was in fact extremely good at this - the team's corsi (% of total shots that are being fired at the opponent's net) was nearly universally better with him on the ice than without, as you can see in the below graph:

This graph is courtesy of hockeyviz.com, by Micah Blake McCurdy. Basically this show's each 2013-14 Islander's corsi while playing alongside Brock Nelson and their corsi without Brock. The Red squares are each player's corsi without Brock, the black squares are each player's corsi with Brock, and the Blue squares are Brock without each of those given players. As you can see, nearly every player (excepting Andrew MacDonald, Brian Strait, and Michael Grabner) did better, often much better, with Brock Nelson on the ice.

Unfortunately, that trend has largely disappeared:

Above shows the last two years. As you can tell, the last two years, Brock's effect on his teammates has been neutral really at best in terms of driving play - it's actually slightly negative this year. In short, Brock has been an average possession player over the last two years.

Anders Lee:

Anders Lee has had the opposite luck of Brock Nelson. Going into this year, it was Anders who was thought of as the potential 30-goal scorer, especially if he got more ice time alongside John Tavares. Instead, Anders lee only has 9 goals this year, a pace that'll probably wind up with him at 15 goals, well short of his rookie total from last year.  But like Nelson from above, it also seems to be a fluke to an extent:

Lee x2

*A note:  The Expected Goals #s are from prior to Saturday's game;  All other numbers are after the game.

Anders Lee's numbers are fractionally down this year. He's getting slightly less shots off, slightly less shots on goal, and yes, his rate of expected goals has declined this year. On the other hand, he's not just scoring slightly less goals this year - his even strength goal scoring rate has been cut into a third. Again, like Nelson, shooting % is the main culprit - Lee's shooting % is down from 10.9% to FOUR percent. And again, this is likely a small sample fluke.

We're already beginning to see this reverse - Lee has shot 17.6% (all strengths, but still) in the 7 February games up to this point.  Is Lee going to be a 30 goal scorer in the future?  Well there's definitely more reason to doubt that now.  But Lee being a 25 goal scorer in the future is certainly doable.

And unlike Nelson, Lee's skill at driving possession hasn't disappeared this year. It wasn't there to start this year, but Lee actually now leads the Isles in corsi this year, despite a rough start. See the following graph showing this year's Lee results:

As you can see, for the second year in a row, the vast bulk of Islanders are doing superior with Lee on the ice than without.  So even with Lee's scoring slump, he's been an extremely valuable Islander  And that scoring slump is not likely to continue.

Conclusion:

Despite the fact that Nelson has been scoring this year and Lee hasn't, Lee looks to be the superior player this year.  Both players are integral to the Isles going forward and can improve further - for Lee, that'll be perhaps improving his shooting/goalscoring numbers further (at least back toward last year's rate), while for Nelson it would be in returning to being a possession driver.  But as the season goes on, remember that Nelson's likely "Slump" and Lee's likely "hot streak" are simply good/bad luck returning to normal.