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Applying the Concept of ‘Betweenness’ to Noah Dobson’s Season

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The Islanders’ top amateur D prospect has not produced at the same level as last season, but how much of that is his fault?

NHL: NHL Draft Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Noah Dobson was traded from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to Rouyn-Noranda in a deal that moved the 2018 first rounder from the cellar of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the penthouse. That’s not meant to be hyperbole: Acadie-Bathurst has six wins on the season, which has created a pretty untenable situation for the high-ceiling defenseman.

In general, a consequence of playing for a dreadful team is the chance of skewed production metrics, of which the Islanders’ 2018 first-round pick (12th overall) has witnessed for himself. For example, after a 52 assist season in 69 games last season, Dobson has just 7 in 26 games this season (to go along with 9 goals).

There’s some obvious context as to why Dobson’s assist totals are down, but using Evan Oppenheimer’s “Betweenness,” we can actually provide some further context. Betweenness, as Oppenheimer describes it, is ‘a proxy for saying “what percentage of this players points are *actually* theirs?’ You can get points by playing with good players, but which players do the points follow the most? I think betweenness is a way to say which players the points follow (or should’ve followed).”

In a more familiar example (though perhaps somewhat of a fresh wound), Oppenheimer describes the relationship between former Islanders John Tavares and Matt Moulson as a good place to apply this concept.

John Tavares scored a lot of goals and assists with a lot of different people. Moulson, on the other hand, scored somewhat similar number of goals/assists but mainly with John Tavares. If both guys have a similar number of points, but one (Tavares) has gotten them with a variety of players and another has most of them with one player (that one player being a guy who scores with many more people), who do you prefer? That’s the problem that betweenness tries to solve,” said Oppenheimer.

So, in other words, contextually it speaks more to a player’s production effectiveness if he is contributing to goals with a variety of players. Theoretically, it makes intuitive sense, and while there are short-term drawbacks (one of which being that players don’t choose their linemates), over time players will generally play with different combinations. All of those combinations present opportunities for production. Players who succeed in those avenues will have a higher betweenness output.

Source: Evan Oppenheimer; Data Through 12/15

Let’s go back to Dobson. Looking at the above chart, we can see that Dobson has the second highest total of all defensemen in the CHL, and highest in the QMJHL. In other words, he’s driving a lot of offense with a bunch of different players, some of which may not be putting up many points overall.

Betweenness - in its construction - is a descriptive statistic. Oppenheimer was quick to point that out in our conversation, saying betweenness should be used “like how points and shot attempts are descriptive measures that describe how a player did or what they did.” So just because Dobson had a high betweenness with Acadie-Bathurst, it does not mean he’s more or less likely to produce a plethora of points with Rouyn-Noranda. Contexts change, and this is especially true when it comes to players who play on multiple teams in a season.

However, what we can say is that Dobson has shown tangible versatility in how he can accumulate points, making it fair to say he is a production driver versus reliant on a specific combination. For a prospective defenseman, this is a very good sign.

Some Other Isles Prospects

Source: Evan Oppenheimer; Data Through 12/15

Bode Wilde leads all CHL defensemen in powerplay betweenness, accentuating the offensive ability that was so closely tied to his scouting report during last year’s draft. Wilde currently has 33 points in 27 games for Saginaw.

Source: Evan Oppenheimer; Data Through 12/15

Blade Jenkins has the highest betweenness of all OHL left wings. Another Lou Lamoriello draft pick, the 2018 fifth-round draft pick is playing well for Saginaw with 33 points in 32 games.

Source: Evan Oppenheimer; Data Through 12/15

Finally of note among CHL prospects, Arnaud Durandeau (the Islanders’ 6th-round pick in 2017), is 19th among QMJHL left-wings in even strength betweenness.

Thanks to Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) for helping out with this piece. All data is from Evan’s weekend release of updated CHL Betweenness.