Last week we looked at some of Devon Toews’s stats his first three NHL games. There was a small-sample warning, but the early stats largely lined up with the eye-test. Here is the chart, as a refresher:
Now the sample has doubled, and we can compare his stats to that of 152 other defensemen who have played 75+ minutes each team’s past six games.
While the general shot-share rankings have declined some (red boxes below), some of his on-ice scoring-chance rankings have held the same or improved (green). He is still top-10 in three of the major shot-share categories while averaging more than 16 minutes of 5v5 per-game, which lines up closest to that of second-pairing defensemen around the NHL.
In the past three games Toews scored an overtime goal against the Blackhawks, made a beautiful stretch-pass for Anders Lee’s game winner vs the Blues, and has totaled a 61% expected (adjusted) goals share at 5v5. Toews and his partner, Scott Mayfield, spent a couple too-adventurous shifts in their own zone the first period against the Blues last game— one of which resulted in a goal against, after Mayfield lost his stick— but they each were impressive much of the game, particularly in transition.
It seems all of the playoff contenders in the Metro division forgot how to lose the past couple weeks, but it is Devon Toews — not Kris Letang, Seth Jones, Dmitri Orlov, or John Carlson — who is the lone defenseman in the division with a 52%+ expected goals share at 5v5 in each of his team’s past six games: 75%, 64%, 61%, 69%, 59%, and 54%.
This does not mean Toews is All-Star calibre. It is still a small sample of games, Toews plays fewer minutes than Letang, Jones, Orlov, and Carlson, and he is not intentionally being deployed against opposing top lines on a regular basis.
Still, it is a remarkable string of games even comparing the Quinnipiac alumnus to other second-pair defensemen around the NHL. (That is before taking into account that this is his first six NHL games.)
Are the Islanders a good hockey team?
We are still hearing from some self-esteemed experts around the NHL that the New York Islanders are not a good team. I question whether they have seen Devon Toews in action. As Jonathan illustrated through GIFs a couple days ago, Toews has several attributes which help to tilt the ice in his team’s favor when he is in action.
Since Nov. 1 the Islanders are 52% expected goals share at 5v5, which places them 11th. It’s a good stat for a decent stretch. Over the past six games the Isles are 52% without Toews (and often Mayfield) on the ice at 5v5.
Interestingly, the team has performed at 62.6% with Toews on the ice his first six games. In total, the Isles have been 56.0% xGF the past six games, good for top-5 in the NHL for the short stretch. (Of note two recent adversaries, the Blues and Leafs, are each north of 56% their past six games.)
Can Toews maintain a 62% xGF? That is highly unlikely; no NHL defenseman playing 15+ minutes of 5v5 per-game has done so this season.
Can Toews help to boost the Islanders’ expected goals percentage the rest of the season? Right now it seems a good bet.
Not only can he contribute directly, but he may help lessen the load for Nick Leddy in terms of both matchups and ice-time, as Toews takes on a bigger role, allowing the Isles to play better when a more-energized Leddy is on the ice as well. (The past six games Leddy’s on-ice expected goals percentage is 60.0%, though he has virtually the same 5v5 ice-time as he did before Toews stepped in from Bridgeport.)
How does Toews’s start compare to other rookie defensemen?
Comparing Toews to other rookie NHL defensemen is a little strange, since he is 24 years old, and most others are 20-22. Simply watching Toews it is evident he plays more like an experienced pro than the great majority of rookies (and quite a few veterans as well).
In fact, adding Toews feels like signing a top UFA defenseman mid-season, but without the inflated cap hit.
Still, it’s worth taking a look.
Seventeen of the 36 NHL rookie defensemen with 50+ minutes of 5v5 have an on-ice scoring-chance (SCF%) or high-danger (HDCF%) rate above 50% for the season. Of those 17, eleven were above 50% for on-ice expected goals share (adjusted) in their first six games of the season. Here are the 11, below.
(You can see EDM’s Bouchard lower left corner.... Lauzon is hiding behind Kylington.)
Toews is the only one of the 11 with more than 13 minutes of 5v5 TOI per-game his first six games this season who was above 56% for xGF share:
Did the Islanders wait too long to bring Toews up from Bridgeport? Did the 24 AHL games this season help to better prepare the smooth-skating defenseman for the best league in the world?
At this point, who cares. Toews is with the Isles and it’s safe to stay he is here to stay, since it is apparent he helps the team to win hockey games. We all know that Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello like winning hockey games.
All expected goals stats via offsidereview. Rankings for first two visuals via Natural Stat Trick.