Yakupov, Tarasenko and what advanced stats reveal on young wingers (Puck Momalytics)

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  • Nail Yakupov
    Nail Yakupov
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Taylor Hall
    Taylor Hall
    Professional hockey player for the Boston Bruins
Edmonton Oilers right wing Nail Yakupov (10) celebrates his goal with teammate Benoit Pouliot (67) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)
Edmonton Oilers right wing Nail Yakupov (10) celebrates his goal with teammate Benoit Pouliot (67) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

(Jen Lute Costella is our new analytics writer, breaking down the fanciest of stats for you each week. She's a mom. She's writing for Puck Daddy. Hence, she calls this slice of stats heaven Puck Momalytics.)

Many people enjoy comparing recent draft picks and exploring whether the team they root for (or write about) made the right choice.

While this may be a fun exercise, many start comparing players regardless of the position they play and the team environment in which the players have been placed.

Nail Yakupov was highly touted before the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and was selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers. He has recently been compared to other players drafted in the same year in an effort to determine whether the Oilers made the right choice.

Many young players in the NHL are subject to scrutiny very early in their careers, but Yakupov has been the focus of heavy criticism over his first few seasons. One of the most often heard complaints about Yakupov is that he is not defensively responsible. He has been blasted for not producing enough offensively as well.  Plenty of people have been comparing him to other first round draft picks in his class such as Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), Morgan Rielly (TOR), Ryan Murray (CBJ), Hampus Lindholm (ANA) and Jacob Trouba (WPG).

The problem with these comparisons is that other than Galchenyuk, who is a center, the rest of the players are defensemen.

Whether teams should draft for the best player available or draft to address team needs is an in-depth discussion that goes to the heart of the team management’s philosophy and the state of the market for available players. There really isn’t anything a player can do to change that, so instead of addressing whether the team made the right choice, let’s take a look at some of the wingers who, like Yakupov, were drafted in the first round and how they have performed so far. 

DRAFT YEAR

PLAYER

DRAFTED BY

CURRENT TEAM

NHL GAMES PLAYED

GOALS

ASSISTS

2010

TAYLOR HALL

EDMONTON OILERS

EDMONTON OILERS

257

98

137

2011

GABRIEL LANDESKOG

COLORADO AVALANCHE

COLORADO AVALANCHE

212

61

78

2010

NINO NIEDERREITER

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

MINNESOTA WILD

155

19

25

2012

NAIL YAKUPOV

EDMONTON OILERS

EDMONTON OILERS

122

30

29

2010

VLADIMIR TARASENKO

ST. LOUIS BLUES

ST. LOUIS BLUES

119

39

38

2010

BRETT CONNOLLY

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

92

8

11

2010

EMERSON ETEM

ANAHEIM DUCKS

ANAHEIM DUCKS

91

13

13

2012

TOM

WILSON

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

88

4

8

2010

BEAU BENNETT

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

65

8

19

2012

TANNER PEARSON

LOS ANGELES KINGS

LOS ANGELES KINGS

62

14

14

2011

SVEN BAERTSCHI

CALGARY FLAMES

CALGARY FLAMES

52

8

16

2011

NICKLAS JENSEN

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

19

3

3

2010

AUSTIN WATSON

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (AHL)

6

1

0

2011

JOEL

ARMIA

BUFFALO SABRES

ROCHESTER AMERICANS (AHL)

0

0

0

2011

STEFAN NOESEN

OTTAWA SENATORS

NORFOLK ADMIRALS

0

0

0

2011

TYLER

BIGGS

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

TORONTO MARLIES

0

0

0

2011

MATT PUEMPEL

OTTAWA SENATORS

BINGHAMTON SENATORS (AHL)

0

0

0

 *All numbers above current through November 2, 2014*

Of the wings taken in the first round of the draft since 2010, Edmonton’s Taylor Hall is first in appearances in the NHL and points. Both Hall and Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog have put up impressive numbers for their teams over the first few seasons of their young careers.

St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko, Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter and Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov have similar numbers in terms of appearances in NHL games, while L.A.’s Tanner Pearson is just getting his career going with regular playing time.

Not unexpectedly, Tarasenko, Niederreiter and Yakupov have dealt with their share of criticism for a perceived failure to live up to the hype surrounding them.  This is probably pretty unfair given that coaches often seem bewildered about how to fit these young wingers into their lineups and get the most out of them. Many coaches doubt the defensive ability of their young wings and hesitate to put them on the ice against tougher competition or in to start them out of the defensive zone. There is certainly some merit to sheltering these young players a bit, but it would seem as fans we often forget about this learning curve. Wings in particular are not usually known for excellent 2-way play, but their offensive prowess can go a long way to alleviating some of that criticism. If their offensive production falls a bit, well, cue the floodgates.

The graph above shows the wingers we are focusing on over the last few seasons. The horizontal axis shows the Zone Start Percentage Relative to the player’s teammates. Players farther to the left had less desirable zone starts than their teammates. Players to the right had more offensive zone starts than their teammates to varying degrees. The vertical axis shows CF% or Corsi For Percentage at 5v5. Anything above 50% means the player had the puck more than his opponents. Players below 50% did not have the puck more than their opponents. Each of the circles represents that player’s P60 or Points Per 60. The label inside the circle shows exactly what the player’s P60 was at 5v5 for the season indicated.

Historically speaking, this graph makes it clear that Taylor Hall has been a point machine throughout his young career. Considering that Edmonton has had trouble with puck possession over the last several seasons, Hall’s CF% is also impressive. Another player with historically impressive numbers despite being on a poor puck possession team is Gabriel Landeskog. He routinely took the tougher zone starts for Colorado over the past few seasons and still managed to maintain good possession and point based numbers.

Before we talk about how these youngsters are playing this season, we should take a quick look at their teams.

The teams included on this graph are those for which the young wingers are looking at play for this season. The horizontal axis is the team’s Fenwick For Percentage (FF%) at 5v5 with the Score Close (+/- 1 goal during the 1st or 2nd period, tied in the 3rd period). The farther right a team appears, the better its puck possession numbers are this season. The vertical axis shows the team’s Goals For Per 60 (GF60) or the rate at which these teams are scoring. The higher on the graph, the higher the team’s scoring rate. Minnesota is off to a tremendous start this season from a puck possession and scoring perspective.

Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton have continued some of their puck possession problems, but Calgary has been scoring at quite a clip regardless. L.A. is having a very rough start to the season in terms of puck possession. That team has been a FF% juggernaut for the last few seasons so many expect this anomaly to correct fairly soon.

Now that we see how the teams are doing so far, we can look at how these young wingers are fitting into the puzzle. As you can see in the Zone Starts and CF% graph, Niederreiter currently has the largest P60 (2.2) of the wings pulling less desirable zone starts than their teammates with Beau Bennett of Pittsburgh being the only other wing in this group currently in the same situation. Given the very strong possession numbers of Minnesota and Pittsburgh, this suggests that Niederreiter and Bennett have the trust of their coaches to be defensively responsible enough to handle tougher zone starts. The other possible explanation is that the other forward lines are being optimized to increase their scoring.

Yakupov has had far more favorable zone starts than his teammates, but his possession numbers leave a bit to be desired. He has not been able to reach the same rate of point production as he had during the 2012-13 season, but so far this season, his P60 is up from where he ended last season. Taylor Hall is getting more favorable zone starts this season so far and P60 is looking fairly consistent. He will miss some time now that he has a knee injury so it will be interesting to see how he does when he returns and if Yakupov can step up his pace to make up for him while he’s out.

The two biggest stories in this group so far this season are Tarasenko and Pearson. Both have very high P60 numbers right now with Pearson coming in at 3.64 and Tarasenko at 3.5. Both of these players have very good puck possession numbers as well. Tarasenko is finally getting his opportunity with the Blues this season. Anyone who paid close attention to that team over the last few seasons is well aware of the amazing skill and explosive power he possesses. He is certainly unique on a team that while strong in puck possession, prides itself on a grinding style of play. If he and his linemates can continue pushing their offense, they could be the answer to what has been missing from the Blues offense for the last few years.

Pearson, recently named Rookie of the Month by the NHL, is off to a blistering start this season. While his possession numbers were good last season, his point pace has more than doubled. While his team is struggling to find its way back to powerhouse status in the early going, Pearson has been one of the few very bright spots for L.A.

The graph above shows On Ice Shooting Percentage and Save Percentage over the last few seasons and this one for these wingers. Most of the season long numbers cluster together in the middle which is fairly typical with these measures. What we are looking for here are the outliers. Players and teams do not often sustain a very high or very low shooting percentage (sh%) or save percentage (Sv%) over the course of a whole season. These metrics help us figure out if what a player is currently doing is sustainable over a whole season. Some players go several seasons with a very high shooting percentage or save percentage but it is not at all the norm.

Not surprisingly, the two players making waves at this point in the season, Tarasenko and Pearson are in the top right corner of the graph. Their On Ice (player + teammates on the ice with him) sh% and Sv% are very high. Brett Connolly of the Tampa Bay Lightning is also near the top of the graph currently benefiting from an On Ice Sv% over 95% and a fairly high On Ice sh% as well. It is not unreasonable to expect some of these numbers to regress a bit as the season goes on. That isn’t to say that Pearson and Tarasenko cannot keep up the frenetic pace just that it is unlikely to happen. Both are very talented young players and we have yet to see what they are truly capable to sustaining.

Following the same reasoning, we can also expect the players suffering from very low sh% and Sv% to regress toward the mean as well. Landeskog’s On Ice sh% is really low when compared to what he has done over his career so far and it is likely to improve as the season goes on and his line gets going.

Last season, Yakupov set the low mark for the group in On Ice Sv% and has already shown some improvement there. It is important to know that long term statistical analysis has shown that forwards have no meaningful affect on On Ice Sv% giving us even more confidence that Yakupov’s numbers will regress back up toward the mean.

This is also an indication that criticism of Yakupov based upon the outdated statistical measure, Plus/Minus, is largely unfounded. While he may have some problems with his defensive game, hanging the full fault for a bad +/- on Yakupov’s shoulders is, frankly, just lazy analysis. 

All data herein collected from NHL.com and War-On-Ice.com and current through November 2, 2014.