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Heading into action Tuesday night – well, before the NHL postponed games - Flyers winger, James van Riemsdyk was enjoying a seven-game point streak in a renaissance season, with two distinctly different things going for him.
For one, he was tied for the lead in NHL scoring at 5v5 with three others (Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner). Secondly he tested my auto-correct setting so that I never have to spell out James van Riemsdyk ever again.
Oh, and a distant third – fourth overall league-wide in scoring (13-7-11-18).
I expected the second item to pass with flying colors, but never would have expected the Flyer to be leading the NHL in 5v5 points at any point in the season. After 13 games, his 12 points at 5v5 include six primary points. He’s earned a point on 92.3% of the goals scored while he was on the ice (noted as the metric IPP – Individual Point Percentage).
‘JvR’ presents an interesting case study on the effectiveness of getting to high danger scoring areas, while using other scoring elements – such as pre-shot movement – as capable controls. The game itself is changing dramatically and new strategies and tactics are emerging with more available data and sophisticated video.
The epitome of net-front presence, the Flyers winger with 18 points is almost halfway to his 2019-20 season totals – where he scored 19 goals, the lowest full season effort since his rookie season (15). Broken down by quarters, this is how he fared in comparison to expected goals and his individual shooting percentage in 2019-20. He blew away his second quarter expectations to lead his goal scoring charge, but found it more difficult in other quarters.
In 2020-21 a quarter breaks down to 14 games and the Flyers have played 13. So far this season, JvR has fired at an incredible 13.26% shooting percentage, and outperforming his expected goals by almost double.
Until a recent placement with Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee – who has been a knock out this season as well – JvR had played with Jake Voracek, Nolan Patrick and Claude Giroux at 5v5.
Courtesy of HockeyViz we see where JvR makes his mark, around the goal, in particular within 10 feet, proficiently picking up rebounds and getting sticks in the way of pucks for tips and change of directions.
FLYERS UP 1-0 after JvR GOAL!pic.twitter.com/FTDY6ltdhp
— Barstool Philly (@BarstoolPhiIIy) February 6, 2021
It’s interesting to note the individual expected goals, marked here at 0.72, while at Natural Stat Trick, he’s clocking in at 1.67 ixG. There’s a similar depreciation in 19-20, with such a small individual expected goals – which is strange considering the amount of chances and proximity to the goal.
This marked difference in the metric is attributed to different methodology and calculation methods that occurs with every individual model – there will always be a disparity between models, this one happens to indicate a wider gap.
JvR, nonetheless has scored twice at 5v5, and added another five on the power play. He’s had three one goal games, and a pair of two goal games. The table below is a raw count of games in which he’s recorded the measure across the top to the listed categories.
Of note, the two games with five or more individual high danger chances generation this season and mark that contrast to the three five-plus iHDCF games in 2019/20.
JvR was on to something special already this season. With a 5v5 point on 92% of on-ice goals scored, he’s clearly beating his career average of 71.9%, even in the best of times, it’s expected to see him dip closer to career average than sustain the current pace.
Net-front Presence Change in Tactics
Alex Novet completed a five part study into expected goals models that included pre-shot movement, on Hockey Graphs that puts into play pre-shot movement.
We’ve generally accepted that mantras like ‘go to the net’ or getting into high danger areas are keys to scoring goals – and they absolutely are – but these kinds of studies illuminate the existence of forces prior to a shot event that can influence whether a shot turns into a goal.
The concept of the ‘Royal Road’ should be becoming more familiar as it’s more widely used in analysis in articles and even television appearances. It’s the imaginary strip separating the offensive zone, and getting pucks across that line prior to a shot event significantly affects the quality of the shooting opportunity at the shot event stage.
An example of a Royal Road goal using the Flyers.
— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) February 4, 2021
Players like JvR that are that distinct net-front presence aren’t going to be participating as much in the pre-shot movement, which is an element of a rushing opportunity. Net front presences need to get to the net in order to exploit their skill set.
James van Riemsdyk, who was born in Middletown, N.J., roughly 40 miles from Prudential Center, has scored a pair of power-play goals to put the @NHLFlyers up 2-0 over New Jersey. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/oowm6DRxBj
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 27, 2021
JvR has never been an exceptional puck carrier, and that puts his goal scoring production in jeopardy unless he is able to establish his foot hold in front of goalies. Although, he can still fire pucks from in close with authority, it’s not his best skill.
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) February 7, 2021
Teams need to have a strong offensive zone forecheck to regain possession after a failed shot attempt and they have to direct pucks at the net. JvR thrives in this element, supporting the cycle down low and creeping to the net front. If he’s not scoring, he could be a diligent foil in the forecheck to allow teammates to set up scoring chances while he lays in a support role.
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) February 1, 2021
But if teams are going to be incorporating more individual skilled plays on the edges of the scoring chance home plate area, and take advantage of using pre-shot movement to potentially enhance scoring, this could leave the Flyers winger struggling to find consistency into the future.
He won’t ever lose out by being a net-front player – unless back checking becomes a concern – so there will always be some value that he brings tactically. With age, as his game adjusts, just how much more effective will he be?
There is likely some regression coming this season to his current pace, but beyond this season is where the concern would lie.