I can find seven men for the top nine forward spots on this year’s Oilers: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, Ryan Strome, Jussi Jokinen. The final two names? It’s going to be a winter long reality show: The Right Winger.
- Positives: Speedy and aggressive player, he showed chem with Connor McDavid in style if not in points. Impressive penalty-killing potential. College numbers suggested we might be looking at someone who could help offensively in a substantial role.
- Negatives: Cagguila struggled badly at center, meaning his ability to fill roles is limited. His offense in year one was well below replacement level and he is 23—his time needs to be now.
- Positives: He has size, speed and skill, along with a booming shot. He is 6.02, 218 and is a big fast train. His AHL numbers suggest the minor-league auditioning is complete, although Slepyshev can be sent down without waivers. He is 23—and his time also needs to be now.
- Negatives: Slepyshev might not have enough offense to hang with a skill line consistently.
- Positives: JP is a force of nature on the ice, a big body moving rapidly and with skill. He shows excellent awareness away from the puck and has a complete skill set.
- Negatives: His first North American season was uneven and leaves some doubt about his being NHL-ready. Scoring ability remains a question if not a concern.
- Positives: Kassian is a physical player who can serve as a skilled deterrent. That may not have value to you but it probably does for Todd McLellan. His new slimmed down physique means Kassian’s foot speed is the best of his career. Although he isn’t a top-end skill player, Kassian can make a pass and has impressive creativity in close with the puck on his stick.
- Negatives: There aren’t many at this point, Kassian has worked hard to make himself effective in all areas. Can lose his temper or cross that line and take regrettable penalties, but even that isn’t a chronic problem.
My RE projection (as you’ll see as we continue) did settle on two men from this group, but the truth is, at least for this season, it’s anyone’s guess. Is there anyone else who could emerge on this roster? The longest shots are Kailer Yamamoto and Ty Rattie but the odds favor two of the four names above grabbing the opportunity.
One of the things Bill James was able to accomplish during his Abtract years was a large number of metrics and ideas that would become adopted as true. Platoon advantage was known but not universally understood, the superiority of a 19-year old rookie over a 24-year old rookie with the same stats wasn’t even a rumor, minors-to-majors stats conversion, k/w and relation to pitcher wins, and the stolen base had no real measurement of success. James changed all that and more.
One reason he was able to do it: Bill James worked in a vacuum. He wrote much of his work before the analytics explosion in baseball and his Abstracts have always been a guideline.
What can we universally agree on in regard to hockey analytics? I’m being serious here. I believe in Corsi, Corsi Rel, DFF, DFF Rel, NHL equivalencies, shots for percentage, shots per 60, shots against per 60 on the PK, save percentage at even strength.
How many of those metrics are universal? Answer: Zero. That is, I think, the failure of analytics in hockey. It’s a Tower of Babel, it is a ball of confusion, it is a religion with too many bibles. Today, this day, I would like to call for a list of universally agreed upon statistics and have it adopted by the collective. Otherwise, it’s just pissing in the wind.
Do you know what I tell people who ask me where to start digging re: Analytics? Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract. Do you know how many analytics people agree with everything in that book? What, in the name of Jesus, Mary & Joseph, can we agree on? It is time for the Hockey Analytics community to create a list of universal truths. Clarity, or die. Surely you know this to be true.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
When the Oilers traded Taylor Hall, Peter Chiarelli was trying to replace Jeff Petry. When Peter Chiarelli signed Milan Lucic, he was trying to replace Taylor Hall. When the Oilers traded Jordan Eberle, they were looking to change the dynamic up front. That’s my opinion.
The four men listed above all have elements to their game that make them attractive as possible top 9F options. Jesse Puljujarvi could solve a lot of problems by stepping in and scoring 20, but if we’re honest that eventuality is at least one ‘transition’ season away. Zack Kassian is a different player since his arrival in Edmonton, and his 1.74/60 at 5×5 one year ago was equal to Jordan Eberle’s (1.76) while playing with lesser linemates. Drake Caggiula is a bullet train and has some chem with 97, Anton Slepyshev looks exactly like the winger you’d want patrolling alongside McDavid or Draisaitl.
Here’s the thing that should keep you awake at night: What if none of these men brings enough offense to merit a full season audition? Sometimes, nothing rhymes. We don’t know what we don’t know, but we have our suspicions.