Category Archives: Minnesota Wild

Snap Shots: Joel Erikkson Ek’s cup of coffee at the NHL level

I thought I’d try this new thing called “writing more.” So here we go! I have a lot of thoughts about the election, and normally I try to keep my political stuff to my twitter. I am still deciding on whether I want to write or talk on the podcast…but I will be posting something soon. I have tended to try to keep the hockey blog and pod as a space of escapism, where political stuff and real-world stuff are purposely kept out. But, that can no longer be the case.

Back to hockey for now. The Wild are at a tipping point early in the season for what to do with young Joel Erikkson Ek. I think most of us assumed he would get a few games at the pro level and then head back to Sweden, where he could arguably develop as much if nor more than the AHL. But EE surprised us all by scoring on his first shot. He had a great first couple of games and has been pretty much invisible over the last few games. The Wild have to decide whether to burn a year off his Entry Level Contract. Meaning, they have to weigh whether his contributions this year against his contributions in 2018-19, essentially. With nine games, we certainly have a small sample to analyze–but the problem is how much weight we put into that sample. My hunch is that they will burn his ELC year…they showed last year with Dumba that they are willing to take a chance, and if it pays off, it could really help them out in a time where their window may not be open as much as it is now.

So I won’t draw too many conclusions from the stats I’ll show, but I wanted to at least take a snap shot (get it!?) of what he’s done in his initial nine games.

  1. He has had insane puck luck. Erikkson Ek’s personal PDO is sitting at 108.97 right now, so let’s just call it 109. As we discussed on a recent podcast, personal PDO is really not a stat you want to use to evaluate a player. But, when we break it apart, we see that his on-ice Sh% is a hefty 13.9%, while his on-ice Sv% is .951. So, he’s been very fortunate with the puck bounces. This confounds an already small sample size, because with such extreme numbers, we basically have even less reason to trust the data.
  2. His deployment has been a bit more even than I would have thought. EE’s zone deployment (OZ-NZ-DZ) so far have been  36.9%, 29.8%, 33.3%. He’s got a reputation so far as a 200-foot player, so it seems Boudreau has mixed up his deployment a fair bit. The Wild have a different team composition than in recent years, so I’ll be watching all year to see who garners the DZ starts.
  3. He has not driven possession at all. Despite slightly favorable zone starts, his CF% is at an even 40% right now, which is really bad. Yes, a player’s individual corsi is not very telling, but I only include it here to show that it’s not been a strength of his. I thought about doing some WOWY analysis, but that’s bad because you take an impossibly small sample and break it down into even impossibly smaller samples. So *shrug.*
  4. He hasn’t had success in the face-off circle. 20 wins and 34 losses for a 37% win pct. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a 19-year old to excel in this area in his first NHL action, but again, I include it here for posterity. As a fourth-line center this year and a potential mantle of “no. 1 center of the future,” face-offs will be a key measurement…although there is research out there that shows that face-offs aren’t as important as people think, I tend to feel that they are “never not good,” so winning face-offs could be a pathway to icetime for EE.
  5. He has been more physical than you might expect. Alright, I’m totally grasping at straws here. I was set to include a stat about how he’s an extreme pass-first player, but couldn’t find the data that I really needed to back that up. Plus, I didn’t want to have a list of all negative things. Erikkson Ek is tied for sixth on the team with 14 hits at even strength. He has 10 hits against, so he’s doling out more punishment than he receives. As a European player, he will undoubtedly have a reputation as a finesse player, so if he can play a bit rougher than people expect, that might lead to some increased opportunity for him. Hits are generally a terrible stat because each arena counts them differently. So, take all this with many grains of salt, but it’s at least something to watch for.

Overall, from what we’ve seen in this early season, it might make more sense for the club to send EE back to Sweden, even though it could hurt this year. He has shown great positioning and some really good instincts, but clearly he needs more seasoning. Whether that’s in the AHL or in Sweden is beyond my pay grade, but overall my gut tells me that based on the flashes we’ve seen, it may pay better dividends to have an extra year of control over a player that could be a main contributor in the next couple of years.

What do you think? Should the Wild keep Easy-E on the NHL roster, or send him overseas for more training? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, @BobaFenwick. Thanks for reading!

 

Pulkkinen’s path to #MNWild ice time is on the Power Play

On Tuesday, the Wild claimed 24-year old Finnish winger Teemu Pulkkinen off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. He will be 25 in a couple of months, so we pretty much know what his skill set is in terms of his development. But, he hasn’t been given much opportunity to show what he can do over long periods of time (just over 11 minutes per game with DET). Apparently Bruce Boudreau and his coaching staff didn’t like what they saw from the Wild prospects this preseason, but signing Pulkkinen is also just a smart move for a team that needs to improve its scoring to remain competitive in the ever-improving #ConferenceIII.

One way to judge a player transaction is to see how the opposing team’s fans react to it. Detroit Red Wings fans have all generally said the same thing since Pulkkinen was put on waivers, “Well that was stupid move by Detroit,” which makes me feel good. Teemu is known for having a Howitzer of a slap shot and has been deployed primarily in the offensive zone (61.5% in 2014 and 67.5% last year, excluding NZ ) so we need to change our perception of what the Wild’s fourth line will do this year.

As I tweeted yesterday, Pulkkinen shows good underlying possession numbers. His 5v5 CF% in his career has been 56.2% (14-15) and 57.7% (15-16).

Let’s take a look at his HERO chart:

pulkkinen-hero-chart

Just above where it says ‘Performance Tiers’ in the figure, you can see Pulkkinen’s composite WOWY stats, or how his line mates did in terms of possession and goal scoring both with and without him. His linemates experienced ~58% CorsiFor when playing with Teemu, and just over 50% without him. Similarly, their expected goals scored saw a jump from about even to just over 55% when skating with him. The hero chart takes both his pro years into account, so what that shows is a guy who consistently drives possession and scoring.

But there is another angle that I think could present itself over the next couple of weeks as the season gets going–Pulkkinen has put up excellent power play stats in his limited NHL time. Yes, he’s only got 2 PPG and 3 PPA, but check out his 15-16 PP numbers compared to the other Wild forwards:

pulkkinen-pp-numbers

I didn’t do that very systematically, it was only intended to be a quick check off the top of my head. So I’m sure I’m forgetting someone in that table–but, you can see how valuable Pulkkinen can be on a second PP unit for the Wild. Notice that Teemu’s expected goals/60 is higher than anyone on the Wild last year other than Parise. With great playmakers like Granlund, Staal, and Koivu, and more finishers like Pulkkinen along with a step up from Coyle/Nino/Zucker, this could be the year that the Wild PP takes the next step. Also, don’t forget that Charlie Coyle ranks among the league leaders in penalties drawn, and Staal has consistently drawn a lot of penalties over the course of his career.

If nothing else, I think Pulkkinen’s success on the team is tied to his success on the power play. The better the team does with the man advantage, the more job security this guy has. Obviously that could mean we don’t see Tuch or EE this year, but Teemu Pulkkinen is better equipped to help the Wild win this year.

My next post will be on the Wild’s penalty kill, but that may not come out until early next week. Check out the podcast this Friday, and see our first episode from yesterday!

Thanks for reading and dont’ forget to follow @BobaFenwick and @HTHPod

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Why I’m excited for Eric Staal to join the Wild

With the addition of Eric Staal this offseason, the Wild’s top-six have a good shot to be among the best in the league. Throw in the signing of a new coach who has won four consecutive division titles, and there’s a buzz about the potential new line combinations and whether Boudreau will be able to get more scoring out of the roster that Yeo and Torch could not.

I’ve been pretty excited about the Staal signing, because I really think when you have a proven vet coming off a statistically down year, that gamble is usually worth taking. I’m working on a feature piece on Charlie Coyle’s deployment but I thought I’d talk a little bit first about why I’m excited to see what Staal will bring.

eric-staal-cf-and-ca-per-60-over-time

In the above chart, we see that adjusting for playing time, Staal has been a consistently high event player over his career, at least one shot attempt per minute skated while he’s on the ice. Although the very early part of his career was before the fancy stats age it’s a safe bet to say he was similar pre-2007. What’s interesting is that his corsi against numbers have dropped sharply over the last three years or so–and this is with line mates like Elias Lindholm and Kris Versteeg (nothing against those guys).

untitlederic-staal-total-shots-per-60-over-time

Everyone knows his goal scoring is down but another interesting note is that his individual event stats have held steady. His total shot attempts declined overall since about ’08 but have really steadied out since about 2012-13. His shooting percentage was way down last year (6.5%) after never dropping below 9.0% in any previous year. I think even with a modest rebound in puck luck, Staal will still rack up the shot attempts with the Wild. We just hope that he doesn’t get over-conservative like Vanek did and defer the shots to Parise or others.

I don’t want to sound like *that guy* but I do worry a little bit about Staal and Parise developing chemistry on a line together. Both guys want the puck on their stick, and you throw in a guy like Charlie Coyle who is expected to step up his goal scoring even more this year… Maybe I’ve had too many flashbacks to the horrendous over-passing that was taking place in the early part of last year but I just want to see this club live up to their offensive potential.

I’ll leave you with one final chart, from ownthepuck.blogspot.ca:

eric-staal-hero-chart

This chart takes the last three seasons into account, and does a good job overall of showing that even if Staal’s individual goal scoring is down, his possession is elite, driven by elite shot generation and well above average shot suppression. If he can adjust to playing on his third team in two years after spending over a decade in Carolina, he could really propel this team forward without eating up too much salary cap. Another attribute that he can bring is stability–recall that the Wild have had very good starts to the season over the last couple of years, so another strong presence in the locker room will not hurt.

Thanks for reading! Still hoping to get a podcast recorded in the next week or so, please keep your eyes and ears open for that. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @BobaFenwick and @HTHpod!

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What to look at: When September Ends

I got back from my honeymoon just in time for the Wild to get into their preseason schedule, so I thought I’d share some things I’ll be watching over the next couple of weeks.

  • Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle – These two guys have been playing with the club for a while now. Both are 24, which means by many statistical models, their window for development might be starting to close. Zucker has shown flashes of speed and talent that would make him a game-breaker, and Coyle has been very good at drawing penalties, and finally cracked 20 goals last year. Whether they play together or separately, each could really  push the team forward if they continue to improve. They are playing together on the top line in today’s first preseason game against the Sabres, though I don’t expect Coyle to stay at center once the regular season begins. We’ll have to see if Bruce Boudreau gets more out of these guys than Yeo could. Which brings me to…
  • Bruce Boudreau’s deployment and line combos – I’ll be honest…I’m still not sure how the Wild got so lucky as to snag Boudreau. Coach Yeo had a lot of success but also a lot of roller-coaster stretches too. If BB can steady this team out, that could really go a long way toward having a strong regular season leading into a playoff run, rather than scrambling just to make the postseason as happened each of the last two years. The Central division is still awful, and got even tougher with the addition of PK Subban. But I do like the Wild’s overall roster construction this year, and I’m very excited to see what Eric Staal can do. If he and Pominville can both benefit from some positive regression to the mean, we could be looking at this team a lot differently than in years past. Back to Boudreau, I think Minnesotans liked Yeo well enough, but they’re going to LOOOOVVVEE BB.

  • The young guys, particularly Alex Tuch – The Wild have generally focused on developing a solid group of prospects over the last decade, but in recent years, vets were brought in and expected to contribute (Heatley, Vanek in particular). That trend continues this year with Eric Staal, though I’m not sure that wasn’t more of a savvy move by management to capitalize on a down year, rather than a campaign like #VanekWatch that we saw. I’m rooting for Staal to turn things around, and maybe he won’t face as much pressure to perform right away that both Heatley and Vanek had. But anyway, my point is that the club hasn’t had a young player turn in a really breakout performance in a long time. Zucker was starting to do that but had seasons derailed by injury. I am most excited to see Alex Tuch when he makes this team because I think he brings a size and skill combination that Minnesota hasn’t had in a long time, but perhaps Bertschy or Downing or even Lucia could turn in surprise performances.  I liked Justin Fontaine well enough but he wasn’t really ever that dynamic of a presence. Chris Stewart should get lots of time in the bottom six, but with the depth at the top of the roster, a strong performance by one of the young guys could really change the makeup of the squad.

Thanks for reading!Let me know what you think by commenting on this post, on Twitter, or on r/wildhockey.

Dan and I are probably going to get the podcast back up and running in the next few weeks, so make sure to check out @HTHpod and @BobaFenwick

HTH game recap 11-17-15 vs New York Rangers: Now y’all are just showing off

If you watched the game tonight, there’s a pretty good chance that like me, you didn’t get to see the new Star Wars yet. So no spoilers alright!! But, if you happened to tune into the game, you got a chance to see Minnesota mop the floor with the Rangers. For the second game in a row, the Wild gave up a tidy two goals, but hung a big old crooked number on offense. These are the good times, so remember them well when the puck luck dries up. Continue reading HTH game recap 11-17-15 vs New York Rangers: Now y’all are just showing off

HTH game recap 12-15-15 vs Vancouver: That seemed personal

It seems we’ve been transported through some kind of inter-dimensional portal and ended up in a world where the Minnesota Wild are capable of putting up more shots in two periods than they can usually do in a full game plus overtime.

For as bad as the final score looked, the actual possession game was somewhat closer. To get everything kicked off, Charlie Coyle made a nifty power forward move in the slot and drew a penalty, which turned into about the easiest goal of Thomas Vanek’s career. Did you know that Charlie Coyle leads the Wild in penalties drawn (12) and he’s only taken 3 and leads the team in penalty differential (+9)? He’s really making more aggressive moves to the net this year, and the opposition is just getting pushed around. In past seasons, Coyle had a bit of a reputation for playing under his size, so it’s great to see him throwing his weight around out there.

van min shot attempts 121515

When the squad is finding success immediately on the power play, you start to get the feeling it’s going to be one of those nights. Despite the first goal, at about the ten minute mark of the first period the Wild turned on the afterburners. Jason Zucker ended up making some space for himself in the low slot, and hammered home a goal that was definitely something Parise would be proud of.

In a game with 57 shots on goal and 94(!) total shots attempted by both teams, you start to drool at the prospect of the shot map. Well, without further ado:

van min shot map 121515

Apart from the two goals scored from Mister Darcy’s doorstep, the Wild did a great job of defending the danger zone tonight. There is a very clear trend of the Canucks’ shots coming almost exclusively from the perimeter. I count eight blocked shots from the home plate area. Conversely, Minnesota put pucks on net from all over the place, but even the shots from the blue line are really closer to the top of the circles. Here’s a closeup of the Wild’s getting to the high danger area.

van min shot map danger zone min 121515

Everything was clicking for the Wild tonight, and certainly they all won’t be this easy. But having said that, it feels great to be on a hot streak right now, on offense and defense. Kuemper has made four quality starts (#MisterDarcy) and they say Dubnyk is ready to go, so I expect to see him on Thursday as the Wild take on the Rangers.

Hopefully they can keep things rolling, and strike while the iron is hot to make some noise in the ever-dangerous Central Division.

Quick side note: tonight’s game featured a number of players we talked about on the most recent podcast in a very fun name game, so be sure to check it out!

Thanks for reading and make sure to follow @BobaFenwick and @HTHpod on Twitter!

HTH game recap 12-11-15 at Arizona: Heartbreak in the Desert

Hockey in the desert! Minnesota traveled to Arizona to face the slumping Coyotes tonight, and there was no question that the desert dogs would be severely over-matched against the Wild, who had not allowed more than one goal in regulation in the four games previous to tonight’s game.

Minnesota came out like gangbusters, with a dominant first two periods, though they only managed one goal for their trouble. The Wild absolutely dominated the possession game for the bulk of this game, but as always, the possession chart does contain some secrets. Let’s take a look. Continue reading HTH game recap 12-11-15 at Arizona: Heartbreak in the Desert

HTH game recap 12-7-15 at Colorado: Mister Darcy’s time to shine

I suppose it was too much to ask for the Wild to continue their fire wagon ways from just two days ago in Denver tonight. The Avalanche just really looked disinterested in playing proper defense that game, but tonight (after Sakic, Forsberg, and the greats did a pregame ceramony for the 20th anniversary) you had to think they’d come out and play better. And really, they didn’t improve their offense either, just limited Minnesota better. Take a look at the possession chart–both teams had a slow start but Colorado continued the pace into the second, while the Wild were able to at least put some rubber on net. That long stretch at the end of the second period though, no bueno. Both teams regrouped a bit in the third period, with Parise’s tenacious equalizer earning Minnesota a point for their trouble.

min col shot attempts 12715

Minnesota’s Power Play looked just dreadful tonight. As Russo pointed out a couple of times during the game, Vanek just wasn’t looking right, yet there he was right in front of the net, trying to make something happen.

 

Minnesota managed three shots on goal over two power plays, just over 4:00 on the man advantage and they can only get three SOG–seven shot attempts total. Obviously, it’s about quality not quantity, but this team isn’t getting either right now. It’s just not coming together, yet the team does not shake things up. I’m scratching my head over here.

The War on Ice pages are having some hiccups, so the other charts are unavailable. Let me say that I thought Kuemper looked good tonight, and despite not facing a high volume of shots, he stopped most of the ones that he faced. The first goal by Colorado was just a complete breakdown at the end of a shift, Nino goes for a change when he shouldn’t, and about three guys just stand around and watch Tyson Barrie walk in for a great give-and-go tap in. They executed well, but the Wild just got caught.

Overall, this wasn’t necessarily a pretty match–there was a lot of physical stuff that didn’t get called…Iginla was just throwing haymakers and didn’t get penalized for it. Lots of rough stuff, which I don’t really think Minnesota handled well. But then again, they played good defense against a bad offensive team, so that aspect is good. This team isn’t looking fantastic right now, but they’re staying competitive in the division, and that’s about all you can ask at this time of year.

The rest of the month is looking a little dicey, with tough matchups against some Pacific teams, some eastern conference teams, and of course, a couple Conference III teams in for good measure. We’ll ahve to see if Vanek is alright, and if he’s not, no need to ship him out there to stand around.

Thanks for reading, and make sure to follow @HTHpod and @BobaFenwick on Twitter!

HTH game recap 12-3-15 vs Toronto: Baby Duuuuuuubs Edition

Tonight, the Wild got off to a blazing start, with something like 7 shots on goal in the first 5 minutes of the game. Toronto stabilized in the second, and the game was close into the third period, and while the Leafs managed to put the biscuit behind Devan Dubnyk once, it was called back as being offside. The replay was razor close but it was the right call.

Sometimes the possession chart lies, sometimes it does not. Tonight, the chart tells the story of the game quite well, as you can really see how Minnesota jumped down their throats in the first but by the end of the third it was all tied up.

tor min sat count 12315 Continue reading HTH game recap 12-3-15 vs Toronto: Baby Duuuuuuubs Edition

HTH game recap 12-1-15 at Chicago: Suter talks the talk, walks the walk

Sure feels nice to end a slump against the Blackhawks, particularly in their barn. The Wild eked out a win tonight against a talented team on the road, and they sure benefited from getting their skaters back from injury–Parise, Fontaine, and Scandella all laced ’em up tonight. I couldn’t watch the first period due to some damn technical difficulties, but the Wild came out of the gates hot in this one.

min chi corsi chart 12115

The green columns there represent Wild power plays…which is why the lines are flat on the chart here because it’s 5v5 but let’s be honest, “flat” is a great adjective to describe the man advantage for this team. They look slow, they look lost, without a plan. They have a formation they set up but beyond that, there’s no creativity, no risk-taking. It’s ugly out there. And the PK isn’t much better. Miss you Brodziak!

min chi player corsi events 12115

Quick reminder on how to read the above chart–the x-axis (horizontal) is the total number of Corsi events while a player was on the ice at 5v5, the y-axis (vertical) is the differential, so the top half is positive, bottom half negative. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting Suter’s dominance in this game. Not only was he out there for a lot of the action, he helped direct a great deal of rubber toward the Hawks’ net while preventing shots on goal in his defensive zone. Specifically, he finished the night on the ice for 26 Corsi for, 13 against (+13 overall.) And this was largely against the Kane line too.

min chi shot attempt map

We see that the Wild did a good job of getting shots from all over the ice, and their goals both came from waaaaaay down low. Also, before you tweet me, the x-axis coordinates look flipped here…Suter and Pommer both scored from the right side. Might be a NHL problem, might be a WOI problem. I’ll try to update if it gets fixed. In any case, Minnesota is getting shots on goal from beyond the faceoff circles, which is great to see. Their defense has been contributing more this year it seems, though lately they have sputtered. Glad to have Scandella back, that’s for sure. Chicago seems to have been very clearly trying to get to the “home plate” area, and while there are certainly some high danger shots there, I thought overall they did a good job of limiting the Hawks chances.

It feels great to get this win, but Minnesota is still fifth place in their division. They need to keep grinding and rack up those points if they want to avoid yet another midseason slump. The playoffs are still very much in play, but this team needs to pull it together a little more to really be considered to have a chance against the upper teams in the West.

Up next, Toronto comes to town on Thursday…the Leafs have played alright lately, but another two points are definitely in play. Thanks for reading, and make sure to check out the most recent podcast, and make sure to follow @HTHpod and @BobaFenwick on Twitter!