Predicting the NHL is a fool’s errand…or is it?

As I’ve said a lot recently, there are a lot of stats that don’t tell us anything in the early part of the year–basically any individual player’s on-ice stats, even most his counting stats–you can look at them and try to squeeze some meaning out of them, but at the end of the day, the sample size is too small and to predict anything from them would be foolish. Also, we talked on a recent podcast about how PDO is only a backward-facing stat and it has zero predictive power. More on this in a second.

One stat that I do watch closely and do put stock in from the start of the season is goal differential. The shot-based side of analytics has gotten a major boom, as people have wrapped their heads around using the larger sample of all shot attempts to measure possession than just shots on goal. However, I feel like a lot of times, the goal-based metrics are ignored or sort of taken for granted. One thing that I think most people don’t know is that despite all the time and energy we put into shot-based metrics, goals are a better predictor of future success than shots. (See: here, and here, and here.) Continue reading Predicting the NHL is a fool’s errand…or is it?

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!

 

HTH pod ep 47: The highest level of average hockey that you can play, just below above average


Bob and Dan make excuses for why they didn’t do a show last week, then jump into hockey birthdays, with #GoodMinnesotaBoy Matt Cullen scoring a game winner on his 40th birthday. Then, the guys wade past the shallow end of the fancy stats in a discussion about puck luck, shooting percentages, and PDO. Should Wild fans be worried about the club’s completely unsustainable 12% team shooting percent, or is it simply a matter of a small sample size? Let us know your thoughts on twitter @HTHpod