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Analyzing which NHL forwards are the best puck movers in the game

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Shooters tend to have the spotlight in hockey. Why? Their name is first on the scoresheet. Their tallies change the score, and potentially the tide of the game.

But what about the puck movement that precedes a shot to help make those goals happen?

Let’s talk about some of the best puck-moving forwards at 5-on-5 to open the 2021-22 season.

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Carrying the puck out of the defensive zone

Moving the puck out of the defensive end often falls on defencemen, as the Erik Karlssons, Roman Josis, and John Klingbergs are among the best in the league at crossing the blue line with possession.

But forwards contribute to exits, too — some more than others.

Small samples can inflate a player’s rates, since it magnifies so few results. That’s why players like Valeri Nichushkin and Jack Hughes lead the way for carry-out attempt rates among forwards despite not playing much yet this year.

If we remove those players with lesser playing time in the early goings of the season, Mathew Barzal jumps out with 17.7 carry-out attempts per 60 minutes. What’s even more impressive than just his ability to skate the puck out of his own end is the high rate of successful plays that follow those attempts; almost 86 per cent of his carry-outs have been followed by a successful play.

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Nick Cousins (17.1 per 60), Kyle Connor (16.0), Jake Evans (15.8), and Dylan Cozens (15.8) are among the forward leaders in carry-out attempt rates at 5-on-5. Cousins, along with Ondrej Kase, Frank Vatrano, Adam Gaudette, and Leon Draisaitl all follow Barzal’s high rate of successful plays after attempting to carry the puck out of the zone.

Entering the zone with possession

Sometimes defenders also lead their teams into the offensive zone. Josi, Cale Makar, and Adam Fox are among the best puck-moving defenders when it comes to zone entries. But most defenders don’t stack up to forwards with possession plays into the offensive end.

Carter Verhaeghe, who had a breakout season last year with the Panthers, leads all skaters with 24.6 carry-in attempts per 60 at 5-on-5. One of this season’s top young guns, Trevor Zegras, finishes right behind him with 23.7 attempts per 60. Barzal, a transitioning wiz, unsurprisingly lands in third with 21.9 attempts per 60.

In Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau’s contributions go further than his team-leading 14 points. He helps their offence click by frequently trying to skate the puck into the offensive zone (21.7 per 60). Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg completes the top-five with 19.8 attempts per 60.

Carrying the puck in, of course, is just one part of the equation. It’s crucial that a team also extends that sequence to create offence.

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Verhaeghe jumps ahead with a high rate of successful plays after a carry-in attempt, followed by Ehlers and Gaudreau. Jordan Kyrou, who is in the top-10 in carry-ins, and Barzal rank in the top-five as well.

Connor McDavid carries the puck into the offensive end quite frequently, but when weighing his hefty ice time, his per-minute rate slides to 11th. That said, when it comes to a carry-in followed by a shot on goal, no one ranks higher right now than Edmonton’s captain. Gaudreau and Sam Bennett also see their entries convert to shots on net quite often.

Further than just a shot, since shots aren’t all created equally, we can look at scoring chances that follow a carry-in. That’s where Verhaeghe thrives in Florida. Gaudreau and Zegras also help spark their team’s quality chance generation with their carry-ins.

Of course, skating the puck into the offensive zone isn’t the only way to bring it in with possession. Forwards also create a controlled entry with a pass over the blue line. Leon Draisaitl passes the puck into the offensive zone for a controlled entry at the highest rate in the league (4.74 per 60).

Robert Thomas follows the Oilers’ offensive dynamo. Between his passes and linemate Jordan Kyrou’s controlled entries (particularly his high rate of carry-ins), the Blues’ current second line is quite skilled at gaining the offensive zone with possession.

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Barzal and Gaudreau, once again, find themselves high on this list for another transitional play. And Jason Spezza makes his debut to round out the top-five in pass entry rates.

So, to put all this together, we can look at the players who best bring the puck into the O-zone with control between carry-ins and passes. Since carry-ins happen at a much higher rate, the top-five remains the same. But to expand to the top-10, we see players like Cozens who, like Barzal, also contribute with zone exits. Plus, we see a few more Panthers emerge.

Passing plays leading to scoring chances

Transitional play obviously influences offensive generation, but doesn’t always directly impact a shot attempt. A primary pass, on the other hand, does. There’s value and repeatability in using primary shot assists to help predict future scoring, as the work of Ryan Stimson with The Passing Project shows.

So which forwards help set their teammates up for a shot the most?

Of course, it’s the generational McDavid leading the way with a rate of 21.29 primary shot assists per 60, or passes that directly precede a shot attempt.

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There’s a bit of a gap of over two passes per 60 between the best two in the league in this regard, with the margins slimming out from there. Brad Marchand’s 18.72 primary passes per 60 to his linemates is good for second. That obviously clicks well with one of his more frequent linemates, David Pastrnak, who uses his accurate shot often in Boston.

Yanni Gourde, Sebastian Aho, and Taylor Hall round out the top-five in primary shot assists. Last year, Hall shot the puck at the lowest rate of his career and this year his individual shot rate is still pretty low. But he’s maintaining his offensive influence through his passing.

A player like Artemi Panarin is expected to be in the top-10 with his passing. But while his raw passing totals land him second in the league, he isn’t creating at a high enough rate in his minutes to compare to some of the aforementioned forwards. Instead, Panarin is currently 11th in the league in primary shot assist rate after getting off to an iffy start this season.

Shot assists are obviously broad, and different types of passes have varying impacts. So, we can look even deeper at these forwards’ passes.

Zegras and Thomas both set their teammates up at a high rate off the rush. Travis Konecny and Mark Scheifele tee up their teammates for one-timers at the highest rate. Two Western Conference players lead the way with passes to the slot in Sonny Milano and Draisaitl, although there’s quite a bit of difference in talent between who they are passing to.

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To get even more specific, we can look for a royal road pass that directly precedes a chance from the home plate area in front of the net. Alan Wells found that these types of passes had a 15.5 per cent finishing rate when analyzing Stimson’s data from the Passing Project. The danger of a royal road pass, especially if it sets up a one-timer or a quick shot attempt, is that it forces a goaltender to move laterally. So that pre-shot movement, particularly with the right amount of deception from the attacking team, can trick defenders and goaltenders and lead to a quality chance.

In his 75 minutes of play, Dylan Strome actually rates the highest in the cross-seam passes that result in a scoring chance from the slot area with 4.79 per 60. But that passing obviously hasn’t been enough to keep him in Chicago’s lineup.

Marchand, in a few more minutes (~122 at 5-on-5), ranks second with 3.98 royal road shot assists per 60. That ability to thread his teammates with a quality pass — especially to one of the most dangerous shooters in the league in Pastrnak — can make the Bruins’ offence so dynamic when Marchand’s on the ice.

Tyler Bertuzzi currently is in third in this stat, and his linemates — Lucas Raymond and Dylan Larkin — have benefitted from it to start the season (at least, until they cross the border). Kyrou is fourth, while Nathan MacKinnon, one of the ultimate dual-threats in the league, rounds out our top-five.

All 5-on-5 data via Sportlogiq, collected prior to Monday night’s matchups.

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Braves Remind Fans That Vaughn Grissom Is Here To Stay

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(Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)

 

The Atlanta Braves called up infield prospect Vaughn Grissom out of necessity to start Wednesday’s game.

They are currently dealing with several injuries in the middle of the infield, so they picked Grissom from their Double-A team.

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This doesn’t mean that Grissom isn’t talented: he is, and it’s evident.

Injuries presented him with an opportunity: it will be up to him to take advantage of it.

Apparently, the team is willing to give him an extended look, as they search for solutions.

The most important thing is that the player didn’t seem rattled during his MLB debut on Wednesday.

Quite the contrary, in fact: he looked like a natural.

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That day, he went 2-for-4 with a home run (a 412-foot shot off Darwinzon Hernandez) and a stolen base to fuel a Braves win over the Boston Red Sox.

 

Part Of The Braves’ Future (And Present)

Grissom joined Michael Harris III as the two 21-year-olds in Atlanta’s lineup.

Harris has progressed nicely since being called up a few months ago: can Grissom do the same?

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A bat-first prospect, he had been having a stellar season in the minors before getting the call.

He started the year in High-A, and was slashing an impressive .312/.404/.487 with 11 home runs and 20 stolen bases before being promoted to Double-A.

There, he was even better, hitting .363/.408/.516 with three long balls and seven thefts in 98 trips to the plate.

That earned himself a call-up to Atlanta.

It’s likely that he still needs some more at-bats in the high minors, but as long as Grissom can produce, he will likely keep playing for the Braves.

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He is off to a tremendous start, and the organization seems ready to give him playing time, which is all that a young player needs.

The post Braves Remind Fans That Vaughn Grissom Is Here To Stay appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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The Mets Continue To Celebrate Their Elite Duo

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(Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

 

The New York Mets and their fans should consider themselves lucky.

We have said it many times in this space, but the fact they were able to pair Max Scherzer with Jacob deGrom in the same rotation is incredibly impressive, and should be celebrated.

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The two pitchers have five Cy Young awards between them, and lots and lots of pitching knowledge and expertise to share.

When they are both healthy, there is little doubt they are the best one-two punch in MLB.

They have both been hurt a lot in 2022, particularly deGrom, but they are both healthy now and ready to make sure the Mets can return to the postseason.

New York is one of the best organizations in MLB, with a 73-39 record that only the Los Angeles Dodgers have been able to surpass.

 

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The Mets Aces Are Healthy And Dominating

Now that both Scherzer and deGrom are healthy and in a groove, they are in a position to challenge the Dodgers for the “best team in MLB” unofficial crown.

In fact, both teams are extremely likely to face each other in the playoffs, perhaps even the National League Championship Series.

Having deGrom and Scherzer pitch in three or four of those games would be huge.

The Mets posted a cool picture of the two aces having a chat.

They look like they are enjoying their conversation.

Hopefully, both can stay healthy for the remainder of the season and gift fans some of the most impressive stretch run and playoff performance we have seen in recent memory.

Mets fans are in for a real treat watching those two guys starting consecutive postseason games.

They hope they can deliver their first World Series title since 1986.

The post The Mets Continue To Celebrate Their Elite Duo appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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Steelers defense focused on getting back to team’s ‘standard’ after disappointing season

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for having exceptional defenses. Players like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Joe Greene and more have been shaking up offenses throughout the franchise’s history.

With each new generation of Steelers players, they strive to reach the level of those before them. Now it is guys like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Heyward who hope to be feared by offenses around the league.

Last season, the Steelers were 20th in points allowed and surrendered the most rushing yards in the league. For the first time since 2017, the Steelers were not in the top six for yards allowed, finding themselves in the 24th spot.

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It was not exactly the year the defense wanted to have, and this year the unit is focused on getting back to being a classic Steelers defense.

Defending Defensive Player of the Year Watt spoke about the expectations in Pittsburgh. 

“As a Pittsburgh Steeler defender, it’s just that much more important for us to take pride in everyone that came before us and uphold the fact that the standard is the standard. At the end of the day, when the back is against the wall, when it’s a two-minute drill, when the game is on the line, we want to be on the field,” Watt said (via NFL.com). “That’s the mentality we have to have to be a hard-nosed defense, and that’s why we’re here to build that type of tradition, that type of standard for the season.”

The defense last year was not where they wanted it to be, with Watt commenting on the “unacceptable” number of 100-yard rushers they allowed in 2021.

With such legends coming before them, there could be pressure on the players that could backfire. Heyward says he does not look at it as pressure, but what the team standard is.

“When you come to the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’re known for your defense. That wasn’t the case last year, so going forward it’s put up or shut up. If we’re going to win these games, it’s got to come down to us,” he said. “But that comes with the standard we are charged with upholding. It’s not pressure. It’s what’s expected.”

The Steelers are “based on defense,” new senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores said. 

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“Its roots and foundation is defense,” Flores said. “It’s stopping the run and rushing the passer and keeping the score down. Any outsider can look at that and, if you peel back the layers, that’s who the Steelers are and that’s who we want to be and what we want to be. But there’s a process to doing that.”

Teryl Austin, who was promoted coordinator after three seasons serving as senior defensive assistant/secondary coach, said he appreciates Flores giving an outsiders view as someone just getting to Pittsburgh.

The Steelers’ season was cut short after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round.



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