Using Stats to Sort out the Battle for the Spot Alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov

Photo: Washington Capitals

As training camp begins to wind down and most of the question on defense are beginning to find answers (Madisn Bowey on Brooks Orpik’s Right side) or are very close to being answered (Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness are the two options left for the 2LD spot), there’s another battle that’s still unsolved: the Right Wing spot on the second line with the two Russian stars

Like I did in this piece about Kuznetosv, I’ll be using Goals Above Replacement (GAR), which is basically hockey’s version of baseball’s WAR, and accounts for 6 different components: Even-Strenght Offense (EVO), Even-Strenght Defense (EVD), Power-Play Offense (PPO), Penatlies Drawn (Draw), Penalties Taken (Take) and Faceoffs (FAC).

First, let’s take a look at Ovi and Kuzy:

ovi kuzy

The first thing that jumps out of the graphic is how much offense the two of them provide: Ovechkin has a 8.1 EVO and a 2.7 PPO, Kuznetsov has a 6.1 EVO and a 2.0 PPO. The problem is on defense: Ovechkin’s defensive contribution is almost a full point negative (-0.9 EVD), while Kuznetsov’s contribution is a bit above break-even (0.7 EVD). This is a bit concerning given that this line is going to face some tough competition (especially on the road), even with Backstrom drawing the PvP assignments.

Now, let’s take a look at the candindates:


Now, there’s some things to unpack here, I’m going to start from the worse to the best candidates:

Alex Chiasson

If one looks at his boxcars, or even at his WOWY’s, he looks pretty decent. Then why  doesn’t GAR like him, to the extent of him being a negative value player overall (-1.2 GAR)?

First of all, GAR is constructed starting from Expected Goals, which is Shot Attempts that account for quality of the shot. So let’s look at which kind of shots were being shot with him on the ice:


Red means more shots than average, blue means less shots than average

Chiasson is a Right Wing and that huge blue spot on the right side means that he wasn’t shooting at all from the dangerous areas. This explains how his EVO is just 0.

Then we see that he has a negative defensive contribution (-1.5 EVD), which may sound strange given that the Flames were allowing less shots with him on the ice. The answer is his deployments:

Chiasson deployments

For a big chunk of the season, Chiasson was almost always starting in the Offesnive Zone, while his Defensive Zone starts were very few. So, to have a positive (or even neutral) impact on the defensive side of things, he should’ve been allowing even less shots against than he actually did given these very favorable deployments.

Other things impacting Chiasson’s GAR are: his lack of penalties drawn (-0.7 Draw), which aren’t compensated by the fact that he takes few penalties himself (0.5 Taken), he’s also bad at faceoffs (-0.2 FAC).

Brett Connolly

Statistically speaking, Connolly is not a good player. This may come as a shock to most Caps fans, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen that he might not be as good as many think. Overall he results as a -0.3, not ideal for someone who’s aiming at a Top 6 spot.

Let’s start with the good, Connolly is an effective Offensive player and that shows in his 2.1 EVO. Nothing to argue with that. He scored 15 goals in 66 games (albeit with an 18.5 SH%, 7.3 points higher than his career average). He’s also a bit of a shooter, which never hurts, but he’s far from being a playmaker as shown by the graph below:


If you want to know more on this subject, read this piece by Ryan Stimson.

Now, let’s get to the bad:

  • Connolly has a negative impact on defense, it’s not big (-0.7 EVD), but it wouldn’t look good in aggregate with Kuzy and Ovi.
  • Connolly has a real penalty problem: he draws few (-0.1 Draw), but takes a lot (-1.6 Take). Given that every penalty taken is a 0.6 Goals Against (in average), playing Brett in an elevated role and against faster and better players will only make this probelm grow, as he’s not a guy who takes penalties because of his borderline play, but because he gets burned defensively.

We’ve seen all the downsides of having Connolly so high in the lineup in the last game against the Devils, in which the 8-92-10 line was pinned into the Defensive zone and he ended up taking two penalties because of bad defense.

One last thing about Connolly (but we’ll have to take into account for Vrana, too) is that playing only 66 games last season isn’t an excuse, because more minutes would’ve meant more goals, sure, but it would’ve also amplificate his negative impact. Still, his GAR/60 results better than Chiasson’s, so Connolly would still be the second-worst option instead of the worst.

Jakub Vrana

I’ll be fast here, Vrana’s sample from last season was really small, so I wouldn’t bank much on these results. Still, he results as a negative EVD player and his offense came mostly from the PP, in fact he resulted as a negative EVO player.

Anyways, I’d play him on the third line regardless, in order to spread the talent a little bit, while also sheltering him.

Tom Wilson

It might be shocking for some, but I believe Tom Wilson is the best player for the spot with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Here’s the deal, Tom Wilson wouldn’t be on that line to score goals, as we’ve seen above, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov can provide lots of offense by themselves.

So, what would Wilson’s role be? Well, as we notice from his very good Defensive contributions (+3.1 EVD, ranks 68th in the league), he’d cover for Kuznetsov and Ovechkin in the defensive zone, making it possible for Ovechkin to cheat out of the DZ and spring to the attack.

As for his role in the offensive zone, he’d have to retrieve pucks in the corners and create space with his size, things he does very well. We’ve seen the same dynamic in Toronto with the Hyman-Matthews-Nylander line, in which we have a volume shooter (Matthews) and a playmaker (Nylander), too.


Here’s a comparison between Hyman, Wilson and Connolly based on offensive style of play. Wilson doesn’t look like a shooter, but he makes up for it with a higher rate of Build Up Plays, that will be more useful on a line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Wilson’s transition play also doesn’t look good, but there’s really no need for that on a line with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin.

The one thing Wilson should have to work on is his penalty problem, he may draw lots of them, but he also takes a lot, to the extent of almost breaking even; his recent suspension also creates a precedent, for which he’ll be easier to suspend in the future.



It’s probable that all of these players will get a look in that spot on the second line, but in the end Wilson should be the guy to stick and it doesn’t look close. Vrana will be best used on the third line, where he’ll be able to bring that offensive punch that would be redundant on a line with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin.

By Liviu Damaschin

Credits: Shot location heatmaps and Zone Starts from hockeyviz, Style of play charts from Ryan Stimson’s tableu, GAR charts from Sean Tierney’s Tableau and other GAR data from @DTMAboutHeart

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