The Washington Capitals have suffered more than their share of injuries and injury-related scratches in the first quarter of the season. But thanks to a talented and well-prepared prospect group, the team really hasn’t missed a beat. One could even argue that the Capitals’ kids have collectively been the team’s MVP’s of the first 23 games, although Mr. Ovechkin would obviously weigh-in on that debate.
The eye-test and the Capitals’ current record confirms that “the kids” have done a pretty good at job filling in for the sidelined vets. But how do the statistics look for each of the young upstarts?
The purpose of this post is not to rank the young players, but to rather provide a preliminary assessment of each of the players and to generate initial insight as to their strengths and weaknesses at this point in the season.
If you have any questions regarding the assessment metrics utilized in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics Glossary. [All data utilized in this analysis was sourced through Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com]
The first table simply lays out the basic stats for each of the young Capitals’ forwards. It also provides a color coding for each of the average stats per game for each player and how they compare to their teammates.
Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas and Garrett Pilon currently have the best points per game average, although the number of games varies significantly.
All three of the players will be asked to take a big percentage of draws in the future. While their numbers are less than 50% at this point in the season, they are not doing bad, considering where they are in their NHL careers. They will learn the ropes and improve over time.
Shooting and Scoring
The next table details the goals/60, assists/60, points/60 and shooting percentage for each of the forwards.
Omitting Garrett Pilon, who scored on his only shot, Connor McMichael and Brett Leason lead the bunch in scoring. Aliaksei Protas is also providing a decent share of scoring.
The second table details the penalties story for the seven forwards. There really isn’t enough data to begin forming any type of firm conclusions. Good or bad, the Capitals young forwards haven’t really been involved (give or take) in many penalties.
Aliaksei Protas has the best penalty differential/60 to date. Connor McMichael, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Hendrix Lapierre are all in the negative, but again, it’s a small sample size at this point.
Hits, Blocked Shots and Giveaways/Takeaways
The next table presents the hits/60, blocks/60, giveaways/60, takeaways/60 and the turnover differentials for each of the forwards.
Again, no real surprises here. Beck “The Check” Malenstyn leads in hits/60, and by a whopping margin. Same can be said for his blocks/60. That’s Malenstyn’s brand and what he is expected to bring to the table. He’s successfully transported his game from the AHL to the NHL so far.
Brett Leason and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby follow Malenstyn in both categories. As for Aliaksei Protas, he has yet to be much of a hitter or shot-blocker at this point in his career, and that has continued in his NHL work to date. Predominately expected to play at center, it’s not a critical part,of his game, but considering his size (6’-6”) he could certainly utilize his frame for a few more hits.
Hendrix Lapierre has been the best puck-stealer to date. Connor McMichael is doing a decent job as well with the only other positive differential among the seven skaters. Aliaksei Protas has struggled a bit with the turnovers. The same can be said for Garrett Pilon, although his sample size of two games really isn’t enough to draw any insight at this point.
Basic Possession Metrics
The first graph simply plots the basic possession metrics for each of the seven forwards at this point in the season.
Beck Malenstyn, Connor McMichael and Garrett Pilon have all posted good overall possession metrics to date. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby is not far behind. Axel also did very well in the high-danger chances. Conor McMichael continues to impress with his possession metrics.
Offensive Zone Starts
Once again we look at offensive zone start percentages as a means to apply additional context to the possession metrics detailed above. Again, the percentage of offensive zone starts can not only affect the possession metrics, but can also be a leading indicator with regards to “coaches trust”, more specifically trust at the defensive end of the ice. Offensive zone start percentages can also be an indicator of players who are specifically designated to score, at least from a coaches perspective.
Garrett Pilon started less than 50% of his zone starts in the offensive zone yet his possession metrics are some of the best among the players. His two games played were against Los Angeles (23rd) and Anaheim (11th), somewhat middle-of-the-road teams.
Beck Malenstyn and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby seemed to be trusted more in the defnesive zone, and that’s fairly evident from the eye-test and their percentage-splits for zone deployments.
Although Connor McMichael is looked to for scoring, he is also getting more defensive zone starts as he demonstrates his 200’ game and a big reason why he starts while Daniel Sprong is scratched.
The next table lays out the basic special teams stats for each of the players. This sheds a little light on current and future roles for each of the Capitals forwards, and how they are doing in those roles.
To no surprise, Malenstyn is already seeing significant time on the penalty kill. It’s one of his specialities and he’s done a very good job in Hershey. He’s known for eating (blocking) pucks and is very stout in 4-on-5. Laviolette has trusted him right off the bat, and put him on the penalty kill in a tight game recently. He’s yet to yield a power play goal against.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, also a penalty kill specialist, has similar numbers as Malenstyn, and has also demonstrated that he can be trusted on the penalty kill and in the defensive zone. This is possibly the biggest stat to consider when discussions center on Jonsson-Fjallby possibly replacing Carl Hagelin at some point in the near future. They are both very fast skaters and very strong on the penalty kill. He has very similar strengths as Hagelin, but has the added value of possessing a well-above-average shot.
We are just 25% of the way into the 2021-22 NHL season, but early results have been very promising. It will be interesting to see how the Capitals begin to re-integrate the injured star forwards as they begin to get healthy. It’s hard to imagine the team getting even better, but what would happen if the team hits a rough patch once the veterans return? Will there be a call for the return of the kids?
By Jon Sorensen