The situation seemed less than ideal at the start of the season. It appeared young defenseman Alex Alexeyev and the Washington Capitals we’re in a bit of a sticky wicket.
Alexeyev, 23, has been developing at a good pace, but he wasn’t quite ready to assume a full-time role on the Capitals blueline right out of training camp. To compound the complexity of the situation, Alexeyev would need to clear waivers in order to return to Hershey for additional seasoning. On top of it all, Alexeyev was recovering from shoulder surgery he had back in June.
Alexeyev was officially re-assigned to Hershey on October 28th for a conditioning stint after rehabbing from shoulder surgery he had back in June. His stint concluded on November 6, requiring a move by the Capitals. The Capitals announced on November 8 that they recalled Alexeyev from Hershey.
Alexeyev has played in 11 games so far this season, so the sample size is rather small. In this post, we’ll take a look at how Alexeyev has performed in that relatively small sample size. Additionally, we’ll take a look at Alexeyev’s Goals Above Replacement (GAR) value. The statistics in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL Analytics glossary.
As mentioned in the introduction to this post, Alexeyev is in an interesting predicament. Since he’s eligible for waivers, the Capitals are keeping him up with the team after being recalled in early November.
With that, he’s been mostly serving as the seventh defenseman, but has seen some game action so far this season. Let’s take a look at how Alexeyev is performing in terms of advanced analytics:
At first glance, Alexeyev’s advanced analytical performance is rather ho-hum. He’s significantly below the 50% watermark in Corsi shot attempts (CF%), Fenwick shot attempts (FF%), shots for (SF%), expected goals for (xGF%), scoring chances for (SCF%), and high-danger chances for (HDCF%). Interestingly enough, he’s sitting at 50% for goals for percentage (GF%) and 66.67% for high danger goals for percentage (HDGF%).
As it stands, the GF% and HDGF% won’t stay as high as they are if the rest of the statistics continue their trend. It’s not sustainable to allow more shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, and shots on goal and still be on the ice for more goals for than against.
What’s really interesting here is Alexeyev’s offensive zone start percentage. He’s only getting 26.92% of his shifts starting in the offensive zone, which means Laviolette is not sheltering his shifts at all.
While zone starts are not necessarily the end-all-be-all explanation for struggling in possession stats, they’re certainly a contributor. If you start in your defensive zone or the neutral zone the majority of the time, the odds aren’t in your favor for possession stats. On the other hand, an important part of the game is exiting the defensive zone with the puck under control and establishing possession in the offensive zone. We just haven’t seen that last aspect translate to Alexeyev’s game when he’s on the ice.
Goals Above Replacement and Expected Goals Above Replacement
First up, let’s take a look at Alexeyev’s on-ice value in each GAR metric:
This is where we can see the impact of GF% and HDGF% effectively buoying Alexeyev’s value on the ice, particularly in defensive GAR. You can also see that Alexeyev’s offensive GAR is below replacement level, which is not surprising considering his current utilization and performance.
Since his GF% and HDGF% are effectively much higher than the expected percentage range based off his possession and expected goals percentages, Alexeyev’s expected GAR (xGAR) tracks more with the underlying statistics than the GF% and HDGF% rates:
Based on Alexeyev’s xGAR, he likely should be performing at a level that’s considered below replacement. Effectively, that means that a typical “replacement level” player could step in and perform better than he is currently in xGAR.
Alexeyev’s low xGAR is more a matter of his performance in the underlying statistics we mentioned a bit earlier. It’s not typical for a player to struggle in possession metrics and expected goals to have positive GAR value, but since Alexeyev has a rather small sample size this season, his GF% and HDGF% performance really rises his actual GAR value.
All in all, we’ve mentioned a couple times in this post that Alexeyev has a small sample size to evaluate thus far this season. With only 11 games under his belt and an average ice time of 13:35 in each game, it’s rather hard for a rookie defenseman to establish himself and have positive value.
Overall, there are relatively few defensemen who can step in as a rookie and make an immediate impact. It’s clear there are areas for him to improve, but his usage and utilization isn’t doing him any favors.
As we’ve come to be familiar with, the Capitals have more questions than answers when it comes to young defensemen in the system that aren’t named Martin Fehervary. It’s rather clear that Alexeyev would benefit from a bit more seasoning in Hershey to polish his game, but the Capitals also don’t want to expose a former first round draft pick to be claimed on the waiver wire. Ultimately, improvement is all that can be asked for in Alexeyev’s game when he plays in games at the NHL level.
By Justin Trudel
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