Using Micro Data to identify offensive defensemen

In part 1 of our segment, we reviewed the clear correlation between controlled zone entries and 5v5 primary points production. You can read that in detail here.

(Note: It’s again worth noting that micro data is not readily available. Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) graciously made some of his raw output available – which we used here in our analysis)

The primary takeaway was that we found a solid correlation between a forwards’ ability to enter the offensive zone with control of the puck and their ability to produce points.

31jul2017 -- micro data primary

We ran a similar regression for defensemen. While the relationship between the 2 variables was not as strong for defensemen, our regression showed that controlled zone entry % is in fact statistically significant when primary 5v5 points production is the dependent (Y) variable (t-stat > 4.0). In other words, there is a correlation between the two for defensemen.

02AUG2017 -- defensemen zone entry.JPG

Because controlled zone entries correlate strongly with primary 5v5 point production, we looked at a couple of defensemen who are well above average at this “micro-skill”. We chose 3 defensemen (there were many more) in each of the following buckets:

02AUG2017 -- defensemen numbers.JPG

Note that even the best defensemen had much lower percentages than their forward counterparts. This makes intuitive sense as defensemen are less likely to carry the puck in (they’ll often pass or dump it in).

No surprises among the established stars.  Josi (56%, 1.13 pts/60), Karlsson (55%, 1.45 pts/60) and Hedman (50%, 1.18 pts/60) are 3 of the premier offensive defensemen in the NHL. Their controlled zone percentages are well above league average; as are their ability to produce offense at even strength.

Tyson Barrie (49%, 1.1 pts/60) had a strong year offensively for Colorado. It’s easy to miss that given he was -34 on a terrible Colorado team, but worth pointing out as an interesting example. Klefbom (48%, 0.85 pts/60) and Orlov (42%, 1.01 pts/60) are two other examples of not-as-well-known defensemen with above average ability at entering the zone in control of the puck. Their production at even strength is above average, too.

As we did last segment in identifying Drouin, Trocheck, and Draisaitl, the “emerging stars” bucket might be most interesting for defensemen as well. Rielly (51%, 0.81 pts/60), Jones (50%, 1.01 pts/60), and Slavin (48%, 1.05 pts/60) were 3 examples of young defensemen with above average 5v5 production who excelled at carrying the puck into the zone.

Slavin, who just signed a 7-year extension to stay in Carolina, has clear offensive ability to complement his strong skillset as a puck mover. At a cap hit of $5.3M per year, this may turn out to be a steal of a contract as early as next season.

Another Hurricanes defensemen, Noah Hanifin, also displayed strong ability in this area. He entered the zone with control 52% of the time and generated 0.74 points per 60 at even strength. Although he played in a sheltered role against weak QoC, this could signal a breakout is imminent for the former top 5 pick.

Seth Jones had his own breakout year in 2016/17, setting a career high with 42 points. While the points were not as abundant for Morgan Rielly (27 points in 2016/17), he did face tough QoC and his strong ability to create controlled zone entries might hint at step-change improvement in the points department in 2017/18.

Verdict

Hockey is really at the tip of the iceberg in terms of data and analytics. As more data becomes available, the depth of analysis and number of insights should grow accordingly. This example highlights some of the potential that micro data can have on player evaluation. But until more data exists, that potential will remain largely untapped.


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