Valeri Nichushkin is the clear-cut leader for best 2013-drafted winger in the NHL.
Okay, so that's because the Dallas Stars first-round selection is the only 2013-drafted winger currently playing in the NHL at the moment. But even when you compare him to the seven other players from his draft class with NHL games under their belts (four centers and three defensemen, to be exact), it's clear the young Russian is settling in well.
With the season more than 20 percent complete for many teams, including the Dallas Stars, it's a good time to look at how the prize jewels of the most recent draft are fairing with their new teams.
Nichushkin ranks fifth among the eight 2013 draft picks who have made their debuts so far and fourth among the forwards with his one goal and four assists in 16 games. His assists are actually tied for third among the rookies, trailing just second-overall pick Aleksander Barkov and first-overall pick Nathan MacKinnon.
Four of the 2013 picks, including Nichushkin, have only a single NHL goal. Remarkably, every 2013 draft pick to make his debut so far this season has scored his first NHL goal.
Plus-minus is admittedly a flawed stat, but it's still notable that only one rookie - MacKinnon - is on the plus side of the metric so far. Nichushkin's even rating is both impressive among his peers and on his team, where he ranks right in the middle of the rest of the Stars.
|Player Name||Team||Position||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||Plus/Minus|
A couple quick primers on the stats here for those who might not come across them much.
Corsi Rel takes a player's indivudal Corsi (the number of shot events his team creates with him on the ice minus the number of such events the other team creates with him on the ice) and subtracts from it the overall Corsi of his team, which essentially tells us if how that player looks in the context of his team. Positive numbers mean that player is driving the shot attempts, which fancystats people use as a method to measure possession, for his team at a higher rate than that team's average.
PDO, often used as a stand-in for luck, is a combination of the team shooting percentage and save percentage when a player is on the ice. The average should be around 1000, though there is some decent variability there. The real thing you look for with PDO is the wide outliers from 1000, which tells you the guys who have dealt with some factors that are likely out of their control, either good or bad.
Finally, zone starts allow analysts to determine who helps move the play forward, or at least hold his team's ground, and which players are constantly getting pushed back into their own end. Some of that is dependent on situational usage, to be fair - players used in a checking role against top lines may be pushed back a bit by design - but it's a useful metric for territorial success.
These numbers are where Nichushkin really shines compared to the other 2013 picks. He's not been nearly as sheltered as the other young forwards, and he is the only one of the young forwards to really drive possession into the other team's zone more often than not. Additionally, he's one of three rookies - two of them forwards - to be on the positive side relative to his team in producing shot attempts.
|Player||Team||Position||Shooting %||PDO||Offensive Zone Start/Finish%||Corsi Rel|
Before we start talking about how Nichushkin stacks up against the other rookies, I'd like to point out just how much of a man-child Seth Jones (product of the Dallas Jr. Stars system) is so far. He's second on the Predators in ice time behind Shea Weber and more than four minutes ahead of the next closest player. I know MacKinnon, Barkov and Jonathan Drouin may be special offensive talents, but Jones may very well make the teams that passed up on him regret their decision.
Once we throw out Jones as the real outlier, most of the other rookies have seen fairly similar usage to Nichushkin. None of the forwards has seen significant, if any, time on the penalty kill, and most get some favorable power play minutes. In fact, Nichushkin has the least amount of average power play time among the 2013 drafted forwards. Once he settles in a little more with the puck movement on the power play, and once the Stars power play figures things out at the American Airlines Center, you'd think his point totals might pick up.
|Player||Team||Position||ES TOI/G||SH TOI/G||PP TOI/G||TOI/G|
When you look at the big picture of how Nichushkin stacks up next to the other members of his draft class, there are definitely some positive and negatives. On one hand, he's not quite producing points at the same rate as the top three other forwards from the class, Lindholm excepted. On the other, his advanced statistics suggest he's actually playing the most complete game of any player from his class when it comes to puck possession and pushing that up the ice. Some of that is the nature of his teammates and linemates, but I think some of it is also very much by design.
That begs the question - would Nichushkin's statistics look better if he was used more like the other 2013-drafted forwards? Quite possibly yes. However, the Stars are taking a very measured approach to his development that emphasizes learning the parts of the game that aren't already on his resume.
They know the goals, the skating, the offensive ability, the size and speed are already there. The goals might only be trickling in at this point, but he's certainly producing his fair share of dangerous chances. What the Stars appear to be doing with him is working on the parts of his game that he will need to be a big-minute, every situation player in the future. They need him to be a player who can constantly drive possession up ice and who they can trust against top lines in the near future.
Because while they aren't sheltering Nichushkin in terms of zone starts or overall minutes, they are keeping him away from other team's top players. Only Lane MacDermind, Ryan Garbutt and Vernon Fiddler have faced weaker competition overall than Nichushkin, a completely understandable move with a rookie new to North American ice. Nichushkin has done very well with those minutes, something that might signal to the coaching staff that he's read for a little more of a challenge.