Photo: Chris Gordon
Yesterday Fedor shared a great story about how Tom Wilson is one of the most penalized rookies in the history of the NHL. Wilson has been of particular interest to me since the beginning of the season, when I worried about his OHL/NHL contract status, ruminated about how a rookie might distinguish himself in the NHL, and wondered aloud what his fourth line usage portended for his future. In raking in some of the most penalty minutes ever for a teenage rookie, Wilson kind of answered most of that, but I want to repeat Fedor’s closing:
Maybe other parts of Tom’s game will follow his record-breaking ability to get to the penalty box when he starts playing actual hockey.
That’s really important, I think. Because for all of his 133 PIMs, Wilson has played only 468 minutes total. That’s low even for a fourth liner. It seems at a glance that Wilson hasn’t had a lot of chances to prove himself this season, which may have been a factor in his choices to fight or make iffy hits. He’s gotta make an impression somehow, and he hasn’t been given a chance to do it the traditional way.
If you rank skaters by the quality of their teammates, Tom Wilson is second to last based on ice time and in the bottom 4 percent going by puck possession. Rookie or not, the way Adam Oates has deployed Tom Wilson makes him one the most disadvantaged skaters you’re gonna see.
I went back three seasons and grabbed all rookie forwards who played at least 25 games. Then I ranked them by their points per game, their individual ice time, and the quality of the guys they played with (using data from Behind the Net and Extra Skater). There were 56 players who fit the criteria.
At the top of the list we find no surprises: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon. All first round picks. Then, at the very bottom– in pretty much every category— is another first rounder: Tom Wilson.
To illustrate this, I’ve picked out three players as examples. There’s a rookie star in RNH, a decent first-year in Sean Couturier, and then Tom Wilson, who is pulling up the rear. (If the numbers are too noisy, just jump to the charts below.)
|Player||Points / 60||TOI / 60||QoT (Possession)||QoT (TOI)|
|Nugent-Hopkins||0.84 (1st)||17.6 (2nd)||2.3 (6th)||28.3% (4th)|
|Couturier||0.35 (30th)||14.1 (20th)||-1.7 (42nd)||21.8% (33rd)|
|Wilson||0.13 (51st)||7.2 (53rd)||-1.4 (41st)||18.0% (53rd)|
QoT (Possession) uses Behind the Net’s Corsi Rel QoC, which ranks the average shot-attempt differential of the player’s linemates. QoT TOI uses ExtraSkater’s TotTm% F QoT, which measures the percentage of ice time played by the player’s fellow forwards. The numbers next to that are the player’s ranking out of the 56 rookie forwards in the sample.
Wilson has two goals and six assists on the season. It behooves me to mention that his first goal came on a short shift on a power play with Alex Ovechkin. Wilson plays just 2% of Capitals power plays.
Wilson gets seven minutes a game, which I guess is more than goon minutes. But not by much.
Wilson actually ranks ahead of Couturier’s rookie season here. I should point out that this is the puck possession level of teammates relative to the rest of the team, not the whole league. Think of the number more as a stack ranking of players on a single team rather than among all players on all teams.
The Capitals do not use their fourth line much. Oates gives them pretty light duties against weaker competition, and he’s prone to shortening his bench– particularly when trailing in the score.
Now, there’s a meritocratic argument for ice time. It goes like this: a player who performs better than expected in a small role will get promoted by his coach to a bigger role. That role brings more ice time, better linemates, and– hopefully– better results.
But in Wilson’s case, I find it more likely that the tail is wagging the dog. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he were played with good linemates and getting top-six minutes. The thought of that happening is like science fiction right now.
Wilson is on the extreme low end of every metric I pulled, but when he’s not playing with guys like Aaron Volpatti, he’s a positive possession player. I’m not saying Wilson could be RNH if his circumstances were better; I’m just saying I’d like to see him given a shot.
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