After his first full season in the NHL, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s play has convinced his head coach that the Caps’ hole at second-line center is filled. But some of the underlying numbers indicate Kuznetsov still has some work to do if he wants to be a second-line center on a contending team.
|13:20||Average time on ice per game|
|49.6%||Shot attempt percentage during 5v5|
|57.4%||Goal percentage during 5v5|
Kuznetsov’s on-ice shot-attempt percentage in 10-game running segments, according to War on Ice:
I think Kuznetsov might be the second-line center in DC for years to come, but I’m not convinced. If it seems like I’m being too hard on him below, it’s because I think we need to pump the brakes a bit on the excitement.
Kuznetsov’s boxcar stats in his first full NHL season were pretty good: he totaled 36 points while being asked to fulfill second-line center duties on a team that fancied itself a contender. And those skills. Oh my, those skills. Kuznetsov was absolutely dazzling at times, showing off puck-handling skills that show why the organization was so excited to get him here.
Kuznetsov was really good in the playoffs, too. He posted five goals in 14 games and managed to be about even in possession with a -0.75 relative shot attempt percentage.
A list of forwards who had comparable production as a 22-year-old rookie, while not filled with superstars, gives more reason to believe Kuznetsov has a solid NHL career ahead of him: T.J. Oshie, Chris Kreider, Chris Higgins, and Craig Smith. But let’s not anoint him a superstar in the making just yet.
Here’s where we pump the brakes.
Kuznetsov’s -3.05 percent relative shot-attempt percentage was the second worst among the team’s forwards. Only Jason Chimera had a worse impact on the team’s puck possession. He was the only top-six forward on the team– and one of just four players overall– to have a shot-attempt percentage below 50 percent, coming in at 49.2 percent. The Caps also saw 2.01 percent fewer scoring chances when Kuznetsov was on the ice, again second worst to Chimera.
Yet, the Caps owned 57.4 percent of the goals with Kuznetsov on the ice, third best among the team’s forward. But this was largely aided by the fact that Washington goalies stopped an unsustainable 94.1 percent of 5v5 shots during the minutes Kuznetsov played. On-ice save percentage is not something an individual player has much control over. So, it’s fair to say Kuznetsov was fortunate to rank 61st among 464 NHL forwards with 100-plus 5v5 minutes in save percentage. If regression comes knocking in 2015-16, Kuznetsov’s GF% will plummet.
And then there’s the fact that he was a disaster at zone entries on the power play. Admittedly, he appeared to get better at zone entries as the season went on, but I have’t tracked them. And that’s the thing, Kuznetsov almost always seems to be effective (if not dazzling), but his underlying numbers are concerning.
Kuznetsov played most of the season with Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. Those players each saw their possession increase by more than 5 percent once they got away from Kuznetsov. He didn’t exactly make the players around him better, which is supposed to be a hallmark of a second-line center.
Again, if it seems I’m being too hard on Kuznetsov, it’s just that I think the excitement around him should be tempered. He looks like a supremely talented player, and he filled a tough role this season. He could very well turn out to be a great center for the next decade, but it’s premature to do so now.
How confident are you in Kuznetsov’s ability to be the Caps’ second-line center moving forward? Why do you think the eye test and the underlying numbers don’t match up?
Read more: Japers Rink
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