Photo: Bruce Bennett
On July 1st, the Caps signed Justin Williams, inking the top-six forward to a 2-year, $6.5 million deal. Peter included Williams’ HERO chart in an earlier post, but here it is again in case you need a refresher.
Over the past three seasons, Williams has clearly been a top-six forward. While he’s soon to be 34, so concerns about him slowing down are valid, it’s reasonable to assume Williams will at least be a serviceable top-six forward for the next two seasons. This is a boost to a Caps forward corps that needed an upgrade.
Here’s a look at how much of an upgrade he’ll be over the Caps 2014-15 wingers. The charts below are 2014-15, 5v5 stats. plus Williams’ stats over the past three seasons. This larger sample may better illustrate what kind of player Williams is for those who are not as familiar with him as they are the Caps wingers. (Admittedly, comparing high-level numbers from players on different teams isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison.)
Williams’ production was down a bit last season compared to his average production over the last three seasons, but even still, his production will be a nice boost to the Caps’ top six. (For a look at how his production compares to top-six forwards around the league, check out the first viz in this post from Muneeb.)
Williams’ goal rate was actually up a tick this past season over his three-season average. His point production was down a bit because of a drop in his assist rate. Puck luck wasn’t the issue here, as Williams’ on-ice shooting percentage was 8.3 percent, the highest of any of the past four seasons.
In addition to age, quality of teammates is likely part of the reason for Williams’ drop in assists/60. He played the most minutes with Jarret Stoll among all Kings’ forwards, after regularly playing most of his minutes with Anze Kopitar in previous seasons. The Kings produced significantly fewer shots attempts when Williams was with Stoll (56.00 shot attempts/60) than when he was on the ice with Kopitar (66.11 shot attempts/60).
In Washington, Williams’ quality of teammates shouldn’t be a concern, as he’d have to play his way out of the top six over the course of the season. Once again spending most of his minutes with skilled teammates, Williams’ could be one of the Caps’ most productive wingers at 5v5 in 2015-16.
Outside of Alex Ovechkin, the Caps’ forwards left a lot to be desired when it came to generating individual shot attempts in 2014-15. Ovechkin is omitted because his superhuman shot generation skews the chart too much.
While Williams is not an elite individual shot producer, he does outpace all of the Caps wingers from last season except for Ovechkin. This will be helpful to the Caps forward group, who in 2014-15 had too many redundant pieces that weren’t particularly good at generating individual shot attempts.
His individual shot attempt rate was down a noticeable amount in 2014-15, but it’s too early to say if this was a blip due to factors such as quality of teammates or if age is starting to catch up to Williams (it’s likely a bit of both). Regardless, a slow decline over the next two seasons wouldn’t be the end of the world for a guy who doesn’t primarily rely on individual shot generation to make his mark as a top-six forward.
Simply put: Williams is an elite possession forward. Yes, he’s racked up those numbers playing on the Kings, a possession juggernaut over the past few seasons, but Williams is one of the reasons the Kings have been a dominant possession team.
Over the past three seasons, the Kings have been the league’s best possession team. In that time, Williams improved his team’s possession by 5.37 percent when he was on the ice. The L.A. Kings went from really good to truly great the moment Williams started a shift. Playing a superior possession forward like Williams next to Evgeny Kuzentsov, a dynamic player whose possession numbers leave a bit to be desired, could be a huge boost to the Caps second line.
While Williams’ numbers dipped a bit in 2014-15, he still played at a level that will give the Caps’ wingers a nice upgrade over the next two seasons. His production, shot generation, and possession abilities will be a boost to either of the two lines he’s likely to play on in 2015-16.
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