Sunday, October 28, 2018

Leon Finds a Line?

Prior to the outset of this season, an unusual amount of agreement was had among the virtual entirety of the Oilers fanbase, this was a flawed team with some serious question marks.

The very first project I attempted on this blog was on the subject of the most impactful uncertainty, Leon Draisaitl - at centre, and away from McDavid.

The conclusion I approached was twofold: Draisaitl was inexperienced and unpolished as a disruptive force in the defensive zone but with anticipation requisite to success in that role, and that it was unfair to expect such without an upgrade in wingers.

Starting from the preseason and all the way up until a few games ago, I looked very wrong. The wingers were only ever a modest upgrade, but Leon and his line were lost in the defensive zone and time again, out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored. He was missing simple reads, disrupting exactly nothing and worst of all wasn't moving his feet.

Two of the last three games (Pittburgh, then Washington at home, and yesterday Nashville on the road) he's been on the ice for more shots and chances against, and three of three he's been positive by goals. He's managed to climb back to almost even, despite the unfortunate start (he was on the ice for zero goals for and one against for five games in a row before this three-game stretch), having now been on the ice for just one more goal against than for without the captain, 4 - 5.

It's not just been linemate chemistry, or fortunate shots from Chiasson, Draisaitl (and arguably the rest of the team) have been playing with more of a focus on creating more real offensive opportunities by carrying the puck in, and shooting from in closer.

In the early going, every member of the unit was dumping the puck in far more than they carried it, even Leon, who has historically been a guy who slices through the neutral zone, and Yamamoto, who of course did it in Spokane every game and has been showing us that he has that ability ever since Ty Rattie went down.

(peep Corey Sznajder's early season zonal transition counts after the first three games)

To see the kind of offense this led to, observe the shot-map that includes the whole season up until this point:

(A key part to note is the nifty "threat" measure, which is intuitively how dangerous the shooting locations have been compared to league average. Since this body of work is at -21%, the players on-ice would have to be tremendously talented finishers or running very hot to simply sustain NHL-average offensive production. Yikes.)

You can see how deep a hole was dug by the severity of this visual despite a few stronger games.

The way out is by forcing carries more often, and when you dump the puck you'd better have friends already moving their feet - Rieder helps in this department.

What's most important is playing the kind of hockey that forces the opposition to made hard choices while defending. Take the goal against Nashville for an example:

Klefbom makes an aggressive pass (past three possible touches) up to Rieder, who looks to the middle of the ice instead of down the wall, and Chiasson pulls both Nashville defenders down away from Draisaitl's shooting route.

There's plenty of easier plays to make. Klefbom can shoot for a tip-in entry, Rieder can look the push the puck down the boards for a Chiasson retrieval, plenty.

Instead, the defenceman makes a confident pass and the forwards make some confident plays using the rare time and space available in an NHL game to score a goal the way most goals are scored in a league that defends the cycle and point barrage on muscle memory.

The team started really well in the game yesterday, this clip is right off the first shift when Leon comes in for Connor after he and his linemates broke through and started getting chances. There's a couple spots highlighted where it'd be pretty easy to make a play back up high, especially the first where Johansen's both wrong handedness to intercept the point pass, and is holding his stick to contest a centre-feed. Nothing gives, but Draisaitl and Chiasson protecting the puck inside the trapezoid and threatening a net-front pass is infinitely more productive than the previous status quo of the unit.

You can see a couple good adjustments here, plus Kris Russel makes two solid plus-possession plays. One shot comes from a quick trigger by Chiasson, and the second comes from an intelligent hesitation by Draisaitl on his passing play. Both are from an unwillingness to simply fire the puck from up high without making a play first. I would rather see Darnell skate on his play, however.

As the best performing trio featuring Draisaitl defensively, it's imperative that this unit find ways to get to scoring areas, as although I've shown where they've done well here in the video, the entirety of their work together in 45 minutes hasn't been necessarily generating above average offense in a very sustainable manner. Peep the shot map:

Notice the theat level? Still negative, but heading in the right direction - which is encouraging considering I don't think one could argue there's necessarily more finishing talent added to the line, it's simply a core player playing much better in the offensive zone, and some like-minded complementary players complementing. Sample size is of course small, but that's why we went to video.

(Side note, NaturalStatTrick is much more complimentary of this trio, clocking them in at 13.25 HDCF/60 - that's a lot - and 29.16 SCF/60 - also a lot.)

Here's where the critical improvement is, in the time they've been together. Other iterations had their scoring woes, but were also impossibly leaky defensively, meaning they were attacking their net goal differential from both ways. Remember, simply sawing off is where we should be targeting for Draisaitl's unit, because of his short career away from McDavid as a centre. They don't have to fill the net, they don't have to be a shutdown line. Fifty percent goalshare against the competition they've faced (Malkin/Kessel, Backstrom/Oshie, Turris/Smith) is both nothing to be ashamed of, and infinitely impactful for this club's playoff chances.

Folks, I didn't think The Answer was going the be Alex Chiasson, but it's looking better than everything else did and not just by contrasting against the tire-fire - so run it.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Jesse Puljujarvi Forced His Promotion (Video Spotlight)

Once again, the fanbase had been discussing Jesse Puljujarvi's confidence levels, and his place in the lineup.

In the last game against the Jets, Todd McLellan's hand was forced.

Here I've documented the video evidence, to see if my first watch of the game in real time just produced an overly-positive memory like winning the game often does. There's questions, like did Puljujarvi start doing what kept him down the lineup, positionally? Was it simply that Lucic-Yamamoto was failing? Or, was it in actuality a demotion of Draisaitl? Simply a product of the 3-line blender?

As you can see, it was high event both ways. Jesse played the high forward for the majority of this game, and the first forechecker - and I credit his play for plenty of the possession time the Oilers enjoyed on his watch.

He started the night on the Strome line, with new version of Caggiula never seen before this fall. Their matchup was the Laine-Ehlers line, but when the winger-set moved up to play with Leon, they got the Copp-Lowry-Tanev line that had been caving in the previous Draisaitl line.

Puljujarvi was doing a number of things right from early on out, but with Todd McLellan responding to a question about his performance by first saying "He was good most of the night". I'd guess the goals against were a spot on his report card for the night, I'll include them in the video review.

Author's note: The video quality on these clips is much lesser than my usual. It's a problem that was unique to this game, but you'll have to bear with me through the bad pixels just for today.

First shift of the game for the Strome unit features a successful execution of one of my least favourite plays this team makes - though I still like it more than harder tip plays. The Jets don't like to have their goalie come out on anything that's not along the wall, and Puljujarvi does enough in his battle to win the puck - the first forechecking forward can still be successful without directly stealing the disc, just separating it and putting it in a good spot for the second. Strome loops around the net here, I'd prefer he stop and come out the same side to put another layer of checking into the Jets, but it's possible the coach doesn't want him to in this scenario.

Caggiula bats the puck immediately when it comes to him and clears, the Jets end up giving the puck back and one tries gliding into our Giant Finn. Repeated three times for posterity.

Later, 98 gets a good shot off on a sub-optimal pass, which has been an area he's needed to get better at. A good shift.

Here's Jesse's first on-ice goal against, which was a simply extraordinary individual effort by Jason Garrison. Where art thou, Jerabek?

(That's a joke.)

The unit gets the Jets turned around in the neutral zone once, then later Caggiula puts one of them in the trash can before carrying on his merry way, uncontested to the puck.

Jesse presents himself as an easy pass option and then carries the puck in. That's a short sentence, but both of those events have been severely lacking on this roster, and have been since October 2017. The Oilers have simply not been carrying the puck in, or even attempting to, or getting many pucks to the middle of the ice in the offensive zone - which Puljujarvi later loses the puck trying to do, after he wins two battles on the wall in a row.

Puljujarvi recycles a poor outlet pass, by chipping it ahead and once again putting his second forechecker in a very easy spot to win the puck - it doesn't happen, but later 98 reads the boards reversal, makes a pass to Strome, and Caggiula gets a legit chance on goal when the puck gets thrown in front. Another good shift.

Here's the second GA, where the Jets turn a high-cycle like point shot into a goal. 98 started just standing around about 2/3rds of the way through this clip, that's his fault. But this is simply not a high danger chance, at all. If this play was what Todd McLellan was referencing as the other side of most, it'd be the billionth time we've disagreed on this player.

Here's more effectiveness in the offensive zone, disrupting breakouts. 98's pressure leads to a pass getting read by Strome, a good play by the duo. Check the shoulder that Jesse throws after, it allows the puck to go by him and the Jet right to the streaking Caggiula.

The following faceoff, watch Puljujarvi build up some speed and come from the outside to close on the Jet, abusing him off the puck and once again creating a loose puck for Strom and Caggiula, who are in the right spot this time. The puck gets out inexplicably when Drake just kind of... fires it as if his right point man is a left shot? I guess? Jesse comes back and plays give and go on the breakout. Very complete shift.

Jesse was hounding the puck all night long.

And, going to the front of the net.

This is the first shift with Draisaitl, Jesse rescues the puck down low here, makes a cross-ice pass in the DZ to facilitate an easier breakout (as opposed to jamming the puck up the wall) and then negates the icing, makes a nice move around the Jets and feeds Draisaitl for a shot.

It's the fondly-remembered third frame now, and Jesse again corrals a puck and gets a shot off very quick on a no-look pass form Drai. These little plays give a fanbase hope for a second scoring line.

Jesse uses his reach on this one, turns the puck over and Draisaitl gets a very dangerous chance. A sphincter-torturer for the home fans. Draisaitl scores on that play many times out of ten, and you'd imagine he'd have been well set up if he played the full game with the Finn.

They'll need more time, though. I don't think Drai wanted to pass this right away, rather for Jesse to pull up in front of the net so Leon could let it go himself, or some other crossing play. But 98 wanted to do his fadeaway clapper, for which I don't blame him because he's scored some beautiful goals (including one in an Oilers jersey) doing it.

And the goal! Jesse Puljujarvi stays in front for one forever, making it an easy play for a passer like 97 to get a dangerous chance out of his position. Jesse could have had a couple points tonight, but one goal was all that was needed to chip in and get the win. Nuge makes an important play in the DZ, as he does, to get the play up and running. A watershed 3rd period, a coach-saver and just one of the more entertaining frames I've seen in awhile, from any team.

This was a terrific game from out subject, in a number of areas - and the kind of game that gives you glimpses of the player to come. He's starting up the lineup tonight and I hope he does well enough to stay. It's my opinion that based on his play here, he should get a second shot unless it's a disaster, simply because of the disaster the other options have been.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy watching the growth of these players as much as I do, even if the team might not make the playoffs this spring.

Monday, October 15, 2018

4th Line Deja Vu?

It's narrative-examining time again.

The story of this summer, especially from the outside, has been that the Edmonton Oilers trying to run it back into the playoffs with largely the same team that posted 78 points last year.

Fans or informed observers can and have contested that notion wherever I've read it, citing a possible influx of first round talent (it turned out to be all three) and a few veteran additions - as well as a hope for health and regression across the roster.

I have my quibbles with the notion that all three are likely to be actual improvements on the team, but what is most interesting to me is how certain a large portion of the fanbase seems that improvements have been made to the bottom of the roster, and the implications therein.

Todd McLellan trimmed the bottom of the lineup with a mandate: Pontus Aberg and Jakub Jerabek were both flushed to make room for a pair of NHL-rare PTO signings Alex Chiasson and Jason Garrison, with the verbal around Scottie Upshall getting a contract approaching certainty before he even hit the ice, before he was sidelined for medical reasons.

I should add detail to my statement on the rarity of professional try-outs resulting in an NHL contract - of the 378 PTO's issued since 2015-16 (as far back as has on record), 41 contracts have been rewarded. The number of try-outs NHL teams have given out as a whole has decreased year over year since the fall of 2016 as more and more teams fill their bottom six with farm-team graduates instead of the veterans of the league playing musical chairs every fall, but even then only a rounded 18% of PTO's led to NHL contracts this fall, and the Oilers would have had three of them if health permitted.

So, against the odds, two rugged role players were kept over Aberg and Jerabek, players who are surely more creative with the puck on their stick than Chiasson and Garrison, but whom the coaching staff never took to, citing prowess on the penalty kill as well as the players' mentality and approach to playing the role to be critical to winning the job.

With that we arrive at a similar lower line and pairing makeup as 2017-18. Compare Garrison, Chiasson, and Brodziak to Gryba, Pakarinen and Letestu.

That's an immobile, puck-separating defenceman, a tweener with unequal parts offense and enthusiasm, and a good soldier, archetypical fourth-line center whose boots will leave him in the semi-near future.

These similarities should be alarming. All will remember how the Oilers fell behind hard early, remembering McDavid's flu bouts and Talbot's shakiness, but only some will remember this part:

On November 22nd, Mark Letestu was on the ice for the first Oilers goal for in all of his minutes at even strength that far in the season.

The fourth unit was 0-9 GF-GA.

By this date, the Oilers had the 5th worst even-strength goalshare, 39-50. Nine of the eleven goals that put them off balance came from a leaky fourth line.

At the time, Oscar was getting the public lashings, Ryan Strome was being shopped for trade for daring to score at his career pace, Jussi Jokinen was the butt of jokes unending but Drake Caggiula and Mark Letestu were 3-14 and 0-9 respectively in GF-GA.

As it stands now, the Edmonton Oilers are 3-7 in even strength goalshare, for 30% - the third worst mark in the NHL, no one has scored without McDavid on the ice, and the Brodziak-Kassian fourth unit duo is 0-2 GF-GA in two games played.

Remember, Mark Letestu was fine in 2016-17, when his boots left him, they left him... and Brodziak's 7 months and change Letestu's elder.

It's not a given that the 4th line sinks the team's start again.

But it's also not a given that improvements were actually made - and this is a consequence of the selections of player personnel by the residing coaching staff.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cooper Marody Approachin'

A lot of positive stories came out of preseason this year.

Jesse Puljujarvi scored incredible goals; Tyler Benson was one of the best passers in the entire group; McLeod skated entirely longer than his odds were; Caleb Jones outplayed many veterans; Ty Rattie torched every goalie he came across.

I'm probably missing a couple, and Cooper Marody's audition is one.

March 21, 2018

Let's rewind to time of arrival here.

This was a player whose only red flags (among those I subscribe to) were initial draft position, and acquisition price.

There's the question of why a player with his draft season was selected after in the 6th round when his production was much more similar to those taken in the 2nd, any further down and you stop finding players with clearly superior seasons outside of over-agers and risky items like Kirill Kaprizov.

Here are some scoring forwards taken in the USHL that year that have arrived (to varying degrees) in the NHL:

(all data via

#17 - Kyle Connor / / 0.71 5v5 pts/game

Connor drove a PP unit and cashed 25 5v4 points that year, that's why he's the highest drafted without being the biggest 5v5 producer. He had holy-shit skill that wowed scouts and has developed into a top line 5v5 scorer in his own right, though it's tough to get a read on passenger-driver status because he played 800 of his minutes last year with Blake Wheeler and that was almost all with Mark Scheifele as well, because that's what good teams do with their skilled rookies.

#21 - Colin White / / 0.65 5v5 pts/game

This is one of many 2015 first round picks that will be brought up by their respective fanbases for quite some time. As with any ridiculous draft class such as this, there were teams that travelled curiously away from superior offensive players on a day that they were unusually easy to find. A google search comes up with many red flags, Colin White was an "all-around forward, captain material" via Dobberprospects. Run away.

#23 - Brock Boeser / / 0.60 5v5 pts/game

Boeser's another strong powerplay performer, nine goals and 24 points 5v4. Between him, Pettersson, and to a much lesser degree Gaudette, someone on Vancouver knows exactly whose shots are highly translatable to higher leagues, and they acquired this talent sometime after the 2014 draft.

#25 - Jack Roslovic / / 1.20 5v5 pts/game

I really, really believe in this player. He played on a filthy line with 16-year old Matt Tkachuk and Auston Matthews, which likely inflated his 5v5 totals. However, none of these players were particularly strong 5v4 via totals and I'd have to investigate further into what was going on there in order to say anything with confidence about the situation. Roslovic has taken his 5v5 ability to higher ranks with well over 2.00 primary points per 60 in the AHL last year and has such rates in the NHL in small samples so long as he skates with good players. There are a lot of forwards in this draft who have received miles more opportunity but have less ability than Roslovic.

#32 - Christian Fischer / / 0.84 5v5 pts/game

Fischer's a big, 15 goal scoring two way forward who has already arrived in the NHL after a 47-pt season in the AHL at age 20. If Cooper Marody puts up Fischer's 2017-18 pace (~0.8 pts/game) in the AHL this year, I think you bring him up at the deadline at the latest because we're looking at an NHL player.

#158 - Cooper Marody / / 0.73 5v5 pts/game

Here's the heart of it, what's the biggest difference between this player and those above? Solely draft number. I can't find skating or attitude problems on record. In fact, that's not much at all on record circa 2015.

Post-Draft Production Curve

Most of the time what's more important than draft day offense is the years following, so let's take our group through this time period. Very, very fortunately, all of the players' birthdays cluster quite well for these purposes - Marody and Connor in December '96, Roslovic and White in January '97, Boeser in the February following and Fischer in April.

Shortly, NHLe is an attempt to identify how many NHL points a player outside of the NHL would score based on how much they scored in any given league. We're using it here to level the playing field between players who played different leagues that are easier or harder in to score. 

Almost all of these players went to college post-draft; I'm going to use Rob Vollman's latest NHLe from May 2017 as his set differentiates between the NCAA leagues, they're here in entirety.

As an aside, something I have a strong suspicion of in the NCAA ranks is that forward teammates and strength of team in general are even more influential than normal. It's something that I want to immediately investigate as soon as more data is available, like TOI. I think that lines are blended the least of any North-American hockey setting in college, roles are more concrete, and that that is the largest but not sole factor in this effect. I will reference linemates and role often in the following exercise. This is something that's rather unique (as far as I'm aware, and perhaps only to the degree I believe it_ to my own evaluations and you're free to stick to the more empirical parts of the following.

Draft +1

Kyle Connor - 50.4 NHLe / / 71 pts in 38 GP, University of Michigan, Big-10

  • This is honestly outrageous and, if I had access to the data I'd wager powerplay sorcery was a large boost in the boxcars for this player. Winnipeg thought, as I would, that they had an NHL player in the following season but it appears they didn't have a role for him as he put up just 5 points in 20 games in the majors the next year, but torched the AHL as a rookie for 25 goals.
  • His team was ridiculous, and he played on a line with two more future NHLers, Compher and Motte. Zack Werenski was also on the team, and with that cast of characters I think we can pick out the PP1 unit.

Brock Boeser - 50.4 NHLe / / 60 pts in 42 GP, University of North Dakota, NCHC

  • The second utterly ridiculous freshman year, the second one that screams "top line/1PP NHLer'. Quite surprised Vancouver didn't move him to Utica after his freshman year, but that may have been a collaborative decision. Perhaps they wanted to see him away from a 32-win team.
  • Here we have the second NCHC player (the league with the highest equivalency) and, if you were following the Caggiula sweepstakes - a hilarious auction to look back on - you know all about the Boeser-Caggiula-Schmaltz line. Drake was +46 this year. Completely nuts, and I'll repeat my powerplay suspicion as added to this trio was Troy Stecher, who quarterbacked an NHL powerplay the very next fall. Even higher quality than Connor's line given Schmaltz became a top-six forward in the majors in short order.

Colin White - 36.2 NHLe / / 43 pts in 37 GP, Boston College, H-East

  • Surprise! It's Colin White. As he's the least productive in terms of both full career and NHL body of work thus far, his year represents a reinforcement of my suspicions about college hockey. 
  • White played on the top line of a 28-7-5 BC team with two NHL-drafted players born in fall '94. That being said, when you draft an offensively-shy two-way forward with phrases like 'captain material' thrown around, this kind of production spike at this time is very important for the prospect's chances.

Christian Fischer - 33.5 NHLe / / 90 pts in 66 GP, Windsor Spitfires, OHL

  • This is the only non-NCAA player, I thought about removing him because of it. He stays because I already dug up the data. This is a necessary production rate for a player selected high going back to junior, and a 40-50-90 season is a torching that checks the box but doesn't quite put him ahead of his peers.
  • I'd need TOI data on this, but I'm close to saying the player should have scored even more if we were looking at an offensive, top-six forward here. Rocky Thompson is a great offensive technician, and this was a strong team with high draft picks and a defenceman that was a couple years removed from a 40-point NHL rookie debut on a deadly Lightning powerplay. The reason the TOI is important is because the team could possibly have been so stacked that Fischer actually got less ice-time than perhaps a weaker team would have given him if they had to lean on one good line.

Jack Roslovic - 25.4 NHLe / / 26 pts in 36 GP, University of Miami, NCHC

  • This is a third tier, away from the two 'sure top-liner' and the 'top-six potential' onto more of just an 'NHL prospect' type production. This is around the floor for what you want to see from a drafted prospect, and the type of freshman year a non-drafted guy needs to have in order for me to have confidence in signing him as a skill forward free-agent after his senior year.
  • Like clockwork, this is by far the worst team we've looked at. A 15-18-3 record, Roslovic tied for the team lead in points, and the highest point total for a defenceman (a powerplay clue) was 19 year-old 3rd rounder Belpedio, who put up less than 20 points in all but one of his NCAA seasons. Given that Roslovic has the third best career so far when we look at present day (and the third highest NHL-potential, in my opinion and many others) this is a strong point for team-strength and linemates affecting NCAA season totals heavily.
Cooper Marody - 20.3 NHLe / / 24 in 32 GP, University of Michigan, Big-10

  • Here's some possible scout's vindication - the player who was right in the cohort in 5v5 production, falls (short of proportionately) down closer to his draft number, away from the 1st and 2nd rounders.
  • But, he had a much lesser role than any of the rest of the cohort. Six forwards scored ahead of him on the team (a tell), and this was Kyle Connor's team, remember. He still handily outscored the next 18 year old behind him, and above were forwards all his senior. In investigating his role in his freshman year, I also found another whisper about his draft-day fall in the draft in this piece. For those that don't know, players' whose knock is 'strength' or a lack of 'hard-nosed' play are my favourite acquisition targets. This could also be the reason the coach wasn't fond of the player in spite of puck skills and skating ability.

Draft +2

Brock Boeser - 37.5 NHLe / / 34 pts in 32 GP, University of North Dakota, NCHC

  • Boeser's team went from 32-6-4 to 21-16-3, his linemates were instead 18 year-old Tyson Jost and 20 year-old Shane Gersich, the powerplay defenceman Tucker Poolman who's not yet gotten an opportunity in the NHL to run one, unlike Troy Stecher of the year before. You're looking at a massive decrease in production by a player who would score 29 goals in the NHL the next year. 

Kyle Connor - 32.6 NHLe / / 44 pts in 52 games, Manitoba Moose, AHL

  • If you're 20 and you're a top line forward on an AHL team and on the first unit power-play on merit, you'll be in the NHL within 2 years, or it's overwhelmingly likely to become so. Still, note the jump back in production. This wasn't a playoff club, and Connor played with Roslovic on a line with a player who's last season was played primarily in the ECHL.

Christian Fischer - 31.8 NHLe / / 47 pts in 57 games, Tucson Roadrunners, AHL

  • Here we've got a successful CHL to AHL transition,  Fischer played top line minutes with a veteran player who can score well (they haven't done that in Bakersfield, as I detailed in my last article), Fischer scored well at evens (1.71 primary points per hour) and what we're looking at for him is his last season outside of the NHL that he'll have for quite some time. His arrival is actually on the earlier side, 88 NHL games on record to the leader Connor's 98. 

Colin White - 29.4 NHLe / / 33 pts in 35 games, Boston College, H-East, AHL

  • Here's the third straight heavy regression in second season NCAA players due to line-mate and team-strength downgrades. I should note, if you're surprised I'm surprised these things affect production, that it's not simply a straight across adjustment here. NHL-bound players take leaps every summer and are completely different players year-to-year. It's not just a 20-point drop, it's a 40-point drop as the player is 20 points more potent offensively every year, as a rough example. These are players who we know have made the NHL, some of them stars. In every other league prospects like this rocket up each year without fail. This is why I'm convinced something is up with college hockey and I'm choked I don't have the data for it, to be honest with you.

Jack Roslovic - 28.4 NHLe / / 48 pts in 65 games, Manitoba Moose, AHL

  • Jack again, everything that applied to Connor applies to him here. Weak team, bad line-mate, young line-mate, men's league. Roslovic was a little less efficient on the power-play and a little less efficient 5-on-5. He also got almost 3 less minutes 5v5, estimated by prospect-stats, indicating a shelter-job. They also had an option to send him to the CHL, but chose not to. Worked out.

Cooper Marody -22.5 NHLe / / 15 pts in 18 games, University of Michigan, Big-Ten

  • This is the mono year. Cooper again trails the cohort, but the disease is a bitch. The most famous example recently in the draft was Timothy Liljegren, who should have shredded the SuperElit if he kept up his development curve, but he actually scored very poorly in the games he played. If we apply that timeline to Cooper here, going a little shy of point-per-game is just fine. However, there's still solid separation from the group since draft day.

Draft +3

(Boeser, Connor and Fischer all made their teams and blossomed into full-time NHLers out of camp)

Jack Roslovic - 42.1 NHLe / / 35 pts in 32 games, Manitoba Moose, AHL

  • Exactly the kind of blossoming you want out of a skilled player, and a confirmation of sorts on the decision to send him to the AHL instead of the CHL the year before. Led his team in points-per-game, scored a ton at evens, earned an NHL spot and his production translated directly. An NHL player.

Cooper Marody - 34.5  NHLe / / 51 pts in 40 games, University of Michigan, Big-Ten

  • The redemption year, Cooper Marody led a team that was about on the level as Boeser's Draft+2 squ, and one that he drove the top line by himself (alongside two undrafted, poor offensive players). Apparently improved his skating, and by my viewings he's a capable carrier and distributor and as mentioned above, has excellent processing. Consider that he lost a year in development, and still delivered about where the cohort did in their actual second years and is right there with any of the non-elite team/line years. His advanced age advantage is pulled down by lost development, and a team that would be nothing special without him, making this an impressive year and one that's necessary to appear an NHL prospect and player.

Colin White - 22.1 NHLe / / 27 pts in 47 games,  Belleville Senators, AHL

  • This was a poor AHL team, but a poor showing among them. 9th in estimated ice-time, but 8th in points-per-hour as well. Overtaken by the Senators' 2nd round pick in the same draft, Filip Chlapik. They were both promoted post deadline, and didn't produce much in totals so - just as I did for their AHL numbers - I checked their rates, and found that Chlapik was replacement level and White was actually a 3rd liner on merit. The key takeaway here is that even the bottom of this cohort is in the NHL as a top-nine player.

There we have it, it takes a little bit of excuse-making contextualisation, but Cooper Marody's numbers hang well with the middle of the pack of USHL forwards who scored like him 5v5 in 2014-15. I promise that despite my immense talents in homeristic rationalisation, I didn't need to flex those muscles that much to get Marody's body of work there. He did have mono. He did have a poor team and role prior to his explosion last year, and we saw the scope of that effect on the other college players, even players who went on to be elite NHLers.

And now, for your viewing pleasure

I've been capturing Condors video for the past few days, and thought I'd pluck a couple clips to try to briefly address my favourite thing, often fraudulent and compulsory always completely legit concerns about a drafted prospect's strength and effectiveness in battles.

This is the knock I found on Marody, and it may already be outdated because there was talk of an inability to put on weight (during the mono period?) and his being 160 lbs, which by listing he's now a healthy 190.

Anyways, there's little track on this player in the defensive zone, even after the second game (the first obviously entirely too dominant to produce much film on DZ activity) and from what I've seen, misreads are the only real problem with the player in terms of play without the puck and along the boards he's fine physically. He's playing the middle of the ice sometimes and taking faceoffs, too, but sometimes Vesel is down low so there's opportunity for physicality against the point man pinching. Here's a couple quick examples, Cooper on the red X:

The first marked play is one where, if a player's weak on their skates they get beat immediately there. Doesn't happen, he loses positioning only after Keegan Lowe takes too long to support the puck.

Second play features strength carrying the puck, and a peek at the players' offensive instincts.

The thing with physical plays is that, unlike with skill plays, frequency is much more readable by each individual event. What I mean by that is, a player who scores 15 goals a year in the NHL will once in a while score a highlight reel goal, one that if you've only seen that play you'd think the player were a star, or at least a scorer. But with physical plays, you can see parts of plays where they do or don't get beat and extrapolate how often they get beat with some accuracy.

For example, if you watch Leon Draisaitl protect the puck a couple times, you can make a bet that he doesn't get shoved around too often and you'd be right. If you observed a player that's weak on their skates get toppled without even being off-balance, or watched a player get shrugged off by a stronger specimen, you can bet on a repeat performance. You can also very easily identify player-type by a player who shys away from physical contact - very few are allowed to do that and still get ice-time.

Keep that in mind when we're observing these small snippets of physical play - if Marody was easily beat, he'd look much more contestable here. It's not black and white, but the effect is real.

The first portion is important, because it gives you a sense of where Marody's feet are at, and how hard it is to pin him down in the first place. He accelerates quickly. Later in the same clip, he engages net-front.

A contest along the boards helps stimulate a breakout, and I didn't cut the clip in time because I wanted to leave in that nice one-touch play to move the puck in the neutral zone. I need more games for a project on this, but if called up Marody would really help in this area, just in case the Oilers decide to start trying carry the puck across either blueline without McDavid on the ice.

Next is another engagement that despite its effectiveness the play goes the other way.

Third is stick on the ice test, you might draw a penalty there if you go down but it shouldn't be Plan A. Note the effortless pass while taking the hit to make the play.

No rush, unless...

So, what did we establish here?

For one, Marody's production curve is both anomalous among the early-arrivers from the USHL's 2015 draft crop, but role and context away from staying in the pack, and, given the excellent junior year number (and along with it the role and context) Cooper's caught up pretty well. He scores and has been scoring at basically the rate that a Roslovic or a White or a Fischer has, and if he continues his point-per-game pace with the Condors it's just additional confirmation. In terms of offensive players, at this point he is the first and only call-up option and could improve the team today.

For two, the issues on draft day have been rectified, and skating has become even more of a strength. This isn't a player who hurts you in any area, at least from where we're standing now. He can engage physically, and has boots of separation if he wins the puck. Most notably, from my viewings, is his carrying and distributing and neither of these abilities are hindered by physical weaknesses.

Cooper Marody is the rare player who could be in the NHL today but is in the AHL - even rarer for the organisation who has his contract. It may be injury when we see him, but he can upgrade the roster in its current iteration so long as the bottom-six bleeds goals. Need more NHL games to assess the team's needs, and more AHL games to be sure of the players' offense at the professional level - but this was about as good a trade as the genre of fast-tracking will give you in the modern NHL; the player's got a decent shot of being in the top-9 on merit very soon.