Prospects Rambling – Predicting rookie playoff performance (Mar 13 2016)

Hayden Soboleski

2016-03-13

What to expect from rookies heading into playoff season in this Sunday's Rambling…

 


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The playoffs are coming, and just as importantly – playoff pools are coming. Not every pick can be reliable heros like Toews or Kane, so to make the most out of your draft or budget you're most likely going to need a little help from some risky buys. I know, by the time a team makes the playoffs and their youth are still earning real ice time, those kids probably wont qualify as prospects for too much longer. But rookies in the playoffs are typically considered unknowns and therefore darkhorses when it comes to playoff predictions. I thought I'd do a little investigating to see what trends do or (in most cases) do not exist when using regular season numbers to foresee playoff success.

 

So what are the biggest knocks against kids in the playoffs? Here are the three I hear the most:

1: Rookies are usually smaller guys not yet fully grown, and therefore get beaten up on the physical playoff style and can't do their job

2: The players that suceed most in the playoffs are the grinder/hitter types, since they're already prepared for said playoff physicality

3: Coaches dont trust rookies as much as the veterans with playoff experience under their belt, therefore rookies will get less ice time and less of an opportunity to be difference-makers.

 

What I've done is take the most fantasy-notable rookie scorers from the last two seasons (2013-14, 2014-15), and make some basic charts plotting their playoff performance (measured in points per game) against various data concerning the three worries above. Obviously my selection is limited to rookies on teams who made the playoffs, and those that are fantasy-relevant in points-only leagues to begin with. Small sample size is a factor but let's work with what we can. Here are my subjects for this test:

 

 
player
regular season playoffs
  weight (kg) points per game hits per game TOI (min) points per game TOI (min)
  Gadreau 68 0.80 0.18 17.7 0.82 19.15
  Stone 92 0.80 0.61 17 0.67 19.15
  Forsberg 84 0.77 1.32 17.33 1.00 20.6
2014-15 Hoffman 79 0.61 0.51 14.5 0.50 13
  Hayes 102 0.57 0.72 13 0.37 14.2
  Lee 102 0.54 2.22 14.4 0.20 14.75
   Kuznetsov     80 0.46 0.54 13.33 0.50 16.6
  Teravainen 77 0.26 0.32 12.75 0.56 13.5
  Mackinnon 88 0.77 0.70 17.33 1.43 20.5
  Palat 86 0.73 1.80 18 1.00 18
  Johnson 79 0.61 0.67 18.8 0.50 21
  Krieder 103 0.56 2.21 15.75 0.87 16.8
2013-14 Chiasson 85 0.44 0.96 15.1 0.33 15.66
  Nichushkin 80 0.43 1.09 15 0.33 13.5
  Jenner 94 0.40 2.94 14 0.83 17.25
  Toffoli 91 0.47 0.92 13 0.54 13.3
  Hertl 95 0.68 1.05 15.33 0.71 13.6

 

Ok, Experiment #1 – Do smaller rookies have a harder time getting points in the playoffs? Here is a graph comparing the weight of a player against their point production:

So, no, not really. The graph is pretty much a dart board of data, indicating that out of all the fantasy-relevant players in my data, there is no real correlation between their production and their weight (which is, in my opinion, the best available value for guessing how likely a player is to get pushed around in a physical contest). Keep in mind here that when it comes to players coaches want on the fourth line, meant to be a crushing force against the opposition, yes there is likely a preference towards bigger players. But this evaluation is for the purpose of fantasy hockey only, and the data is only representative of the players likely to be considered in your typical playoff pool.

 

Next: the players who have success in the playoffs are those who play a more physical game, who know that wearing down the opposition is equally as important as scoring the goals. So, here I'll compare rookies' hits per game throughout the year to their playoff success:

Huh…That didn't turn out so great either. There is a very slight positive correlation between player weight and points, but that would be reaching. It would seem that the larger players (who again – are also of fantasy-relevant caliber when it comes to scoring) show little indication of being better playoff bets than their lightweight counterparts. Now, to be fair, measuring a player's success in points when their priority is being claimed to be landing hits is a strange comparison to make. But at the end of the day, coaches aren't going to put players on the ice who aren't going to be at least competitive when it comes to scoring against the other team. And even if coaches choose to prioritize hits over point production, most fantasy owners don't. The takeaway here: don't get sucked into thinking young players will only get the chance to suceed in the playoffs if they have the capability to be hitters.

 

Onto the third point from above – that rookies wont receive ice time in the playoffs. Yes it sounds silly but I've been around hockey pools long enough to see that the fear is real – and there's reason for it. If Boston really trusted Pastrnak to carry the load, why did they add Stempniak? If Florida was comfortable with their young team, why did they trade for Hudler and Purcell? Unfortunately my choice of players to single out is weaker this year than most because only 2 of the top 10 rookies scorers will actually be in the playoffs, but you get my point – if teams planned on succeding with the same contributions that got them through the season, the deadline wouldn't be such a big deal. However…

Take a look at my list of players and their time-on-ice change between the regular season and playoffs. In 2014-15, 7-out-of-8 of the rookies actualy saw increased ice time in the postseason. In 2013-14, that number is 7-out-of-9. In addition, note that there's a good mix of players in that list from both deep cup contenders and first-round exits. Are there other factors at play here, including the inevitable line-matching employed in playoff series? Yes, of course. But the numbers are there – the rookies that were hidden gems for your regular season fantasy team are getting the same chance to shine from their coaches in the playoffs. So don't get cold feet come draft day- the kids aren't going anywhere. 

 

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So far, all of the plots I've made have proved their point by NOT showing trends, so I wanted to do a sanity check here. Surely there are some ways to apply common sense and see an actual way of predicting playoff points? Well there is – regular season points:

I know, captain obvious here just showed that geting points in the regular season makes a player more likely to score in the postseason. Who knew?! But when all of the comparisons made above were showing little to no signs of any correlations between stats, its important to remember that the data does in fact show what common sense tells us is logical. Here's another one:

Again, captain obvious has arrived at the party. Players with more ice time tally more points per game. The problem with this is that over the course of the regular season, these values depend on each other. If a player isn't scoring, the coach is going to cut down their ice time. If a player is showing star potential, he's going to get a boost in ice time, especilly in powerplay situations. Yet this is still a good reminder to take every stat you hear with a grain of salt. When someone suggests takes the rough-and-tumble bottom-sixer in your pool before a small skilled rookie with more ice-time – dont get sucked in. Points win games and coaches know that. 

 

To wrap-up – yes playoffs are tough, yes there are always fourth line hereos unexpectedly pitching in to win games, but that doesn't mean the regular scorers are going to stop scoring. Based on the data above, there is no reason to be fearful of rookies going into their first postseasons, even if they're on the small side. If players have shown the capability to produce during the year, and have been given the ice time to do so, that isn't going to change.

 

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I am aware there is always more than one way to interpret data. I am aware that my small sample size hinders how seriously it can be taken. And I am aware that there is anecdotal evidence people could spit out to discredit what I just wrote. I hope that you, the, reader are able to realize that nothing is perfect, including the graphs and recommendations I just provided, are intended to be stepping stones towards a more informed opinion on draft day in the coming weeks.

 

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As always, thank you for reading, and best of luck in any fantasy pools I'm not a part of!

 

Hayden Soboleski

@soboleskih

AE, DobberProspects

 

 

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