The Century Mark: Cole Perfetti and Jake Neighbours

Alex Wyatt

2024-01-01

Cover image: St. Louis Game Time

Welcome back for another edition of the Century Mark, where I aim to dive into some of the underlying numbers on a few players who are reaching the threshold of 100 NHL games played. My aim is to help you understand what the metrics mean, and if there’s anything in the tea leaves to help you decide if it’s worth continuing to invest in your player. Each edition I will also try to give an introduction to the tools you have at your disposal on the Frozen Tools page, by going under the hood in one of the many at your fingertips.

This month we dive into Jake Neighbours and Cole Perfetti, two players of different moulds on disparately performing teams. As Perfetti has just tipped over 100 NHL games played and Neighbours follows closely behind him, let’s take a look into what we have in both of these players as they cross the Century Mark.

Cole Perfetti (21, C/W, WPG)

In Perfetti’s first OHL season, he was known as a goal scoring threat, finishing second—to Century Mark alum Arthur Kaliyev—in goals by a U18 player with 37 goals (and 37 assists) in 63 games, both tops by a rookie that season. Come the very next year, Perfetti added several more layers to his game by doubling his assist totals (37 goals and 74 assists in 61 games) and developing the elite hockey IQ he has been known for ever since. That and being injured. A certified “band-aid boy” by Dobber, Perfetti has missed several stretches across his fledgling career, having yet to play more than 52 games in a season, though, knock loudly on wood, he has avoided any issues thus far this season.

He has grown his point pace in every subsequent campaign over his first three years, which is precisely what we want to see, especially as he cruises over halfway to his breakout threshold.

So the scoring numbers look good. What can we see when we look under the hood?

A good rule to live by when gauging the statistical progression of a young player is to check their deployment alongside it. If we see that nice, progressive uptick in season-long point pace as we have above with Perfetti, it would be easy to surmise from that alone that he is growing as a player, and becoming more capable. However, if we looked beyond the 50% increase in point pace from 2021-2022 to 2022-2023, and the subsequent 16% the year after, and saw it came with a 50% and 16% increase in his ice time, would we still feel as confident in his growth? You’d expect a player who plays more frequently, to contribute more, even if his point pace, and ostensibly his skill, is actually plateauing. Let’s see what the case is with Perfetti.

For Perfetti, his overall Time On Ice has not increased a great deal and in fact is remarkably consistent across his time in the NHL thus far. He’s being brought along slowly, and his maturation is apparent. Given that his point pace is continuing to grow, while his ice time stays static, one can imply that his capabilities are growing and may be why we have seen an uptick in his usage on the powerplay this year. His share of available powerplay time is up over 50% now to the tune of nearly three minutes a game. He is earning his time and being rewarded.

We can head over to the “Advanced Stats” tab on Frozen Tools and take a look at a few more categories that are normalized to a per-game measure.

This page provides two more “per 60” categories to help us glean more insight on Perfetti. We could already surmise his PTS/60 would increase, as his point pace grew with the same ice time, and seeing his SOG/60 increase along with it shows he is shooting more and more each year. His playdriving (Corsi For %- the number of shot attempts for a player’s team vs against) is growing and staying above 50%, showing the Jets own the shot attempt share while he is on the ice.

His IPP/PPIPP (Individual Point Percentage, and Powerplay IPP) remains strong, showing he is involved in scoring plays that occur with him on the ice quite frequently. A player one would describe as a “passenger” on his line likely has a low IPP, inferring that goals are being scored while he is on the ice, but he wasn’t involved in the play, even with a secondary assist.

Secondary Assists are a bone of contention in player evaluation, as the defenseman who lobs the puck up the boards and heads to the bench gets one when the upstart winger notices an attack opportunity, races into the offensive zone, splits the defense, and gifts a tap-in to his teammate. For this reason, several leagues I am in only track ‘Primary Points’, meaning a goal, or the assist that directly leads to the goal. When you’re evaluating players, especially ones with small sample sizes like the ones I discuss in this column, you want to try to strip out any of the luck a player may be benefitting from, so you can see when it is progression and improvement, not lucky bounces. Looking at ‘Sec Assists’ and ‘Sec Assist %’ you can use Frozen tools to measure how many secondary assists a player gets. Perfetti has 11 assists this season as of writing, nine of them are primary. This tells us Perfetti is a play driver on his line, and when used in tandem with the previously mentioned IPP/PPIPP, tells us he’s earning these points, rather than being gifted them.

One measure on that chart does suggest some luck for Perfetti, in that his PDO is over 1000, though this has thus far has been consistent for him over his career. PDO is a measure of a team’s shooting percentage plus the save percentage while he is on the ice. Given that the Winnipeg Jets are currently sixth in the league in save percentage, and were seventh last year, it’s no surprise to see a higher PDO here. It’s not something I would lose sleep over in the context of everything else. It is worth noting as well that Perfetti’s shooting percentage at this point is 14.9% versus a career average of 11.2. This could suggest that Perfetti might regress slightly in terms of shooting percentage. The takeaway here is that PDO is not a measure you should use on its own, but is a culmination of a number of other meaningful statistics that tell a more complete story. A higher or lower PDO can alert you to dig deeper on the likelihood for a slump or streak to continue.

Perfetti’s Hockey Prospecting page gives us an insight into how well he looked right from his draft year, and strong progression thereafter. Byron Bader often talks about players who hit at least a 40 NHLe in his model early (18 or younger) is a significant predictor for stardom. Though the COVID years and some injuries would have muddied the outlook, that is a key piece to look for.

The fact that Perfetti slid down the Star Probability chart is not really of any concern anymore. His D+3 year (third season since being drafted), is when he aged out of the model, and that coincides with his NHL debut where he only played 10 games. We’ve seen how he progressed since then. His career points-per-game pace is 0.58, whereas the threshold for a star is 0.7 points-per-game. I would take the wager he is more likely to become a star by this definition than not at this point, Band-Aid Boy status being a potential wrinkle.

At this stage, I own Perfetti in a few leagues, and took the opportunity to acquire him in the offseason where the manager had him outside his keepers for his minors list. Your window to acquire him on the cheap has likely passed, but if you have a manager who isn’t yet a believer and you can work the “he’s only playing 14 minutes a night” angle while he is still pacing for around 55 points, now is the time before he hits his 200-game breakout threshold.

Jake Neighbour (21, LW, STL)

Everything about Neighbours I have read seems to be….decent. He is a decently gritty, decent playmaker with a decent shot who has had a decent start to his NHL career, with 84 games played for the St. Louis Blues as of writing. He captained his Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup in 2021-2022 and was part of Canada’s gold medal squad at the World Cup the following year, a year in which he also played at a 50-point pace as an AHL rookie.

He has been skating with some of the Blues’ top players recently and has grown his point pace at the NHL in each progressive season, but as he nears the Century Mark, is he worth a keep on your pro roster?

As mentioned above, Neighbours’ point pace has seen a lift in each successive year he’s played in the NHL, though his current 31 point pace isn’t terribly exciting. As we discussed with Perfetti, however, taking a look at Neighbours’ deployment could help give us a bit of an insight into his utilization and see if perhaps there is room to grow.

His deployment tells us he is getting the same, to the exact second, ice time as Pefetti, but those minutes are spent in far different situations. Neighbours is seeing just under a quarter of the powerplay ice time in St Louis, which is the same as last year, though his penalty kill time has increased quite a bit. In ‘real NHL’ terms, this extra special teams usage bodes well for Neighbours, as he is being given some extra responsibility, but for fantasy purposes, it’s not the ideal mix for a player we need to carve out a spot for.

Neighbours’ has provided decent category coverage for a young player, providing you just under two shots plus a hit and a half per game. He’s also managed to stay out of the penalty box, for those who play in leagues where PIMs have a negative impact.

An interesting development for Neighbours this season, which has just started to occur, is his current linemates. On the main page of a player’s Frozen Tools page, you can see his production, and linemates, broken down by quarter, and with respect to the linemates, you are able to see the three most common iterations. This is helpful to see any trends in production, and be immediately able to cross reference his linemates and time on ice in total, specified for the power play. We can see that for the second quarter of the season, Neighbours has been seeing more time on the powerplay in the small 11-game sample, as well as an uptick in overall TOI during this same period. He also is seeing less time with Oskar Sundqvist and Sammy Blais, the most common triumvirate for the first 21 games he played, and the majority of time with Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich. One would imagine if he is able to adhere to those two players by playing a balanced role, that would be much better than him being the trigger man on a grinding, third-line type group.

Given that Neighbours has 16 more games to play before he crosses the Century Mark, and there is still two thirds of a season to play before roster cut time, this recent deployment is a development worth watching to see if Neighbours can get hot and improve his value.

Neighbours’ Hockey Prospecting page shows a lot of what we’re seeing in the numbers up above. There are a number of serviceable veterans that show up in his Draft Year comparables, as well as his full comparables. He never showed star potential but did read as a potential 200+ gamer, which has grown over time until he aged out of the model. This would be my expectations of Neighbours as his career progresses: a serviceable middle-six winger who can add a touch of sandpaper and potentially float into the top six when injuries or slumps arise. I think you’ll see Neighbours eclipse 200 NHL games played, but I think you’re safe to presume he will stay below the career 0.7 points-per-game mark to brand him a star in the model.

Were I still invested in Neighbours in my leagues, I would not be willing to carve out a pro keeper spot for him at this juncture. Thankfully, we’re not at decision mode yet, but in some leagues, adding a late-week streamer onto your squad for some Sunday counting stats could earn you a category win or two. A competitive team may prefer the roster flexibility, and a rebuilding team or cap-strapped team in a salary league, may be able to see if Neighbours can increase his perceived value in the interim while getting some decent deployment. If you haven’t found a suitor by the end of the season, he’s likely destined to head back to the draft pool. 

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