Prospect Ramblings: Do rookies start the season with an edge?

by Hayden Soboleski on September 1, 2019

Image courtesy of NHL.com

 

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There’s a few logical reasons to think a rookie player might have an edge to start the campaign. They are fighting for roster spots and have more to prove than many established teammates. They have age on their side, and in many cases have an easier time returning to prime shape after a relaxing summer. Maybe in some psychological cases, they are just more excited to have the chance of a lifetime. Regardless of the potential reason, I’ve always operated under the assumption that youngsters come out of the gate just a little bit faster than the veterans, so I figured I’d better see how legitimate this assumption is. In fact, writing this article I realized that I actually expect the entire league to be higher-scoring right off the bat, mostly due to players getting better and goalies being more challenged by new talent every year. So I have lots of assumptions to validate or discredit in this work. Lets get into it:

 

Full disclosure, some of the numbers calculated below are provided by stats website filters, but many were done by hand. I double-checked my work, but this is a potential source of error.

 

Thanks to NHL stats and Hockey-Reference, I am able to tabulate some scoring rate totals for the entire season or for a custom segment of it. For this investigation, I calculated the league average of goals per game for two segments- the full 82 games, and the first two weeks of the season. Depending on the team, there were between 4 and 7 games played per player in the first 2 weeks.

 

Goals per game, full season, all players:

2018-19: 3.01

2017-18: 2.93

 

Goals per game, first 2 weeks, all players:

2018-19: 2.97

2017-18: 2.99

 

Based on these numbers, it looks like the league gets off to a very slightly more exciting start regardless of player age. I was personally expecting a much more drastic increase in scoring rate for the first 2 weeks of the season, but evidently this effect is small. The small bump was seen for the last 2 years, but the percentage increase is too small to put stock into in my opinion.

 

Now let’s look at the rookie contributions to the above numbers. Here are the scoring rates of rookies only over those same periods:

 

Goals per game, full season, rookies only:

2018-19: 0.12

2017-18: 0.13

 

Goals per game, first 2 weeks, rookies only:

2018-19: 0.11

2017-18: 0.13

 

Once again, it looks like my theory was bunk. The scoring rate of rookies are nearly identical between the measurement periods in both of the last two seasons. My natural reaction to these values was to try and calculate what percentage of league scoring is done by rookies. Taking the rookie goal rate and dividing into the total goal-scoring rate, you get a number around 5%. This seems low, because in 2018-19 rookies accounted for roughly 23% of all players listed on NHL.com. That being said, I do not have an efficient way of calculating how many man-games rookies accounted for. If the average rookie played fewer games than the average veteran, then this percentage could very well explain why to rookie contribution looks low. This is a job for someone with more free time than myself.

 

So, it would appear that there is not, in fact, a surge in scoring to start off the season. Maybe a tiny one, but I’m not convinced. Furthermore, there most definitely does not appear to be a rookie scoring boost to start the year, when all the prospects are on their tryout periods trying not to be sent back to junior. As is the case with a lot of my work, I ended up showing something that doesn’t exist, rather than a real trend. Such is life, at least we learned something.

 

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For some fantasy hockey trends that are actually actionable – here’s my reminder that the 2019-20 Fantasy Hockey Guide is available now, and if you’re serious about being competitive in your pools no matter how deep, it is an absolute must-read:

https://dobbersports.com/product/dobbers-2019-20-fantasy-hockey-guide/

 

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Hayden Soboleski

@soboleskih