May 26 2012 10:15AM
Photo byKmf164 via Wikimedia Commons
In his excellent recent article on 2011-12 rookie scoring, Jonathan Willis hinted how the situation in which a player is used can give them either a great advantage (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) or put them at a great disadvantage (Sean Couturier). One way to graphically represent these advantages and disadvantages is with Player Usage Charts.
Player Usage Charts, which were first introduced last off-season (and sometimes referred to as OZQoC Charts), map the percentage of shifts started in the offensive zone (ignoring neutral zone faceoffs) on the horizontal axis, the average (attempted shot-based) Relative Quality of Comptition on the vertical axis, and then feature a Relative Corsi bubble that is coloured and sized depending on how well the team performed (in terms of attempted shots) with that player on the ice.
With usage charts you can tell at glance who played relatively tough or easy minutes and how they did in those circumstances: the players who play against top lines are in the top half of the graph and those playing 3rd and 4th lines are at the bottom, and those who play primarily in their own zone are to the left and those used mostly in the offensive zone are on the right.
While it's not competely appropriate to compare players from different teams on the same graph (it's best to see them in context of their own teams. The raw data of which can be found over at Hockey Abstract), here is how things looked for all rookie forwards who played at least 40 games last year (sorry Andrei Loktionov):
Not included are Dale Weise, whose offensive zone start of 20.6% is, well, rather offensive, and Cory Emmerton whose Relative Quality of Competition -2.153 would have also stretched the graph out so far and wide that you wouldn't be able to properly read the cluster of players in the bottom right hand portion.
All Hail Landeskog
Among those facing above-average competition (top half of the chart) three big blue circles stand out: Gabriel Landeskog, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. To a lesser extent, both Adam Henrique and Marcus Kruger are "in the blue." It's also clear to see that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has more offensive zone starts than his peers others, which helped him produce the great offense.
At the other end of the ice J.T. Wyman had an offensive zone start of 30.3%, so has an excuse for his big white circle. To a lesser extent the same can be said for Ryan Russell. It's impressive that players like Sean Couturier and Nick Johnson would be trusted with top-line shutdown duty as rookies, and yet still performed relatively well.
Those with whom their teams struggled were Zac Rinaldo, Cody Hodgson, Jordan Caron and Kaspars Daugavins - perhaps they should have been used more carefully and placed on the depth lines instead.
Of those used more carefully Luke Adam, Gabriel Bourque, Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Zack Kassian and Tomas Vincour all played well enough and could potentially be ready for top-six duty next year. Devante Smith-Pelly, Brayden Schenn, Andrew Desjardins, Roman Horak and especially Anton Lander really struggled, and in many cases they were only used at all because their teams lacked the depth to avoid using these rookies perhaps a little too soon.
In anticipation of his piece on rookie defensemen here's the look on the blue line. Given the lower number of rookie defensemen the cut-off was 30 games.
The Young and the Sheltered
Interestingly very, very few defensemen were trusted with top-four duty relative to forwards. Marco Scandella as a top pairing in his rookie season is impressive, but also shows how limited Minnesota felt their options were - Justin Falk and Nate Prosser were also used in the top-four at times, in defensive capacities, and paid the price. Carolina's Justin Faulk was the only other rookie to be used so ambitiously.
The big blue circles that stick out most are Slava Voynov and Marc-Andre Gragnani, both used effectively in a more offensive capacity at the upper end of the depth lines - to a lesser extent the same can be said of Matt Taormina, Jake Gardiner and possibly Dmitry Orlov. Jared Cowen didn't enjoy the same success, and those used more defensively like Raphael Diaz, John Moore and Marc-Andre Bourdon also struggled (though Adam Larsson and Philip Larsen did fine).
Among the highly sheltered Stefan Elliott, David Rundblad, T.J. Brodie, David Savard and Ryan Ellis all performed well, but not Stu Bickel or Erik Gudbranson. In fact, Nashville's Ellis could have perhaps been used more aggressively given how Roman Josi and Jonathan Blum struggled in their more defensive-oriented stints.
Player Usage Charts are rarely useful in a stand-alone basis, but are very effective when used to place another analysis, like Willis' post on rookies, in proper context. While none of it's raw statistics are the be-all or end-all measurement of a player's usage or performance, together they do paint a clear picture.
In this case we can see how certain rookies like Sean Couturier were at a distinct disadvantage relative to high-scoring machines like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and it really stands out how dramatically well Colorado fared with Gabriel Landeskog on their top line, or the New York Rangers with Carl Hagelin.