There’s always that one player that seems to hang around in a playoff pool, unsure of their ability to step up in the postseason, to make an impact and even move up the lineup.
Heading into the postseason, I put together this list of some players with the ability to step it up, or have to take their games to another level, along with players that need to exhibit their skill on a visible stage. These notable players offer value heading into the postseason.
The players are listed on this table along with some select metrics for context. Some statistics are highlighted to indicate being outliers. The xG metrics display expected goals differentials (goals scored minus expected goals scored). There’s an individual component for the player (xG_Diff) and an on ice component (OI_xG_Diff). Shooting percentage is also available as on-ice and individual components, to measure contributions amid the backdrop of team success with the player on the ice.
Along the far right of the table are individual point percentages (IPP), the percentage of points earned on a goal scored while on the ice. IGP refers to goals, IAP to assists and they’re broken down further into primary and secondary assists. The final column is the percentage of primary points earned (goals or primary assists). I’ve gone in-depth on the subject of individual point percentages and their propensity to offer insight on player contributions to scoring chance generation.
Charlie Coyle - Boston
Perpetual underachiever fell short of expected goals while splitting time with the Minnesota Wild, yet still scored twice (2-2-4) at 5v5, playing 277 minutes as a Bruin. He scored eight in almost 800 minutes with the Wild. Adding another assist at 5v4 bumped his totals to five points in 21 games played. He fulfills a certain depth slot Boston lacked, while drawing on a fairly leaky opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
William Nylander - Toronto
Time to set aside contract delays, slow start, and goal droughts, despite distinguished individual puck skills and playmaking flair. A career low 5.3% shooting percentage and a point on 62% of 5v5 on-ice goals were results of playing down the roster and not alongside Auston Matthews. They likely will find each other paired at some point in the playoffs, but last spring, when the Swede struggled, he was the first to be moved off the first unit. Be mindful of the potential to be moved down with Nazem Kadri.
Alexander Wennberg - Columbus
Redemption in the form of a postseason renaissance would go a long way to salvage an entire season without a 5v5 goal and second worst assist totals of his career. Two seasons in a row where the IPP dipped into the 40’s range, 45% in 2018-18 and 47% in this past season after peaking at 64% two seasons ago. One consolation was a powerplay marker in 138 minutes of 5v4 – and his career first shorthanded goal. More should be expected.
Brayden Point – Tampa Bay
Exploded in points occurring at 5v4, with 15 goals and a whopping 34.1% shooting percentage. Firing at 14.6% was a career high, but only by a few percentage points, in comparison to the 13.6 average over the previous two seasons. Blossoming into a dangerous scorer compliments an aggressive and attuned defensive game, providing deployment reliability in multitude of situations. Versatility is a key to his continued success.
Derek Ryan - Calgary
Used more efficiently as a Calgary Flame than when coach Bill Peters overused him in Carolina, he amassed just under career highs in 5v5 production. Still, his goal scoring was fueled by a 13.58% shooting percentage while the team fired 8.3% with him on the ice. Uncertainty in repeating this type of production into the postseason, coupled with some specific role deployment by coach staff may have a more detrimental effect to overall scoring. Don’t overate, but a good depth play rewards with minutes, translating to timely scoring.
Derick Brassard - Colorado
One goal. One goal at 5v5, and two at 5v4 for three points altogether as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The inflated stats with Pittsburgh and Florida, where he earned a point on 71% and 75% of on-ice goals respectively, dropped significantly in Colorado – with a point on 16.7% of on-ice goals. Relied upon for some depth production, and even more so with a banged up group of stars and requiring every bit of offense to hope to beat the Calgary Flames.
Valeri Nichushkin - Dallas
I was going to try to find something positive to write about the struggling Russian winger, but I think that this tweet embodies the season. Nine points in 629 minutes at 5v5 is not acceptable, firing 62 shots, significantly lower than career norms. Another revitalization gambit in a difficult first round matchup, especially if Mats Zuccarello ails entering the playoffs.
Mikael Granlund – Nashville
Nashville tried to find some goal scoring at the trade deadline and added the former Wild forward and Wayne Simmonds acquired from Philadelphia. Granlund skated for 224 minutes and generated better shooting metrics with the Predators, than Minnesota this season, in particular in high danger scoring areas. There’s more to be contributed here that hasn’t manifested during the regular season, and could emerge in the postseason for both players.
Casey Cizikas – New York Islanders
Career high in 5v5 goals with 15, firing a career high 15.3%, while bumping up his individual shot metrics all round. Improved most in scoring and high danger scoring areas. Less than 15 minutes from career high in time on ice, despite only playing 73 games. The balance to a high shooting percentage is a dip in shot attempt differentials, and Cizikas 46.9% Corsi is an improvement from 2017-18 career low (43.6%), but still unacceptable. Some balance is in store here.
Jared McCann - Pittsburgh
Seems to fit well with the Penguins, contributing a point to 69% of on-ice goals scored, yet providing middling stats overall at 5v5. Scored three shorthanded goals as a Penguin and another with Florida. Barely outperformed his 5v5 expected goals, while contributing a primary point to half of on-ice goals between Pittsburgh and Florida. Versatile pivot can be injected as a winger for spurts. Undervalued if you think the Penguins have longevity this spring.
Jaden Schwartz – St. Louis
Fragility is the issue here, spanning a career missing significant time due to injury. This season, is the first time he’s fired a career low 4.83% at 5v5. In fact, 2018-19 is the first season without finishing with a double-digit shooting percentage. Matching was a career low on-ice percentage (7.3%) providing some context for his scoring woes. The resurgent Blues are distinct contenders and will rely on his scoring to fuel that surge.
Kevin Hayes - Winnipeg
Scored three times and added six assists at 5v5, recording a point on 75% of on-ice goals, as a key deadline addition, solidifying a sagging second line center spot. Skated in 22 minutes at 5v4 without recording a point, firing three shots on goal. Stepping in between the speedy duo of Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor has helped him at even strength, while generally spotted more often with Ehlers than Connor during his Jets tenure.
Alex Tuch - Vegas
Followed up a 10-goal debut as a Golden Knight with a 14-goal effort at 5v5, after starting the season late due to an injury suffered in the last preseason game. Slight downturn in production through 175 5v4 minutes, despite a small dip in high danger scoring metrics. Burst in 5v5 points was due to a big jump in secondary assists, from five in 2017-18 to 17 last season, housed primarily on a line with Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Improved throughout in on-ice shot attempt differentials, as overall play with the puck has improved.
Gustav Nyquist – San Jose
Former Red Wings standout scored four goals in 19 games with the Sharks. Hopped up on better individual scoring chance metrics, unshackled from Detroit’s futile offense, and with linemates like Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl. The shooting percentage may be slightly inflated on the West Coast, but he’s a good fit with strong playmaking and finishing skills. Adds another goal scoring edge. Only notable is the split in primary (1) versus secondary (4) assists, the first time in his NHL career where the proportion favors secondary assists.
Carl Hagelin - Washington
Migrating back into the Eastern Conference is a positive that’s twice fixed the speedy Swede’s game. A deadline addition to the Capitals has improved the penalty kill that will help in the playoffs, while contributing 11 points at 5v5 (3-8-11), with a point on 79% of on-ice goals, besting the 55.5% in Los Angeles and 27.3% in Pittsburgh. An inflated individual shooting percentage in Washington (9.09%), which was much better than the individual 3.03% in Los Angeles buoyed by a 10.14% on-ice shooting percentage.
Nino Niederreiter - Carolina
Slow start in Minnesota made him expendable, and the transformation completed into the best contributions from a traded player this season. Nestling in with the talented Sebastian Aho and Justin Williams, the former Wild winger fired 11 goals at 5v5 and added three more at 5v4. He earned a point on 71 percent of on-ice goals while with the Hurricanes, while firing 12.8% - which isn’t too far off from career averages. There’s no holes in this Swiss product.