For the first few weeks of any given NHL season, the starting routine is simple. Peruse the NHL media to find a player who is being unfairly criticized, write a brief 700 words or so about how his percentages are unsustainably low, wait a few weeks for everything to turn around, and then when everybody has settled down about a particular topic, the percentages regress and all is right with the world.
Then we have Chris Kreider, a player who has turned so many heads, he has started out with a minus-two rating and a 946 PDO, yet no critics seem to exist. He just burst onto the scene from Boston College (or was that Boston University? They’re all the same place) to join the New York Rangers for the playoff run, and what has followed is something “remarkable” according to Red Fisher:
If you’re looking for someone whose star was born this postseason, don’t look beyond Chris Kreider, who has scored in each of the games against the Devils and whose five goals are only one short of Richards’s team-leading six.
As it happens, Kreider has bent the laws of physics and broken the record for most goals scored in the National Hockey League without ever having played a game in the National Hockey League, in the sense that he’s earned five goals in these playoffs, which don’t count towards a player’s official totals, and he never suit up for the Rangers in the playoffs.
Five goals in 15 games is, indeed, a remarkable pace for a 21-year old. Over an 82-game campaign, that equals a little over 27 goals, a damn good pace for a young-un. To put that in perspective, here are guys under 22 who have put up 25 or more goals in the last two seasons:
Logan Couture, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Evander Kane, Patrick Kane, MIlan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Jonathan Toews.
That’s pretty exclusive company.
Unfortunately, on the other side, here are a list of players who also maintained a 20% shooting rate under the age of 22 over a span of 15 games:
Paul Byron, Matt Calvert, Blake Geoffrion.
That’s, well, a list with slightly worse names on it. The fact is that high shooting rates are often misconstrued as being players who have better shots or the ability to great better offence. I would moreso suggest that the best players generate goals as the result of an ability to take a lot of shots, not necessarily just the good ones.
So Chris Kreider has five goals this playoffs off of 22 shots, which equals a shooting rate of 22.7%. That’s too high to be sustainable. However, this doesn’t actually mean that Kreider is going to be a player who is just a flash-in-the-pan. He has some very good things going for him. There is just a lot to talk about from his perspective.
For one, Kreider’s Corsi rate per 60 minutes leads the New York Rangers. Corsi, a shot-differential statistic created to quantify a team’s puck possession when a certain player is on the ice, is not a statistic that’s favourable to the Rangers. Far from it. They have only one or two guys who have been able to push the play forward in the other direction, and for the most part they bank on their first line and their goaltender to do the rest.
At 17.1 shots per 60 minutes above even, Kreider is the 7th highest forward among players in the postseason in this statistic, seeing somewhat limited minutes with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan. This is important because he’s a depth piece that can be used and trusted by John Tortorella. One slight bump in the road is that Kreider has been deployed nearly exclusively in the offensive end of the ice—70% of his shift starts at either end of the ice have been in the attacking zone, which has bumped up the Corsi rate, for sure, but at a level significantly higher than expected.
Callahan had gone a full series without a goal until he finally earned one in Game 3 against New Jersey. Kreider popped in a pair during that span, so Kreider’s puck-moving ability has been able to cover those mistakes. Kreider moving the puck forward has allowed Callahan and Stepan to continue to create chances at even strength moreso than in the regular season. Without the young former Eagle alongside them, the two were respectively -6.6 and -6.4 in Corsi in the regular season. In the playoffs, they’re up to 11.1 and -1.7 respectively. There are several factors influencing this, including more favourable usage, but I have to think Kreider is a big part in the turnaround.
It’s fun to see Kreider and Carl Hagelin find success in a place where New York find themselves in a relatively weak position compared to their competition, and if long-term, Kreider is a guy who can bring a couple of players closer to even possession-wise, we’re not looking at a team that has to bank too much on its goaltender.