Earlier today, Kyle brought up an interesting discussion that I wanted to take to the pages and comments here to go over. Take it away, Kyle's Twitter account from earlier!
Sheahan started just north of 65% of his shifts in the offensive zone last season. Posted incredible numbers even for being sheltered.— Kyle (@KyleWIIM) July 25, 2014
So, do you take the risk and start to break him out of the shelter? Start him more in his own zone? I might consider that.— Kyle (@KyleWIIM) July 25, 2014
This is an excellent question, considering that we're expecting the Red Wings are going to be going into training camp with at least six natural centermen (not including Zetterberg) all competing for four spots in the everyday lineup. I want to explore that a little bit and then get Kyle in here to discuss a bit further.
We know where the top and the bottom of the depth chart stands here. Pavel Datsyuk is better than Riley Sheahan to the point where a comparison is laughable. Riley Sheahan played so well last season that we expect he'll find a roster spot above the 4th line and he will just about certainly be a lineup regular over other scratch/waive choices beneath him. From what we've heard of Stephen Weiss, we're going to assume that he's healthy enough to compete for and win the 2nd line center spot out of training camp.
This does leave a bit of a question between Sheahan and Darren Helm. I don't want this to be all about comparing these two, because this is more about usage than placement on the depth chart, but as it's necessary to recognize the relationship those two things share, it's probably necessary to drill down a bit into looking at these two. Besides, this helps make my case, so I'm going to do it.
Both Helm and Sheahan played in 42 games last season. Both were positive possession players Sheahan outscored Helm by four points while Helm put in 3 more goals than Sheahan did. Both players put up exactly 12:19 in even strength time on ice per game. Both players benefited from a high PDO (an assumption that they were a bit lucky to have gotten results as good as they did, but not an absolute statement on HOW lucky).
Usage-wise, they were almost a Yin and a Yang though. Riley Sheahan led the forwards in offensive zone deployment while Helm was near the bottom of the list, with a 52.4% start ratio (only two players got fewer than 50% of their non-neutral faceoffs in the offensive zone; Detroit didn't have many of those kinds of faceoffs to give out). Helm spent more than two minutes per game killing penalties to Sheahan's zero. On the flip side, Sheahan got two minutes' worth of power play time per game to Helm's 40 seconds.
Also, for teammates, Riley Sheahan spent the bulk of his time with Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, and Gustav Nyquist. Helm's three most-common linemates were Daniel Alfredsson, Justin Abdelkader, and Drew Miller. If I have to compare the two, I think it's more telling that Darren Helm was able to put up good numbers against tougher competition with less help, even if Sheahan's offensive numbers were a little better.
So back to the original question:
Should the Red Wings give Riley Sheahan a bit more responsibility?
If we're basing this on the idea of where Sheahan should be on the depth chart, I think that there's a good argument that he belongs on the fourth line. However, A center alone doesn't make up a line. Playing with good young linemates in easier situations worked well for Sheahan, and I didn't see a lot of evidence that suggested Sheahan was a passenger on the Kid Line that helped the team out so much. Darren Helm has shown a versatility that wasn't asked of Sheahan and in many ways, other players taking on those tougher minutes is what really helped Sheahan's line to shine.
Looking at the Wings' roster right now, it may be necessary to either split up or reconstitute the Kid Line. Provided Alfredsson doesn't re-sign, the Wings will have a need in their top six which could easily be filled by one of Sheahan's linemates (Nyquist is the immediate choice). With a roster crunch that may keep Jurco off the lineup, it may be necessary to fill the third spot with either less of a kid or a less-proven kid. Heck, it's possible that the Wings solve the issue of centers by moving Darren Helm to a speedy attacking winger spot, potentially on Sheahan's line (and yes, if I had to convert one or the other, I'd much rather convert Helm, who I think has the potential to become either a rich man's Tomas Kopecky or a poor man's Marian Hossa).
Since Datsyuk is going to draw the toughest assignments for the team and Weiss should be healthy enough to take over the 2nd-toughest, I don't think it's necessary to give Riley Sheahan tougher zone starts just yet simply for the sake of seeing how well he handles them. I think that the season will provide some of those opportunities naturally anyway and will give Sheahan an ability to prove that he can be more-rounded, but ideally, the better players take the tougher minutes and the Kid Line (whatever that means this year) gets to keep beating up on overmatched cupcakes. I think the challenge for Sheahan this year will be to see how well he can recreate last season's performance (since it was high above his expectations). I don't think adding more of a challenge in tougher minutes would be the right choice for him.
To be clear, I'm definitely not saying that the team should promote Riley Sheahan, kick him in the ass, and let him go out there like a bucking horse. This is nothing more than a test.. A tryout, if you will. I'm also extremely adamant that Riley and Tomas are kept together. They work extremely well with one another, and the product we saw this season was just the beginning of it all. However, I think Tomas Tatar is one of those players you can put anywhere, and he'll do a great job. I want to see if Riley is one of those players. Here is a little tasty stat tidbit:
|Player||TOI/60||Corsi On/60||Corsi Rel||Points/60||Ozone Start%|
Sheahan was the second most sheltered player on the team next to Tomas Jurco. To be clear, the term "sheltered" indicates that the player's deployment was controlled and restricted to starting his shifts in the offensive zone. He was OK in the dot, ending at 49%.. Better than fellow rookie centers Aleksander Barkov and Sean Monahan. Along with that, I thought he really started to find his niche with the power-play. He really has that "go to the net" style of play which I adore. I think if Jurco doesn't make the team out of the gate, Nyquist should be delegated to a line with Sheahan and Tatar. Riley shows me at times that he has the ability to be one of those setup type of centers sorta like how Joe Thornton is.
I'll admit, I like the idea of keeping them sheltered against lesser competition so they can dominate and put up great numbers, which enables a player like Darren Helm to play maybe fourth line competition. I think it's just something to think about.. When Stephen Weiss is gone, is Sheahan going to be that 2nd line center that steps in and takes on the heavier minutes and tougher competition night-in and night-out? We'll never know until he gets the chance.. Which is why I think giving him just a little stint of it would be something beneficial to him, and the team going forward. Sooner or later, teams are going to catch on and start matching him with heavier competition, which will make him or break him as an NHL player.
One last note I think that needs to be brought up: I would really like to see Riley shoot the puck more. He ended the season with 59 shots. We saw it a few times, he has a pretty slick snapshot and wristshot. While I love his ability to creatively move the puck to his wingers, I really think he has the ability to put up 15-20 goals with ease over an entire season.