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Projecting Nyquist Scoring

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Gustav Nyquist was simply amazing and thrilling this past season. I was in attendance for his first game of the season, and he promptly scored on the first shift of the game, later following it up with a second goal. He pushed possession on every line he played, and within a couple minutes he began a stretch that made him the hottest goal scorer in the entire league for months at a time, capped off in a highlight reel goal against Tampa Bay that was probably either the best goal of the whole season or second only to the Datsyukian goal Tatar managed against Dallas. He turned in a fantastic performance, but the real question is how much can we bank on him actually producing next year? His season last year was so chock-full of asterisks that it's difficult to even know where to begin. Among them:

  1. He only played 57 games! Surely he'll get way more chances to score
  2. His shooting percentage was 18.3%. It was actually higher at even-strength than it was on the PP, and there's no chance whatsoever he maintains a 5v5 shooting% of 18.8% over the course of 82 games. The 18.3% was good for 5th in the whole league (minimum half season played), and the 18.8% 5v5 number was first in the entire NHL.
  3. He didn't immediately get top line minutes, and his production did spike up once he started getting them. He should score more if he gets a top-6 role all year.
  4. He didn't really get consistent PP1 time for awhile, so there's some reason to think he'll get more PP minutes this season, thus much more chance for scoring goals.

Shooting Percentage Estimate

How do we even begin to project? Well for starters, let's look at his history in the league and try to guesstimate how well he'll shoot this year. I want to look at his shooting percentage numbers from prior to his wild 2013-2014 campaign. With most forwards you can expect a shooting percentage to hover around 10% (8% at even strength), but it's entirely possible some players just shoot for a high percentage. Pavel Datsyuk has a career number of 14.3%, as does Jiri Hudler. Valtteri Filppula has a career shooting percentage of 13.7%. These guys are not the norm, but there are players here and there with Nyquist's profile that have maintained that type of percentage. However, they are in the minority, and it's generally unwise to bank on that type of shooting until they've proven the ability to do it several season in a row. As it stands, Nyquist has a career NHL shooting percentage of 13.2%. Saying his skill level is comparable to that of a speedier Filppula/Hudler seems pretty sensible, so this isn't entirely crazy, but let's take a look at a before/after for this season.

First, let's talk about the NHL data on Nyquist that we do have. Nyquist has played 120 NHL games in his career. What I've decided to do is include playoff games in the totals here rather than separate them out. The reason for this is only because we still don't have a full October-April season on record for Nyquist, and including a few playoff games help us get a little closer in that regard. We only have a few seasons of data to go on, so it doesn't make sense to me to exclude playoff sh%. For instance, this season he managed 0 goals on 13 shots in the playoffs. That was fairly unlucky, a typical player would have averaged 1 goal there, and Nyquist's season sh% would have expected him to manage 2 goals. It sure would have been interesting to see if the "kids didn't show up" narrative would have persisted if Nyquist had continued his puck luck in the playoffs and put 2 of those 13 shots in. Those 13 shots alone bring his 2013-2014 sh% down to a still-high 16.9%, so let's take a look at how that compares to past seasons.

Gustav Nyquist Games Shooting%
Before 2013-2014 58 6.5%
2013-2014 Season 62 16.9%
Total 120 13.2%

That's quite a split. The most obvious piece of analysis is that Nyquist's shooting% next year will very likely fall between those lower and upper numbers. Given his very short career, it's pretty difficult to actually project how much his sh% will regress next season, so let's do this another way. Detroit Red Wings forwards shot at a 10.5% clip this past season. If that sounds high, keep in mind we're only talking about forwards here who tend to shoot at a percentage at least twice as high as defensemen, and we're talking all situations (including 5v4). Let's assume he continues to get PP time, round up, and say Nyquist is slightly above average next season and lands right at 11%. It's near impossible to say where he'll actually end up, but given that we are expecting him to get quite a bit of PP time (where sh% does tend to be higher), it seems safe to say he'll be a tinge above average. Keep in mind we're talking all situations here rather than 5v5 only. The reason for this is because it's pretty safe to assume Nyquist will get a similar amount of PP time this upcoming season.

If you're quick on your feet, you'll see that if he shot 11% this past season he would have put up 18 goals total (17 during season, 1 during the playoffs). This puts him around Tatar territory in terms of production. However, there's more to this in projecting Nyquist's production, because we expect next season he'll play a full season, get more minutes/game, and shoot at a higher frequency.

Shot Total Estimate

So, where do we even begin here? Well, for starters we know Nyquist managed 166 shots in 62 games last season, good for 2.68 shots/game. However, this number was far from consistent as the season went on. Let's take a look at his shot rate month-to-month with his ice time factored in.

Month Games ATOI/Game Shots Shots/Game
November 5 15:02 11 2.2
December 11 15:25 23 2.09
January 13 18:11 36 2.78
February 6 17:23 19 3.17
March 15 16:48 50 3.33
April 7 17:37 15 2.14

With the exception of a down month in April, his shot rate went up quite a bit as he got more ice time. This makes sense - he came up and played a middling role at even-strength and not a ton on the PP, and a couple months later he was playing Johan Franzen minutes. We're going to assume he maintains a significant role next year given his strong results. His January-April shot rate (when his role increased) was 2.93 shot/game. I'm going to go ahead and say he'll shoot an even 3 shots/game. I think this is a bit conservative because there's clear room for improvement, but I think this is a fair estimate.

Drawing a Conclusion

We've estimated an 11% shooting percentage with 3 shots/game. If Nyquist were to play a full 82 game season, that would result in 246 shots for 27 goals. It's entirely possible his sh% or shot rate varies a bit from those figures, but overall I think this is a pretty reasonable estimate. If he plays a full season, I think this means we can reasonably expect 25 goals out of Nyquist with 30 goal potential if he increases his shot rate and/or proves to maintain an above-average shooting percentage. If this sounds high to you, keep in mind we're assuming he basically gets Johan Franzen minutes, including the PP1 time. If this sounds low to you, keep in mind that we cannot reasonably expect him to shoot at the insanely high clip that he went at last year. If he does, awesome, but projecting that to happen again is silly.

So if you want to track Nyquist's goals this year, keep an eye on those two factors - is he shooting above or below that 3 shots/game rate? Is he maintaining an above-average shooting percentage, or is he reverting towards league average? Is he getting PP time, and if so, how is that affecting his sh%? It can be easy to see a guy like Nyquist regress towards a more sane number and slap the label "Sophomore Slump" on him and be done with it, but if we can go into the season with more reasonable expectations, we can recognize that while his goal scoring will very likely slow down, his other strengths (like his ability to drive possession consistently) should be a big benefit for the team.