Which teams did the Oilers’ Kid Line play well against?

Were there specific teams this season that the Oilers’ exceptional trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle struggled against or lit up? If so, is there a common trend in those teams – did bigger teams or faster teams, or particular matchups make the difference?

The Scoring Chances

Team SC+ SC- SC% Points
Anaheim 18 18 50.0% 66
Calgary 30 18 62.5% 42
Chicago 5 21 19.2% 77
Colorado 42 24 63.6% 39
Columbus 10 12 45.5% 55
Dallas 20 14 58.8% 48
Detroit 14 14 50.0% 56
Los Angeles 14 18 43.8% 59
Minnesota 22 21 51.2% 55
Nashville 10 12 45.5% 41
Phoenix 16 23 41.0% 51
San Jose 22 15 59.5% 57
St. Louis 17 16 51.5% 60
Vancouver 33 20 62.3% 59

The above are the Oilers’ scoring chances with Jordan Eberle on the ice at even-strength this year. I’ve used Eberle because he a) played all 48 games and b) spent most of the season playing with Nugent-Hopkins, Hall or both.

For the most part, there aren’t a lot of surprises here – Eberle et al. did well against bad teams and less well against good teams. Some notes on the data:

The numbers against Chicago are flat-out bad, but there are some good reasons for that. The Oilers’ first game against the Blackhawks was the second game of Taylor Hall’s suspension; the team was out-chanced 23-5 at even-strength (with Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Smyth out-chanced 9-1 as a line, Eberle 10-1 overall) but salvaged a point thanks to special teams and Nikolai Khabibulin. The second game saw the kids split up; Hall played with Horcoff and Hemsky (they won the chances battle 6-5 against both the Toews and Kane lines) while Eberle played with Nugent-Hopkins and Hartikainen (they lost the chances battle 5-2, mostly against Toews). The third game Hall and Eberle played together (centered by Sam Gagner); the whole team was pasted and the top line lost the chances battle 6-2 to Toews and company.

One of the big reasons I wanted to look at this was to see how the Oilers’ young guns performed against the big teams in the West. According to James Mirtle, the Sharks, Kings, Avalanche, Blues and Predators were the five biggest teams in the West this year; they’re also the five teams with an average weight advantage of 1.5 pounds or more on the Oilers. The Oilers’ young guns struggled against L.A. (no surprise, they’re a very good team, particularly in terms of generating shots at even-strength), fared relatively poorly against Nashville, did pretty well against St. Louis, surprisingly well against San Jose and extremely well against Colorado. For the Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins trio at least, their reputed inability to play against size seems at odds with reality.

Let’s focus in more on St. Louis, because that team hits the midpoint performance-wise of our five big teams, and look at the matchups in more depth. In the first game between the two teams, Taylor Hall left early with a leg injury, and was replaced on the top line by Nail Yakupov. With either player, the Oilers won the matchup, largely against the Backes/Oshie/Schwartz trio (the Blues won the game thanks mostly to a much better performance from their depth vs. Edmonton’s depth). The second game, a 3-0 St. Louis win, is the one most people remember – the Blues dominated the Oilers (18-6 in even-strength scoring chances). Interestingly, that was one of the games where the Oilers had split up the kids – Hall, Horcoff and Hemsky lost their matchup, while Eberle, Paajarvi and Gagner lost theirs (Nugent-Hopkins was out with illness). The third meeting saw the Oilers win 3-0, with the kids performing well (as a line, outchancing St. Louis 8-4) in a game where the Oilers were heavily out-shot but only slightly out-chanced – the kids did their part, but the Sam Gagner-centered second line was crushed.

Overall, the correlation between average team weight and scoring chances is -0.145, meaning that the Oilers’ kid line fared slightly better against smaller teams than big teams. However, this year there was also a slightly larger correlation between point totals and average weight (0.211) so there is no reason to believe this is a result of the kids’ playing badly against size so much as it is a function of them playing worse against better teams. The correlation between a team’s points and the kid line’s scoring chance percentage is -0.626, so it seems clear that how good the opposition team is far outweighs their size in terms of impact on the kids’ ability to generate scoring chances.

Bottom line: Based on this data, I see no reason to believe that the Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins trio is any less effective against big teams than they are against small teams. The Oilers’ problems lie elsewhere; this line was effective in 2013.


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  • justDOit

    Great idea to use the fancy stats to see what (if anything) this team was good at last season. But this might not get read at all, as everyone is still fighting about little Johnny’s safety in Peewee.

  • G Money

    Elegant analysis.

    Confirms yet again that the issue for the Oilers is not size, it is depth players lacking either skill or intensity or both, and “playing small” as a result.

  • RexLibris

    I think I may just keep this link handy to throw out every time I see someone say that the Oilers have too many small skilled players and that they need to trade Yakupov for a Colton Orr sandpaper-type of player to find success.

    While I recognize that the laws of physics being what they are, a larger player with skill is usually preferable to a smaller player with the same amount of skill, I’ve never entirely bought into the premise that size is, in itself, an all-important factor.

    A player who is 5’10” and 190 lbs can be as effective, if they learn how to play to their size, as someone four inches taller.

    I’m not suggesting that the Oilers should go back to drafting players in the range of Sam Gagner size, but neither do I want them passing on skill because there is a larger, ham-fisted player available somewhere else with half the talent.

  • G Money

    I’m not sure anyone thought our top line was the issue though. It was the rest of our line up, notably anything centred by Sam Gagner where size looked like a major issue.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        Hmmm? How so? I mean even Willis said the kids got pumped against Chicago the worst when Hall and Ebs were centred by Gags.

        I think what I’m trying to say, is that lack of size is not such as big an issue for our top line, as it is for the rest of the team, because the kids on the top line are all so skilled.

        Which means you’re either saying they did struggle against size as presented by the data above, or that the rest of the team, such as lines centred by Gagner did just as bad / good. Or that Because Gagner is bigger than Nuge, it doesn’t make sense he would do worse against size?

        All fair points maybe but most people seem to agree, our top line is not where we need to get bigger.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          I think you need to re-read the article.

          No where does it say anything like “they did struggle against size as presented by the data.”

          To simplify:

          Bottom line: Based on this data, I see no reason to believe that the Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins trio is any less effective against big teams than they are against small teams. The Oilers’ problems lie elsewhere; this line was effective in 2013.

          Now… if we accept that in case x “size” is either a non-factor, or a very limited factor, in determining performance…

          on what grounds can we accept that in case y size plays an efficacious role?

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            I see where you are going now. And there is a simple answer to that. Case x and case y are two different cases. Case x (the kid line) has an abundance of skill and talent, and Taylor Hall on their side. Whereas Case Y, generally had Gagner who is very skilled, but not as much, and was paired usually with a rookie who even though was physical is still learning the North American game, and was paired with a perennial injury case.

            Only later when Yak moved over to the right side, and got paired with either Hall or Magnus (who also developed his game by the end), did case Y seem to overcome their size issues.

            As for the rest of the team, size is very important for Case R through T. A third line checking line, our defence, and a forth line of grinders. They cannot overcome the size issues with skill, because by definition they are not skilled guys.

            I guess I’m just kind f arguing for the sake of arguing because I’m bored at work, but bottom line is that I agree with Willis that our top line is fine, but the rest of the team could use some upgrades in size.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            That fine. You would like to add some size to the team. I think we all would. And, your line of thought is mirrored within the organization. They want to get bigger.

            The debate isn’t “do you want size or not?”

            Everyone agrees size is good.

            The disagreement is about how important size is.

            IMO size is pretty far down the list of things a good hockey player needs. So far down the list, in fact, that I think the shade of stupid cast upon ideas like “Yak for Clarkson” and “Gagner for Brouwer” is wide and long.

            But that doesn’t mean size is irrelevant or shunned.

            At any rate, as an addendum to JW’s piece… a lot of people much smarter than me have dug into the Gagner/Hemsky problem this year and while there is no consensus on what went wrong… “size” is simply not on the list.

          • RexLibris

            “I think the shade of stupid cast upon ideas like “Yak for Clarkson” and “Gagner for Brouwer” is wide and long.”

            Don’t pay attention to that. It was just Lamoriello trolling ON looking to plant trade ideas. He can be pretty diabolical at times.

        • It’s not so much an issue of getting bigger as getting better, specifically in the bottom six. When we run up against top tier teams, of course they’re going to mute our skill advantage by throwing them against their best lines and check the crap outta them. In that case it becomes a battle of lines 3-4. Where we really sucked was on the 6-12 positions, where other teams had far more “actual NHL’ers”.

          Depth scoring. We noe haz it.

      • Dan the Man

        I see, well there are definitely the people that still talk about Nuge not being able to win faceoffs because the opposition just pushes him out of the dot.

        But Crosby is not the best face off man either and no one would say he’s a bad centre.

        I think, especially lately, there has been an avalanche of evidence that says Hall pushes the play in one general direction and creates scoring chances. Perhaps I just skimmed above, but my feeling is that he does this against all teams.

        Having said all this, the article was another fine read backed up by statistical evidence. So thanks for that as I fear until the draft there isn’t gong to be much interesting news on the Oilers front.

        • I’m not trying to pile on here, I have similar concerns myself and had a long battle with Romulus and SOFT players.

          My problem with people saying size is a huge component is this.

          One of my all time favorite hockey players was 5’11 and weighed just 180lbs.

          Routinely got around 60-80 PIM a year, was one of the best if not the best face-off player in the NHL.

          Was considered a great two way player and was named best defensive forward, he fought, hit and scored.

          Michael Peca.

          It’s not about size, it’s the heart and compete level, you don’t have to worry about RNH he will figure that out.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Yea. I think that is right.

            there are so many euphemisms for this, but “hard on the puck” etc… doesn’t have to mean “size and strength”

            What you want in any hockey player is one who can have solid possession numbers, ie, exit the zone with control, manage the puck and create chances in the offensive zone.

            I’ve seen players where size is arguable as much a hindrance as a aid in this regard, i.e., if you can’t move and have no hands you’re not going to maintain possession.

            Look at a player like Peca, like Wes mentions and then compare him to Malkin or Jagr. Those are really big guys. And their frame probably helps them keep other players at a distance. And their possession numbers are amazing. but they don’t play with the grab-bag of attributes people normally attribute to size (i.e., truculence, hitting, etc.)

            It takes all kinds to win the war. Smaller players can play with “size” (ie. jam, grit, whatever) and bigger players can play without “size” in this sense.

            What matters is getting the puck going in the right direction and keeping possession.

            Size, to me at least, isn’t a factor that you evenly distribute across players in order to correlate it to success.

          • Rocket

            I would agree that to be a great hockey player size is not an issue. The two top scores in the league this year are not big guys.

            However I disagree that a great team can be made up entirely of small guys. Sats are very useful, however there are many things that can’t be quantified and though Willis makes a valiant effort here, how size affects the game has to be a very difficult thing, if not impossible to quantify.

            There is one overriding stat and that is the make up of the last five previous cup winners in relation to size. I think only Detroit comes close to Edmonton’s average overall size, but even then they are still bigger … I think (it’s been a while since I read that article).

            Further to this, would you say, after watching the LA St Louis Series, or even the San Jose Nucks series, that the Oilers would be able to compete with these teams in the playoffs? Our undersized team would be pummelled by these teams, as they were most of the year.

            It’s my opinion, and I think most of us are in agreeance that the team needs some size, and that the kids on the top line are not the issue.

            So, having said that, I think we all know we can’t keep every small skilled forward on the team as even in banner years, the team still struggled. And since there’s no way any of us want to trade Hall, Ebs, Nuge, or Yak, well that leaves Gagner by default.

          • RexLibris

            Walter, couldn’t agree more. There are many
            5′-10″ = 185 lbs players in the league who are great players.

            How about Gallagher in Montreal…tell him hes to small to play in the NHL.

            Its in your head and your heart.Heck Oilers bigger players dont play tough and gritty hockey, why expect Gagner to be one.

      • Rocket

        I hadn’t heard that, but nice to see you put that to rest if its out there.

        What I have heard is that whatever line Gagner is on gets thrashed against size. Can you test that theory using the same approach?

      • RexLibris

        This is a good analysis on the subject………however JW I’m sure your intuition tell you that the Playoffs is where the heavy, grinding, and hitting happens.

        To quote Al Pachino……the inches are what matters. In the Playoffs ever inch counts, and I’m not convinced that a small team can capture those inches. Our team is not built for the playoffs IMHO.

  • Dan the Man

    Excellent post.
    Most of our biggest players are also some of our worst players. (Eager, Hordichuck, Brown, Petrell, Jones, Smithson, Whitney…)
    We need better and not just bigger. If they are both then obviously that is ideal but the focus should be on getting better players and then size becomes less of an issue.

  • Space Dad

    By eye, I’d never really thought that the Hall-Nuge-Eberle line had issues with bigger teams. It’s nice to see that backed up by the fancy stats for once.

    Nevertheless, I’d like all of them to get grittier, most especially Hall. I think that, with the way Hall dominates the game with his speed already, he’s getting ready to dominate the game physically as well, but he has to make that next step in his progression as a player. Jarome Iginla would be the high-end comparable (in his prime)… there was a “breaking onto the scene” period when Jarome was skilled but still a tad young and immature. But when Jarome got comfortable, he began to impose his will over the game emotionally as well. As Jarome became that gritty, powerful player, his point totals balooned (3 90+ point seasons) and the team’s win totals sky-rocketed. I think Hall has that dimension of ability in him, and if he’s able to make that step, the Oilers will become a legitimate playoff contender. If Eberle can add a little jam to his game as well, with Nuge absorbing even more Datsyukian mutagen in the gene-splicing chambers deep below the Rex, this team will become a powerhouse. Depth remains an issue, but the kids must continue to develop, grit included. If they do, watch out world.

  • RexLibris

    Jagr said it well . When playing the Oilers – force them to play the board game . Do not play a game with Oilers based on skill and speed ! They are not good at the board game , where size and strength are paramount. Keep us to the periphery . What have we done to prevent that game ? Not much , and we are lousy at it for now . We lose far to many board battles as everyone notices all to frequently . Until we can neutralize that disadvantage , we stand little chance of bringing the game inside for better scoring opportunities and puck possession game to implement our speed and skill advantage over most clubs .

    • Jagr is right.

      But the reasons he is right are what is important and they are no surprise to the Oilers managment team.

      The Oilers choose to use specific defensive zone exit tactics,and those tactics are engineered around the speed and skill game,this is a choice.

      We are now facing the same transition most teams will experience in the next few years,the standup defense is back and here to stay for a long time.Controlled zone transitions have replaced fastbreak transitions,hence the need to employ the standup defense,jagr wont be right for long,by next year progressive teams will make the big mans offensive game less effective ,when they are stood up with aggressive checking players like Jagr become one dimensional and controllable .Take away the transition game and they cant strategise as effectively.

      Actually we already have the ability to project a vesatile defensive front,we have simply lacked adequate Intuitive Dynamic Managment input ,we can blend the standup facet into our current preferred defensive structure with the right managment strategys.We just dont really focus on utilising the standup tactic because our offense isnt catalysed off of that type of playaction, we dont want the d-men to be removed from the play,we want them mobile and on their feet able to adjust not comitted to a high blueline check and stranded alone.

      The Oilers will be changing this soon.They have to,Ralph just needs to figure out how to make it work within his systemic visions parameters.

      Jagr is referring to his patented board game that runs from the boards behind the net to the netfront,ha ha ha.I always did and still do think Jagr is a prima-donna maybe the last one standing from the old school,kid of like an old Dame if you will.

      I envision Gator straight-arming Jaromir in the chops whenever he opens his yap,ha ha ha ha.

  • RexLibris

    Won’t it be nice we can argue over just a few things that need fine tuning,rather than almost everything we are weak at . That includes management , coaching , drafting , etc .. Oh how we miss those days .

    Are the so called hockey gods against us and other Canadian cities for reverting to hooliganism ? Are we being punished for going overboard ?