The Edmonton Oilers have been an interesting team to follow from afar. The architect changes almost annually and they never seem any closer to breaking ground.
High profile changes like those are easy enough to follow. Keeping track of lower level transitions, from one coach to another, presents an entirely different set of circumstances. Particularly when looking at the systems that have come and gone. Small tweaks here or there in the offensive and defensive zone stick out eventually. Patterns reveal themselves and one can develop a solid enough grasp of the ins and outs.
When the pace picks up between those two zones, though, the challenges are ten-fold. There’s so much noise that even several games later you’re still losing track of the signal. Don’t get fooled into thinking this makes the neutral zone any less important. The opposite is true. It’s just more difficult to catalog with our mind’s eye.
That’s why I embarked on a neutral zone project, centered around tracking zone entries, at the beginning of the season. The hope was to cover all thousand-plus games in the season. I’ve taken a step back and am now hoping to get to twenty games per team. In the meantime, I’m twelve games into the Oilers and have results to share.
Just so we’re clear, a controlled entry is one where the puck is either carried or passed into the offensive zone. An uncontrolled entry is one where the puck is dumped in or brought in by way of firesale at the blue line. A failed entry accounts for when either of these fail. There’s some level of interpretation involved, but generally speaking it’s an objective set of metrics.
Taylor Hall cleans up by all three measures – controlled entries, uncontrolled entries and failed entries alike. In fact, Hall is in a world of his own. Neutral zone success is driven heavily by speed, so this shouldn’t be overly surprising. What’s especially impressive though is that Hall is towing a 57% controlled entry rate, indicating a high-quality of play between the neutral zones as much as volume.
It’s hard to recognize as much looking at the raw totals, but Connor McDavid isn’t far behind Hall. That’s more a byproduct of time lost to injury than anything else. McDavid’s entering the zone with control on 73% of his entries while only failing to convert on 15% of his attempts as a whole. Young players are supposed to struggle with possession. Neutral zone success drives possession totals. I think McDavid is bucking the trend.
If neutral zone data has any one blind spot, it’s probably defencemen. Zone exits can pick up some of the slack, but I just don’t have that base covered. In the meantime, I would avoid being overly concerned with their modest showing by these three metrics.
Zone Entry Rate Statistics
McDavid and Hall are, again, way ahead of the pack. There’s a chasm between them and the next best regular skaters. Hall especially, who’s entry rates in their totality are four-plus ahead of any skater other than Zack Kassian, who’s numbers could very well be muddied by sampling issues.
Speaking from experience, I got the sense Benoit Pouliot’s pedestrian results might catch people off guard. Neutral zone success goes a long way in driving shot metrics. Pouliot is continuing to drive possession, in spite of being a transition anchor in the games I’ve sampled. I’m looking forward to revisiting this another seven games down the road.
On the opposite end of that spectrum, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Oesterle shows. Have to temper the optimism with the reminder it’s an 18.4 minute sample, but those results are worth getting encouraged by all the same.
|Shots per Entry||Shots per Controlled Entry||Shots per Uncontrolled Entry||Shots/60 from Entries||Shots/60 from Controlled Entries|
Just to clarify, when I say ‘shot’ data, it’s actually Fenwick data – unblocked shot attempts.
Try not to get to carried away in either direction by some of these results. I’ve less than ten minutes for a few of these players, so try to keep that in mind.
Jordan Eberle, who’s always carried a high leverage role with the Oilers, is working his way into the conversation as a high-end transition player. His skills are marked by an ability to turn entries into shots. Eberle’s 21 Shots/60 from Entries is 3.5 higher than the next best Oiler.
Neutral Zone Burden Percentage
Neutral zone burden percentage (NZB%) attempts to take the guesswork out of which players are driving play. If a player is accountable for five of ten on-ice entries, that player was burdened with 50% of the team’s entries with him on the ice.
So, if Hall has an NZB% of 35.2%, then he’s accountable for just over a third of his team’s on-ice entries. That’s a really high number, but it isn’t necessarily miles ahead of the pack.
If you’ve been waiting for a redeeming quality to show itself in Lauri Korpikoski’s game, look no further. Korpikoski’s 33.65 NZB% indicates he’s doing much of the legwork in the bottom-six as far as transitioning play is concerned.
|No. of Entries||Controlled Entries||Uncontrolled Entries||Failed Entries|
|Shots per Entry||Shots per Controlled Entry||Shots per Uncontrolled Entry|
|Entries/60||Shots/60 from Entries||Shots/60 from Controlled Entries||Shots/60 from Uncontrolled Entries|
You really get a feel for the speed of the game when observing it through the lens of neutral zone data. The Oilers themselves account for just more than an entry a minute. Take into account the opposition and you’re awfully close to two per minute.
The Oilers enter the offensive zone with control nearly 40% of the time. There’s a large cluster of teams in that neighbourhood, so it’s hardly a concerning mark. In a perfect world, they’d even out that ratio but that’s neither here nor there.
Edmonton has a lot of speed at the top end of their lineup. If they can bring more into the fold at the bottom of their lineup, one would expect a better controlled entry ratio to follow. Controlled entries are known to produce twice as many shots as uncontrolled entries, so it’s an end worth chasing.
Games tracked for this data:
- Edmonton vs Vancouver 3/18/16
- Edmonton vs Winnipeg 2/13/16
- Edmonton at Carolina 11/25/15
- Edmonton at Calgary 10/17/15
- Edmonton at Chicago 11/8/15
- Edmonton at Dallas 10/13/15
- Edmonton at Nashville 10/10/15
- Edmonton at Pittsburgh 11/28/15
- Edmonton at St. Louis 10/8/15
- Edmonton at Vancouver 12/26/15
- Edmonton vs Calgary 10/31/15