2015-16 Oilers: The Connor McDavid Line

97-McDavid-8

Connor McDavid was brilliant as a rookie in 2015-16 and anybody paying attention knows it.

What many don’t realize is how much his linemates mattered, and which linemates he actually clicked with. The conventional wisdom about which players he had success with in 2015-16 is almost entirely wrong.

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Previously in this series:

The Chart

Left Wing Centre Right Wing TOI G+ G- G% Corsi+ Corsi- Corsi%
Pouliot McDavid Eberle 139 9 8 52.9% 141 112 55.7%
Pouliot McDavid Yakupov 128 9 7 56.3% 120 113 51.5%
Generic First Line 53.8% 51.5%
Yakupov McDavid Eberle 43 3 4 42.9% 47 45 51.1%
Generic Second Line 51.5% 50.8%
Other McDavid Other 196 5 11 31.3% 187 182 50.7%
Generic Third Line 47.2% 48.9%
Generic Fourth Line 44.9% 48.5%
Maroon McDavid Eberle 119 9 4 69.2% 123 133 48.0%

As before, this chart was generated via Puckalytics’ SuperWOWY function, and I have shown the forward combinations for each line on the far left, followed by 5-on-5 minutes together, goals and Corsi plus/minus as a unit. I’ve left out zone starts this time, just because it makes the chart too big, but will be noting them in the write-up below.

For the sake of reference, I’ve also included generic first, second, third and fourth lines. Again using Puckalytics, I ranked the top 360 forwards in the league by ice-time. The averages above are the unweighted totals for the NHL’s 90 most-used forwards (three per team), followed by the next 90 and so on. These are back-of-envelope calculations but they do give us a point of comparison.

Performance

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There’s no question as to where McDavid was most effective: It was between Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle.

Zone starts aren’t included here, but this unit actually started more shifts in the defensive than offensive zone—odd for a scoring line—and had a brilliant 56 percent Corsi. The goal numbers were slightly worse, at 53 percent, but given that we’re only talking about ~two hours and one fewer goal against would have bumped this trio up to 56 percent, I wouldn’t worry about it. Pouliot-McDavid-Eberle is a fantastic line, even compared to other NHL top lines and even without adjusting for zonestarts and playing with Edmonton’s defence.

Switch Eberle for Yakupov, and things get worse. The goals are actually a little better in this small sample, but the Corsi number drops by more than four percent. There’s some important usage context, too. With Eberle, this line started 57 shifts in the defensive zone and 51 in the offensive zone (six more d-zone draws). With Yakupov, this line started 20 shifts in the defensive zone and 47 in the offensive zone (27 more o-zone draws). We see a similar drop-off when Yakupov is substituted for Pouliot.

The line at the very bottom of this list is going to surprise some people. Patrick Maroon s widely perceived as a strong complement to McDavid because of his late-season performance on the line. However, the only time that we see McDavid’s Corsi fall below 50 percent is when he played with Maroon.

This line did a good job of scoring goals, but we’re only talking about two hours of ice-time together; over such a small sample, I trust the Corsi number a lot more than I do the goals number (256 total events vs. 13 total events). The caveat here is that McLellan used this line a lot in the defensive zone, but not enough to justify the unit’s relatively poor possession work.

Takeaways

14-Eberle-13

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Even for a player as skilled as McDavid, linemates matter, and a lot of what has been said about his linemates is wrong.

The one bit of conventional wisdom that is correct is that Eberle and McDavid worked well together. It wasn’t a bullet-proof arrangement—with a weaker left wing, the line struggled—but as a duo these players were good together.

My other three takeaways run directly against conventional wisdom.

67-Pouliot-2

Pouliot’s work on the line simply doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The drop-off from Pouliot to other left wings was almost exactly the same as the drop-off from Eberle to other right wings. If we’re looking at duos, Pouliot-McDavid is bigger and cheaper than McDavid-Eberle and if anything was slightly better at hockey in 2015-16. Given the number of complementary right wings in free agency this year and the relative value of the two players, Edmonton’s probably better off keeping Pouliot and trading Eberle than it would be keeping Eberle and trading Pouliot.

I’d be inclined to keep both players, for what it’s worth. Pouliot-McDavid-Eberle was a brilliant line and there’s no reason to move away from it.

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19-Maroon-2

Maroon was not a particularly good fit. Doubtless he’ll see some time with McDavid next season, but if the Oilers have him written in ink as their second line left wing the team is setting itself up to fail. If McDavid’s line runs a 48 percent Corsi next year, the goal numbers will regress and it’s hard to imagine Edmonton making the playoffs.

10-Yakupov-3

Yakupov was also not a particularly good fit. McDavid brought out the best in him, but he didn’t bring out the best in McDavid. Additionally, based on zone starts it is obvious that Todd McLellan stops trusting the line as soon as Yakupov was placed on it.

The biggest takeaway though relates to the overall team. In the Hall piece I noted that Hall/Nugent-Hopkins or Hall/Draisaitl could “reasonably be regarded as the foundation of a competent first line or a brilliant second unit.” Combine that with a Pouliot-McDavid-Eberle first line and Edmonton’s top-six forward group should be better than the vast majority of NHL teams.

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RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS


  • Jason Gregor

    JW, curious why you rank the Corsi so much more for Pouliot-McDavid-Eberle, compared the Maroon-McDavid-Eberle?

    When you look at TOI to CF…it is basically the same.

    67-97-14 had 141 in 139 TOI.
    19-67-14 had 123 in 119 TOI.

    The difference was Corsi against, 133-112. You admitted the 19-97-14 trio had more defensive zone starts, so have more CA makes sense. But the fact they averaged more CF despite more defensive zone starts. Isn’t that more impressive?

    They allowed four fewer goals despite more CA. Was it more blocked shots or missed shots. Curious.

    • That’s a pretty big jump in Corsi against in that relatively small amount of ice-time.

      Recall too that the Pouliot version of the line also got defensive zone starts. The difference between the Pouliot/Maroon versions of the line works out to about 4 extra DZ starts per hour.

      As for the difference in Corsi, here’s what it looks like per hour:

      • w/ Maroon: +62/-67 (-5)
      • w/ Pouliot: +61/-48 (+13)

      The Maroon version of the line gets four extra DZ starts, but is also 18 shot attempts worse in an average hour. That’s a massive gap.

      As for missed/blocked shots, unfortunately that information isn’t available, but over a gap of 18 shot attempts per hour I doubt it would make a difference anyway.

      • Jason Gregor

        With such a small sample size for either line I don’t see enough to make a judgement on. Which teams they played, who the played against all factor in and also which Dmen they played with factor in.

        The Pouliot trio likely played with Klefbom, Oilers best Dman. The Maroon trio would not have, and in fact played with much younger Dmen.

        Does the site show which D men they played with?

        • Benoit Pouliot, Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Oscar Klefbom were not on the ice for so much as a single shift together in 2015-16.

          I wondered about it, and then I remembered the injuries:

          • Klefbom played his last game on Dec. 11
          • Eberle played his first game on Nov. 6
          • McDavid played his last game pre-injury on Nov. 3 and didn’t come back until Feb. 2

          All of McDavid and Eberle’s time together came after the Klefbom injury.

          So you may have a point that Nail Yakupov’s numbers are unfairly boosted by Klefbom’s presence, but the same cannot be said of a comparison between Pouliot and Maroon.

  • DiscoBiscuits

    “Edmonton’s probably better off keeping Pouliot and trading Eberle than it would be trading Eberle and keeping Pouliot.”

    Um…. wat?

    Edit: Cheers to the quick fix!

  • TKB2677

    I am starting to really wonder about all this advanced stats stuff and if the people that do it and believe in it, know much about hockey other than what a spread sheet tells them.

    Maroon played 16 games with the Oilers, primarily on McDavid’s line. In those 16 games, he had 8 goals and 14 points. So what exactly constitutes a “fit”?
    Maroon is a big strong, physical, tough guy that clearly has some hands and has some offensive ability. He goes hard to the net, is able to go into the corners and actually WIN A PUCK BATTLE. He’s great at shielding off defenders, can screen a goalie and isn’t afraid to go tot he dirty areas. I am not sure if Mr. Willis’s spread sheets, don’t have these columns but in today’s NHL, what I listed is REALLY IMPORTANT. Maroon as I mentioned, is willing to go to the net and has the size to score the 5-6 ft from the crease goals that make up a HUGE amount of totals NHL goals. Maybe Mr. Willis’s spread sheet doesn’t have that column either. Plus as mentioned, he has good enough hands and offensive ability that he can make and take a pass and shoot from the slot when needed. By his own admission, he wasn’t in the best shape so if he comes back to camp in shape, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that he can’t get 25 goals. Maroon can easily turn into McDavid’s, bigger, tougher Kunitz.

    • camdog

      The spread sheet’s also don’t have the look of the Oiler defence over the last 16 games of the season, you know the defence without Klefbomb, Davidson and all.

  • Also: I realize percentages may not express the point as clearly as per-hour rates. Is it more helpful for readers if I express things in a per-hour stat (as in comment #4) rather than in a percentage (as in the chart above)?

  • @TKB2677:

    Maroon played 16 games with the Oilers, primarily on McDavid’s line. In those 16 games, he had 8 goals and 14 points.

    Yes, and he shot at a 21% clip.

    Maroon’s pre-Edmonton NHL shooting percentage (204 NHL games) is below 9%, less than half what he managed with the Oilers.

    Maroon’s career AHL shooting percentage (353 games) is just 13%.

    It strikes me as exceedingly unlikely that Maroon’s performance as a shooter over 14 games in Edmonton is a better indicator of how he’ll do next year than his preceding NHL and AHL career were.

    Maroon is a big strong, physical, tough guy that clearly has some hands and has some offensive ability. He goes hard to the net, is able to go into the corners and actually WIN A PUCK BATTLE. He’s great at shielding off defenders, can screen a goalie and isn’t afraid to go tot he dirty areas. I am not sure if Mr. Willis’s spread sheets, don’t have these columns but in today’s NHL, what I listed is REALLY IMPORTANT.

    So is skating.

    Maroon as I mentioned, is willing to go to the net and has the size to score the 5-6 ft from the crease goals that make up a HUGE amount of totals NHL goals. Maybe Mr. Willis’s spread sheet doesn’t have that column either.

    How many is “HUGE”? Excluding goals off faceoff plays, 55% of all NHL goals scored at even-strength come within six seconds of a zone entry. Screens matter, sure. Just not as much as being able to score off the rush.

    If being good within six feet of the net was all that mattered, Lauri Korpikoski would be a superstar.

    Plus as mentioned, he has good enough hands and offensive ability that he can make and take a pass and shoot from the slot when needed.

    Connor McDavid could be the best centre in the NHL by the end of his entry-level deal. I’m not sure if “good enough” offensive ability is really the bar we should be setting for his wingers.

    By his own admission, he wasn’t in the best shape so if he comes back to camp in shape, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that he can’t get 25 goals. Maroon can easily turn into McDavid’s, bigger, tougher Kunitz.

    First off, Kunitz’s skating has always been a selling point in a way that it just isn’t with Maroon.

    Secondly, Kunitz had a 25-goal, 60-point season before he ever played so much as a second with Crosby. Maroon has cracked 30 points once in his career.

    Thirdly, Kunitz scored 35 goals on Crosby’s wing. Even in your ‘if he comes to camp in shape and plays with McDavid I think a guy with a career-high of 12 goals can more than double that to 25’ scenario he’d still be 10 shy of Kunitz’s best year.

  • Explicit

    I’m not much of an analytics guy, but is the 4% corsi difference between Eberle and yak worth the extra 3.5million Eberle is on the cap?

    I will forever bang the Yakupov drum, I miss #YakCity already!!!

  • Ed in Edmonton 1

    Stats, advanced or any other kind, become more meaningful as sample sizes increase. Stats based on small sample size, like the ones presented here, are not very convincing.

  • camdog

    So how is quality of competition incorporated into the above numbers? Generally the Oilers rack up numbers when playing Eastern Conference Teams, the last 16 games of the season they played one game against the east. The above numbers appear to be rife with statistical bias. I’m guessing that the Pouliot, McDavid and Eberle line was able to rack up numbers against eastern conference teams.

    • Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re right (I don’t think you are, for lots of reasons, but we’ll skip those).

      Does that mean you’re comfortable with a McDavid line that comes in below 50 percent by puck possession against Western Conference opponents? Do you think that’s a scenario that ends with Edmonton in the playoffs?

      • camdog

        Let’s see Feb 2 to about Feb 28 just after McDavid came back from injury and before Pouliot got hurt and Eberle was in the line up.

        Games against Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Islanders, New Jersey, Toronto, Winnipeg, Anaheim, Minnesota, Colorado, Ottawa, LA, Anaheim, Islanders. And the Oilers got absolutely handled during that stretch.

        If McDavid can’t win the faceoff, we are going to have to face the fact that we aren’t going to have possession, because Pouliot and Eberle aren’t going to go and get the puck and the opposition isn’t going to give them the puck.

        • camdog

          Connor McDavid scored 24 points in 15 games against eastern conference competition last season. Generally if you played with Connor and they were playing a spat of games against eastern conference teams, your numbers were superior to when he was playing Western Conference teams, regardless of who was on his line.

  • Another thing to keep in mind when projecting Patrick Maroon is who he played with in Anaheim. His most common linemates in 2014-15 (9 goals, career-high 34 points) were Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. His most common linemate in 2015-16 before being traded was Perry.

    It’s not like he was playing with chopped liver before landing on McDavid’s wing.

    And to be clear: I like Maroon and I really like the trade that brought him to Edmonton. I just don’t think, based on the evidence, that he should be a full-time left wing for McDavid.

  • toprightcorner

    Not sure if it is factual or just more recent to memory, but I recall Eberle being much worse defensively the last 20 or so games of the season. Not sure if he more directly had a negative impact on the corsi with Maroon on the line or the line together were equally worse. I just don’t recall many glaring defensive mistakes committed my Maroon in comparison to Eberle.

  • godot10

    Pouliot can skate and handle the puck at speed much better than Maroon, and is the best complementary winger to assist McDavid in transporting the puck up the ice, and it shows in the Corsi%

    McDavid can play faster with Pouliot than he can with Maroon.

    Hall carries the puck too much himself to be an effective winger for McDavid. One needs a winger willing to let McDavid be the alpha dog on the line, and that is not Hall.

    Pouliot is the best winger for McDavid to play to his strength…a fast rush game.

    I expect that we’ll see both Pouliot and Maroon with McDavid, and I expect Pouliot to win the battle over time. Maroon might be a better “half-court” player than Pouliot but Pouliot is a better “fast break” player, and McDavid should be allowed to play fast.

  • FireScorpion

    The empty cupboards of The oilers system is shocking it really is win now and I don’t see the help out there or enough smarts in Chrome dome’s head

  • Leaking5w-30

    What interests me is the mcdavid pou ebs lines good Corsi dispute d-zone starts. It confirms what my eye tells me… Mcdavid is great at d zone exits.

    I’d like an article comparing d zone exits. I think we had an article like that last summer and I really enjoyed it.

  • Randaman

    I can take the so called drop in what you call production with Maroon because he doesn’t seem to take stupid penalties like Pouliot does. He takes penalties that have purpose.

    That is valuable and will keep teams on notice not to mess with #97!!

    Pouliot doesn’t bring that, does he? Nuff said.

    Corsi be damned!!

  • Bills Bills

    The more I read JW talk advanced stats the more I hear the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon. Im not saying they don’t matter but we had the dri/hall and McD/Ebs combo for half a season and we were not among the best in the league at anything. Adding a healthy pouliot to that group is not going to turn the Oil fortunes around. Regardless who they play up front, until this team can get the puck out of their own zone the point is moot. Saying advanced stats are going to tell you exactly who should be playing with who on this team is like trying to steer a car that has a rear flat. Change the flat d and see how the car really handles.

  • btrain

    It is time for the Oil to assess need and avoid putting too much weight on overall talent. Yes Nuge is more valuable because he plays centre,yes Hall is a superior player. However Eberle should be the last traded of the group. The weakest forward position is right wing because after Ebs you have Kassian, assuming Yak is gone. And you can’t undervalue a guy who makes your best player even better. You also want that player to be right handed to complement McDavid left. Chia has enough work to do to address D, if he gets rid of Eberle he is going to also have to shop for 2 top 6 right wingers at a budget cost.

  • GCW

    ” Given the number of complementary right wings in free agency this year”

    Who are you talking about here?

    When I look on general fanager for four right shot wingers, I get:
    Doan (not going anywhere)
    Vrbata (27 points)
    Purcell (been there, done that, too slow)
    Jones (18 points)
    Brouwer (39 points,)
    Okposo (64 points)
    Parenteau (41 points)
    Stempniak (51 points)

    I see four possibles and only two likelies. If New Jersey calls Stempniak back, that could quickly drop to one.

    Are you seeing something different?

    Okposo would be a great fit, but I just can’t see him coming here, even with the new arena and McDavid.

  • The Goalie 1976

    What the stats don’t show, is the defense was significantly more healthy and better when Pouliot was in the line up.

    By the time we got Maroon, he was playing with Sekera/Fayne, and 4 AHL defenders.

    Something like has has a HUGE impact on statistics, and is easily forgotten or overlooked.

    Realistically, I’m fine with either Pouliot / Maroon on the LW with McDavid, rotating between the 2 when someone is on a hot streak. When they go cold and slump, play them on the 3rd.