In recent years there seems to be an attack on “second assists,” as if they are somehow they are less valuable than first assists. I don’t get it, because no two assists are alike, whether they are the first or second. Sometimes the second assist was more important than the first.
Last season Tyson Barrie led NHL D-men in second assists with 27. He was 18th in first assists, but a small percentage of people claimed many of the second assists were meaningless assists and he was padding his stats with second assists. He led D-men with 48 points. Adam Fox was second with 47 points and he had the second most second assists. In 2020 John Carlsson led D-men in points, and he had the most second assists. Roman Josi was second in points and third in second assists. In 2019 Brent Burns led D-men in points and he was third in second assists, while Mark Giordano was second in points and first in second assists. I sense a trend. But I digress.
While I don’t agree with the general statement “Second assists are less important,” I do recognize that in some cases, especially for D-men, some assists can be rather simple. Make a five to ten foot pass out of your zone, and then watch the forwards score on the rush. It will happen, especially if your forwards are named Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, Alex Barkov, Auston Matthews and others.
I wanted to look at a larger sample size to see if certain D-men are more prone to second assists. I looked at the last six NHL seasons. I choose six, because NaturalStatTrick works in a maximum of three-year intervals. It made for quicker calculation, plus six years is a pretty good sample size.
Here are the top-30 scoring D-men in 5×5 points over the past six seasons.
|Players||GP||Goals||Total Asst||1st Asst||2nd Asst||Points|
Brent Burns was an offensive machine.
Barrie was sixth in total assists and sixth in points and he was fifth in first assists. Barrie had 57% of his assists as first assists. Brent Burns, Viktor Hedman and Roman Josi had 59%. PK Subban actually had the highest (60%), but he was 26th in total assists. Over six seasons Barrie has not relied heavily on second assists.
Next I wanted to look at total points and see if that altered things.
|Players||GP||Goals||Total Assts||1st Asst||2nd Asst||Points|
Not much changed. The top players saw their first assist percentage drop a few percentage points, although John Carlson’s did jump from 54% at 5×5 to 57% overall. Six D-men who were in the top-30 in 5×5 points dropped out of the top-30 overall, mainly because they didn’t play much on the powerplay. Dmitri Orlov, Mattias Ekholm, Alex Goligoski, Jaccob Slavin, Darnell Nurse and TJ Brodie dropped out, while Drew Doughty, Rasmus Ristolainen, Shayne Ghostisbehere, Nick Leddy, Kevin Shattenkirk and Shea Weber cracked the top 30.
Barrie’s first assist percentage dropped from 57% at 5×5 to 54% overall. This was similar to drops of a few percentage points for many D-men, but he was still one of a small group that was 54% or higher.
It is accurate to say Barrie did have more second assists last season, and I could see that continuing this season because of the forwards he plays with. But historically that hasn’t been the case. He’s actually been near the top in first assist% for much of his career.
As Barrie ages, combined with the fact he plays with two of the NHL’s most productive forwards off the rush, it isn’t surprising to me he will have more second assists than first assists. I think last year’s split of 5-13 (first/second assists at 5×5) was a bit of an outlier. I could see that split dropping from 27%-73% (1st-2nd) to likely around 45-55% this season.
Only four D-men had double digit first assists at 5×5 last year. Thomas Chabot had 14, Justin Schultz had 12, Brett Pesce and Ty Smith each had 10. If Barrie had two or three more first assists he’d have been ranked between 10-25th.
I wouldn’t get too caught up in trying to downplay second assists, or disparaging players because they have them. The tables above show how even the most offensively prolific D-men usually hover around a 50-50 split in first to second assists overall with some of the top D-men ranging between 55-59%.
Barrie did have 13 first assist in 56 games last season. Here are the Oilers’ leading D-men in first assists and points since McDavid arrived.
2016: Andrej Sekera had 13 first assists and 30 points in 81 games.
2017: Oscar Klefbom had 15 first assists and 38 points in 82 games.
2018: Nurse had eight first assists and 26 points in 82 games.
2019: Nurse had 12 first assists and 41 points in 82 games.
2020: Nurse with 12 first assists and 33 points in 71 games.
2021: Barrie had 13 first assist and 48 points in 56 games. Prorates to 19 first assists and 70 points in 82 games.
Barrie is not elite defensively, but he’s among the NHL’s elite offensive defenceman.
If he produces 60+ points this season then Edmonton likely will have a solid regular season.
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