Don’t Disparage Second Assists

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
2 years ago
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.
PlayersGPGoalsTotal Asst1st Asst2nd AsstPoints
Brent Burns454591337954192
Erik Karlsson391371376869174
Roman Josi427381277552165
John Carlson411451196554164
Victor Hedman42448995841147
Tyson Barrie424391076146146
Dougie Hamilton42954924547146
John Klingberg413241135855137
Alex Pietrangelo41339984949137
Morgan Rielly418321045450136
Mark Giordano43936974453133
Dmitry Orlov44835975047132
Kris Letang37235974057132
Mattias Ekholm441271014952128
Ryan Suter449221055154127
Jake Muzzin42430954055125
Ryan Ellis36032914546123
Seth Jones42128934845121
Alex Goligoski44422974255119
Keith Yandle453171005149117
Jaccob Slavin42920964155116
Jared Spurgeon41238773740115
Aaron Ekblad41237783642115
Darnell Nurse40437783246115
Torey Krug41419954748114
Duncan Keith42616963660112
Jeff Petry42132794138111
P.K. Subban39131804832111
Oliver Ekman-Larsson42929804139109
TJ Brodie42415943658109
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.
PlayersGPGoalsTotal Assts1st Asst2nd AsstPoints
Brent Burns454103272152120375
Victor Hedman42475261149112336
John Carlson41170263151112333
Erik Karlsson39159263136127322
Roman Josi42779238137101317
Kris Letang37268229112117297
Tyson Barrie42461229124105290
Torey Krug41443245138107288
John Klingberg41354233115118287
Keith Yandle45335243139104278
Drew Doughty45159209102107268
Mark Giordano4397718777110264
Dougie Hamilton429841748589258
Ryan Suter4494121598117256
Alex Pietrangelo413721838994255
Morgan Rielly4184920095105249
Oliver Ekman-Larsson429731617685234
Seth Jones421511839093234
Rasmus Ristolainen430361859788221
Shayne Gostisbehere379601596990219
P.K. Subban391531658877218
Jeff Petry421611538271214
Duncan Keith4263018070110210
Nick Leddy440351718883206
Jared Spurgeon412631416675204
Kevin Shattenkirk396441568571200
Ryan Ellis360551447965199
Jake Muzzin424441536687197
Shea Weber353781195465197
Aaron Ekblad412701255471195
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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