Without question, the 2016-17 season has been a terrible one for winger Benoit Pouliot. In 443 minutes this season, Pouliot has scored 5 goals and added 3 assists (all of which have been primary) at even strength, which ranks him 10th on the team among 15 forwards who have played at least 50 minutes this season. His 1.08 points per hour (P/60) is well below his career average coming into this season, ranks him dead last among the 15 forwards.
If we look at Pouliot’s relative-to-team stats, we see that across the five metrics (see Appendix for definitions), the teams that he’s been on have often done better with him on the ice than without him, with the current season being an exception. This ability to be a positive influence is likely what drew the Oilers to him when he hit free agency in the summer of 2014. The Oilers at the time desperately needed an experienced winger who could support the developing core at the time, and made the right call signing a versatile forward like Pouliot while he was still in his prime.
Unfortunately for Pouliot, the team has done better without him on the ice this season, which is surprising considering his history of being a positive influence. This season, the team has been outscored 13-15 with Pouliot on the ice, but has maintained a 50% share of all of the shot attempts with him. The issue for Pouliot has been the penalties he has taken, as he’s tied for the worst penalty differential with Kassian, sitting at -6 (i.e., he’s taken 12, but only drawn 6).
We also have to keep in mind here the McDavid effect when assessing the 2016-17 rel stats above. When McDavid is not on the ice, the Oilers see a drop in production as they have a 49.98% share of the shot attempts, and 45.54% of the goals. Pouliot has only been on the ice for 20 minutes with McDavid this season, as Maroon and Lucic have been the regular left wingers, so it’s fair to compare how Pouliot’s on-ice numbers compared to McDavid’s off ice numbers. I’d be a lot more concerned with Pouliot’s production if his on-ice numbers were lower than the McDavid off-ice numbers.
|Metric||McDavid off ice||Pouliot on ice|
What I do wonder is what impact the coaching staff’s constant line juggling this is having on players including Pouliot. What’s become pretty obvious is that McLellan bases a lot of his lineup decisions on actual results – specifically goals. That’s completely understandable if you’re trying to ride a hot hand when a combination of players are scoring, but you’re also quick to break up what could be a good line if they’re not scoring. To assess what could be a successful line combination in the future, the share of shot attempts (Corsi or Fenwick), and the expected goal share (xGF%), the more predictive metrics, needs to be reviewed. Relying solely on goal-share, while understandable, is risky as goal production is often influenced by more random factors, as players (shooting percentage) and goalies (save percentage) can run hot and cold through a season.
Couple issues I see for Pouliot. One, he hasn’t had consistent linemates this year, as he’s been constantly shuffled around the bottom nine, sometimes with Caggiula, sometimes with RNH, and sometimes in the press box. In my opinion, he should be lined up with RNH at any given moment, as they could be relied on to match up against the other team’s top lines. RNH has struggled mightily this season, but if he can be paired with Pouliot and Eberle for a long stretch of games, I think the team can benefit. Keep in mind that the trio posted a 53% Corsi For percentage together coming into this season and that was not in any sort of sheltered role. They did get outscored 26-28, but again we have to put that into context as the goaltending was pretty bad last season and impacted their goal-share.
The other issue I see is how quickly Pouliot has been punished for taking penalties. Again, this is understandable from a coaches perspective as these penalties have been in the offensive zone and have lead to a powerplay goal against. Unfortunately for the Oilers, playing on the edge is a part of Pouliot’s game and it’s made him an effective NHL player. Yes, penalties do get called against him, but more often than not in previous years his fore-checking and aggressive, often risky, play is what’s lead to turnovers and shots on goal. Punishing a player who has relied on this type of play can easily have a detrimental effect as they may hesitate, even for a split second, to engage along the boards in an attempt to create offence.
One last thing – the Oilers need to roll out Pouliot on the penalty kill as often as they can. The club is still allowing a higher than average number of unblocked shot attempts against (68.60 per hour). But when Pouliot is on the ice, the rate of shots against drops to 61.13 per hour, fourth lowest on the team among all players who have played at least 30 minutes on the penalty kill.
Data: Corsica Hockey
Appendix – Definition of metrics
- Corsi For% (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and can predict a team’s future share of goals.
- Fenwick For% (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightlty better than Corsi.
- Scoring Chances For% (SCF%) – The proportion of all the scoring chances (as defined by Corsica Hockey) that the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Scoring Chances For/(Scoring Chances For + Scoring Chances Against),
- Expected Goals For% (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot. This has been found to be a better predictor of future goals than Corsi and Fenwick. (Detailed explanation can be found at Corsica Hockey)
- Goals For% (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).
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