Kyle Turris as an option on the Oilers penalty kill

Nashville Predators: 10 Games In, 5 Burning Questions We Have

With Riley Sheahan signing a professional tryout agreement with the Buffalo Sabres, the Edmonton Oilers will need to find another forward or two to add to their penalty kill rotation this coming season.

Sheahan lead the Oilers forwards in shorthanded ice time last season, playing 155 minutes and averaging 2:21 minutes per game. Leaguewide, he was in the top 25 among all forwards in ice-time, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for him as he’d often been relied on as one the top penalty killers for his previous clubs. The Oilers, as we know, finished the 2019/20 regular season with the second best rate of goals against on the penalty kill with 5.15 per hour, due in large part to their goaltending. While the Oilers allowed the ninth highest rate of shots against, the team save percentage was the best in the league with 90.61% – well above league average levels.

When asked about the penalty kill and adjusting to life without Sheahan on the roster, head coach Dave Tippett had this to say on The Jason Gregor Show on Wednesday:

We’ve added some extra depth. I think you’ll see Turris come in and penalty kill. Haas really came on in the second half of the year. I think he could get some of that. We’ve got Josh Archibald here still. I like the structure…[Oilers associate coach] Jim Playfair does a nice job with our players.

Having the right handed centerman…instead we had Riley [Sheahan] who was a left hander. We got JJ Khaira too that can take face offs there. Having the right hander I think will help us. The one thing in the NHL, the team that goes on the powerplay gets to pick the side of the faceoff they’re going on. Majority of teams pick what would be our right corner, their left corner. So having a right handed faceoff guy there to start with puck as many times as you can will be a benefit for us.

I think Turris will do a good job for us. I had him in the same role at World Championships about five years ago. He was a good penalty killer for us there. He hasn’t done much the last couple years but we’re going to push him into that role a little more, so I think our penalty kill will be fine. Source: The Jason Gregor Show (2020, December 30)

I always appreciate it when coaches like Tippett take the time to share their knowledge and go a little deeper into their thought process. It doesn’t have to be detailed or too technical, but just enough insight that, when well communicated, can go a long way in educating fans and helping grow the game.

Couple things stood out for me in Tippett’s comments. First, Tippett has zeroed in on defensive zone faceoffs and improving in that area to get positive results on the penalty kill. Last season, the Oilers ranked 25th in the league when it came to defensive zone faceoffs when shorthanded with 41.8%. The league average was 44.6%, with Philadelphia and Vancouver being the only two teams above 50%. The Oilers relied solely on their left-handed centermen – Sheahan, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl – to take defensive zone draws, with Draisaitl posting the best rate among the three with 48.8%. Sheahan finished with 40.7% and Nugent-Hopkins finished with 36.7%. Now with Turris slated to be a centerman in a bottom six that Tippett likes to rely on for penalty kill duties, he’ll be a prime candidate to take on at least some of those minutes left vacated by Sheahan.

I’m just not sure that Turris can be a guy that could have a positive impact on the penalty kill.

For one, he’s barely played on the penalty kill in recent years. In 62 games with Nashville last season, Turris played just over 40 minutes shorthanded and averaging 39 seconds per game, which had him seventh on the team among forwards. This appears to have been a way for the coaching staff to get Turris more ice time as he had gradually been falling further down the depth chart. In the two seasons prior with Nashville, he wasn’t a regular option at all on the penalty kill, spending more time in the top six and on the powerplay units.

The last time Turris was a regular option on the penalty kill was in his first two seasons in Ottawa between 2013 and 2014. He was third in total ice time among Senator forwards in the lockout-shortened season, averaging 1:25 per game, and played 142 minutes in 82 games the following season (2013/14), averaging 1:44 per game – good for third among all forwards on the team. The Senators penalty kill ranked 22nd in the league that season allowing 7.03 goals per hour, and 19th when it came to the rate of shots against.

Turris saw his penalty kill ice time drop down to 60 minutes in 82 games the following season in 2014/15, ranking seventh among forwards in average ice time per game with 0:44, and then drop even further in 2015/16 when he averaged only 0:19 per game. In 2016/17, and near the end of his tenure with the Senators, Turris did see an uptick in his penalty kill ice time over 78 games where he played about 43 seconds per game, ranking seventh among forwards.

What stands out in Turris’ penalty kill numbers are the rates of shots against when he’s been on the ice. In 2013/14 when Turris was third on his team among forwards in average ice time per game, the Senators allowed 12 more shots against per hour with him on the ice. Similar issue occurred the year before as the Senators allowed an extra 14 shots against per hour with Turris on the ice. Considering that on average teams allow about 54 shots against per hour, that’s about a 22% increase in shots against with Turris deployed. This might be why Ottawa’s coaching staff gradually reduced his ice time on the penalty kill and why Nashville didn’t give him any ice time shorthanded in his first two seasons as a Predator. And when Nashville did give him some reps on the penalty kill last season – perhaps to increase his trade value – they allowed an extra 12 shots against per hour with Turris on the ice. This translated to about a 24% increase in shots against per hour with Turris on the ice, which is consistent with his career averages on the penalty kill.

Where Turris might be able to help on the penalty kill is with defensive zone draws. He was poor last season in limited minutes with Nashville, only winning four of twelve draws. But over his career on the penalty kill, Turris has a 50.5% face off percentage in the defensive zone with his best season coming in Ottawa in 2013/14 when he won 55.8%. This might have been why Tippett had him on the penalty kill for Canada at the 2014 World Championships. Remember, the Oilers ranked near the bottom of the league in winning shorthanded defensive zone face offs last season with 41.8%, while the league average was 44.8%. There’s obviously more to defensive zone draws like what actually happens after a draw in terms of shots and goals against, and the team’s strategies to control the ice. But faceoff win percentage appears to have been one of the factors in the Oilers decision to sign Turris.

Perhaps Tippett is envisioning Turris’ role as what Tyler Dellow would refer to as a FOGO guy – face off, get off. This would mean someone like Gaetan Haas, who Tippett mentioned as a legitimate option, sees more playing time on the penalty kill as a right handed centerman to replace Turris after a draw. Haas was not a regular penalty kill option for the coaching staff last season, only playing a total of six minutes, and was poor when it came to face-offs winning only 42% in all situations. So it might be his defensive play at even-strength that has him in the discussion for shorthanded ice time. While offence pretty much died when he or any of the bottom six forwards were on the ice last season, Haas’ on-ice defensive numbers were strong. The Oilers allowed their lowest rate of shots against among regular forwards with Haas on the ice, perhaps making him an ideal candidate to see more time on the penalty kill.

It’ll be interesting to see how things play out this coming season and how exactly Turris will be deployed on the penalty and if he can have a positive impact. If Turris can flourish there as a FOGO guy in a tandem with someone like Haas, great. It could free-up the skilled forwards like Draisaitl and maybe even Nugent-Hopkins to spend more time and energy at even-strength. If not, the coaching staff will have to make adjustments on the fly and figure things out to remain competitive in their division.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck Base

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

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