Penalty kill options up front

Something to watch for this upcoming season is how the Oilers coaching staff assembles the penalty killing units. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the Oilers lost some key defensemen with Larsson and Bear now skating with other teams and are taking a risk if they’re expecting Keith and Ceci to take on those minutes and have success.

Things are just as interesting up front. Last season, nine forwards played at least ten minutes short-handed for the Oilers, with Archibald, Nugent-Hopkins, Khaira and Haas leading the team in total ice-time and average ice-time per game. Two of those four are playing elsewhere this coming season with Khaira signing with Chicago and Haas signing with EHC Biel Bienne in the Swiss league. And there’s a chance now that Archibald with miss significant time as an unvaccinated player. Considering how high the rate of shots and chances were when the Oilers deployed other depth forwards like Shore or Turris last season, it’s really looking like the new additions to the team, and perhaps even an emerging prospect, will take on a greater share of the penalty killing minutes.

For reference, the table below sorts the penalty killing forwards from the 2020/21 season by total ice time (TOI), and includes the percentage of the team’s total penalty kill ice time the player was on the ice for (TOI%) and time on ice per game played (TOI/GP). I’ve also included each player’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60), shots on goals against (SA/60) and goals against (GA/60). I’ve also included the table for the 2019/20 season.

What stands out when looking at the data is how much Tippett has relied on Archibald, deploying him for 43% of the team’s total penalty killing time in the 2020/21 season, which was only a slight increase from the 2019/20 season when Archibald finished with the second highest ice time (39% of the team’s total time) and average ice time among forwards, only behind Sheahan. It’s worth noting however that the Oilers allowed a significantly higher rate of shot attempts and shots against with Archibald on the ice, with a higher than normal on-ice save percentage keeping his rate of goals against within a reasonable range.  

Khaira’s numbers stand out as well. He gradually took on more and more responsibility seeing his average ice time per game grow from 1:30 in 2019/20 to just under two minutes in 2020/21. His on-ice results were solid as well, with the team allowing a lower rate of goals against with him on the ice than without him.

Haas was a nice addition to the Oilers penalty kill last season after Turris failed to secure the role. Likely because of his ability to shut down offence at even-strength, really at both ends of the rink, Haas was given a bigger role in 2020/21 and came through for the coaching staff. With Haas on the ice last season killing penalties, the Oilers posted the second lowest rate of shot attempts against, shots against as well as the lowest rate of goals against.

With Nugent-Hopkins likely staying on as a penalty-killer, who else could Tippett use to fill the vacant roles? Before looking at the options, a re-cap of what we know about Tippett and his coaching staff from their two years with the Oilers:

  • They typically use bottom six forwards on the penalty kill, with Nugent-Hopkins being the exception. Yamamoto did get some ice-time, as did Draisaitl, but they prefer to keep top-six players fresh for even-strength play and the powerplay.
  • Tippett likes having a right-handed forward option who can handle faceoffs as opposing powerplays often elect to have faceoffs on their left side. It was part of the reason why Turris was given the first opportunity to secure a role on the penalty kill.
  • The Oilers prefer veteran players who have a history on the penalty kill. Guys like Sheahan and Granlund were regular options averaging over two minutes per game with their previous teams before arriving in Edmonton and got the first opportunity to secure a regular spot in the rotation. The only youngster to get an opportunity on the penalty kill in the last two seasons is Ryan McLeod who played just under 11 minutes total in 2020/21.

Based on that criteria, here’s the list of options I have in mind that could be regular penalty killers in 2020/21:

  • Derek Ryan
  • Warren Foegele
  • Zach Hyman
  • Colton Sceviour

I know the coaching staff is going to look at Shore as an option. But the team allowed some of the highest rates of shot attempts and shots on goal against when he was on the ice last season. Plus, he’s never averaged more than 1:30 per game in a season, often ranking fifth or sixth in ice time on his previous teams. Turris cannot be an option at this point either, even though the team will do everything they can to squeeze some value out of him. He had poor on-ice numbers on the penalty kill before coming to Edmonton, and there really is nothing in his game or his history that indicates he can ever do well shorthanded. McLeod should also get some reps considering he’s a depth centerman and did have some nice numbers in his limited minutes last season – posting a very low rate of on-ice shots against and zero goals against in just under 11 minutes of ice-time. But that’ll depend on how much patience the coaching staff has for the young rookie and if they’re willing to develop him in a season when there’s a lot of pressure to win.

On to the options.

Derek Ryan is pretty close to meeting the coaching staff’s penalty kill criteria that I listed above. He’ll be a bottom six player for the Oilers next season. He’s right-handed and has a lot of success taking faceoffs. And while he hasn’t been averaging over two minutes of PK time per game, he’s typically been third or fourth in terms of total ice time and average ice time per game in his three seasons with Calgary. Considering his even-strength shot-suppression numbers are similar to Haas, I suspect he’ll take on similar minutes and hopefully have similar results on the penalty kill.

Warren Foegele is another option if he finds himself playing on the third line, potentially with Ryan. He was not a regular penalty killer during his three seasons in Carolina, averaging about a minute per game and ranking fifth or sixth in terms of ice time among forwards and taking the rare draw. The Hurricanes did see a drop in their rate of shot attempts against when he was on the ice, so there’s some potential there.

Zach Hyman could get a look on the penalty kill considering he averaged over two minutes per game in his last five seasons with the Leafs, took draws and had some good seasons in terms of on-ice rates of shots and goals against. Although he’ll likely be a top six forward at even-strength, there may not be space for him on the powerplay, freeing him up for the penalty kill.

Colton Sceviour is the one player that meets all three criteria and is probably the best option to replace Archibald’s minutes. He’s played over 500 NHL games. He’s right-handed and has experience taking faceoffs. And in his four seasons with Florida between 2016 and 2020, he lead his team in ice time on the penalty kill averaging over two minutes per game. And while he did see his average ice time per game drop last season in Pittsburgh, the club allowed a lower rate of shots and goals with him on the ice, similar to some of his seasons with Florida when he was on the first penalty killing unit. His career on-ice numbers are stronger than Archibald’s (refer to the Appendix), making him an ideal candidate for that first unit. This is all dependent of course on him showing well in training camp, finding some chemistry with a potential linemate and signing an NHL contract.

A lot of pressure on this team heading into the season, and I can’t imagine the coaching staff is too comfortable with so much change happening on the penalty kill. But while they’re losing key players up front, there appears to be some good options if the coaching staff is willing to try it out. The concern here is that they go with the players they know and have signed and give ice-time to Shore or Turris instead of someone like Sceviour who starts training camp on a PTO. We’ll see how things play out.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix: On-ice penalty killing numbers

One thought on “Penalty kill options up front

  1. Pingback: Moving on from Archibald | The SuperFan

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