This past off-season, I put together a couple of posts on Horcoff and how he’d be a good addition to the Oilers bottom six. In his two seasons in Dallas, Horcoff was a reliable third line winger who produced well at even-strength, and even led the team in playoff points in 2013. I thought he would’ve been a smart, low cost addition to the Oilers and could move around the lineup as needed. And at the same time, he’d provide guidance to the young core, and slide into the pivot spot if/when an injury occurs. If you’re interested, the posts are here.
Bringing Back Horcoff
Bringing Back Horcoff (Part 2)
Brincing Back Horcoff (Part 3)
I can’t say I was too surprised when Horcoff signed with Anaheim for one year at $1.75 million. At 36, he’s near the end of his career and was looking to be on a Stanley Cup contender. What I found surprising was that the Ducks brought him in as a center to play behind Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, as Nate Thompson was going to be out until December following surgery. The fourth center from last season (based on the number of faceoffs taken) was young Rickard Rakell, who I though the team would give more minutes to to develop him as a pivot.
I figured now would be a good time to check in and see how Horcoff is doing as a Duck. What we know for sure is that he’s been the club’s third line center, playing most of his minutes at even-strength with Andrew Cogliano and Carl Hagelin. The trio have produced relatively well with Horcoff scoring four goals and three assists at even strength, ranking him third among the Ducks regular forwards when it comes to points/60 at 1.35. Horcoff has also played the fourth most minutes on the Ducks penalty kill, which currently ranks 2nd in the league. He’s taken the bulk of defensive zone starts and holds a 50.2 win percentage when it comes to faceoffs at even-strength.
For reference, here’s Horcoff’s current set of stats compared to the previous six years.
What’s worth noting is Horcoff’s increasing ice time at even-strength this season. Even with Nate Thompson returning this month, Horcoff continues getting his usual ice time, with young Rakell now being moved to wing, playing on the top line with Perry and Getzlaf. This moves bodes well for everyone involved, with the coaches having some flexibility if any centers go down with an injury.
The increased ice time had me wondering about his quality of competition, and if the increase is because he’s going up against the opposition’s top centers more frequently. Below is Horcoff’s competition’s percentage of ice-time courtesy of War on Ice.
Here we see that Horcoff is in fact taking on competition that gets a higher share of their teams ice time. To verify what I was seeing here, I checked the Ducks’ last five games to see which center’s Horcoff played against and how he did in terms of shot differentials.
||Most TOI Against (Even-strength)
||H. Sedin/D. Sedin
Not only has Horcoff been going head to head against the top competition, but he’s actually been doing alright when it comes to shot differentials. Just to be sure, I wanted to confirm that the other two Ducks’ centermen were actually seeing weaker competition now that Horcoff is taking on the Crosby’s and Stamkos’. Here’s a look at the percentage of ice time Getzlaf’s and Kesler’s competition gets.
Coach Bruce Boudreau was clearly throwing Getzlaf and Perry against the other team’s top lines, but has moved away from that strategy in an attempt to bolster the offence. I think it’s smart move on his part to look for matchups that would benefit his top two lines. And really, none of that would be possible if Horcoff wasn’t added this past off-season.
Lastly, I wanted to see what proportion of goals and shot attempts Horcoff was achieving with his most common linemates this season.
I think the Ducks should be encouraged by the fact that these three have had chemistry and have the ability to take on the tougher competition. Horcoff is posting a Corsi For % above 50% with both Cogliano and Hagelin, and I would hesitate in splitting them up even with Thompson back in the lineup.
The Ducks made a great signing bringing in Horcoff this off-season. He’s been a productive depth centerman who filled in nicely for Thompson, and might even hang on to that third line center spot for the rest of the season. This surprised me for two reasons: one, I thought he was done being a centerman. And two, Thompson and Rakell appeared to have those center spots held down for good behind Kesler and Getzlaf. Anything can happen in an NHL season, but it’s nice to see Horcoff carving out a regular role as a Duck.
As for the team itself, the Ducks started off very poorly and are still languishing at the bottom of a very weak Pacific Division. The team has shown improvements, now sitting at a 52.1% score adjusted Corsi (7th in the league), and a 50.4% when it comes to scoring chances (15th in the league). These are both major improvements from the first month of the season when the club ranked in the bottom third in both categories. Unfortunately, the club’s inconsistent goaltending combined with a 4.9% shooting percentage (last in the league) and a 30th ranked Goals For% will need to improve if the club has any hopes for the playoffs.
Sources of data: War on Ice, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Analysis, NHL.com