Even Strength Shooting of the New Jersey Devils Forwards: 2007-2010

TRENTON, NJ - MAY 25: New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise is presented a proclamation by New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie during Zach Parise Reads to Students at the State Library on May 25, 2010 in Trenton, New Jersey. The proclamation did not state: "I AM AN EVEN STRENGTH SHOT MACHINE" (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images for the New Jersey Devils)

Today, Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey followed up something he did last year by looking at the ESS/60, or the even strength shooting rate per 60 minutes, of the Edmonton Oilers.  His original post on the topic (which I have yet to find as of this writing) had this intriguing finding, quoted in his post today:

For those who don’t know, this [ESS/60] is an astoundingly repeatable metric. Drops in shot production like that suffered by Penner and Nilsson are not usual. I think that the chart kind of gives you a fair sense of it - you can see that this stuff generally operates within a pretty narrow realm.

As amusing as it was for a jumping off point to further explain how bad J-F Jacques is as a hockey player, it got me to thinking about the New Jersey Devils.  Intuitively, when we think of shot machines, Zach Parise would be at the top.  However, where would someone like David Clarkson rank? Where would Patrik Elias end up now that he's behind Parise in the depth chart?  What would be considered great for a bottom six forward?  And so forth.

Thanks to Behind the Net, I'm able to answer those questions and more.  Gabe at Behind the Net has stored individual shooting totals from the past 3 seasons for all 5-on-5 even strength situations.  I used those numbers to come up with the ESS/60 of the Devils forwards from those three seasons.  My parameters were all Devils forwards who played a minimum of 20 games that season and had a minimum TOI/60 of 5.  This way I'm including Jay Pandolfo among guys like Jamie Langenbrunner. I ultimately want to see how the Devils forwards fared in a majority of the game - which is 5-on-5 hockey - when it comes to shooting. 

Incidentally, I didn't consider defensemen on the basis that the forwards have done the majority of the shooting on this team for the past three seasons anyway.  I may consider a follow-up post on the blueliners if there's anything interest there.

Find out who's been a prolific shooter, who's been consistent from season to season, and who's been the sharpest at even strength in the last three seasons of Devils hockey after the jump.

Let's begin with 2007-08:

2007-08_devils_es_shooting_medium

Note: Shooting percentage is calculated here as goals over goals plus shots.  Gabe records shots as just shots on goal, not shots that actually went in; so to get a proper shooting percentage, you have to add goals since all goals are shots on net.   I decided to do this myself as his

OK, so the most prolific shooters in 5-on-5 hockey for the Devils in 07-08 were Elias, Brian Gionta, and Parise.  This shouldn't be a surprise.  Parise really started coming into his own in this season (it's no surprise his shooting percentage was the best among these three), Elias was still the top forward on the team, and while Gionta's goals were falling, it wasn't for a lack of effort.

Beyond those three is where it gets interesting.  Notice how low Pandolfo was, yet his shooting percentage was the best on the team.  Newcomer Dainius Zubrus was moved around a bit, but wherever he went, he wasn't bombing away.  This is a striking difference from David Clarkson, Mike Rupp, and Rod Pelley.  They definitely weren't scorers, but when they got on the ice, they made a point of it to shoot when they had the chance.  Personally I prefer this happening than, say, Aaron Asham or Sergei Brylin as to generate shots means that you have the puck, you have it in your opponent's end, and you're confident to take some chances. 

Lastly, note where Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac are: below the team median.  Perhaps this could be a result of playing with Parise, someone who definitely made a point of it to shoot; but they still managed over a 100 shots apiece.  Keep an eye on their shooting rates in the following seasons along with Parise, Elias, Zubrus, and Clarkson. 

Moving on to 2008-09, we see some movement:

2008-09_devils_es_shooting_medium

Zach Parise soars to put up over 10 even strength, 5-on-5 shots per 60 minutes, which is not only impressive but a big reason why he put up over 40 goals that season.   Parise truly blossomed in 2008-09 not just with a big increase in points, but in getting the job done at even strength.  His shooting percentage is equally impressive given the sheer number of shots he put up.

Patrik Elias slipped notably down to just over 9 shots per 60, but still put up one of the highest rates on the team.  He had a point per game season; looking back on that fact, I can't help but think that still being able to generate plenty of shots played a key role in that.  Staying healthy, of course, helps as well.  While Parise truly cemented his spot as the team's top forward, Elias definitely didn't falter in the wake of his "replacement."

Brian Gionta actually improved his rate in 08-09; while it didn't lead to a big point total like Parise or Elias,   What's more impressive is that David Clarkson is again fourth on this list.  All too often, players are praised for hard work, but here we have evidence that his hard work is offensively fruitful.  Clarkson has always been a bold player on the ice, and along with his grinder style of game, he's able to put up more than his fair share of shots at even strength. This season would be a three-season high for him, but I assure you that he didn't slip all that much in 09-10.

Jamie Langenbrunner's and Travis Zajac's even strength shooting rate increased; almost in spite of Parise's rise in his shooting rate.  So much for the notion that Parise was a puck hog.  The Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner line bulldozed through opposition defenses, racking up both shots and goals.  Ergo, their rates all rose.   Yet Langenbrunner is just below the median like in 07-08 and Zajac actually fell in the rankings.  Weird.

Speaking of weird, check out the newbies.  For all the criticism he gets, Brian Rolston shot at a pretty good rate at 5-on-5.  Ditto for mid-season pickup Brendan Shanahan; and the return of Bobby Holik - 7.1 shots per 60 at 5-on-5 from the fourth line is a good number, no?   Speaking of fourth liners, Mike Rupp's rate fell in his final season as a Devil, but still put up a respectable rate of about 7 even strength shots per 60.   A further testament to how good he was (you'll see why in 09-10). 

He was definitely more of a positive on offense than, say, Jay Pandolfo.  Poor Jay, his wonderful shooting percentage in 07-08 at even strength fell like an anvil thrown off a cliff.   His shooting rate at 5-on-5 hockey only dipped slightly.  I'd like to think this further confirms Tyler's original conclusion. A few bounces here and there can reinforce a player's scoring totals and make him look better than what a more controllable stat like ESS/60 may say. The same can largely be said for John Madden, though, he had a higher shooting rate.

In 2009-10, the Devils were hit with injuries and so more forwards got their shot to make their mark.

2009-10_devils_es_shooting_medium

Zach Parise's ESS/60 may have fell a bit, but he kept it over 11 while showing everyone that 2008-09 wasn't a fluke at all.  Maintaining a similarly high shooting rate at even strength further bolsters that notion.  The guy's a beast at 5-on-5 hockey.  On top of this, Zajac has hit a three-season high last season; and Langenbrunner continued to put up an ESS/60 above 7.  If there's any reason to keep ZZ Pops together, then here's a good one - all three players thrived in their shooting at even strength hockey in the two seasons they largely played together.

What's really amazing are the three guys behind Parise: Rod Pelley, Brian Rolston, and (for the third straight season) David Clarkson.   While you may malign Pelley as just an energy forward and malign Rolston for, well, Rolston's contract; the two definitely weren't shy to shoot.  Rolston increased his shooting totals in all situations last season compared to 08-09; and Pelley did more than just throw hits, he made an effort to get shots on net.   As for Clarkson, I think it's clear that his consistently above-8 ESS/60 was no fluke.   He actually had quite a good shooting percentage at even strength and it leads me to believe that if he was healthy, Clarkson could have put up 12 or 13 even strength goals.

What's amazing but not in a good way is how the new players added to ESS/60.  It wasn't so much that Vladimir Zharkov, Dean McAmmond, Andrew Peters, Ilkka Pikkarainen, and Matt Halischuk put up low rates like Rob Niedermayer and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond  Yet, each one was worse than the lowest ESS/60 new guy of 08-09, Bobby Holik. Though, Zharkov did come close to Holik's 7.146 shots per 60 rate with 7.087.  Given this along with Zharkov's solid Corsi numbers, if he would ever develop a shot, then he'll be set for a good NHL career.

The biggest drop off in 09-10, unfortunately, was Patrik Elias.  I know he was injured. I know he was shuffled throughout the lineup like many on the team.  I know he had to play center or playmaker at times.  I'm still baffled how he goes from 10.495 to 9.005 to 6.733 in three seasons.  That's too big of a drop to just say it's luck.  Was he used that much differently last year?  Were his injuries that much of a problem?  Was he undermined by other players taking more chances?  I'm loathe to suggest it's age given that the older, less productive Brian Rolston has a far higher shooting rate than Elias.  I'm honestly confused over this and I hope he bounces back in 2010-11.

Speaking of coming back in 2010-11, should Ilya Kovalchuk be wearing Devils red, he should be able to have one of the better ESS/60 rates on the team.  Granted, those numbers include his time in Atlanta when he was the undisputed top man on the team.  Should he return, he'll still be behind Parise in terms of shots and in the rate of shooting; but I don't think he'll wilt.   He's too good of a shooter. In fact, I almost want to start drooling over the thought of a guy who shoots over 15% at even strength. 

Lastly, note that Dainius Zubrus continued to be on the lower end of ESS/60 on the team, but he's improved from season to season. I wonder if he'll crack 6 shots per 60 minutes next season?  We won't know if Pandolfo will as he was bought out of New Jersey; though we can at least say he upped his shooting rate. 

So What Does All of This Mean?

Looking at a player's even strength shooting rate per 60 minutes gives us an idea of what to expect from the player in 5-on-5 situations.  We can (further) confirm that Zach Parise is a monster at  even strength, generating shots and scoring sweet goals.  However, we can also conclude who else is carrying the load on other lines.  Rod Pelley and David Clarkson has maintained a high rate regardless of not being on a scoring line.  For them, it's a reason to favor them in a bottom six role or to argue that they deserve more ice time.  They're not just throwing hits and creating "energy," they're contributing to the offense. As soon as he develops a shot and has some good luck, we can add Vladimir Zharkov among them should he have a similarly productive season at shooting the puck.

As with most stats, sometimes they present findings that are surprising.  We can tell by watching Dainius Zubrus that he has his use on the team, but the numbers don't lie: he's not creating space for his own shots, but for others to benefit.  Over three seasons, to expect Zubrus to become an ES shot machine now is unreasonable.  Likewise, while the production hasn't been enough to justify the contract, we can't say Brian Rolston hasn't been trying at 5-on-5. Rather, he's been more prolific than even the more productive and useful (and cheaper contracts) Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac.  

Lastly, it can be used to re-think what a player's role will be in the coming season.  I'm now concerned about Elias next season.  I don't think his talents diminished, but his sharp decline in 09-10 in ESS/60 was too sharp to think it'll just go away.  Head coach John MacLean has to look at something like that and wonder what situation Elias needs to be in to create more shots.  At the same time, Elias himself has to adjust his game to contribute more shots if he wants to want to reach the levels of production he had in 08-09.   On a more positive note, it's going to be a good problem for MacLean to figure out where to put Ilya Kovalchuk if he does stay a Devil.  Kovalchuk saw many different combinations last season and it didn't undercut all of what he did last season in terms of ESS/60.  Imagine him for a whole season with a combination he's comfortable in. Imagine the shots and goals that would result and smile.

In any case, I'd like to know what you think.  What do you make of the even strength shooting rates of the Devils?  Did any of the findings change your mind about a specific player or a season that a player had?  What do you hope for next season?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading; and thanks to Tyler Dellow for the inspiration and Gabe at Behind the Net for the numbers.

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