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Who is doing the shooting on the Leafs?

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The answer may surprise you

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Because I am a nerd, I spend a fair amount of time just puttering around hockey stats websites, looking at various Leafs players. One thing I like to look at in particular is which players are doing the shooting on a given line. Luckily for us, HockeyViz tracks this exact thing.

The x-axis is the percentage of the team’s shots taken by a given player when on the ice. Here, shots are all shots directed to the net: blocked, missed, on net, and goals.

The y-axis is the percentage of those shots that have turned into goals. League average for forwards is about 5.67%. League average for defensemen is 1.79% (both figures are for this season).

Defencemen

There are a few interesting takeaways here. Lets start with the defensemen. The most obvious thing is that Rielly and Gardiner (Rielly in particular) take more shots than their defense partner. This is natural, given their offensive gifts. Rielly has the shot frequency of a forward right now. Per minute of ice time, he’s shooting more frequently than any Leaf not named Auston. This is well above his shot rate in years past.

To some extent, that is probably a little suboptimal. Rielly gets up in the play a lot for a defenseman, but a lot of his shots are still relatively low value shots from the point.

Then again, the Leafs still generate oodles of high danger scoring chances with Rielly on the ice, irrespective of whichever top-9 line he plays with (Rielly rarely plays with the fourth line). So if there is some cannibalizing effect that is to the detriment of the Leafs offense, it is more than made up for by the non-shot selection aspects of Rielly’s game.

The other thing to notice with Rielly is that he’s converting at three times the rate of an average NHL defenseman, another aspect of his play that is well beyond what he’s done in previous years. That will probably not continue to the same degree.

Travis Dermott is interesting. He’s characterized as an offensive defenseman, and indeed, he does have a profound impact on shots and expected goals when he’s on the ice. However, he doesn’t monopolize offense among defensemen to the same degree that Gardiner and Rielly do. This has something to do with Ozhiganov’s willingness to fire his shot; it’s a weapon Hainsey and Zaitsev don’t have.

Forwards

The forwards have more to discuss. The first and most alarming thing I noticed was Patrick Marleau, who is neither shooting a lot, nor converting at a high rate. Katya remarked in a recent article that his shot rate and locations have fallen notably. That change in shot rate is borne out here.

It’s early, and it could just be a slump, but Marleau’s unblocked* shot rate has slipped from 10.72 shot attempts per 60 minutes to 7.64. His expected conversion percentage on unblocked shots has also slipped, from 7.75% to 6.68%. These may seem like small changes, but when you put them together, his individual expected goal rate (per 60 minutes) has dropped from 0.88 to 0.52. Over 1000 5v5 minutes (roughly one season), that’s a difference of 6 goals at 5v5.

*I’m using unblocked shot rates here because that’s what goes into expected goals

To my eye, Marleau has looked a little better in the last few games, but a declining shot rate and worse shot locations could be signs that his age is catching up to him. To be fair to Marleau, it’s possible that a part of this is simply that he played with Matthews to start the season, and Matthews (justifiably) sucks up a lot of the shots.

The samples are too small to read anything into his individual shot rates with and without Matthews this season. But it’s a stat that I’m going to be keeping my eye on for the rest of the season. Marleau’s shooting percentage should also climb upwards; aside from being bad, he’s also been unlucky, which is not a fun combination.

John Tavares and Auston Matthews are where you expect them to be on this graphic, taking a lot of the shots when they’re on the ice, and doing a lot with them. We can probably expect them to regress downwards a bit, though both have the ability to maintain conversion percentages significantly above the NHL average. It’s somewhat more surprising to see Kasperi Kapanen right there with them. Kapanen has no track record of outstanding shooting percentage at the NHL level; in fairness, it’s hard to do that with the minutes and linemates he had prior to this season. However, even in his stints in depth roles, Kapanen created shots. This year, he’s done that to an even higher degree. And not just quantity, but quality too.

His speed also means that a non-negligible portion of these shots are rush chances, 2-on-1s, and breakaways. As such, his individual expected goal rate is very strong, ranking in the top 30 league-wide (Auston Matthews and John Tavares join him on this list). While this stat can still be fairly noisy at this part of the year, it is a very good sign that he is generating so many chances. As we do with every forward converting over 10% of their shots into goals, we expect to see the shooting percentage tick down. But Kapanen’s strong start has been 100% legit, and his individual shot generation makes me confident he’s a top six player.

There’s actually another Leaf in the top 30 of the league-wide table for individual expected goals. It’s none other than Tyler Ennis. He’s been legitimately good, and if you can believe it, this high level of individual expected goals is not new to him... He’s always been above average at it. The main thing working against him now is that he plays with Frederik Gauthier, so he is never going to get assists. That will hold doubly true if Josh Leivo keeps sporting a 0% shooting percentage. Leivo is getting in good positions and taking shots, which is his role on that line. It just hasn’t clicked for him.

Right next to Ennis is Marner. Marner is not an elite volume shooter, nor is he a terribly high percentage shooter. Of course, we know that’s not where his bread is buttered. He remains an elite passer and transitional player, and a dominant offensive player overall.

The other players aren’t too notable. Nazem Kadri is about where he always is. Connor Brown is his usual combination of low shot volume but relatively high conversion (the Tyler Bozak special). Andreas Johnsson and Par Lindholm are floating around in the middle of shot proportion, with neither being reasonably expected to convert well above average.

You can learn a lot from a single chart, or at least I can. Hopefully, you did too.

Acknowledgements

All stats are from Natural Stat Trick, except expected goals, which is from Corsica.