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Why isn’t Seth Griffith in the NHL?

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Griffith has hopped from team to team to team this year, and has landed back in the AHL, right where Boston wanted him.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A little review of history is in order first before we tackle this season.

Seth Griffith was a fifth round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2012, and he turned pro in 2013. He finished second on the Providence Bruins behind fellow rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, and fifth on the team in points per game with .72. League wide, that rate was good for 119th, higher if you put in a minimum for games played. But for context, it is identical to a Toronto Marlie that year: Greg McKegg.

In his second year, he played a handful of NHL games and spent a part season in Providence due to injury. He was fifth on the team in points, but third in points per game with .79. David Pastrnak, in his rookie season, had 1.12 points per game.

Last year, he again had a handful of NHL games and then played nearly a full AHL season. He led his team in points, had 1.35 points per game, and was second only to Frank Vatrano by that marker. Khokhlachev’s scoring rate had gone up too, and Providence had shot up from a lower half of the league team to one of the best. They scored a lot of goals.

Khokhlachev went to the KHL, unhappy with not making the jump to the NHL he thought he deserved. He signed with SKA St. Petersburg, a team that seemed to be signing players just to keep other teams from having them. He played 25 games and had 10 points this season.

Meanwhile, back on the Bruins, Boston waived Griffith to send him to Providence out of training camp. He was taken by Toronto, who played him three games. He was waived to be sent to the Marlies, claimed by Florida who played him 21 games (he missed time with an injury) and then they waived him to send him to Springfield, and he was claimed by Toronto. Three teams decided he wasn’t an NHL-ready player.

Back in Toronto, he was immediately placed on the Marlies where he has 18 points in 14 games. Four of his points are goals.

He’s a lot of fun to watch. He is offensively exciting, fast, in on everything it seems, and good enough in the defensive zone that you aren’t wincing when his line gets pinned occasionally. His point streak in the AHL has generated a lot of buzz, and a lot of people would love to see him on the Leafs in place of whoever they dislike the most. For the record, he’s a right-shooting winger, not a centre just waiting to take over for Ben Smith.

A look at slightly better numbers than just points per game shows him in elite company in the AHL. The top players in primary points per game at five-on-five are the group he shows up in. This weeds out the power play wonders, the secondary assist collectors, and just looks at direct impact on putting pucks in the net at even strength. I put in a five games played minimum.

AHL Primary Points per Game Leaders 2016-2017

Name Pos Team Age GP G A1 A2 P1 P G/GP A1/GP P1/GP
Name Pos Team Age GP G A1 A2 P1 P G/GP A1/GP P1/GP
Anton Lander C BAK 25.395 19 11 6 4 17 21 0.58 0.32 0.89
Jake Guentzel C WBS 21.942 33 16 11 2 27 29 0.48 0.33 0.82
Kevin Labanc RW SJ 20.759 10 3 5 3 8 11 0.3 0.5 0.8
Daniel Carr LW STJ 24.871 8 3 3 1 6 7 0.38 0.38 0.75
Taylor Beck RW BAK 25.342 36 9 15 7 24 31 0.25 0.42 0.67
Seth Griffith RW TOR 23.696 13 4 4 4 8 12 0.31 0.31 0.62
Brock McGinn LW CHA 22.616 9 3 2 0 5 5 0.33 0.22 0.56
Anton Slepyshev LW BAK 22.342 9 1 4 2 5 7 0.11 0.44 0.56
Charles Hudon C STJ 22.23 32 12 6 3 18 21 0.38 0.19 0.56
Peter Cehlarik LW PRO 21.121 40 14 8 2 22 24 0.35 0.2 0.55
Paul Carey LW HER 27.975 43 12 11 4 23 27 0.28 0.26 0.53
Nick Lappin RW ALB 23.871 19 5 5 2 10 12 0.26 0.26 0.53
Timo Meier C SJ 19.937 19 7 3 3 10 13 0.37 0.16 0.53
Wade Megan C CHI 26.151 50 16 10 6 26 32 0.32 0.2 0.52
Stanislav Galiev RW HER 24.66 31 12 4 1 16 17 0.39 0.13 0.52
Kenny Agostino LW CHI 24.378 48 11 14 10 25 35 0.23 0.29 0.52
Cole Schneider LW RCH 26.055 45 11 12 4 23 27 0.24 0.27 0.51
Teemu Pulkkinen RW IA 24.701 43 12 10 1 22 23 0.28 0.23 0.51
Hunter Shinkaruk LW STK 21.923 28 7 7 2 14 16 0.25 0.25 0.5

This list has a lot of players on it who have put in some NHL time this year. And that seems reasonable. If you are at the top of the points chart in the AHL, and you aren’t just getting them on the power play, you are likely very good. Almost all of these players are young, but aren’t rookies. Are they the famous tweeners who never really make it and end up leading the Swiss league in scoring? Or are they players just needing a shot on an NHL team?

I narrowed it down to some players of a similar age at the high end of the points pace who have played some NHL games, and looked at their NHL production.

2016-2017 AHL and NHL Players

Name Pos Age Team AHL GP AHL Team NHL GP NHL iCF/60 P1/60 CF% GF%
Name Pos Age Team AHL GP AHL Team NHL GP NHL iCF/60 P1/60 CF% GF%
Nick Lappin RW 23.871 ALB 19 NJY 35 10.33 0.62 46.5 33.33
Seth Griffith RW 23.696 TOR 13 TOR/FLA 24 8.83 0.68 54.12 71.43
Brock McGinn LW 22.616 CHA 9 CAR 38 13.87 1.24 51.9 39.47
Anton Slepyshev LW 22.342 BAK 9 EDM 31 14.93 0.87 46.1 64.29
Anton Lander C 25.395 BAK 19 EDM 22 6.72 0.71 49.43 50
Teemu Pulkkinen RW 24.701 IA 43 MIN 9 6.9 0.77 45.38 45.45

This is not an exhaustive list of forwards who’ve ridden the elevator. It is the top even strength points producers who have.

I chose to look at iCorsi, or individual shot attempts, because there is a strong relationship between high shot rates in junior or minor leagues and future NHL success. I also added in the Goals For percentage, because sometimes bad luck there can get you sent down fast.

This list shows that Seth Griffith does not shoot a lot relative to most of his peers in the NHL. He doesn’t put up points at a good rate—and I don’t think Nick Lappin or Brock McGinn played most of their NHL minutes with Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov.

His overall productions bears a striking similarity to Anton Lander, a slightly older player who simply cannot stick with the Oilers.

There is no breakdown of shooting in the AHL by game state. There isn’t any Corsi, or even the kind of missed shot tracking some leagues do. Shots on goal per game played in all situations is all there is. And if you look at that information for this AHL season with the same five game minimum, Brock McGinn is second in the league. Slepyshev is eighth, Lander is 39th and Griffith is 105th. The lack of shooting is not just an NHL issue.

Kasperi Kapanen is 31st and Byron Froese is 36th on that shot list. And while both of those players get a higher proportion of their points on the power play than Griffith does, they are shooting the puck more like pros.

Not all players are the goal scorer or even the shooter on a line. Tyler Bozak isn’t. Mitch Marner does not do a lot of shooting compared to Auston Matthews. There is room for a lot of different types of players on a team.

Here is the list of Leafs forwards with P1/60 lower than Griffith’s: Ben Smith and Matt Martin. Even Leo Komarov, who seems to have lost all offensive spark is higher. So is Frederik Gauthier, and Nikita Soshnikov, the current regular fourth line winger has .95 P1/60. Josh Leivo, the man in the pressbox until Marner’s injury, has an astonishing 3.70, which leads the team, and no one should believe is real. But it is still a strong indication that Leivo is likely a better player than Griffith.

Here is the list of all Leafs players with lower iCorsi/60 than Griffith: Roman Polak, Leo Komarov, Frederik Gauthier. He is not shooting in the NHL like a regular NHLer.

What Griffith has shown he can do is at least participate effectively on a high CF% line, although his NHL stats this year are slightly puffed up by his exalted Florida linemates. He isn’t a negative. He doesn’t make huge mistakes, or turn the puck over. He isn’t a liability in the defensive zone.

What he hasn’t shown is that he is a positive in any way. If Nikita “you shot that from where?” Soshnikov is a better points producer with the two worst linemates on the Leafs, then maybe Griffith really is a tweener, and not ready for the big show at all.

He’s also not cast in bronze at his age. He may be able to develop a more aggressive offensive game, and as a place to do that, the Leafs organization is likely one of the best. But those AHL points of his, now or in the past, do not shout out obvious NHLer to me. Not once you dig beneath the surface.

Acknowledgements

AHL data is from theahl.com and Prospect-Stats. NHL data is from Puckalytics.com. Numbers are as of Februrary 18.