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Inside the Sharks PK: Where Can They Be Beat?

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There’s no such thing as a perfect penalty kill.

You’re down one man or two. Imagine a leaking boat — you plug one hole, another is bound to appear.

In part, that’s what makes the accomplishment of the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks penalty kill all the more impressive.

The NHL’s 29th-best team managed a league-best PK. Remarkably, this 28-spot difference between overall finish (29) and penalty kill rank (1) is the widest in NHL history.

So what made the San Jose Sharks PK tick?

SPORTLOGiQ’s data sheds new light on the finer points of San Jose’s penalty kill, what they don’t do well and what they do well.

Where the Sharks PK is lacking is actually telling — these are the key elements that they don’t emphasize on their way to success. This is Part 1 of a two-part series.

DZ Entry Denial %

San Jose is just 18th in the league with a 34.4 Short-handed (SH) Defensive Zone (DZ) Entry Denial %, compared to NHL-best Nashville (41.0) and the median (35.2).

Essentially, they don’t focus as much on preventing the opposition from gaining the zone. This does seem to conform with how the Sharks forecheck on the PK — they don’t send a lot of pressure up the ice.

San Jose usually sends one forechecker — in this case, Evander Kane (9) — who sags off once the power play breakout has crossed the neutral zone. At that point, the Sharks typically go into a 1-2-1 which doesn’t emphasizes zone entry denials until the blueline.

Shot Attempts Blocked %

The Sharks blocked 23.9% of the opposition’s shot attempts on the penalty kill, just 27th in the league compared to NHL-best Washington (35.8) and the median (27.6).

Per Natural Stat Trick, they were also 27th last year and 19th from 2016-19.

Like denying zone entries, the San Jose PK isn’t trying to avoid shot blocks. We’re just talking about points of emphasis, or lack thereof.

There may also be a premium placed on allowing Martin Jones to see the shot clean.

Also, they’re trying to conserve energy for other penalty killing pressure points. We’ll get to that in Part 2 of this story.

Inner Slot Shots Against

San Jose allowed 0.53 Inner Slot Shots Against on the PK, 26th in the NHL compared to NHL-best Columbus (0.31) and the median (0.44).

Again, this fits with what they’ve done before — last year, they finished 26th in the league in SH High-danger Corsi Against Per 60 (HDCA/60). They were 27th from 2016-19.

This is interesting — one would think allowing so many chances in tight would be problematic.

In fact, the data supports that too: From 2016-19, seven of the top-10 squads in SH HDCA/60 were also top-10 PK teams. On the other hand, just two of the bottom-10 squads in SH HDCA/60 were top-10 PK teams (San Jose and Anaheim).

If this trend holds, it’s something to get to the bottom of next season.

So where do the San Jose Sharks excel on the penalty kill? What are their points of emphasis?

This will be detailed in Part 2, powered by SPORTLOGiQ!

Inside the Sharks PK: The Secrets to Their Success

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Victor Nuño

Interesting stuff. Curious about part 2. I had looked at the numbers here and was confused as to how they were so good.

Analytics

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 3: Last Chance

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San Jose Sharks, Jonathan Dahlen, San Jose Barracuda
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

This was a tough section to write.

For each of the San Jose Sharks prospects listed here, who are about to lose their status of being legitimate prospects, there is an excuse to explain why he hasn’t played an NHL game yet.

Some of these players, like Thomas Grégoire, more likely belong with the group of prospects in Part 2 of this series. However, others, like Jonathan Dahlén, seem like they deserve a place higher up in the prospect hierarchy just because of their skill.

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 2: Time’s Up

If you wanted to argue for or against anyone here, I wouldn’t blame you. 

Regardless, each of these players is nearing or past the end of the typical five-year development period (which we discussed in Part 1, along with key terms used in this series like NHLe and DY). Each of these players carries major question marks. Whether you believe their excuses are legitimate or not, the fact that these players aren’t NHL regulars so late in their development cycle would categorize them as at the end of their ropes.

And yet, they hang on for one reason or another, which we’ll discover below.

Remember, we’re going through all 33 San Jose Sharks prospects and categorizing them by how intrigued you should be by them: So far, we’re at Time’s Up (Jeremy Roy, Jeffrey Viel, Jasper Weatherby) — today, we look at which seven prospects are on their “Last Chance” this coming season.

Jonathan Dahlén – LW/C

Dahlén is an intriguing case. He exists right now between statistical anomaly and just your average draft pick. 

The Ottawa Senators drafted Dahlén in 2016 with a second-round pick. His offensive talents are undeniable, but a poor development experience in North America and an untimely injury have whittled down his NHL chances immensely. 

His 18-year-old draft season was very nearly a 90th-percentile effort in terms of point-per-game scoring. His age 19 and 20 seasons were two of the best U21 years for a forward in the Swedish Allsvenskan since the turn of the millennium. Then, Dahlén joined the Utica Comets. 

The young forward struggled with the Canucks’ AHL team. He mentioned in an interview that “it’s the way [Utica tries] to develop young players. It has had the opposite effect on me and I feel like I have been trampled rather than uplifted.” The same article details how a Finnish forward also left Utica after a rough year, so there is evidence Dahlén’s complaints aren’t simply frustrated exaggerations from a struggling youngster. 

At the 2019 trade deadline, the Sharks sent former third-round pick Linus Karlsson to the Canucks for Dahlén. He played seven games with the Barracuda before suffering a concussion and missing the rest of the season. Last year, he returned to his beloved Timrå in the Allsvenskan to lead the league in goalscoring. 

Doug Wilson Jr. listed Dahlén as one of the players who would have suited up for an NHL game this season had the pandemic not intervened. Yet, the forward has opted to return to Sweden again next season, staying in the second professional division rather than looking for a contract at the higher level. 

Jonathan Dahlen of the San Jose Sharks

The 2020-21 season will be his D+5 year. It’s concerning that he hasn’t set foot in the NHL yet. Of the skaters drafted in the second round who eventually play an NHL game, about 80 percent of them do so by the end of their D+4 season. We can expect about 18 skaters from 2016’s second round to have hit the one-NHL-game mark by the end of the coming season. Seventeen have done so already. 

Besides being behind the development curve, Dahlén has other obstacles to overcome. In an interview with SJ Hockey Now, Swedish journalist Uffe Bodin spoke about the winger’s lack of “physical strength and conditioning to play at the highest level.” If he hasn’t figured out by now how to get himself into AHL shape, let alone NHL shape, it makes one wonder if he ever will. 

The natural ability is there. The scoring rates are mostly there. There are contextual explanations for why he is behind his peers in his development. But prospect research doesn’t care what happens between point A (the draft) and point B (the NHL). It knows how many people make it to point B and by what time. Injuries and poor development processes and, yes, lack of player conditioning are baked into these calculations. 

As of this writing, Dahén is not under contract with the Sharks organization for the 2020-21 season. If we assume he signs a one-year deal, he has one season to have another strong showing in Sweden and prove he belongs in an NHL rink. If he does wind up in the Sharks lineup before the season is over, he’ll be among a historically rare cohort of players drafted in the second round to make the NHL in his D+5 year. Remember Namita Nandakumar’s research, cited in Part 1 of this series, where she noted “the median prospect who makes an NHL roster takes about four seasons to do so.”

The skilled Swedish forward is either just another bust or a pleasant surprise, and the margin between those outcomes is razor thin.

Thomas Grégoire – RD

Thomas Gregoire San Jose Barracuda

Grégoire is tough to place. On an AHL-only deal, the defenseman has played above and beyond what his counting stats suggest. Though he only suited up for 26 games during the 2018-19 season, he was effective when called upon:

He continued playing well part way through the beginning of the 2019-20 season, though lost some efficiency in the process.

The defenseman’s 0.52 point-per-game season ranks tied for 70th out of all 605 21-year-old defensemen to suit up for at least 20 AHL games since the 2000-01 season, according to Elite Prospects.

Despite this, he lost out on paying time to the elder statesmen of the Barracuda defense corps and, with Ryan Merkley and Brinson Pasichnuk soon to be in the fold, the chances that Grégoire impresses enough to earn an NHL deal and log games before the conclusion of next season, which will be his D+5 year, are slim to none. 

It’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely the mobile blueliner ever sees an NHL contract, let alone NHL ice time.

Jayden Halbgewachs – W

Jayden Halbgewachs San Jose Barracuda

Halbgewachs is someone who shares a plane of existence with Maxim Letunov, who we’ll discuss shortly. Though Halbgewachs is a year younger than the aforementioned center, he’s already played his age-22/23 season, his D+5 year, without making an NHL appearance. But, and this is a major qualifier, sources told San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng that Halbgewachs almost certainly would have suited up for a game or two in the bigs had the pandemic not come crashing in. Joe Will also mentioned Halbgewachs positively when asked about the Barracuda’s 2019-20 season. 

Despite the small forward’s late-blooming career arc, it seems the Sharks were high on his ability to contribute at the NHL level. Time is not on Halbgewachs’ side, however. And he’ll have to move quickly out of the gates whenever the AHL resumes play if he wants to live up to the organization’s plans for him.

Nikolai Knyzhov – LD

Nikolai Knyzhov San Jose Barracuda

Knyzhov snuck three NHL games in at the end of the shortened 2019-20 season, so he just cleared his first game played during his D+4 season. A free-agent signing out of one of the two Russian organizations in St. Petersburg, Knyzhov has never been one to put up exciting point totals. His impressive per-game scoring rate to date was the five points he just notched in 33 AHL games, an equivalent of about six NHL points (in a full 82-game season). That he was called up ahead of his higher-scoring teammates shows that scoring rates are not all there is to prospect evaluation. Especially with defensemen, not everyone must score to be effective. However, those that do score more at lower levels tend to turn into more impactful NHLers. 

During his three NHL games, Knyzhov averaged just 10:49 of ice time and was there only because an Erik Karlsson-less team that had also traded Brenden Dillon away needed someone to fill in at depth positions. Knyzhov has two more years left on his ELC, but Pasichnuk is a superior left-handed prospect, and recent second-round pick, lefty Artemi Kniazev (not to be confused with Knyzhov himself), will likely join the Barracuda for the 2021-22 season.

Maxim Letunov – C

Maxim Letunov San Jose Sharks Prospect Analysis

Letunov is only here and not with Jeremy Roy and Jeffrey Viel in Part 2 of this series because Assistant General Manager Joe Will mentioned him as a bright spot by name and because he logged three NHL games during the 2019-20 season. A pending restricted free agent, Letunov turned 24 in February and was drafted in 2014. This means he was inducted into a very small group of players who saw their first NHL action after their D+5 season. 

As a 19-year-old freshman with the University of Connecticut Huskies, Letunov logged 40 points in 36 NCAA games. That’s the equivalent of somewhere between an 18- and 27-point NHL season, depending on which NHLe calculation one uses. Letunov’s point-per-game scoring rate only decreased from there. 

The Russian center spent his entire age-22/23 season in the AHL and, until a three-game trial in the NHL, his entire age-23/24 season, too. That three-game trial is informative; he lost out to Alexander True for the fourth NHL center position. The organization says it likes him, but despite that it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Sharks walk away from a new contract with the pending RFA in favor of younger players. 

Scott Reedy – C

Scott Reedy Hockeyprospecting.com

Hockeyprospecting.com

This graphic was created by Byron Bader, who runs Hockeyprospecting.com. Bader compares each prospect to his database of prospects. His model then tells us the likelihood a player will become an NHLer and an NHL star producer (0.7 points per game for forwards and 0.45 points per game for defensemen). You can see that since Reedy’s solid draft year, the probability of him both making the NHL and becoming a star producer has diminished.

Reedy is the only member of the Sharks’ 2017 draft class without an ELC. Not much is expected of fourth-round picks to begin with: Fewer than half ever see one NHL game. Less is expected of fourth-round picks who fail to score the equivalent of 20 NHL points in a season before their 21st birthday. 

The 2020-21 season will be Reedy’s D+4 season and his final year of NCAA eligibility. It’s unlikely he plays his first NHL game by the end of the year unless the Sharks’ depth players struggle mightily again. If he misses out on that benchmark, he will be among the minority for fourth-round draft selections. About 70 percent of the fourth-round skaters who eventually play an NHL game do so by the end of their D+4 seasons. 

Assistant General Manager Tim Burke likes what he’s seen out of Reedy so far. He told Elite Prospects Rinkside just before the shutdown that he’s excited about Reedy and that “he’s really maturing this year and he’s been an important piece for that team.”

Reedy has until August 15, 2021 to sign with the Sharks or he becomes a free agent. Then he’ll exhaust his college eligibility, his grace period under team rights, and any hope he had at getting ahead of the development curve by then suggests this is a make-or-break year, regardless of what Burke says.

Danil Yurtaykin – W

You might be wondering why Yurtaykin is here. He just signed a two-year deal with the Sharks a little more than a year ago. He spent the 2019-20 season’s first four games skating alongside Logan Couture and Timo Meier. 

We shouldn’t read too much into his on-ice impact with such a small NHL sample size, but the fact the organization banished him to the AHL and never looked his way again even as the Sharks crumbled tells us most of what we need to know.

A KHL source felt the forward would need to pack on some pounds before he was ready for NHL action. As it turns out, Yurtaykin wasn’t quite ready for AHL action, either. InStat and Pick224 both have Yurtaykin near the bottom of the pack, averaging about 13 minutes of ice time per game. According to Sheng’s recent piece which revealed ice time for the 2019-20 San Jose Barracuda, Yurtaykin’s usage fell to but a whimper after Roy Sommer moved up to act as interim NHL associate coach in December. 

The good news is that Yurtaykin made good on his time. Per Pick224, his estimated primary point scoring rate was about average for Barracuda forwards, so he was efficient despite his small role. He logged a healthy amount of primary assists given his ice time, and he shot just 3.5%. If he shoots closer to team average (about 11%), we’re looking at a more impressive point-per-game scoring rate. 

Danil Yurtaykin San Jose Sharks

The bad news is, even though he was a European free agent signing, Yurtaykin’s 2019-20 campaign was the equivalent of his D+5 season. His 0.48 point-per-game scoring rate in the KHL before he joined the Sharks was in the top 10 percent of all U22 KHL seasons for a forward since 2008-09. But the players on that list who became NHLers were full-time top-tier pros in Russia at least a season or two before Yurtaykin did the same. 

The crafty winger is technically no longer a prospect by our stringent age-based definition. We are granting him a special status here because he has one more year left on his entry-level contract (ELC), he is a skilled player, and he’s already played a few NHL games. Still, most signs point to his Bay Area trial run as a worthwhile risk but eventual one-and-done expedition. 

He doesn’t strike me as someone professional coaches would play as a defensively responsible bottom-six forward, and there is one, maybe two top-six forward positions with the Sharks up for grabs next year, depending on how you feel about Kevin Labanc. As such, Yurtaykin is vying for a very specific spot on the team. It’s a spot that promises to invite the most competition next season. 

There’s an exciting playmaker buried somewhere here. But chances are his proverbial grave is already too deep.

Not All Doom and Gloom

Remember that for any player, an NHLe progression is just one pretty surface-level way to evaluate a prospect. That lens grounds us in some sort of objective truth about a player’s production, but it doesn’t show us everything there is to see. Unfortunately, scouting reports for undrafted free agents rarely exist in the public domain, so we use what we have.

These players aren’t definitely at their last NHL gasp, but they are likely close. Keep your eye on this group of individuals whenever their next season begins. They’re fighting for their livelihoods, and we may see some fireworks yet.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where we’ll look at a few players that have a bit more runway but still come with their own question marks.

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Analytics

Inside the Sharks PK: The Secrets to Their Success

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In Part 1 of our inside look at the San Jose Sharks’ league-leading penalty kill, we assessed some of the unit’s weaknesses. This focus actually helped reveal the unit’s tendencies. Now, SPORTLOGiQ’s data will put a magnifying glass on where the Sharks PK excels. https://sanjosehockeynow.com/san-jose-sharks-penalty-kill-part-1/ As noted in Part 1, the NHL’s 29th-best team managed…

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Analytics

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 2: Time’s Up

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Jeremy Roy, San Jose Barracuda
Credit: San Jose Barracuda

Who still qualifies as a San Jose Sharks prospect? That’s a criteria we established last week in Part 1 of this multi-part investigation into the Sharks farm system:

By our criteria, Noah Gregor isn’t a prospect anymore, but Alexander True is. By our criteria, the San Jose system currently has 33 prospects. If you didn’t, make sure to check out the introduction to this series.

Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 1: Introduction

As promised, we’re counting down from the least likely to make the NHL to the most intriguing prospects.

Let’s start with three San Jose Sharks prospects who we don’t expect to ever see NHL action:

Jérémy Roy – RD

Roy’s talent has never been in question. The Sharks traded a bundle of picks for the opportunity to select him with the first pick of the second round in 2015. Known as a modern puck mover, Roy scored at nearly a point-per-game pace his draft season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL or “the Q”).

Unfortunately, during his fourth season in the Quebec league he suffered an ACL tear and managed to tear the same ligament again the following year as an AHL rookie. It seems Roy was never quite the same after that. 

Before he tore his ACL after 20 games in the AHL, he had amassed eight points, good for 0.4 points-per-game. Since the beginning of the 2000-01 season, 461 defensemen under the age of 21 have played at least 20 games in the AHL, according to EliteProspects.com. Roy’s scoring rate, had he maintained it for the full season, was in the 73rd percentile relative to those other players, alongside names like Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter, and Brent Burns. 

Since then, Roy has fallen to the bottom of the San Jose Barracuda depth chart. 

Sheng Peng looked at InStat’s tracked time-on-ice data earlier. According to their calculations, Roy averaged the second-fewest minutes each night of any Barracuda defenseman. Pick224.com, which estimates ice time using on-ice events and individual player shots, has Roy with the fewest minutes on the team. 

Now, Roy did play a bit of forward toward the end of the season, so his ice time as a defender artificially dipped some as a result. But, the fact the coaching staff felt obligated to try him at a different position, and that he was jumped on the depth chart by a handful of 25-year-olds, free agents, and players on AHL contracts are clear indicators that his time in teal is done. 

To add insult to injury, San Jose Hockey Now recently learned that Roy was among four Sharks youngsters who had been dangled on the trade block:

A pending restricted free agent, who by the end of his D+5 season had logged zero NHL games, Roy is all but guaranteed to never make the show. 

Jeffrey Viel, LW

Jeffrey Viel (full name Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, though it appears he now uses the non-hyphenated version publicly) is an undrafted winger whom the Sharks signed as a free agent following his final season in the Q. 

Not much is expected of undrafted free agents. Looking at his career scoring rates, it’s hard to see where the diamond in the rough might be.

Byron Bader, who runs the site HockeyProspecting.com, developed a model to help determine the likelihood a given player makes the NHL. Bader has laid out some thresholds based on NHLe rates (which tell us what percentage of a player’s scoring rate he might retain in the NHL). 

For example, “of the sample population of players to never record a 30+ NHLe, only 18% turned into at least average point-producers.” Bader’s personal NHLe research says that one point in the Q is worth about 0.24 points in the NHL and that one point in the AHL is worth about 0.54 points in the NHL. 

If Viel were going to be an undrafted surprise, he would have needed to have eclipsed 1.5 points per game in junior hockey or 0.67 points per game in the AHL. His best QMJHL season was a 1.1 point-per-game affair as a 20-year-old, and the 2019-20 AHL season saw him reach 0.56 points per game. 

Like Roy, Viel has not yet played an NHL game. And, like Roy, the 2019-20 season was Viel’s fifth year after his first draft-eligible season. Very few skaters, period, play their first NHL game during their D+6 year. For seventh rounders (which we’ll consider Viel for the purpose of this article), the number of skaters who make the NHL that late is effectively zero. 

In Viel’s favor is his improved scoring rate since his rookie AHL season, his solid goal total, and the lack of exciting prospects ahead of him. However, both InStat and Pick224 recorded the forward with middle-of-the-pack ice time. Barring an explosion in scoring whenever the AHL resumes, Viel will finish out his time with the Sharks organization as a depth minor-league player.

Jasper Weatherby – C/LW

It may seem harsh that Weatherby is in this tier of prospects. He was just drafted in 2018 and still has a couple seasons of NCAA eligibility left. If we use 2018 as his draft year, he still has some time. If we use his age-17/18 season as his draft year, Weatherby is entering his D+5 year whenever the NCAA resumes play for the 2020-21 season. 

The issue with Weatherby is that he was never a promising prospect to begin with. It took him until his age-19/20 season in the relatively tame BCHL to score at an exciting clip. With his stellar playoff run, his 1.40 point-per-game scoring rate is one of the 60 best age-19 seasons in the league since 2000-01. In such a weak league, that is equivalent to about eight NHL points in an 82-game season. 

Weatherby has taken on a bigger role in the North Dakota offense. During the 2019-20 season, he registered the second-highest proportion of shot attempts of anyone on his team. But, his win share (which “attempts to quantify an individual player’s contribution to their team”) was mild.

The big forward’s placement here has some to do with his development timeline and much to do with his lack of production at any stage of his career until he was older than his leaguemates. If he signs an ELC by the August 15, 2022 deadline, it would be a major surprise.

“Deep Dive into San Jose’s Prospects, Part 3: Last Chance” coming soon!

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