16 Stats: Quinn Hughes’ hot start, Penguins’ slow start, Trevor Zegras’ quiet start

Let’s discuss the talented defenseman, Quinn Hughes, and his performance this season. Prior to the start of the season, we ranked the top 125 skaters in the league and placed Hughes in Tier 3B alongside Dougie Hamilton, Alex Pietrangelo, and Shea Theodore. This sparked a heated debate in British Columbia as many disagreed with this ranking, especially since there were 11 defensemen ranked above him. However, after one month, it’s clear that our initial ranking was way off. Hughes has been exceptional, recording 11 points in nine games and helping the Vancouver Canucks outscore their opponents 10-3 when he’s on the ice. His expected goals rate of 52.4 percent is also quite impressive, especially considering the rest of the team’s performance. It’s evident that Hughes has been dominant on a nightly basis.

Interestingly, Theodore, who is also in Tier 3B, currently has a higher Net Rating than Hughes. However, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been as much discussion about Theodore’s performance compared to the vocal support for Hughes from the Vancouver locals. Hughes has been outstanding this season, perhaps fueled by a desire to prove his doubters wrong. It’s important to remember that just because he’s exceeded expectations doesn’t mean our initial ranking was completely off. So, let’s take a closer look at why he was placed in Tier 3B in the first place.

Over the past two seasons, Hughes has accumulated 144 points in 154 games, ranking fourth among defensemen in the league. While this is impressive, it’s worth noting that we don’t place heavy emphasis on point production when ranking defensemen. We take into account various factors, including Net Rating, which considers play-driving ability and other variables. In terms of Net Rating, Hughes ranks 10th with a plus-22 over the last two seasons. However, he hasn’t cracked the top 16 in either season, finishing 17th and 21st in 2022-23 and 2021-22, respectively. Although Hughes received credit for his point production, his ability to drive play wasn’t as strong compared to his peers. His expected goals rate was around 48 to 49 percent, which wasn’t particularly impressive relative to his teammates. In fact, his plus-0.12 mark last year ranked 64th among defensemen. While these numbers are decent, they may seem less impressive considering the caliber of the team he’s compared to. Some may argue that Hughes’ lack of a competent partner affected his performance. However, playing with Elias Pettersson and facing lighter competition should compensate for that to some extent. Hughes deserves credit for surpassing his expected goal rate over the past two seasons, but it’s worth mentioning that his goal rate two years ago was partly due to favorable goaltending. Furthermore, data from Corey Sznajder suggests that he wasn’t personally creating many scoring opportunities. Hughes has been good, but he hasn’t reached the level of defensemen in the top two tiers who excel both offensively and defensively (although his defensive skills are still solid).

Despite these factors, Hughes initially started in Tier 2 due to his youth and tantalizing offensive abilities. Many individuals we spoke to were uncertain if he had truly reached that level of talent. It’s fair to remain cautious and not draw conclusions based on just nine games. Hockey is a streaky sport, and changing opinions this early on will often lead to incorrect predictions. Hughes has performed exceptionally well so far, but it’s important to recognize that he has benefited from favorable circumstances. While 11 points in nine games and a 10-3 goal differential against opponents are impressive, they need to be seen in the context of his PDO (a measure of shooting and save percentages) being over 107. The true test of his performance will be the sustainability of his expected goals percentage, which currently stands at a career-high 52.4 percent and significantly exceeds his teammates’ performance at plus-0.6. Moreover, Hughes has excelled in both ends of the ice while handling the toughest minutes on the team. These are encouraging signs, and if he continues to perform at this level for the entire season, he will likely earn a spot in Tier 2 next year. However, for now, it’s still too early to make that determination.

Here are 16 additional statistics that provide insight into various teams’ performance this season:

1. The Vancouver Canucks have enjoyed early success, earning more points and increasing their playoff chances by 24 percentage points since the start of the season. However, their underlying play raises concerns, as their plus-15 goal differential is not supported by their expected goal differential, which ranks 23rd in the league (-3.2).

2. The Vegas Golden Knights have been outscoring their opponents at a significant rate since last year’s trade deadline, with a 146-90 goal differential at five-on-five. Interestingly, their expected goal total is nearly even at 124-123. This discrepancy indicates that the Golden Knights have consistently exceeded expectations in terms of goal scoring, and it will be intriguing to see how their performance balances out by the end of the season.

3. The Calgary Flames have struggled immensely to start the season. Despite ranking second in offensive-zone possession, they have not been productive in generating shots or expected goals. Their low ranking in expected goals per 60 minutes highlights their inefficiency when it comes to converting offensive zone possession into scoring chances. Defensively, they have also allowed a high number of expected goals against. The Flames need to address their inconsistencies in both the offensive and defensive zones in order to improve their overall performance.

4. The Anaheim Ducks have shown a notable improvement on the defensive end compared to last season. While they still spend a significant amount of time defending in the defensive zone, they have become more effective at limiting expected goals against. Their defensive duo of Radko Gudas and Urho Vaakanainen has been particularly effective in this turnaround.

5. Trevor Zegras has played a crucial role for the Anaheim Ducks this season. Prior to the season, there were questions regarding whether Zegras could become a franchise player for the team. The Ducks struggled defensively last season, and Zegras has helped address that issue.

As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how these teams and players continue to perform and whether they can sustain their early success.


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