We discuss the breakout player of the year, Yzerman’s love of Russians, “personality” vs. analytics, and more.

The Raw Charge staff asked people to contribute questions for a mailbag, and we sure got some interesting ones. Many thanks for weighing in! Yesterday’s was here.

TheRevTy asks: Who are your picks for breakout player of the year?

GeoFitz: Since Brayden Point already had a really good rookie season, I don’t think I can pick him again here since he’s already broken out a bit. I’m going to look to the AHL though and call-on Ben Thomas. It’s not an NHL breakout, but a professional breakout. He started it at the end of last season and into the playoffs as he put up 13 points in 22 playoff games.

Originally a 4th round pick in 2014, Thomas didn’t flourish quite as well as hoped in his last two years in the WHL. He still got signed though and slowly acclimated to playing in the AHL. With that breakout in the playoffs, he’s set himself up to be in the top 4 defense for the Syracuse Crunch this year. With Jake Dotchin off to the NHL and Dylan Blujus let go, he’s got the opportunity. Only veteran Jamie McBain is ahead of him while professional rookies Matt Spencer and Erik Cernak vie for a spot behind him. He should also get an opportunity to play on the power play and this could be a big breakout year for him offensively.

Thomas is also a name that has been mentioned by Steve Yzerman multiple times over the summer. I think that’s very indicative of the organization’s view on him. A big offensive year would solidify him as a bonafide NHL prospect, instead of the previous view of him being depth with a chance of being a Mark Barberio type 6/7 defender.

BoltsGuy04: I’m going to go with Vladislav Namestnikov. Originally a 1st rounder in 2011, Namestnikov has not really solidified himself as a top-six forward as Yzerman had envisioned when selecting him in the draft. Some of that is due to his own inconsistency, but it can also be attributed to the fact that Cooper has not played him with regular line mates consistently throughout his career.

In 201 regular season games, Vladdy only has 33 goals and 46 assists for 79 points. Not eye-popping numbers by any stretch of the imagination. His best offensive output came in 2015-16, putting up 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points in 80 games.

If Vladdy can get regular line mates (Stamkos and Kucherov, please!), then he has a real shot at cracking 40 points this year for the first time in his career. This is a very important year for him, as he will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on July 1, 2018, if not signed to a new deal.

HardevLad: I’m going to go with Andrei Vasilevskiy here. Just watching him play in the net you can see how calm and relaxed he is in the role. Some of the best, and consistant goalies I have seen (Price, Murray, Holtby just to name a few) have this quality. Not saying that it is the only indicator, but it’s a very good sign.

In his 50 games, he only played less than 40 minutes in four of them. If you take those games out, he had a .917 Save% (league average is .913). So, in 46 games, Vasy was an above league average goalie at the age of 22. In 90 career NHL games, Vasy is a .915 SV%.

Steve Yzerman also made it a point to improve the team’s defensive play. The team added Chris Kunitz, who is very reliable all over the ice, Dan Girardi, who arguably is not, but at the very least is responsible in his own end. They also retained Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson who will be huge for driving play and keep the puck away from dangerous forwards. And let’s not forget the team as a whole will be better, and more importantly, healthier. All these factors are in Vasilevskiy’s favour.

Fan Rag Sports and NHL dot com both wrote about Vasilevskiy as well if you would like to read someone smarter than me!

JustinG.: I’m going with Yanni Gourde. I think he makes the team in camp and slowly works his way up the line-up with his play. I have no numbers to back this up.

TheRevTy asks: What is it about Russians that causes a sparkle in Yzerman’s eye?

GeoFitz: One of the obvious answers is that Yzerman played with a number of great Russians. I think I counted it up one time that he had played with something like 12-15 different Russian players during his Red Wings career. When Yzerman arrived in Detroit, the team was almost exclusively Canadian with only three players from elsewhere. Even the two “European” players were either born in Canada or have Canadian citizenship. While a few European players were sprinkled in and some more Americans, the Red Wings rosters throughout most of Yzerman’s career were predominantly Canadian. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that there were as many non-Canadian’s as Canadians on the team.

But playing with some great players from the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Russia I think showed Yzerman that it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you can play, you can play. Even at this past draft, I don’t remember if it was Yzerman or Murray that said it, but there was a quote of “we don’t care where they come from.” They’ll evaluate players on their skills and what they can do. Perhaps by not having that kind of bias in his scouting and selection has made it so that Yzerman and Murray have taken advantage of some market inefficiencies in the draft by going after players other GMs are scared of because of where they come from.

iActium: Yzerman’s personal experience with Russian players (I’m a gigantic Sergei Fedorov and Alexei Kovalev fan, I loved those guys growing up in the 90’s) during his time with the Detroit Red Wings is the obvious reason why he isn’t afraid to draft them. I’m a big non-believer in the “Russian-factor”. Russian’s are some of the most talented and passionate players out there. Just because they weren’t raised or taught to play hockey in North America doesn’t mean they’re inferior or “enigmatic”.

Yzerman has shown that he doesn’t really care where a player comes from. If you can play, you can play. Which is exactly how a general manager (and fanbase) should operate.

@CaptKirk42 asks: What is the History of Russian hockey Collectibles? Seriously though, are Bolts participating in Rookie tournament again this year?

loserpoints: Yep. The tourney is at Germain Arena in Estero where the Everblades play and will take place from September 9th to 12th.

JustinG: There is a pretty solid market for Soviet-era collectibles, especially the late 80s and early 90s that feature players like Sergei Federov and Igor Larianov. Vladislav Tretiak autographs usually fetch a pretty good price as well.

Plus…how great is this logo?

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@CaptKirk42 asks: Question on analytics…How do you quantify a player’s personality in the room? Locker room chemistry is important to team success.

GeoFitz: As always when you talk about intangibles, there is no way to demonstrably show how they impact a player or team’s performance on the ice. Mental toughness, leadership, luck, hockey IQ. Those are not quantifiable attributes. It’s up to the organization to value those attributes and determine how the player will fit in with the personality and culture of the locker room.

loserpoints: I feel like this question is a trap but I’ll answer anyway. With the data publicly available, obviously we can’t. But teams could try if they thought it was worthwhile. The field of organizational psychology is full of ways to assess personality traits and skills like leadership and team orientation. The challenge in doing this work would be to first account for all of the on-ice skills that we know impact results and then try to find how much could be gained by better understanding more personality driven factors. I think one particular area where this kind of work could be interesting is better understanding fit between coach and player.

JustinG.: The problem with chemistry is that there is no way to predict how people will get along. Just because someone is “great in the locker room” in Detroit, doesn’t mean he’ll be great in Tampa. People are weird.

I think chemistry is a bit overrated. Winning trumps everything. Tom might hate Harry, but they both know that they have to work together if they want to win. Just like at your workplace, you don’t have to like all of your co-workers, you just have to find a way to get along. If you like each other – great, but it’s more important that you work together on the ice.

@CKGator42 asks…What would it take for the Dan Girardi experiment to be a success? ie, what could reasonably be expected of him?

BoltsGuy04: Personally, my expectations are very low, but sadly, I believe that Yzerman will force Cooper’s hand and play him in the top-4. My only hope is that someone outplays him for that spot, such as Koekkoek, Dotchin, or Sergachev, which, honestly, shouldn’t be too hard.

I’d expect him to get a ton of PK time and play at least 15 minutes per night. To answer your question, for this experiment to be a success, he should be buttering the hell out of that popcorn 🙂

But, in reality, he might put up 10-15 points.

GeoFitz: I’ll consider it a success if he gets his Corsi For Percentage up to at least 48% and keeps his Goals For Percentage over 50%. I’d also need to see him be near-elite on the penalty kill. 10-15 maybe 20 points would just be icing for me if he does all of that.

iActium: Anything over 10 points would be a positive. When I talked to Erik Erlendsson on Charged Up he brought up the possibility that being in Tampa could bring a renaissance season for Girardi. I think it’s a long shot, but this is the NHL and crazy things happen in this league; so anything can happen.

He’s going to get a lot of PK time and will more than likely slot on the second pairing, and maybe that will help him. He was misused in New York and relied on to fill a role he was incapable of performing anymore. I think Tampa understands that and isn’t going to load him with a lot of minutes. I’m still wary about the mileage on him though. He’s in his mid-30’s and defensemen at that age tend to consistently get worse (unless they’re the Nicklas Lidstrom’s of the world).

As long as Girardi isn’t the black hole he was in New York then it’s a win (admittedly this isn’t a h. With the better defensive players that are in front of him in Tampa it should (theoretically) allow him to play against easier competition and in turn help his play.

Bolt1023 asks: What’s up with Jonne Tammela? How many of you guys think Sergachev goes back to junior for sure? I don’t think he’ll make the team with as many defenseman as we have on the roster. Has Slater Koekkoek really been given a chance to develop compared to the development of other similar prospects? What “internal analytics” did Yzerman use to want to take a shot with Girardi? Has Namestnikov done any more interviews this season?

Achariya: Here we go.

Thoughts on Sergachev: Top 25 Under 25, #5: Mikhail Sergachev is poised to break into the NHL as a 19-year-old

Thoughts on Tammela: Top 25 Under 25: Honorable Mentions and the rest of the eligible players

Thoughts on Slater Koekkoek: Jonathan Drouin, Slater Koekkoek, and the risk associated with undeveloped potential

loserpoints: I would add to this that I think we see a player clear gap between the opportunities Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin got last season. Koekkoek switched partners frequently and never had consistent usage. Dotchin was stapled to Hedman.

While Koekkoek’s numbers weren’t very good in his limited minutes, I wonder how they would have looked if he had played with Anton Stralman. The roster made that difficult but I would like to see him get a chance early this season to show that he’s ready to be a consistent NHL contributor.

GeoFitz: I think you can even go further beyond just the difference between Koekkoek and Dotchin’s opportunities. Nesterov was handled much the same way Dotchin was early on. Nesterov was sewn to Stralman’s hip and he looked fantastic when he first made his way up to the NHL. Then when he wasn’t with a top flight partner, we could see all of the flaws in his game.

As far as Sergachev, I think he has every chance of making the team. While the Lightning under Yzerman have rarely carried 8 defensemen, it’s not out of the question. Nor is the possibility of Cooper going back to a 7 defenseman line-up as he did early in his career. In 2013-14, Cooper did not have the best d-corps and going with 7 defensemen allowed him to shield his younger defensemen. With Koekkoek, Dotchin, and Sergachev all potentially in the line-up with 7 defensemen, it would allow them all to get playing time and continue to grow. If someone grabs a bigger role and shows they’re reliable, then Cooper can go back to six.

While Yzerman could trade someone, he’s a GM that’s showed the past three years that he covets defensive depth. He doesn’t give it up very easily. The only reason they let go of Nesterov was because they didn’t want to lose him or Witkowski for nothing on waivers when someone needed to be sent down.

El Seldo: Tammela is easy: He was recovering and rehabbing a knee injury all of last season.

GeoFitz: To add on to El Seldo about Tammela, he’ll be in his Age-20 season and still remains eligible for one more season in the OHL. Since he did miss all but two games for Peterborough last season, it’s quite possible he’d head back to the OHL and try to catch up on some of that development he missed out on. If the Lightning don’t do that, it’s hard for me to see a roster spot and regular playing time for him in the AHL. He’d more likely go to the ECHL to get playing time. For me, it’s a toss-up of which is better, but I think going to the OHL is the best bet.

loserpoints: While we don’t know for sure my suspicion is that in this case, the internal analytics consist of normal analytics but Yzerman looked at the graphs in a mirror.

If I were to try to give a serious answer, my guess is that they have an in-house stat based on data from a proprietary source. Without any knowledge on what that stat is and how it was tested, I can’t really speak to it. What I can say is that the public sphere offers some lots some pretty powerful tools for player evaluation and most of them suggest that Girardi was one of the worst regular players in the league last year so it’s difficult to imagine all of that work being wrong.

Thanks, y’all! Got a pressing question going into the season? Feel free to leave it here.


Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com