At 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, the former 3rd overall selection in 2013 NHL entry Draft success will be dependent on maximizing finesse skills. The winger’s passing ability and distribution network are unique, aided with vision and imagination that shatters glass ceilings associated with younger players.
Yet, the diminutive winger has struggled to showcase the best of his skilled ability that made him a desirable prospect. Rooted towards the end of the rookie campaign and multiple scratches during the 2015 playoffs, his sophomore season hasn’t materialized as expected and thus an assignment to the AHL Syracuse Crunch prompted his agent publicly decrying the need for a fresh start in another organization.
He scored 41 goals (23.7% shooting percentage) and 105 points in 49 games during his draft year with the Halifax Mooseheads and bested that when returned to junior after his draft season. Suiting up in 46 games, he scored less (29 goals) at a more reasonable 13.4% shooting percentage while stockpiling 79 assists for 108 points and a remarkable 213 points in the final 95 games in the QMJHL. The transformation into the playmaker had begun.
Drouin as a playmaker in the CHL is very different from the NHL level. Skills that made him such a successful player in the QMJHL may not be as easily translatable in the NHL. Skating and dipsy-doodling around players at the Junior level is much easier than at the NHL level, requiring a shift in puck skills and mentality to perhaps less touches; do more with the puck on your stick less. The professional level can rip apart the skilled that can’t pace themselves at the required level.
This is the writeup from McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook focusing on Drouin’s rookie campaign (which we will delve into more details shortly) and skills development coming out of Junior.
Missed the first five games of the season with a fractured thumb .. scored a meager four goals in 70 games that included a 42-game span without a goal .. an end of season illness delayed his playoffs until Game 4 playing less than 10 minutes before spending most of the postseason in the press box as a healthy scratch or stapled to the bench as an extra forward .. found virtually no stability in linemates, having spent the most time with Cedric Paquette (256 minutes 60 GF% & 54.5 CF%) and Steven Stamkos (52.4 GF% & 52.5 CF%) but only 33 minutes together as a unit .. dynamic playmaker with elite vision and skills .. powered by a tireless engine and great determination .. hands and feet are both lightning quick .. swiftly reaches a blistering top gear thanks to explosive first-step acceleration .. fast and effortless moving in all directions – aided by exceptional lateral agility and edge control .. smooth, polished puckhandler – shifty and sneaky 1-on-1 .. deftly masks his intentions .. able to process the game and execute skillful maneuvers at sonic speeds .. the tempo of his decision making sets him apart .. innovates on the fly – deploying different gears intelligently .. stands up for himself – and is steadily developing a harder ‘inside’ game – learning to utilize his body more aggressively to create space .. tough to catch in a foot race especially if he gains a step leaving his zone .. guided by sharp anticipation and an innate sense for pressure – yet is still a smaller body in a big man’s game .. opponents will target his knees – and he accommodates at times – getting too fancy and over-handling the puck .. stubbornly tries to beat an opponent 1-on-1 – and leaves himself vulnerable .. rookie year down, has to be a step forward now.
Overhandling the puck is NHL death, the only outcomes being a turnover or a scramble back the other way, forcing quick transition, and chaotic sequencing for all players on the ice, not just the one creating the gaffe. At a team level, individual mistakes are costly.
This is indeed an issue in the NHL, however, the underlying numbers don’t paint such a dire portrait of a player struggling.
Drouin’s 2015-16 playing time consists of 19 NHL games on a line with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan (97 minutes) at 5v5 (71.4 GF%, 51.9 CF% 11.9% on-ice shooting percentage and 108 PDO) – with Stamkos used as a winger amongst some coaching experimentation. After a stint of press box appearances, Drouin was split from them with his GF of 50% in 74 minutes and 51.6 CF% is predicated upon an 18.18% on-ice shooting percentage.
His rookie season consisted of revolving linemates eschewing stability of consistent partners with the effect of wearing on development, instead having to adjust to differing roles on different lines instead of working on improving skill sets for NHL pace/urgency.
Drouin skated a shade over 770 minutes at 5v5 in his rookie season. Using the site Hockey Analysis and cutting playing time off at 750 minutes, Drouin’s minutes played ranked 12th overall from the bottom, while amassing 24 5v5 assists. The next closest skater to eclipse 24 assists was Derek Stepan, playing 898 minutes, at 80th overall, and not until hitting teammate Ondrej Palat in 103rd spot does another player earn more assists than Drouin. The average for the NHL at this cutoff was 16 assists. With 15 first assists, he ranked 27th overall in the NHL (750 minutes cutoff). For players within the 750 – 799 minutes band, the average is 6.5 first assists.
Building off that, the other interesting note: Drouin, led the entire NHL with a 75% individual assist percentage coupled with a disgustingly low 3.1% individual goals percentage based on the NHL’s third worst 5v5 shooting percentage – that’s what a 42-game gap between goals will do to underlying numbers. The playmaker ranked sixth in First Assist/60 (1.17) and that’s the point that should be emphasized.
We can use Ryan Stimson and his crew tracking passing data to portrait the playmaker’s efficiency.
The image below breaks down passing in various categories. The OZ SG/60 column represents the amounts of shots generated by passes outside of the scoring chance area. The SC SG/60 highlight passes made into scoring chance home plate area.
Drouin clearly has an impact in making passes outside of the scoring chance area, and it’s becoming clearer, that along with overhandling the puck, there’s an element of perimeter play at hand. Being smaller in stature, this seems logical, however, impact players find methods to move into scoring areas – or open up space in scoring areas by luring defenders or using passing to create the event that forces a goaltender to make a move and open up parts of the net.
Being on the outside is not a bad characteristic if a playmaker can use that to their advantage, however, I’m remaining a little skeptical. Using more of the passing data, this time focusing on One-Timer and ‘Royal Road’ passes per 60 minutes.
The ‘Royal Road’ was introduced by ex-NHL goaltender, Steve Valiquette after extensively studying goals/saves, encompassing some of The Shot Quality Project by Chris Boyle. Steve’s results from studying goals are expanded in this article by Kevin Woodley, while introducing goaltending evaluation tools, by identifying goals scored via different types of plays/methods. Steve’s definition is below.
“… Valiquette has identified another key factor in shot quality: Plays and passes which move across what he calls the "Royal Road," a line that halves the offensive zone in two below the tops of the faceoff circles.”
Drouin clearly sets up more players for one-timers per 60 minutes, but most of those passes are coming from the same zone, and he’s not making a lot of cross ice passes – or across the Royal Road. Drouin’s one-timer efficiency is among the best on the team.
Breaking down production on a per 60 basis for each scoring element, smoothed over a 10-game moving average, his first assist per 60 production improved as the season wore on at 5v5, among dwindling ice time.
Among the variety of teammates, especially with the instability towards the end, splitting Drouin’s season forms a distinguishable pattern. Starting with shots and goals for per 60 minutes, when smoothing over a 10 game moving average, there’s a spike at the end of the season in SFON/60, but lacking a corresponding rise in goals for per 60.
On the defensive side, using shots and goals over the same 10 game moving average, the effect of an increase in shots for at 5v5 (meaning the puck had to be in TB control to launch shots) had a corresponding drop in shots against per 60, that influenced a decrease in goals scored against while on the ice, towards the end of the season.
Those charts highlight a PDO depression mid-season. PDO is the aggregation of on-ice shooting and save percentage that generally fulcrums around 1000 (or 1, or 100 depending on calculation metric).
While on-ice shooting percentage declined slowly and steadily at 5v5 to more normal levels, save percentage troughed to a low of .885, weighing down the overall PDO and likely played into some of the mid-season line juggling by coaching staff, moving Drouin around the roster.
I’ve included 5v4 here, but in reality, his power play time was non-existent to negligible at best.
The fourth quarter rise is also captured in shot attempts, with a rising Corsi relative to his teammates over 10 game moving average. The rise in on-ice shot attempts was much steeper than the decline in shot attempts while off the ice.
Moving from shots to focus on scoring chances (attempts while within the scoring chance area home plate), while shot attempts may have been increasing, his on-ice scoring chances percentage and scoring chances for per 60 were dropping. One can determine that more of the shots were coming from outside of the scoring chance area, becoming less probable to score goals and ultimately win.
Peaking as the calendar turned to February, the decline was steep, with a SCF% below 50% and scoring chance generation per 60 minutes dropping from a peak in the high 30’s to fall to around 25.
I’ve often struggled to determine any underlying reasons to bring a fight out into the public, just as Drouin’s agent has done here. On the one hand, he seems like he’s trying to force General Manager Steve Yzerman into moving his client for a better opportunity, what every agent wants for their clients.
With the difficulty in making any NHL trades these days, publicly calling out a GM into forcing his hand on a club that could potentially lose its franchise player in Stamkos, I wonder if Drouin’s agent is looking at what could potentially become a sinking ship and wants to move his client out of the mire. I’m speculating immensely here, but there’s a small part of me that believes there’s more than just playing opportunity at work here behind the scenes.
Whether that’s correct assumption remains to be seen.