Ales Hemsky remains underrated, unheralded, and unappreciated around the league because he plays in Edmonton. If Hemsky were part of the New York Rangers or Toronto Maple Leafs, the team would no doubt be petitioning to have him recognized as a perennial All-Star - and I'm not talking about the mid-season version. But that lack of recognition doesn't come as a huge surprise; the Oilers, after all, have been as bad as any organization in the league over the last several seasons. No, what's surprising is that Hemsky remains underrated, unheralded and unappreciated in Edmonton as well.
The criticisms abound: "He's not a scorer, he's a playmaker." "He's not a dominant forward." "He dangles too much and only plays on the perimeter." "He's not tough." It's my view that all four of these complaints are overblown (or outright false), but I'm most interested in doing a statistical exploration on the second one.
The table below shows the top thirty points per game scoring rates among right wingers who've played more than one season since the lockout.
|Martin St. Louis||1.029|
Hemsky ranks ninth by this metric, just short of a point per game. Ice-time effects, however, aren't accounted for in the table above. The next table shows the top thirty points per sixty minutes of time on ice among right wingers since the lockout, and as you might have guessed, Hemsky does a little bit better:
|Martin St. Louis||2.744|
Using the per sixty metric, Hemsky's rates jump ahead of Hossa, Kane, Iginla and Ryan. But this is, after all, just right wingers, and as you can see by some of the names on the first two lists, there isn't exactly a tonne of elite players on right wing. What about comparing him to all wingers in the NHL, rather than just right wingers? Let's take a look at the top thirty:
|All Non-center Forwards
|Martin St. Louis||2.744|
Tenth spot. That's right, Ales Hemsky has been the tenth most efficient scoring winger in the league since the lockout, and he's demonstrated the ability to score at an even higher rate when paired with a competent player on left wing. Since Dustin Penner's arrival, the depth at left wing has been eroding, and by the start of last season, it was easily the worst in the league. When Penner was in Craig MacTavish's doghouse, MacTavish began the year with an out-of-position Erik Cole, and then later tried Ethan Moreau on Hemsky's wing. When Pat Quinn arrived, he was enamoured with J-F Jacques and immediately elevated him to Hemsky's line. It was akin to the awkward top of the lineup push that Brad Isbister received no matter where he went.
Give Hemsky a competent left winger and he'll anchor one of the best lines in the league. Even without one on a consistent basis, he's hanging on as one of the top ten offensive wingers in the NHL while taking on the best other teams have to offer and getting his fair share of time in the defensive zone. He consistently draws more penalties than he takes, and he's a difference-maker when his team is up a man. Fans continue to heap expectations on the new blood, and expect that, in relatively short order, Taylor Hall will be this team's offensive leader. But there's a long way to go for Hall to produce offense like Ales Hemsky, and surely an even longer road before he can do it as well against the league's best. And that shouldn't be an insult; after all, to be as good as Ales Hemsky means being in the same class as Alfredsson, Zetterberg, Hossa, and Kovalchuk. It means being a difference-maker at evens and on the power play. It means being both a complete player, and one of the very best offensive wingers in the game. To be as good as Ales Hemsky means being a star.