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The Best Young Forwards In The West

<a href="" target="new">Click here for the full-sized version</a>. Click the link, not the picture.
Click here for the full-sized version. Click the link, not the picture.

Click here for the full-sized version

My previous post detailed the best forwards in the Eastern Conference. This one uses the same set of qualifiers to seek out the best in the Western Conference.

Each bubble in the graph above represents the the possession metrics of a young forward (or an alternative suggested in those various discussions, or a data point for comparison's sake only) in the NHL. This chart is limited to forward with a minimum of 40 games played in 2011-12. Those players include Mikael Backlund, Jamie Benn, Gabriel Bourque, Derick Brassard, Logan Couture, Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Roman Horak, Ryan Johansen, Patrick Kane, Marcus Kruger, Anton Lander, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan O'Reilly, T.J. Oshie, Magnus Paajarvi, Craig Smith, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jonathan Toews, Tomas Vincour, and Colin Wilson.

The horizontal axis shows qualcomp, specifically Corsi relative quality of competition taken from the venerable and terrifying Gabriel Desjardins' The vertical axis shows percentage of percentage of faceoffs taken in the defensive zone, again from the venerable and terrifying one. The bubbles are color-coded: blue means the player in the bubble has a positive zonestart-adjusted Corsi, white a negative. Finally, the size of the bubble indicates absolute value for zonestart-adjusted Corsi. All of the caveats about comparing these numbers between teams stand, but the chart is still a useful jumping-off point for analysis and discussion.

  • There is no Jordan Staal or Brandon Sutter in this group, but there are a few of the opposite - protected forwards who dominate. Joel Quenneville and Tom Renney have at least one thing in common: they use a capable two-way center to protect their younger players. Dave Bolland, my Selke winner, and Shawn Horcoff, one of my final 14 for the Selke, are used in difficult situations in order to provide cover for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Hopkins. Their point totals are similar, though Bolland got the better of the possession battle - Horcoff didn't. Their work allows their teammates to pile up points in an easier setting.
  • Two years ago, the Colorado Avalanche struggled by the possession numbers, but rode Craig Anderson to the playoffs. This year, the Avs have a couple of young sharps in Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly. Their presence, along with Paul Stastny's work, allowed Matt Duchene to play very easy competition and take on easy zonestarts and Duchene won the possession battle for the first time in his career.
  • Three players on the list clearly weren't ready for the NHL: Roman Horak, Anton Lander and Devante Smith-Pelly. It's still a mystery as to why Lander and Pelly stayed with their NHL teams for as long as they did. They were run over for the entire year. The Flames use of Horak makes a bit more sense - they had no depth down the middle and were beset by injuries.
  • Jamie Benn is a known commodity and the Stars use him in so many situations, so it's not a surprise to see his results here. Tomas Vincour, on the other hand, posted unexpected results. Vincour didn't produce a ton of offense, but Stars' fans should take heart - he should get better and do so against better competition next season.
  • Taylor Hall is a special player. He hung with top-flight competition last season and he beat second-level competition with easier zonestarts this season. He's one of those rare talents that drove play from the moment he entered the league. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a dominant NHL player very soon.
  • For Oilers' fans, Paajarvi's results should be annoying. He was smacked by bad luck all season long, but he did win the possession battle. That he did so and was still sent to the AHL while other, lesser players remained on the roster had to be frustrating for the young Swede.
  • The Flames missed the post-season against this year, but not because of the efforts of Mikael Backlund. The points didn't come through for him, but he beat second-level competition and did it by starting in the defensive zone more often than not.
  • Derick Brassard is already 24 years old. Is he held back by his team or his talent level? Compare his results to those from T.J. Oshie and you'll see how far behind this former lottery pick is from his peers. When will Ryan Johansen catch him?

All stats available at courtesy Gabriel Desjardins