If you read other Red Wing blogs, you will see that one of the most prevalent narratives regarding the Wings is that Gustav Nyquist was an unsustainable flash in the pan and only had good stats because of an unsustainably good shooting percentage. He shot 18% this year. To place that in context, the league average for the year was 8.89%. Stats are only as valuable if we can decide exactly what they measure, and what they do not measure. Let’s take a second here and decide exactly what shooting percentage measures, and what it doesn’t. Shooting percentage is a percentage of shots that turn into goals. That’s it. Shooting percentage does not measure shot quality, or shot quantity. Am I really to believe that if I give the average NHL player 100 breakaways he is only going to score 8 times? And by contrast, If I take 100 shots from the point with no traffic and aim for the goalie’s chest, am I really to expect that I will score on 8 of those shots?
The general idea behind shooting percentage is that over time a player’s shooting percentage normalizes and it will revert back to the league average. The idea here is that on a general league wide scale shots get equalized and that each player represents a small portion of that pie and will generate the relatively same shooting percentage over time. The theory is that as the sample size gets bigger and bigger the percentage becomes more and more reliable and that shots on goal become diverse enough where we can use the league average as an average for every player. However, this is not true. Good players shoot above the league average, that’s what makes them above average players, their stats are better than that of the average player. The real question to ask ourselves here is this, who can we compare Nyquist’s shooting percentage to, and what can we expect it to be going forward. Every argument that I have read about Nyquist’s shooting percentage simply states that it is unsustainable, continuing to say that since he can’t possibly score at that rate that he is just a flash in the pan, a one year wonder of sorts.
Gustav Nyquist’s shooting percentage this year was 18.3%. That ranks 5th in the NHL for all players with 41+ games played this year. The way that this stat has been talked about makes it seem as though Nyquist is shooting at an all time record pace. That’s just not true. He went on a goal binge for awhile where a few bounces went his way and he was able to create a lot of space for himself. My argument is this: shooting percentage is consistent, shot quality is inconsistent. During Gustav Nyquist’s hot streak, he wasn’t taking a ton of low percentage shots and getting lucky because the goalie couldn’t make a save. Nyquist was shooting the puck in high quality scoring situations. He had a lot of breakaways and and similar chances that generate goals at much higher rate than that of other plays. A lot has been made of Nyquist’s “unsustainable shooting percentage,” but this is the wrong argument, the argument’s roots are really that we can’t expect Nyquist to generate these kinds of scoring chances at a consistent rate.
The question fans should be asking themselves is whether or not they believe that Nyquist can continue to be the scoring threat that he was from January until the end of the season. The answer to that question is probably no. A lot of Nyquist’s goals were coming from aggressive play in the defensive zone. He was creating turnovers near the top of the circles and then using speed to accelerate and split the defenseman which gave him a breakaway. He did this on a few different occasions, most famously against Bergeron and Chara, but teams learned and adjusted to it, being more careful in the offensive zone when Nyquist was around. A player with Nyquist’s skill set should be able to adapt his game and find other ways to get the puck in space.
One of the ways the Bruins shut down Nyquist in the playoffs was by closing off his space and not allowing him to use his speed. Nyquist isn’t the fastest guy on the ice, but he’s got this great acceleration which allows him to create so quickly and get to the next level. He struggled to create space and lost his explosiveness.
So the next question to ask is this, how can Nyquist counteract this? What’s a way for him to respond when these kinds of things happen? Well, Nyquist needs to get a little stronger. When he gets challenged in open ice and on the boards he needs to be stronger on the puck and bypass the coverage. On top of that, when the opposition collapses on him, it leaves other players open, he needs to get the puck over to them without getting hit. He has to get the pass off and stay on his feet. He has to see that passing lane quick and he has to hit it. Then he has to accelerate out of it and create a give and go. This gives him space and will allow him to get some really nice rushes. Every time he can find another way to get the puck in space it makes him a better player. Nyquist is at his best when he gets space. The give and go is the most effective space creating play in hockey. The reason for this is that a player can accelerate faster with the puck than without the puck. Give and go’s allow the play to move quicker through the neutral and offensive zone, and when done effectively give 2 on 1′s or other odd man rushes. The other advantage is that it collapses the defense as you move into the offensive zone. This is how Nyquist can create spaces and chances in the future. I imagine that his speed paired with Riley Sheahan’s passing ability could create a really dynamic offensive pair.
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