November 30 2016 02:49AM
Photo Credit: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY SPORTS
Auston Matthews has gotten off to a pretty fast start to his NHL career. His 9 goals have him tied for the team lead on the Leafs with Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk, while his 17 points are just one off the team lead. Even more impressive is his shot volume. Matthews has taken 77 shots through 21 games, which is the 6th most in the entire league. And Matthews is doing it in a smaller number of minutes than other top players, as he's the only one in the top 15 in shots who's getting fewer than 18 minutes a night.
This got me wondering how Matthews compares to some of the other best young players in recent years. So I grabbed a list of the top shooters from the past decade who were 20 years old or younger.
Here's the top 10 players in shots per game in a season (minimum 20 GP), along with their age:
Matthews is firing the 3rd highest number of shots per game of any player under 20 years old in the past decade. Pretty impressive. And if you limit the list to only teenagers, Matthews is first, very slightly ahead of Steven Stamkos, and a decent rate ahead of a couple of really talented players in Gabriel Landeskog and Jeff Skinner. In fact, let's look just at the top 10 teenagers:
Pretty impressive list, with Matthews well ahead of the pace that Jack Eichel put up last season, and even better than a top goal scorer like Taylor Hall.
If we go a bit further down the list and look at the rest of the top 30, another Leafs rookie makes an appearance.
Mitch Marner may be thought of primarily as a play-maker, but he's firing a very high volume of shots so far. I was surprised to see that Marner is shooting more than William Nylander (though Nylander's 2.50 shots per game have him only just outside of this list).
One thing that bodes well for Matthews and Marner is that there are a number of players who show up two or even three times on this list. Being able to get off a lot of shots is a real, repeatable skill, and a really under-rated one, I think. The top goal scorers aren't usually the guys with the highest S%, but the players who shoot the most frequently (Alex Ovechkin scores way more goals than Tyler Bozak even though Bozak's S% is consistently higher). Being able to get a shot off while being guarded by an NHL defence is very difficult to do. Most players in the NHL can make good shots if they're wide open (see: Matt Martin's snipe on a breakaway last week). The biggest thing that separates top NHL goal scorers from the rest of the league is being able to get into position to get free of defenders and actually use their shooting talent. So seeing Matthews and Marner shooting so often at such a young age suggests that they can be high-end goal scorers in the years ahead.
One thing to keep in mind is that shots per game are partly a reflection of talent, but also partly a reflection of ice time. We can compensate for that by looking at the rate that a player shoots at, rather than just their raw totals. So here are the same players listed above, but this time sorted by their shot rate per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time:
[NOTE: I originally transcribed the 2016-17 numbers incorrectly, leading Marner and Laine to look significantly better than they should have. The chart and the rest of the text below have been updated to reflect the accurate numbers.]
Once again we see Auston Matthews right near the top of the list, not too far behind the best season in the past decade by a player 20 or under. And he's way in the lead as far as teenagers go, as his 12.9 shots per 60 minutes at 5v5 are 16% higher than the next best teen, Nathan MacKinnon (11.1).
Mitch Marner isn't quite as impressive, but his 8.5 shots per 60 minutes are still among the best put up by a young player in recent history, and for a player known primarily as a play-maker that's pretty good.
Marner and Matthews are currently in the midst of extremely impressive rookie seasons in terms of the rate and volume of shots that they're putting on net, and that suggests that they both likely have bright careers ahead of them in terms of goal scoring.