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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

Why you shouldn’t be too worried about Zach Hyman’s scoring touch

I think we all know the good things about Zach Hyman, and I don’t think anybody is going to come around to discredit them. Very few players are more efficient along the boards, he’s extremely mobile, and whether he scores or not, he’ll retrieve and hold onto the puck for you enough to really tilt the ice. That impact showed up in the numbers; his line with Auston Matthews and William Nylander was one of the league’s most dominant throughout the year and individually, he was in the upper half of relative shot attempt, unblocked shot attempt, shots on goal, expected goal, and scoring chance differential among 1000+ minute forwards.

You know where he hasn’t looked so positive, though? Putting the puck in the net. Last year, he didn’t do nearly enough of that to satisfy Leafs fans, who expected more out of a player who spent the year playing with about 60 goals worth of younger linemates and finished with just 10 of his own. 

Of 136 forwards who played at least 1000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Hyman finished 136th in shooting percentage. Yep, the very bottom, firing at just 4.48%. It’s easy to look at that and blame it on a lack of talent, but at the same time, there are some very skilled names in the Bottom 10, who don’t really have a history of being bad shooters.

Rank Player 2016/17 2015/16 2014/15 2013/14 2007-2016
136 Zach Hyman 4.48 9.38 DNP DNP INSUFF
135 Tomas Plekanec 4.59 6.72 7.87 7.86 8.78
134 Taylor Hall 4.65 8.47 6.8 12.63 8.52
133 Brayden Schenn 4.76 11.97 9.89 9.86 10.37
132 Jakub Voracek 4.9 6.72 6.47 9.33 9.34
131 Sam Reinhart 5.13 10.66 0 DNP INSUFF
130 Patrice Bergeron 5.19 9.52 9.41 9.15 9.15
129 Claude Giroux 5.31 9.09 5.83 11.68 9.41
128 Dustin Brown 5.37 4.08 6.36 6.67 7.56
127 Nathan MacKinnon 5.43 5.75 6.33 7.91 6.68

Also notable here is the fact that Hyman isn’t completely incapable of hitting the net. In fact, he’s the exact opposite. 68% of attempted shots that the 25-year-old has taken have turned into shots on goal, which ranked second in that pool of 136 behind Lightning/Flyers centre Valtteri Filppula, who is a lot pickier about when he shoots (only Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton have fewer attempts per hour). The upper ranks of this list have some pretty strong talent; Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Jonathan Toews, both Sedins, Johnny Gaudreau, Bergeron, and Toronto’s very own Auston Matthews (Patrick Marleau also ranks favourably). Clearly, he’s finding the net and doing so is a talent in its own regard, but finding the back of it is the issue.

Make no mistake, it’s a drastic one. Using Emmanuel Perry’s expected goals model from Corsica, Hyman has had the seventh-most drastic negative differential of expected goals per hour at even strength compared to his actual goals scored of any forward who played 1000+ minutes in a season in the past decade. His closest comparable? Nazem Kadri in 2015/16. Both lost about 0.49 goals per hour compared to what they were expected to tally, based on where they were taking their shots from.

Rk Player Season G60 ixG60 Diff
1 Joel Ward 20102011 0.23 0.75 0.52
2 Taylor Hall 20162017 0.39 0.91 0.52
3 Scott Gomez 20082009 0.38 0.89 0.51
4 Eric Staal 20152016 0.5 1.01 0.51
5 Patric Hornqvist 20152016 0.66 1.16 0.5
6 Nazem Kadri 20152016 0.5 0.99 0.49
7 Zach Hyman 20162017 0.34 0.83 0.49
8 Jason Blake 20092010 0.58 1.05 0.47
9 Patrick O’ Sullivan 20082009 0.51 0.96 0.45
10 Jason Blake 20072008 0.71 1.16 0.45

Kadri was a particularly interesting case, as he came within three goals of his career high while having what looked like the worst season of his career as a shooter. That’s because it was; his shots per game went up as he stepped up into a more important role, but he scored just 6.5% of them, well below his career average.

Had he shot at his career average of 12.5%, he would’ve scored 32-33 goals instead of 17. This year, Kadri shot 13.6% and scored 32 goals.

Now, we don’t have a big enough sample of Hyman’s shooting talent to know for sure what it is in the NHL, but here’s what we do know:

  • Hyman was a big time scorer in his last two years in Junior A, scoring 77 goals in his final 102 games in the CCHL/OJHL. The league tracks team shots on goal but not individual ones, so shooting percentage isn’t available to us, but we’d have to imagine that he was firing at some rate of accuracy, given that he ranked third in the league in goals in that third year to a pair of players that were over two years older than him, one of whom had a lower goals per game.
  • While there isn’t shooting percentage information available for all of Hyman’s time at the University of Michigan, we do have his last two years. In 2013/14, he scored 7 goals on 77 shots (9.1%), and in 2014/15, he buried 22 of 133 (16.5%).
  • In his one season with the Toronto Marlies, playing with a carousel of different linemates, Hyman put up an 11.2 SH% in the regular season and 9.7% in the playoffs.
  • In his first stint with the Leafs in 2015/16, Hyman shot at 10.8%.
  • On the penalty kill over the past two years, where shots are based more around the rush than they are around rebounds and scrambles, Hyman has shot at 20% with the Leafs; this leads the team. It’s only a 253-minute sample for Hyman, but that’s also in the top 20% of the league for forwards who have played 200+ PK minutes in that time.

Given what we know about Hyman’s style of play, and where he shoots from, it’s probably fair to assume that he’s better than a 4% shooter at even strength and 6.5% overall. I don’t think anybody will ever confuse him for Steven Stamkos, but I can’t help but wonder the following:

  • How much was he impacted by his role on his line? Being the retrieval forward meant that Hyman was usually option B to Auston Matthews or William Nylander/Connor Brown. While he may have in close-range locations, how often was he being set up for legitimate opportunities rather than getting loose pucks and last-ditch efforts? There’s a difference between a close range puck in a scramble and a close range puck like this.
  • Do we overestimate how easy scramble goals should be? Sure, they’re close to the line, and often the net has an opening, but are they always the tap ins we assume they are? There are usually multiple bodies in short vicinity and a greater urgency from defenders to simply swat the puck out of the way. Active obstacles are tricky no matter where they are, and if you’re in a position where you have no room or time to make any sort of release, it’s going to lower your odds of success.
  • Is playing on his off-wing having an impact? Hyman is capable of playing all three positions but historically has been on the right side. This year, he spent all 82 on the left side. Maybe his comfort level isn’t there with opposite-handed one timers and snapshots?
  • Or, simply, how much of his is dumb luck, considering this has been Hyman’s game forever and he’s been able to score just fine at the Junior A, NCAA, and AHL levels?

This, of course, is all topical because of the four-year extension that he signed yesterday. I really liked the angle taken by our very own Ryan Fancey this morning, reminding people that $2.25 million isn’t a heck of a lot of money, especially when you’re avoiding arbitration, buying UFA years, and talking about a player who, for better or worse, played on the most important line last year. Hyman compliments the mobile, cycle-driven, puck-retention style of hockey that Mike Babcock wants the Leafs playing, and he’s someone you can slot in on most lines and reap rewards from on special teams. Even if moving to the bottom six (likely with Marleau in now) brings him down to a 20 point per year player that keeps the puck in the right team’s hands and kills some penalties, you’re probably coming out ahead.

But I think there’s a little more left to him from a goal scoring perspective. Maybe being more than an offensive third wheel on a “lesser” line next year will help. Maybe he needs to spend the summer at Mastercard Centre with a few buckets of pucks, a rebounder, and a rapidshot machine until he’s picking corners again. Or maybe he needs to just the odds sort themselves out.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m not too worried. Hyman is a useful asset on a fair deal even if he never regains his scoring touch, but if I had to place a bet on this, I’d feel pretty safe in guessing that he’ll bounce back a bit.