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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Player Previews: Zach Hyman

Today’s preseason preview post will be on the topic of Zach Hyman. The unassuming 1st liner, children’s writer, hard-nosed Torontonian is a fan favourite in Leafland.

A potentially big change is coming for Hyman. For almost his entire NHL career, he has played with one or both of Auston Matthews and William Nylander. Indications thus far from lines at training camp are that Hyman will join a new trio this year, with a new set of partners. Again he joins a dynamic centerman and elusive right winger, this time in John Tavares and Mitch Marner.

Last Season

All of last year, Hyman played on the first line with Auston Matthews. At times, they were with Connor Brown instead of William Nylander, but for the most part, the major trio was together.

As a line, they were one of the best in the league. Not on the levels of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, but not far off either. Here’s how they stood up against the rest of the league:

Percentile Rank
CF% Rel CF% GF% Rel GF% xGF% Rel xGF%
Hyman Matthews Nylander 0.36 0.4 0.78 0.69 0.47 0.42
Marchand Bergeron Pastrnak 0.89 0.73 0.58 0.51 0.49 0.24

Data from corsica.hockey for lines with >300 minutes of TOI

Not great, but it can be assumed that lines who stick together for more than 300 minutes of ice time are probably good lines. That the Hyman, Matthews, and Nylander grouping is below the middle in terms of shot attempts isn’t ideal, and the fact that they continue to generate a high ranking in goals is… suspect.

As with every major line combination, the question becomes how much does an individual contribute to the whole?

For Hyman, it’s obvious that he’s the least talented of his trio. This is not an insult when the comparison is to elite young forwards like Matthews and Nylander.

Hyman isn’t an offensive dynamo, but his production does hold up as a good player. It is an often stated concern that, while playing Matthews and Nylander, he’s only able to generate numbers that reflect a 3rd line scorer.

On a shot attempts/fancy stats level, one won’t be surprised to learn that he struggles to hold his own there as well. The data below will suggest that.

We can use Nylander as a litmus test for Hyman, as they’ve spent a considerable amount of time together, and at least a noteworthy amount of time apart.

With TOI With TOI Away CF% With Hyman CF% Without CF% Without Hyman GF% With Hyman GF% Without GF% Without Hyman SCF% With Hyman SCF% Without
SCF% Without Hyman
William Nylander 836.65 314.6333333 51.36 45.39 46.77 63.86 47.83 58.06 54.47 47.95 49.83

Data from naturalstattrick.com

We can see that it is true in all cases that Hyman is significantly worse without Nylander. It can be assumed that the positive increase when they are together is in large part due to Hyman and Matthews being a package deal over the last two seasons. Though, the history with Hyman and Nylander goes back to the Marlies, and with the Maple Leafs before Auston Matthews’ time, so it’s not difficult to assume that Hyman and Nylander sincerely work well together.

Secondly, we can look at pass contributions to see how much Zach Hyman is able to generate shots. One would think that as a forechecker, he would be a secondary and tertiary shot assist machine.

Data from the All-Three-Zones Project. Viz by CJ Turturo. Viz is sorted by primary (shots, and first shot assists) shot contributions.

While it is the case that he has a relatively high number of secondary assists, his overall contribution is significantly lacking. Additionally, while the data doesn’t seem to have been tested in this way, it is easy to assume that secondary assists are not nearly as valuable a metric as primary shot assists and individual shots.

Next Season

Things are going to change suddenly for Zach Hyman, but perhaps not too drastically. As mentioned above, next season he is slated to join John Tavares and Mitch Marner on a line.

Viz again by CJ Turturo.

While it appears that Hyman is seeing a downgrade from Nylander to Marner in these metrics, things obviously aren’t that simple. It can definitely be said that Marner isn’t as strong a passer as Nylander. However, it has been obvious for a couple years that Nylander prefers not to pass to Hyman. At times it seemed he actively avoided it.

Marner is more of a risk taker, he’s a high octane player and an artist in the offensive zone. Perhaps, while the shot assists coming from Marner will be fewer, he could be in better position to receive passes than Nylander, leading to fewer shots but more scoring chances.

We know that Tavares, thus far, has been a more complete player than Matthews, so perhaps this line will spend more time in the offensive zone as a result, giving peripheral benefits to Hyman.

Final Thoughts

Hyman is a lovable player, and a hard worker. Leafs fans are rightly excited to have him as a part of this team on the penalty kill and on the forecheck. What remains to be seen is how his contribution to his new line could be any different than the former. The chemistry, the defense partners, the ice time, the opposition, the faceoff deployment; they could all be different from before (though I suspect it’ll be very similar to before).

All that can be said certainly is that this is an adaptable player who can play at a high level offensively. He is not inept as it may have seemed in the past. He generates some offense by his own doing (though not very much, as shown in the chart above). Leafs Nation can only hope this new combination of players bears as much fruit as the last did.

This was never meant to be a bash-session on Hyman, I sincerely like what he brings (and how much his contract costs). He’s useful, and can hold his own. He’s no star, but he’s not paid or played like a star. He’s relied on to be a support player, unselfish, the way Tyler Bozak always was with Phil Kessel. And, at the end of the day, despite the fact that he’s not the primary contributor, the line generates and prevents goals at a high level, and unless that stops, we’ve got nothing to complain about.

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