There are going to be two groups of people who read this article. Group one is the group that looks at this 25-year old kid and sees that he has 54 goals in 165 career games and says “there is absolutely nothing wrong with Nyquist”. Group two will see that Nyquist is on pace to finish with fewer goals than last season despite already playing 11 more games than he did last season. They’ll see that he has only scored eight goals at 5v5 this season and has tallied just two times in the past two months. So what’s really going on here? Should we be disappointed by Nyquist’s lack of production, or should we be in awe of what he has accomplished in his first two full seasons?
Nyquist’s Goal Production
On the surface it’s easy to see why some fans are disappointed by Nyquist’s production this season. He had 28 goals in just 57 games last season, including a remarkable stretch where he scored 23 goals in 28 games. During that stretch, he accounted for 28.3% of the team’s goals and essentially willed the Detroit Red Wings to their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance. Even I got caught up in the hype last season, projecting Nyquist to score 33 goals and 70 points this season. However, after scoring four goals in his first four games this season, Nyquist has scored goals in consecutive games just four times since. The story becomes even more baffling when you delve deeper into the differences between last season and this season.
|Season||5v5 CF%||5v5 PDO||5v5 SCF%||5v5 ZSO%||5v5 CorT%||5v5 CorC%|
From this table you can see that Nyquist managed to post a better 5v5 CF% and a better 5v5 SCF% last season despite starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone and playing against a higher level of competition. However, the key to all of these goal numbers is the PDO. Last season, Nyquist shot a remarkable 18.8% at 5v5. This season, that number has dipped to 7.1%. In addition to the drop in shooting percentage, Nyquist is taking fewer shots at even strength.
Last season, Nyquist took 9.2 shots/60 minutes compared to just 7.96 shots/60 minutes this season. If we take Nyquist’s shot percentage and shot rate from last season and apply it to this season, Nyquist would have taken 131 shots and scored 25 goals at 5v5 compared to the 113 shots and eight goals he has thus far. Assuming his powerplay and 4v4 numbers stay as they are, we would be talking about Nyquist having 39 goals and being tied for 2nd in the NHL in goals.
This season, the median NHL 5v5 shooting percentage is 8.8% for forwards who have played at least 200 minutes this season. If you take that median and apply that to Nyquist’s shot totals this season, he would be at 24 goals for the season. Essentially, his shooting average has been a little below average after being ridiculously above average last season.
Should We Be Concerned About Nyquist?
What does all of this mean? I just spent 232 words talking in hypotheticals about how Nyquist’s unsustainable shooting percentage last season is the biggest reason why he’s “struggling” this season. In reality, he’s just regressed back to the median shooting percentage and we’re seeing the corresponding dip in goal totals.
I could sit here and say that we should be concerned about Nyquist because he’s taking 1.24 shots/60 minutes less than he did last season and that 66.0% of his shot attempts last season were scoring chances compared to just 55.3% this season. However, I’m not going to do that and here’s why. We are talking about a 25-year old kid who has 54 goals in his first 165 career games, including 45 goals in his last 91 games.
In fact, over the last two seasons among forwards who have played at least 1500 5v5 minutes, Nyquist ranks 15th in the NHL in 5v5 goals/60 minutes, better than Alex Ovechkin, Joe Pavelski, and John Tavares. He’s also 26th in 5v5 points/60, ahead of James Neal, Phil Kessel, and Anze Kopitar.
Top 15 Players in 5v5 Goals/60 minutes, 2013-2015 (min. 1500 minutes)
|Player||Games||5v5 Goals||5v5 Goals/60|
A player that Nyquist often gets compared to, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, scored 46 goals and 112 points in his first 165 games, numbers comparable to what Nyquist has done thus far.
Zetterberg finally put it all together in his third season, where he recorded 39 goals and 85 points. Will Nyquist develop like Zetterberg did? Most likely not. Will he become a 40-goal scorer? Again, probably not. However, it’s far too early to make any sort of conclusive determination as to what his potential will be. Even if he settles in as a 25 goal, 55 point player, is that necessarily a disappointment? Last season, only 51 players scored 25 goals, or 5.76% of all NHL players.
If I were to really try and postulate why Nyquist’s numbers are down, a certain percentage of it has to be due to Mike Babcock’s system. Last season, Red Wings’ games featured 100.3 total 5v5 shot attempts per 60 minutes. This season, that number has decreased to 98.6, including an NHL-low 45.7 5v5 shot attempts against/60 minutes. This shot suppression strategy has largely relied on the Red Wings forwards aggressively backchecking and providing multiple outlets for the defensemen in their own zone. While the system has been beneficial to the team, it has definitely impacted Nyquist’s ability to create space for himself and create separation from the defense.
Nyquist will be a restricted free agent this offseason and the Red Wings will have to decide what he’s worth. In my opinion, a contract in the range of $3-$3.5 million for 3 seasons seems fair. Teammate Tomas Tatar received a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.75 million but one could argue that Nyquist has done slightly more in his first two seasons than Tatar did before his new deal. Nyquist has been exceptionally impressive in his first two seasons and Detroit would be wise to lock him up for the next couple of seasons to see how he develops.
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Prashanth is a fourth-year doctor of pharmacy student at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy in Chapel Hill, NC. He has covered the Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers since April 2014. He is always willing to hear any and all debates pertaining to his articles, so feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org