On Feb. 12, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they have signed forward Pierre Engvall to a two-year, $1.25 million contract extension. Since his call up from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies on Nov. 18 of last year, he’s been a regular in the Leafs lineup, providing value at both ends of the ice, at even strength and on the penalty kill.
His production has tapered recently (scoring his last goal on Jan. 6, and last point on Jan. 18), but I want to look past his raw point totals and try to quantify how well the team performs at even strength and on the penalty kill when he is on the ice.
To do this, we’ll consider how the Leafs’ scoring chances for and against, as well as the expected goals for and against, are tilted in their favour when Engvall is playing.
Engvall at Even Strength
At even strength, Engvall typically bounces between the third and fourth lines, depending on which Maple Leaf is injured on any given night. His versatility is one of the best tools in his arsenal, and he can jump from winger to center as needed.
At even strength this season (386 minutes), when Engvall is on the ice, the Leafs have a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 51.91%. If we instead look at the High Danger Corsi For Percentage (HDCF%) when Engvall is playing, the Leafs perform slightly better, coming in at 51.97%.
The most eye-opening statistic in regards to his performance has to do with his Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%) which measures the probability that an unblocked shot becomes a goal. As an example, shots from the slot have a much higher xG rating (usually 0.15-0.2) than shots from the blue line (0.01-0.03).
When Engvall is on the ice, the Leafs have an xGF% of 54.30%, ranked fifth among Maple Leaf forwards who have at least 100 even-strength minutes, behind Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev, and Jason Spezza.
A large part of this is due to Engvall’s dominant play in the defensive zone, which limits the opposition’s chances.
The above image shows that Engvall is roughly 11% better than the league average at defending and roughly 1% better than the league average at generating offense.
Penalty Kill Acumen
To grasp how effective Engvall is shorthanded, I want to compare his stats to the other regular forwards on the Leafs’ penalty kill.
Instead of looking at xGF% (since scoring isn’t the primary focus of a penalty kill), Here we’ll look at Expected Goals Against (xGA), and then normalize it to xGA per two minutes of shorthanded time on ice, to see how Engvall stacks up against other penalty-killing forwards on the team.
The Maple Leafs (and ex-Leafs) forwards with at least 40 minutes of PK time this season, and their xGA/2 min. are:
- Frederik Gauthier: 0.252 xGA/2 min. shorthanded
- Mitch Marner: 0.232 xGA/2 min. shorthanded
- Trevor Moore: 0.189 xGA/2min. shorthanded
- Zach Hyman: 0.189 xGA/2min. shorthanded
- Kasperi Kapanen: 0.182 xGA/2min. shorthanded
- Ilya Mikheyev: 0.151 xGA/2min. shorthanded
- Pierre Engvall: 0.132 xGA/2min. shorthanded
As you can see, by this metric, Engvall is their best forward at shutting down quality scoring chances against while shorthanded.
In fact, compared to the rest of the league, Engvall ranks second league-wide in xGA/2 min. among forwards who have played at least 40 minutes shorthanded, behind only Garnet Hathaway of the Washington Capitals.
There’s an argument to be made that he usually only defends against the second power-play unit of the opposition. However, it is important to keep in mind that Engvall is still a rookie in the NHL with less than half a season of experience. In time, one would hope that he is able to rise to the challenge of regularly shutting down the opposition’s top power-play units.
His penalty-killing prowess is a great addition to the Leafs arsenal, and is part of the reason that their PK has improved so much since Sheldon Keefe took over (roughly 82% with Keefe, and roughly 73% before Keefe).
On a team ripe with high flying forwards who are generally content to trade scoring chances with the opposition, Engvall’s defensive ability at even strength and on the penalty kill will continue to hep the Leafs’ bottom six for years to come.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
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