ECH Scouting Spotlight: Week 7

Welcome to week 7 of our weekly series called “Scouting Spotlight”! Every week, we’ll highlight three players around the NHL who are potential picks for the Kraken in this July’s Expansion Draft. We’ll provide a bit of background on the players and why they’re worth watching this week.

Each Scouting Spotlight will finish with a “Game of the Week” which will showcase some potential Kraken players in an exciting matchup.

Here’s our picks for Week 7 of Scouting Spotlight:

Schedule this week: Thurs. 3/4 @ NSH 5PM PT – Sat. 3/6 @ NSH 11AM PT – Sun. 3/7 @ CAR 2PM PT

It’s an all-goalie edition of Scouting Spotlight this week! We’re starting with Florida Panthers goalie Chris Driedger. Driedger has been the best goalie on the Panthers this season, and it hasn’t been particularly close. Considering that the Panthers also have the second-highest paid goalie in the NHL Sergei Bobrovsky on the roster, Driedger outshining his teammate in the crease is all the more impressive.

Driedger checks all the boxes for an NHL starting goalie. He has the requisite size at 6’4. He’s 26 years old, which is right in the middle of a goalie’s prime years. He had impressive AHL stats over a large, 139-game sample size. In the NHL, he has an 8.57 GSAx over the last two years. Wait, what’s GSAx?

That’s right- it’s time to learn another advanced stat! Since we’re talking about goalies, we definitely need one. The traditional stats used to evaluate goalies like Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (Sv%) only tell a small part of the story. When looking at how they’re calculated, it becomes clear how that’s the case. Let’s take save percentage for example. Save percentage is simply the percentage of shots on goal a goalie saves. It doesn’t take shot difficulty into account at all. A save on an easy soft shot from the blueline counts the exact same as a save on a breakaway. As a result, goalies on bad defensive teams are often unduly penalized when calculating Sv%. A goalie who allows a goal from 200 feet away is treated exactly the same as Jacob Markstrom was for allowing a goal in this situation:

Goals against average is even worse. It’s goals against per 60 minutes played. GAA doesn’t even take into account the amount of shots a goalie faces, let alone their difficulty. A traffic cone could have a stellar GAA if the team in front of him was good enough.

Clearly the traditional stats hide a lot of nuance. One advanced goalie stat, Goals Saved Above Expected, or GSAx, attempts to remedy that situation and account for the critical factor of shot difficulty. GSAx is calculated using another advanced stat called “Expected Goals,” or xG. Expected goals assigns various attributes to each shot a player takes, such as shot location and shot type, to arrive at a number between 0 and 1 that shows how likely that shot is to result in a goal. For example, a shot with an xG of 0.2 would result in a goal 1 in 5 times on average. Using xG lets us more accurately evaluate goalies because it allows us to take shot difficulty into account. We express this through the aforementioned stat GSAx, which is simply xG minus goals allowed.

That explanation was fairly abstract so let’s look at a real life example, Chris Driedger. I mentioned earlier that he has an 8.57 GSAx over the last two seasons. That means that in the 23 games he played over that span, Driedger allowed 8.57 goals less than he would have been expected to, given the shots he faced. Driedger has essentially saved his team over 8 goals against in the 23 games he’s played, which given that hockey games are often decided by a goal or two, is a huge impact for a single player. Driedger’s 8.57 GSAx ranks 5th in the NHL over that span, which puts him right in the mix with high-end NHL starters.

I should mention that xG and therefore GSAx can vary depending on which model you use to calculate them. I’ve been using Evolving-Hockey’s numbers in this article. They’re a great source for NHL advanced stats. Check out their website and give them a follow on Twitter @EvolvingHockey.

There is one caveat with profiling Driedger as a potential expansion draft pick: he’s a pending unrestricted free agent, meaning that this summer he’ll be free to sign a contract with any NHL team. If the Kraken want to select Driedger in the expansion draft, they’ll have to use their exclusive free agent negotiating window to come to terms with Driedger on a new contract. I was originally not going to profile any pending UFAs for Scouting Spotlight for two reasons. First, they could be re-signed by their current teams at any time and easily protected. Second, it wouldn’t make sense in most cases for the Kraken to sign a UFA as their expansion draft pick when they could select a player who is under contract and then try to sign the UFA once free agency begins. But I had to make an exception for Driedger, mostly because he makes sense as an expansion pick in a way most pending UFAs wouldn’t. Even if the Panthers do re-sign Driedger, they couldn’t protect him in the expansion draft because their goalie protection spot will be occupied by Bobrovsky due to his no-move clause. The Kraken also wouldn’t be passing up on a high-profile player by using their expansion draft pick on Driedger. My current projected pick from Florida, Markus Nutivaara, would be unlikely to make the Kraken’s top-6 D rotation.

Taking Driedger in the expansion draft makes sense. With a wide-open goalie job, the Kraken could offer Driedger the kind of opportunity most teams couldn’t. He may be the highest upside goalie available and his numbers show that he’s ready to be a starter right away.

Schedule this week: Wed. 3/3 @ LAK 7PM PT – Fri. 3/5 vs. MIN 6PM PT – Sat. 3/6 vs. MIN 4PM PT – Mon. 3/8 @ COL 6PM PT

Coyotes goalie Adin Hill is an exciting option for the Kraken in part because of his ties to the Pacific Northwest. WHL fans may remember Hill from his three seasons with the Portland Winterhawks. He grew up only a six hour drive from Seattle in Comox, B.C., on Vancouver Island. Hill has continued to rep his PNW connections. During last year’s playoffs, he wore a Seattle Seahawks hat while backing up against the Nashville Predators. Think this guy would be excited to play for the Kraken?

Connections to the area aside, Hill’s recent play is reason enough to be excited about the prospect of the Kraken taking him. He saw his first action of the season last Wednesday coming on in relief of Darcy Kuemper against the Ducks. The Coyotes trailed 3-0 in the third period and were seemingly out of the game. Hill gave Arizona the saves they needed, stopping all 14 shots in regulation and overtime as the Coyotes clawed back to win 4-3 in a shootout. Hill’s biggest save came in overtime on a 2-on-1:

With Hill, the numbers back up the eye test. His 1.83 GSAx over the last two years ranked 23rd among NHL goalies in that span, just ahead of last season’s Canucks tandem Thatcher Demko (24th) and Jacob Markstrom (25th). At only 24, Hill should be just entering his prime.

The Kraken selecting Hill makes a lot of sense in the larger context of the expansion draft. Seattle’s expansion draft options from the Coyotes will be scarce. There’s nobody of note exposed on defense and forward options will be limited to the likes of Tyler Pitlick (6 points in 21 games), Dryden Hunt (only 6 games played this season), and Brayden Burke (undrafted, 0 NHL games). If Adin Hill continues to develop as he has been, he’ll be the obvious expansion draft pick from Arizona.

Schedule this week: Wed. 3/3 @ VGK 7PM PT – Fri. 3/5 @ ARI 6PM PT – Sat. 3/6 @ ARI 4PM PT

If the Kraken are looking for a steady veteran presence in net, Minnesota Wild goalie Cam Talbot could be a sneaky good option. While he hasn’t received a whole lot of fanfare and isn’t generally thought of as a top-tier goalie, Talbot’s underlying numbers tell an impressive story. Since he entered the league in 2013, Talbot has the 4th best GSAx in the NHL, allowing 50.6 fewer goals than expected over that time. While he has bounced around the league recently, now on his 4th team in as many years, Talbot has settled into his role as the veteran half of a two-man goalie tandem.

Despite Talbot’s new usage, The University of Alabama-Huntsville alumnus has shown that he can be a workhorse in net if necessary. He played a whopping 73 games in the 2016-17 regular season, only six short of the NHL single-season record. While I wouldn’t recommend a team ever give a goalie that kind of workload in a season, having a goalie who’s capable of playing a lot of games could be valuable to the Kraken if they end up pairing him with a younger, less proven goalie like Adin Hill.

Talbot missed almost a month of this season after being placed on the league’s COVID-19 list. But he returned last Friday and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.

Talbot will go back to his role as half of the Wild’s goalie tandem alongside rookie Kaapo Kahkonen. While both goalies have played well so far, the Wild can only protect one of them in the expansion draft. I would bet they go with the younger, cheaper Kahkonen, leaving Talbot exposed to the Kraken this July.

Scouting Spotlight Game(s) of the Week: Minnesota Wild @ Arizona Coyotes, Friday 3/5, 6:00PM PT and Saturday 3/6, 4:00PM PT on FS-A, FS-N, FS-WI

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Why are there two games of the week? Let me explain: The objective is to watch Adin Hill and Cam Talbot play. Since the two games are on back-to-back nights, it’s highly likely the Coyotes will start Kuemper one game and Hill the other. Likewise, the Wild will almost surely start Kahkonen one game and Talbot the other. Which games will see which goalies? Right now, it’s impossible to know. So I put them both as Games of the Week to ensure we see both goalies.

Aside from the netminders, watch Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. He’s been playing top-pairing minutes for Minnesota and is 3rd on the team in CF%. If the Wild can’t sort out their no-move clause situation, which I covered here, Dumba could be one of the Kraken’s best expansion draft picks.

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