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Brayden Point’s power play output is weirdly bad for such a good player

We dove into the stats to figure out why.

Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Brayden Point is one of the best young players in the NHL. Over the last two seasons, he is 11th among skaters with at least 500 minutes in primary scoring rate. That’s two spots behind Nikita Kucherov and three behind Connor McDavid. In that same time frame, he also ranks 11th among skaters in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to Evolving Hockey, and 18th according to Corsica. At this point, anyone who doesn’t know that Brayden Point is a great player is already late.

One of the reasons that Point still might not be getting the attention that he deserves is that he scored 66 points last season. And while that’s impressive, it doesn’t put him among the elite in the way that the stats cited above do. His point total was barely enough to crack the top 50 players.

The main reason for this gap between his raw point totals and some of the newer stats we use to evaluate players is that he hasn’t scored on the power play at the rate we would expect from a player who is one of the best scorers in the league at 5v5.

The initial response to seeing an unexpected result like this in hockey is to blame the randomness inherent in the game and expect it to correct itself. But this trend persisted for the entirety of last season and continued this year. And while one season isn’t enough to say with certainty that an outlier is a trend and not a blip, his lack of production has continued for long enough that it makes sense to try to see what might be driving it.

Approach

The expectation going into any sort of analysis like this is that we’ll find either:

A) The perceived lack of production isn’t as significant as we thought.

B) The lack of production is mostly due to something like shooting percentage that is susceptible to variance in small samples such as power play time.

To dig into this low power play output for Point, let’s start by trying to understand just how much he is underperforming on the power play compared to what we might expect based on his 5v5 numbers. All data in this article is via Corsica and is adjusted for score, venue (home/away), and zone starts.

Is Point’s power play production below what it should be?

The dashboard below shows four key production stats for Point over the last two seasons: primary scoring, shots, goals, and primary assists. For each stat, the x-axis shows his 5v5 production and the y-axis shows his 5v4 production. The line fitted to the scatter plot can be thought of as “expected 5v4 production based on 5v5 production.” So for the first scatter plot, we’re looking at what would be a reasonable estimate of Point’s 5v4 primary scoring based on how he scores at 5v5. The orange dot is where he actually falls.

The takeaway from that first chart is that he scores at a much lower rate at 5v4 than we would expect. This disproves suspicion A from above. The low production is real. We didn’t imagine it or inflate it. Very few (if any) players who are as far to the right on the graph are as low as he is.

Now that we know his production is lower than expected, we can start trying to understand what might be driving it. The chart in the top right shows his shots. He shoots pretty much exactly as much as would be expected so that isn’t it. And the bottom two charts show his primary scoring broken into goals and primary assists. Both stats show a discrepancy but the larger discrepancy appears to be in primary assists.

Is shooting variance causing Point’s low power play output?

The next step is to check the most likely explanation for why a player who scores in buckets at 5v5 doesn’t do the same on the power play: shooting percentages. Power play stats are inherently based on small samples and small samples in hockey are susceptible to random variance.

The top two charts give us information about Point’s individual shooting percentage, which would impact his goal scoring. The first is his actual shooting. His 5v4 shooting percentage is lower than expected based on his elite shooting at 5v5. But him not shooting as high of a percentage as we’d expect isn’t enough to call it bad luck yet.

We also need to check his expected shooting percentage. That tells us how dangerous his shots are based on location, shot type, and other factors. Again, we see that he is generating less dangerous shots that we’d expect on the power play based on his 5v5 play. That tells us his lower shooting percentage isn’t due to bad luck. It appears to be due to getting less dangerous shots. This is our first indication that the lower than expected scoring is due to something that can be attributed to Point or the team’s system.

The final step is to look at the last two charts which convey similar information but instead of individual shooting percentage, they show the team’s shooting percentage with him on the ice. This will help us decide if we can blame shooting variance for his lower primary assist numbers.

And once again, we can’t. The Lightning shoot a higher percentage with Point on the ice than we would expect and they generate shots that are exactly as dangerous as we would expect.

What else might be causing Point’s low power play output?

So where does this leave us? Well, we confirmed that Point doesn’t produce on the power play like we’d expect based on his play at 5v5. And we ruled out the most obvious type of randomness that could be causing it.

That still leaves the question of what is causing him to underperform. My somewhat educated guess is that his role on the second power play unit is not the best one for his skill set. He currently sets up the “Kucherov spot” in the right circle. This presents several problems.

Point has a great shot but he’s not Nikita Kucherov. He’s also right-handed, which renders his shot much less threatening because he can’t set up for one-timers the way a lefty like Kucherov can. That means he’s relegated to being primarily a passer. And while he’s a good passer, he’s more of a goal scorer than a playmaker as evidenced by the charts above where he’s among the leaders in goal rate and 5v5 and closer to the rest of the pack in primary assists.

At 5v5, the majority of his goals come from the slot or down low in front of the net. The chart below from HockeyViz shows all of his career goals and confirms this.

Putting Point on the less-dangerous side of the ice in a place where doesn’t often score at 5v5 and asking him to focus on playmaking instead of scoring is less than optimal usage based on what we know about his game. The coaches likely have good reasons for setting up the second unit this way including that the team doesn’t have an obvious person to fit that role on the second power play unit and others perform well in the roles they currently have.

But Point is such a great player that putting him in the best position to succeed should be paramount. After Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, he’s the most dangerous offensive player on the team. And because of that, getting him into a position where he can maximize his impact on the power play should take precedence over other players.

I have three suggestions for how the team might allow Point to thrive on the power play. The first is the most likely and the team has already done it with success, the second is another reasonable option, and the third is just wild enough to work.

Potential ways to improve Point’s power play output

Move Point to the slot on the top unit and bump Alex Killorn to the second unit.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The team tried this last year during the playoffs and it worked splendidly. Point became exactly the weapon we would expect him to be on the power play. The sample only includes a little over 40 minutes of ice time but in that time, he scored at over three times the rate he scored in the regular season.

That kind of production wouldn’t continue long term but this is evidence that if the team puts him in a spot where he’s more comfortable, he will produce. We saw in the HockeyViz chart that he likes to score from the slot and putting him there in the playoffs last year worked wonders.

Swap Point with Ondrej Palat on the second unit.

This might not be as obvious as the first option but it has potential to work. Point is great working down low. Yanni Gourde is currently in the slot on the second unit and those two in the middle of the ice would be a nightmare for the goaltender. Any puck that bounces free around the net would have a good chance of becoming a goal.

Palat doesn’t have the shot to be threatening from the right circle but neither does Point so that’s not a downgrade. On the other hand, Palat is a lefty so he would be able to take one-timers. He’s also an underrated playmaker and would do well feeding Tyler Johnson across the ice or Mikhail Sergachev at the blue line.

Put Point in the slot on the top unit and give his second unit spot to...Mikhail Sergachev!

Hear me out on this. Sergachev is a lefty. He’s a gifted offensive player. His stick is a rocket launcher. Put him in the right circle and let him tee off on goalies!

In this scenario, Ryan McDonagh would take over the point on the second unit and one of Killorn, JT Miller, or Ondrej Palat would stop getting consistent power play minutes. This probably isn’t something the coaches would ever consider. Sergachev is great in his current role and swapping one of the forwards for McDonagh might be a net loss even if it did put Sergachev in a better position.

The scenario also introduces the risk of Sergachev not performing well in the role. Currently, the power play is where he thrives and is likely a confidence builder for him. Risking that just to try something new probably doesn’t make sense. But if the team has some extra time practice one day, I don’t know, maybe set him up over there and see how he likes it?

Conclusion

The Lightning are one of the best teams in the NHL and Point is one if its young stars. Nothing in this article changes that. But it does highlight one potential area where a team already performing at a high level might be able to find some gains.

In addition to the team possibly leaving some goals on the table, not optimizing Point’s usage has another subtle impact. It suppresses his point totals. That impacts how people using traditional metrics for player evaluation view him. I suspect that’s part of the reason he doesn’t get as much attention in the national hockey media. Point totals in the 60s don’t stand out like those in the 70s or 80s.

And while that might not seem like a big deal, it could impact his contract negotiations next summer. The difference between a 65-70 point player and a 75-80 point player could be between one and two million dollars per year over a long-term deal. NHL contract negotiations still seem more heavily weighted toward ice time and points than they should be and Point’s lack of power play production could hurt him in that regard.

Currently, Brayden Point is among the best young players in the game. But it takes a little bit of digging to uncover that. A change in his power play usage might be the thing that vaults him into the national discussion. And I hope that happens because he’s earned it.