Too Many Thoughts: Brock Nelson, Connor Bedard, and Matt Poitras

Shawn Ferris | October 26, 2023

Now that the 2023-24 season is underway, we are trying to put out more content. We will be releasing more glossary series episodes on the podcast where we dive into specific stats, how they are developed, and how to use them. We will also be trying our hand at more writing, including a small weekly block discussing some stats surrounding the happenings in the NHL. This is the first edition covering a small handful of things.

Is Brock Nelson the most underrated goal scorer?

Friday nights are for college hockey. It’s one of the things that reminds me that I am American, particularly a New Englander. As I sat in Mullins Arena two Friday’s ago, my hatred for Midwest hockey spewed through my veins as Michigan ran through a weaker UMass team. Of course, I would miss the second half of the series when the Minutemen beat the Wolverines to split the series, forcing Michigan down in the rankings after splitting back-to-back series against HockeyEast teams. Feeling under the weather this past Friday night, and simply too lazy to move to my other television to stream Denver at Providence, I tuned into the Big10 matchup between Michigan and Ohio State. For a second straight Friday night, the Wolverines blew through their opponent. Still unwilling to get up and stream the Friars game, I reluctantly turned on the Islanders and Devils.

To my surprise, this was a fantastic game. As Brock Nelson ripped one past the Devils goaltender just 76 seconds after the Devils took the lead early in the second period, I thought to myself, “Is Brock Nelson the most underrated goal scorer in the NHL?” In fact, I was not the only one who thought that as Shayna Goldman tweeted out the same thing.

Since play resumed after the bubble playoffs where Nelson and the Islanders went to the conference finals, Nelson ranks 21st in the NHL in both goals and goals per 60 in all situations and 15th and 20th in even strength goals and goals per 60 respectively (minimum 1,500 minutes played). What makes him unique to the other top goal scorers in the game is how few shots he takes. Of the top 25 goal scorers in terms of even strength goals per 60, the average rate of shot attempts per 60 is 16.88. Nelson’s iCF60 is 12.46, and the only skater with fewer shot attempts per hour in the top 25 is Brayden Point. All-Star competitions mean nothing, but is it that surprising that he won the accuracy shooting contest last season?

Is Bedard due?

The start of the season has been a de facto media tour for Connor Bedard. Never in NHL history has a rookie been marketed so strongly as him. For once, I must give kudos to the NHL and their partners for marketing the sport. I sat down with my young nephew on Saturday night, and he desperately wanted to watch Connor Bedard play instead of the Leafs and Lightning. As an avid fan, it may be tiresome to see every highlight and for the camera to cut to him every possible chance, but there is a new generation of hockey fans who will be touched by Bedard’s presence.

Speaking of touch, Bedard could use some scoring touch right now. The last hyped debut was Auston Matthews with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he scored four goals. Bedard left his debut in Pittsburgh with a win, but only a secondary assist. He would score a wraparound goal against Linus Ullmark the next night in Boston but has been held to only a single goal and secondary assist in the five games following that.

Some of the criticism from his first few games is that he’s been taking shots from distance. As we look at his shot plot, that is clearly the case. In fact, he also appears to be missing the net on quite a few of those opportunities. He has missed the net 16 times, the second-most in the league behind only Auston Matthews who has taken 13 more shot attempts. The best is yet to come for the rookie, and unfortunately for the NHL, it seems like it will be after the biggest leg of the tour.

Look at the goal components

On this week’s podcast, we briefly touched on the goal components part of the site. You can access these by clicking the G+/- tab while in the team tables, or the Teams G+/- Components on the team charts. There is a bit more detail in the glossary, but in summary, goal components are based on the idea that a team’s goal differential can be broken down into four components: shot rates, shot quality, finishing, and goaltending. This is advantageous over a statistic like PDO, which is the sum up shooting percentage and save percentage, as it properly places them in the context of goals themselves.

Take the Montreal Canadiens for example. They have a PDO of 100.9, signaling that they are right around the mean. However, because of the quality of the shots that the Canadiens are allowing their opponents to take, the PDO we’d expect to see based on expected shooting and save percentage would be much lower. In the context of expected goals, only the Bruins have gotten better goaltending this season.

Of course, it’s very early in general and we must take all stats with a grain of salt, but I find these to be incredibly useful in providing a snapshot of how a team’s goals come to be.

Matthew Poitras is shining in Boston

As the ESPN broadcast made sure you knew on Tuesday night, the Bruins lost Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci over the summer. Strapped for cap space with the aforementioned centers’ deferred cap hits, and the fact top six centers are hard to come by, there was no “solution” for the departure of the Bruins legends. Instead, Pavel Zacha had been moved to center full time, and Charlie Coyle was expected to fill in the second line spot. What the Bruins probably didn’t have in mind was Matthew Poitras stepping up to the plate.

The Ontario-native scored 94 points in 63 games for the OHL’s Guelph Storm last season. With a strong development camp, followed by a strong training camp and preseason, the Bruins had no choice but to keep him around. With only six games played, the Bruins can play Poitras three more times without burning a year on his entry-level contract. But with three goals, an assist, and incredible popularity among the fans, the city of Boston will burn to the ground if he was sent back to juniors.

The 19-year-old has displayed more than just shooting luck, jumping on loose pucks and battling as if he is a five-year veteran. The Bruins have a 55.8% share of expected goals and 57.3% of shot attempts when he has been on the ice at 5-on-5 this season. There is no expectation that he will fill the shoes of Patrice Bergeron. That is simply an impossible endeavor. But the undefeated Bruins suddenly look a lot deeper than they did a month ago.

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