NHL Analytics: Individual scoring chance leaders

NHL Analytics: Individual scoring chance leaders
Shane O'Donnell

Over the course of a typical hockey game, some shot attempts are bound to be much more dangerous than others. A cross-ice one-timer is much harder for a goalie to stop than a simple wrist shot from just inside the blue line. Broadcasts will often label the more dangerous shots as scoring chances and keep a track of them from one game to the next.

What makes those numbers so unreliable, however, is that the definition of a scoring chance will vary from person to person, so each broadcast likely has different scoring chance numbers — especially if it paints their team in a more positive light.

Thankfully, the advancement of statistical analysis in hockey has led to a more concrete definition of “scoring chances.” War on Ice, the leading advanced stats website, has come up with a clear definition of scoring chances that assesses every shot, regardless of scorer bias. From the site (“danger zones” illustrated at the link):

So based on these measures, the average probability of a goal given the type [of shot] and locations, and the consideration of team defense, we have these conditions for a “scoring chance”:

  • In the low danger zone, unblocked rebounds and rush shots only.
  • In the medium danger zone, all unblocked shots.
  • In the high danger zone, all shot attempts (since blocked shots taken here may be more representative of more “wide-open nets”, though we don’t know this for sure.)

The impact of this definition is that scoring chance numbers have been shown to be more predictive of future goals-for percentage than Corsi, though both should still be used in analysis of players.

So who in the NHL is the best at creating these scoring chances? Though we can’t know who is the best at creating these chances for their teammates*, we can see who is the best at creating chances for themselves, and scoring goals by doing it.

Here are the top 30 skaters in the league at individual scoring chances (iSC) at 5-on-5, as well as their goal totals at 5-on-5.

Individual Scoring Chances

Obvious goal scorers such as Alexander Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares top the list. Max Pacioretty is also having himself a dominant season.

A couple of names are interesting, such as Brendan Gallagher, Jason Zucker and Matt Beleskey. These guys are having great seasons, and are putting up good goal numbers at 5-on-5 because of it.

Another useful aspect of this tool is to see which guys could be due for some goals in the second half of the season. Marian Hossa, Nathan Mackinnon, Jamie Benn, Claude Giroux, Jeff Skinner and Craig Smith all have fewer than 10 goals on the season, despite having at least 110 scoring chances. They are due for increased goal production, and should be watched closely in the second half of the season.

Nathan MacKinnon may be having a bit of an off season, but his offensive skills clearly aren’t lacking. He’s 10th in the league in individual scoring chances at 5-on-5. As a reminder, MacKinnon is a 19-year-old kid, in his second season in the NHL producing these kinds of numbers. Look out for him next year, especially if he produces scoring chances at the same rate. He’s going to put more of them in the back of the net, and his goal totals are going to soar.

*Though we can’t know the totals yet, Ryan Stimson is currently leading a project to track passes for every NHL game. He has a number of people already tracking games, and if you’re interested, let him know on Twitter @RK_Stimp.

Shane O'Donnell

Writer for Hockey Prospectus, Litter Box Cats, and Along the Boards. Student at the University of Central Florida. Fan of the Florida Panthers and numbers.

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