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Zone Deployment Optimization: Centres

Placing the Jets' skaters where they perform best.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the previous week we've shown the effects of zone deployment and how to use it to the Jets advantage. We continue this in depth study, now turning our focus to centres

The Winnipeg Jets have four centres with NHL experience under contract who look to have earned full time spots. In descending 5v5 TOI per a game last season, they are: Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele, Mathieu Perreault, and Jim Slater.

Perreault comes in as a new addition for the Jets, so his numbers are skewed from playing under a different system, with different teammates, and also being compared against other players.

Note: All numbers are for 5v5 events and 2013-14 unless otherwise indicated. Much of the data and graphs have been derived with the help of Muneeb Alam's, Adam Stringham's and Corey Sznadjer's amazing talents. Please give them a follow and support them in their work.

Contextual Nuances

Before we start discussing how these players performed against each other, we should offer some context. After all, there are nine other players on the ice and these players affect the results as well.

Player TOI TmCF/20 TmCA/20 OpCF/20 OpCA/20
Bryan Little 2965.3 18.919 18.878 18.187 18.069
Mathieu Perreault 757.9 18.256 18.623 17.952 18.189
Mark Scheifele 964.2 18.664 18.384 18.036 17.956
Jim Slater 1384.7 17.556 18.216 17.976 18.197

TmCorsi is how a player's linemates perform with that player not on the ice, while OpCorsi is the same but for opponents. So Little's linemates without Little on the ice on average created 18.919 shot attempts per 60 minutes and allowed 18.989 against.

A pretty even split in the usage. Little played with the best linemates, but also against the best opponents. Scheifele closely followed, then Perreault, and finally Slater.

Defensive Zone

Maurice stressed defensive zone performance as a priority for the Jets. The goals against average needs to come down. After all, Ondrej Pavelec's performance obviously cannot be assessed until team defense improves.

Post Defensive Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:


Click the image to expand.
The lines represent the rate of shot attempts. Black is shot attempts for with the player on the ice, which you want to have higher than red (shot attempts for with the player off the ice). Blue is the shot attempts against with the player on the ice, which you want lower than green (shot attempts against with player off the ice).

No surprise that Perreault and Slater see instantaneous results with their superior face off percentage. Perreault and Slater won 56.5% and 52.7% of defensive zone face offs respectively, versus Little's and Scheifele's 50.0% and 42.3%. It should be noted that both Slater and Perreault also repressed attempts against above team norm even when looking at face off losses exclusively. Perreault though had more longterm positive effect.

Microstatistics - Zone Exit:

Defensive zone effectiveness goes beyond defending a defensive zone face off. Most of the game is played in fluid motion. A major component to defensive zone effectiveness comes from a player's ability to successfully breakout with control of the puck.

Player Touches Success% Turnover% Icing%
Bryan Little 317 46.1% 5.4% 0.3%
Mark Scheifele 404 35.9% 8.7% 0.1%
Jim Slater 37 35.1% 8.1% 0.0%
Mathieu Perreault 210 37.6% 7.6% 1.4%

When it came to exiting the zone, no one performed remotely like Bryan Little. Little broke out successful far more often and turned over possession far less. Perreault finishes at a close second although not by much.

It should be noted that on average, the Ducks forwards were the more successful team than the Jets at exiting the zone; 41% vs 40% per puck touch.

Neutral Zone

The eye-test struggles to evaluate players on neutral zone play, most likely because humans psychologically depend on direct impact for memory and tends to miss indirect impact. However, there is evidence that the neutral zone's importance is very important, and therefore highly underrated.

Post Neutral Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:


Click the image to expand.
The lines represent the rate of shot attempts. Black is shot attempts for with the player on the ice, which you want to have higher than red (shot attempts for with the player off the ice). Blue is the shot attempts against with the player on the ice, which you want lower than green (shot attempts against with player off the ice).

Bryan Little is the only centre here who out attempts the opposition. Slater and Perreault experience a bump initially due to their superior face off abilities again, but the effect disappears quickly. Scheifele ends up with the second best differential, followed by Perreault and Slater.

Microstatistics - Zone Entry:

Neutral zone microstatistics first started with zone entries. Eric Tulsky (et al.) found that a major driver of shot production came from play in the neutral zone, specifically in entering the offensive zone with control of the puck.

Player # of entries Shots per entry # of carry-ins Shots per carry-in % of entries with control # of dump-ins Shots per dump-in
Perreault 102 0.60 57 0.74 56.0% 45 0.42
Schiefele 180 0.53 105 0.66 58.3% 75 0.36
Little 184 0.52 104 0.63 56.5% 80 0.38
Slater 19 0.32 10 0.60 52.6% 9 0.00

Scheifele succeeds in entering the opponents zone with control per attempt more often than the other centres, but Perreault generates the largest amount of offense from his zone entries.

Differences in icetime skew the numbers, so we can add context by adding that 5v5 TOI:

Player Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries
Schiefele 12.54 6.69 4.81
Perreault 8.07 6.02 4.51
Little 9.63 5.02 3.45
Slater 4.92 1.55 1.55

Scheifele leads the pack with creating nearly seven shots on goal per sixty minutes of icetime from his zone entries. It is interesting how high Scheifele's entries per 60 are relative to Perreault and Little. Is it because Scheifele is able to gain the zone more often or because Perreault and Little sustain more offensive zone time per entry?

Slater's numbers are extremely lower, although Slater's ninteen total entries from his injury shortened season isn't a compelling sample.

Microstatistics - Denial of Opposition Zone Entry:

The obvious byproduct to research in zone entries came the discovery of the importance in denial of opposition zone entry.

Player Targets Carry% Break-up% Rel. Carry%
Perreault 9 22.2% 22.2% +18.2%
Little 9 66.6% 22.2% -23.1%
Scheifele 24 45.8% 20.8% -2.3%

The sample size of these numbers are extremely low. Anecdotally, Perreault was much better at stoping opponents from entering his team's defensive zone. Scheifele was around his team average, while Little struggled.

There is a very significant difference in targets. While their total ice time was similar, Scheifele was targeted for zone entry far more often than the other two centres. Obviously opposition thought they had a greater chance at getting past Scheifele, even if the players failed in succeeding against Scheifele more than other Jets forwards..

Microstatistics - Overall Neutral Zone Score

Tuslky (et al.) combined the effects of zone entries and zone exits -with the inclusion of events not directly impacted by the individual- in a formula to evaluate the overall neutral zone effectiveness in gaining and preventing zone entry.

NHL Rank (N=388) Names NZ score NZ Score Relative % of On-Ice Z.E For Control% For Control% Against
35 Little 50.7% +3.1% 51.5% 44.8% 48.9%
158 Schiefele 49.0% +0.7% 49.6% 43.8% 46.4%
197 Perreault 51.2% +0.1% 50.0% 51.3% 45.4%

Perreault posted the best neutral zone score, although he was only 0.1% above his team average. The Ducks' -unsurprisingly- were a much stronger neutral zone team than the Jets. Regardless, all three Jets forwards performed above their team's average. With Scheifele likely improving with experience and age, all three Jets should perform well here.

The ranking on the left column is in terms of relative score.

Offensive Zone

Relatively speaking, the offensive zone tends to be easier to grasp the most effective players, but still there can be some surprises.

Post Offensive Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:


Click the image to expand.
The lines represent the rate of shot attempts. Black is shot attempts for with the player on the ice, which you want to have higher than red (shot attempts for with the player off the ice). Blue is the shot attempts against with the player on the ice, which you want lower than green (shot attempts against with player off the ice).

Bryan Little runs away with being the most effective offensive zone face off player by far. Slater sees a large peak, likely caused from his face off expertise, but regresses to team average. Scheifele doesn't create the offense that Little does, although the addition of Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler on his wings may change that. Scheifele's overall Corsi% improved throughout the season, especially when he got placed between Kane and Frolik.

Perreault is an interesting case. He's known as a gifted offensive zone player, but we don't see him creating as many attempts as his teammates without him. While Scheifele and Little are mostly compared against each other and a bit of the remaining Jets centres, Perreault's results are predominately being compared to Ryan Getzlaf -a pretty good hockey player-.

2011-14 Point Production
Player P/60
Perreault 2.34
Little 1.82
Scheifele 1.49
Slater 0.95

Perreault has consistently scored at a high rate. In fact, Perreault's point production per icetime is the 18th highest in the entire NHL. These numbers are actually all three seasons to show that it was not just his time in Anaheim boosting his numbers.

The median scoring numbers for first lines is around 2.0, and then 1.7, 1.5 and 1.0 for second, third, and fourth line players.

Perreault and Little compliment each other well. One scores at top line rates, but historically needed sheltering from other team's top lines. The other struggled to score at top line rates, but can take tough minutes and beat them. Where Scheifele ends up this season is still unknown, but it is no secret that TNSE is hopeful for Scheifele's potential.

Closing Thoughts

Things may change with the development of Scheifele. Also, which wingers the players are placed beside may also influence optimal usage.

Looking at these numbers though, we would suggest:

Defensive zone starts: Perreault and Slater both are strong options for taking the bulk of defensive zone starts; however, Little's strong two-way play makes him the best option against the other team's top line. Scheifele for the meantime would best be served to shelter from defensive zone starts where possible.

Neutral zone starts: Little serves as the best option here, especially against top six lines. Scheifele would then fall second with Perreault not far behind. A face off specialist like Slater doesn't serve as much function in the neutral zone.

Offensive zone starts: Little again performs best in the offensive zone and against toughs. Scheifele and Perreault are both strong options for the offensive zone. The team may want to use Perreault or Slater as a offensive zone face off specialist for Scheifele's line in key situations.