The Trouble with Tyler Biggs

Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs were due to play in Washington. This upsets me for two reasons, one, that there’s still no NHL hockey on TV, and two is that I’m very interesting to see what comes out of the Capitals’ pseudo-rebuild. They went decidedly defensive last season despite holding the most exciting offensive talent in a decade, and it looks like their intention in the offseason was to ditch that.

Though they got rid of Alex Semin, they added Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski. The second is a bit of an enigma, an up-and-down player with decent possession numbers throughout his career though has played several different roles for each of the four teams he’s played for. Ribeiro, however, is a talented, natural centre and though his numbers have declined, I think he should get an added boost this season.

Maybe there will be a season. There probably will be, and Washington is always an interesting team to track. But there won’t be a game tonight. No, so today we will talk about Tyler Biggs.

Yakov Mironov had a post on his independent blog a couple of days ago discussing Biggs’ OHL statistics so far. Biggs’ offensive numbers thus far haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been as dominant as you’d expect a player in his Draft +2 season.

There are reasons for this. The eternal pessimist Mironov however, had this to say:

I will note that this is his first ten games in a new league and a lot can change, but at a first glance it’s probably best to come to terms with Biggs as a third line prospect sooner rather than later.

He noted that Biggs has nine points in his first ten OHL games, but that two were empty-net goals, and he only has three points against teams that are .500 or better.

I will say this: As both a stats geek and a junior hockey writer, there is nothing more frustrating than the lack of data that the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League release to the public. The Quebec league releases shot, scoring chance, and face-off numbers as part of its box-score but the OHL and WHL don’t.

Collecting data

Which is funny to me. I’ve sat next to people in press boxes at rinks in both these leagues whose job it is to track individual player shots, but they’re kept internally as team data. You have team total shots, but it’s very hard to find detailed data in the limited numbers they release. (I wrote about the Vancouver Giants’ use of numbers here)

I won’t frown on anybody who collects available information on prospects, but I would caution as to how much it really matters. Particularly in this section of the blogosphere, we don’t necessarily look at “goals” or “points” as a measure for how good a hockey player is. Biggs plays on a line with Columbus prospect Boone Jenner, who is leading the OHL in scoring. You’d think that Biggs would be more involved offensively in some of those scoring plays. Why not?

Because player roles are defined to extremes in junior hockey. From the data I’ve collected in my years watching the Kamloops Blazers (and now the Mississauga Steelheads), if there was a Behind the Net page available for WHL and OHL games you’d see huge variations in Corsi and Zone Starts for players on the same team. When you go through line by line, you see players who are far more likely to be carrying the puck.

Biggs plays with Lucas Lessio and Boone Jenner, two skill guys. (EDIT – Apparently Lessio has been moved down to spread out offence. Third guy on that line is 16-year old Michal dal Colle) I have yet to see Biggs play a game, so it’s difficult for me to comment on his role, but to me he seems like the guy who will set picks, knock people over and just be downright physical. It’s far from what a player like Milan Lucic was in Vancouver, who would knock over three guys a shift in his Draft +1 season, and then set up a goal, but that’s because Biggs has guys on the ice with him who can create that offence.

Players with net presence don’t get a lot of credit in the box score at the NHL level, so why would they at the CHL-level, particularly when our own Gus Katsaros has noted that so much of scoring in junior hockey is dependent on powerplay time.

This isn’t to say that Biggs is a sure-fire NHLer. With two first round picks in that draft, I think Brian Burke erred in not taking a home run swing on a super-talented player rather than one who would best fit his system. What this is to say is that we don’t have a lot of context to be able to judge Biggs based on his numbers, i.e.: multiple viewings, shot counts, Corsi numbers, it’s tough to see where he’d fit in.

The trouble with Tyler is that he’s the exact type of player you wouldn’t be able to judge on the limited numbers available from the OHL.