John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf and he’s going to play with Mitch Marner at 5v5. That’s going to be a lot of fun.
~Roster projections update~
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) September 9, 2018
Zach Hyman will also be there, which is less fun, but I covered my thoughts on Hyman while attempting to project the impact the swap of Hyman for Patrick Marleau with Auston Matthews and William Nylander would make here. Ultimately, Hyman is likely going to be a major passenger alongside two top-tier playmakers in Marner and Tavares.
A couple of things stand out here and the first is that, yes, both of these players are in fact very good at hockey. The second is that Tavares ranks in the 98th percentile in shot assists per hour over the last two years. He’s probably not given near enough credit for being the elite playmaker that he is. He makes everybody he plays with significantly better. The second thing that may stand out is that Marner shoots the puck himself a lot more than he sets up his teammates for shots. The perception of Marner is that he’s a pass first player, but at 5v5 that doesn’t seem to be the case so far in his NHL career although we’ll see if that changes now that he’s playing with Tavares. Marner is certainly capable of making dynamic passes at 5v5.
marner seems to be back to his old self pic.twitter.com/laqzuTa2Y0
— dylan (@DylanFremlin) December 24, 2017
When you look at where on the ice each player creates their shots from, Tavares stands out at creating shots from the most dangerous area on the ice: directly in front of the net.
Marner’s spray chart is pretty encouraging as well, though not quite as much as Tavares’. Some of that likely has to do with Tavares playing centre while Marner plays the wing, spending much more time handling the puck around the perimeter of the ice. Marner feeding pucks to Tavares in front is going to be a frequent occurrence.
Both players had 47 assists last year in all situations, which was tied for 33rd in the league along with Jake Gardiner, Dylan Larkin and Henrik Sedin. Twenty eight of those assists were primary assists for Tavares, while Marner had 27. They also each had 28 5v5 assists, but when converted to a per hour basis Marner produced 1.26 assists/60 while Tavares comes in at 1.09. Upon examining each player’s passing profiles, though, Tavares was the better playmaker during the sample that was tracked (27 games for Tavares, 32 for Marner). Not only did Tavares create significantly more shot assists than Marner, but he created “dangerous” shot assists at more than double the rate Marner did. This means that Tavares created a lot more passes across the slot (royal road) and passes from behind the net, which have proven to result in the the highest conversion rates.
This, to me, means that we should expect an increase in goals at the individual level from Marner, although you probably didn’t need data or me to tell you that. We probably shouldn’t expect much of a difference in Hyman’s production as he was already playing with two elite players and playmakers in Nylander and Matthews. I would rather see Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen in Hyman’s spot as they both go to the dirty areas like Hyman does, but both have more finishing skill than Hyman does. Putting one of them with two great playmakers like Marner and Tavares would likely lead to a lot of goals.
One area Marner stands out as superior to Tavares is in offensive zone entries, which is pretty important in terms of shot and goal creation.
Marner led the Leafs in controlled entries per hour and ranked 38th in the NHL during the sample tracked, while Tavares ranked third on the Islanders and 66th in the NHL. They’re going to spend a lot of time in the offensive zone together.
Some fun examples of Marner zone entries:
Zone entry + pass down low to JvR from Marner turns into a royal road pass to Hunwick flying into the slot, but Rask makes a great save. pic.twitter.com/lRuhqc7vGS
— dylan (@DylanFremlin) March 21, 2017
Marner intercepts a Marchand pass in the defensive zone and then knocks the puck out of mid-air before skating it into the offensive zone. pic.twitter.com/kmCoRCM7bK
— dylan (@DylanFremlin) August 19, 2017
One of the prettier zone entries you'll see. Don't bother trying to take the puck from Mitch Marner. pic.twitter.com/nvgCd9a3tg
— dylan (@DylanFremlin) January 9, 2017
Upon gaining the offensive zone, Tavares is among the best of the best in terms of creating offence for himself and his linemates.
During the sample tracked last season, Tavares ranked 17th in the NHL in shot contributions per hour (individual shots + shot assists), while Marner ranked 71st. It’ll be interesting to see how much each player’s contributions increase while playing with each other, but I think it’s safe to think Marner’s are going to increase significantly, which should lead to increased point production.
When it comes to getting the puck out of the defensive zone with possession, neither player was all too heavily involved, although this is a much less important area for forwards than defencemen. What I find interesting, though, is that Tavares has had some good results in terms of shot suppression over the last few years, so I thought that maybe he would be more involved in this area.
Ultimately the conclusion I’ve come to is that we might see a lot of this in the years to come.
JOHN TAVARES scores! assisted my Marner! pic.twitter.com/ROjMQbpU07
— 𝐃𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐝 𝐍𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐨 (@davidnestico200) September 15, 2018
Bold prediction, I know.
*shot location charts via hockeyviz.com
*statistics via corsica.hockey.com