Although they were likely in the lineup due to injuries to Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, and Carl Hagelin, the three kids who have been inserted into the lineup have shown that they belong. Both Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller –since their recent call ups– have played significantly better away from the puck, and while there is always room for improvement, they haven’t been liabilities on the ice. Jesper Fast has proven to be a reliable defensive player in limited time as well.
Looking at their #fancystats (via ExtraSkater), all three are above 50% in raw CF%, so they are driving puck possession while they are on the ice. Fast is actually third on the team in CF% at a whopping 58%. Considering his splits in zone starts (OZ – 21.1%, NZ – 43.9%, DZ – 35.1%), this is very impressive. He’s not getting the offensive opportunities that Kreider (OZ – 43.3%) or Miller (OZ – 39.1%) are getting, but he is light years ahead of that duo in maintaining puck possession.
Fast’s +6.5% CF% rel (same concept as CF%, just using Relative Corsi, read up on the Metrics We Use page if you need a refresher) is also third on the team, and shows that comparatively to the rest of his teammates, Fast is a puck possession machine. While that is not the case for Miller and Kreider (yet), they are showing improvements so far.
To show the strides taken by Miller and Kreider, we have to look at last year’s numbers. I apologize in advance, but last year’s numbers were at BTN, so they are not in percentages. However, you should be able to get the point.
Last season Kreider was the worst forward on the team not named Darroll Powe when it came to driving puck possession while on the ice. His -17.77 CorsiON was awful, as was his -25.7 RCorsi. Miller was much better, but still not great at -0.58 CorsiON and -8.5 RCorsi.
This year is a whole different story for the highly touted rookies. Kreider has a 54.4% CF%, which is showing he is driving puck possession while on the ice. You can compare this to his CorsiON from last season. If Kreider drove puck possession last season, his CorsiON would have been positive. His CF% rel is still in the negatives this season (-6.6%), but it is a far cry from his laughably bad RCorsi from last season (when he was #442 of 447 in RCorsi across the league).
Miller is right up there with Kreider this season with a 51.8% CF% and a -4.4 CF% rel. Improvements on last season, but with room to show that they can elevate their game to a higher level.
Now these are all very small sample sizes, as Kreider (2 GP), Miller (5 GP), and Fast (7 GP) have barely gotten their feet wet this season. For Kreider and Miller, we have seen vast improvements on the way they have played this season. It’s easily noticeable to anyone who watched them last season as well. There is more poise in their respective games, fewer bad decisions, more board work, and –most importantly– more offensive chances generated while on the ice.
As for Fast, he is going to be relied upon as a defensive player and penalty killer. He is averaging 10.7 TOI/60, 1.8 TOI/60 of that is shorthanded. Considering where he is on the puck possession charts, he should be getting some offensive minutes this season as well.
The play of this trio is going to make it tough for the coaching staff to make decisions when Hagelin (this week), Cally (2-3 weeks), and Nash (hopefully soon) return from injury. There are some veterans that are playing for their jobs that may not have expected it in training camp. The kids are (finally) playing complete hockey…so far.