We often describe the top players as "elite", even though "elite" is a completely vague term. Does "elite" mean top 10 at your position? Top 5? Top 3? Or does elite just mean you belong in the same breath as the other top players?
How you define elite will color how you respond to the rest of this post. I tend to think of an elite player as someone who is comparable to the top players at his position. And so, often the best way to determine if a player is elite is to compare him to his peers.
This whole discussion of "elite" players comes off a recent discussion on Jakub Voracek. Voracek is certainly an interesting case. General consensus around the stats world is that he's a very good but not quite elite NHL right winger.
So I wanted to see how he compared to "elite" NHL right wingers. To determine the players I would compare him to, I asked twitter and got the following names: Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel, James Neal, Marian Hossa, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, and Martin St. Louis. I think it's a solid list. There are a few guys I'd also maybe consider (Justin Williams comes to mind), but I don't think I'd get any arguments that the above players are either elite or in consideration as elite.
So now that we have 7 comparable NHL right wingers. Now let's take a look and see how Jakub Voracek compares to the above players.
First, here is all the combined even strength data from 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014
|NAME||AVG. GP||TOI/60||Corsi Rel QoC||G/60||P/60||Corsi Relative per 60||Corsi On per 60||Penalty Differential / 60||Off Zone Start %|
That's a whole bunch of numbers, so let's break these down piece by piece.
First, some quick context. Aside from Ovechkin, all the wingers have very similar Corsi Rel QoC, with Voracek having the 4th highest QoC. But remember, QoC has only a very small impact on performance because of the tiny differences between players. Secondly, we can look at the zone start % for the wingers. Voracek has the third lowest Zone start % at slightly over 54%. In other words, Voracek is not being sheltered in the offensive zone near as much as a player like Kane or even James Neal.
Quality of teammates (warning: tedious and repetitive)
Finally, we can look at quality of teammates. Often the best way is to just look at a player's most common line mates when assessing their quality of teammates.
In 2011-2012, Voracek's played with a medley of line mates, and his most common line mate was Maxime Talbot, a career bottom 6 forward.
Voracek in the 2012-2013 season played roughly 2/3 of his even strength minutes with Claude Giroux, and he's played a large majority of his minutes this season with Giroux.
Corey Perry has been centered by Ryan Getzlaf almost exclusively in the past 3 seasons.
Kessel has played a lot with Tyler Bozak, and he clearly has the weakest teammates among the wingers listed.
Martin St. Louis played much of his previous two seasons with Steven Stamkos, though their time together has been limited this year due to Stamkos' injury. Tyler Johnson has taken Stamkos' place this year since he's been out.
Kane's usage is actually quite interesting. He does not seem to have a defined spot, rather he moves around playing on different lines and sometimes even different positions. However, he plays on Chicago, so in general he's played with very strong teammates over the past 3 seasons.
This season and the 2012-2013 season, Hossa has played primarily with Toews and Sharp (one of the best lines in the NHL). In 2011-2012, Hossa too played with a collection of different blackhawks, including significant time with Kane himself.
While tedious, the above information gives us some valuable information. It's not a surprise that we are seeing these wingers being centers and surrounded by other great players. These wingers make their line mates better, just like their centers make them better too.
Now let's get to the interesting part.
Voracek comes in 6th of 8 on this list. Neal, Kessel, and Ovechkin separate themselves a bit from the other 5 wingers, but Voracek comes in pretty close to Hossa, Perry, and Kane. To put the above numbers into context (since I know most of us aren't used to rate stats), the difference between Hossa and Voracek over 82 games playing 14 even strength minutes a night is less than 1.5 even strength goals over the season. Needless to say, Voracek isn't separating himself from his comparables, but he definitely looks like he belongs in this group so far.
Again, Voracek is 6th on the list. For reference, the difference between Hossa and Voracek over 82 games and 14 minutes a game at even strength is 5.3 even strength points, so we aren't talking about a huge difference.
One quick point is about Kessel. The guy has played with Tyler Bozak as his center over these three seasons and has been quite good (by goals and points per 60). That's very impressive. Imagine what he would do if Claude Giroux or Ryan Getzlaf was his center.
Again, I don't see this gap as that significant. Voracek has a higher points rate than Corey Perry and Alex Ovechkin, and the gap between Voracek and the top guys on this list is pretty small. Remember, the argument here is not that Voracek is the best right winger in the NHL, only that he belongs in the conversation for elite NHL right wingers.
Alright, so we've done goals and points. Now let's look at possession metrics. This is where Voracek really shines.
First, let's look at Corsi on ice per 60.
|NAME||Corsi On per 60|
Voracek is third on this list, behind only James Neal and Marian Hossa, one of which plays with a top 5 NHL forward in Evgeni Malkin and the other who plays on the amazing Blackhawks. So far, so good for Voracek
quick note on Kessel. Playing on the lowly Leafs is not helping here.
Now onto Corsi Relative per 60
|NAME||Corsi Relative per 60|
The reason we usually look at Corsi Relative rather than Corsi on is that it tries to eliminate team effects. When looking at Corsi Rel, Voracek is 1st among these wingers. All 8 wingers are positive, meaning their team gets more shot attempts with them on the ice vs. off the ice, but the Flyers get 14.6 more shot attempts every 60 minutes when Voracek is on the ice versus off the ice.
Note how when we adjust for team strength, Kessel's possession metrics look much better, though he still falls short of Neal, Perry, and Voracek, all three of whom play with great centerman. Kessel does not, which definitely hurts his cause here.
So overall, Voracek is a beast possession wise. He dominates when on the ice, and his team is much, much better with him on the ice.
Penalty Differential / 60
Another thing we can look at is how these wingers affect their team's penalty differential.
|NAME||Penalty Differential / 60|
Voracek's penalty differential per 60 is 3rd best among these forwards. All but Neal draw more penalties than they take (seriously Neal, what is your deal?).
|NAME||G/60||P/60||Corsi Relative||Corsi On|
Above we have a collection of power play stats. Voracek is 6th in both power play goals per 60 and points per 60. His points rate is pretty similar to St. Louis, Kane, and Perry. Meanwhile, his Corsi On is quite good at about 97.1, 2nd only to James Neal.
I tried to evaluate Voracek and the other 7 wingers as completely and holistically as possible, using a combination of possession metrics and modern takes on traditional metrics in goals and points per 60.
Looking at the above data, to me it seems clear that Voracek at the very least belongs in the same breath as the other 7 wingers. Possesion wise he's perhaps the top winger of this group. Voracek's points and goals rate at both even strength and the power play do not stand out among these 8 wingers, but they are enough to keep him solidly in the discussion among the wingers.
If each winger was given 14 minute of even strength ice time and 3.5 minutes of power play time over 82 games, below would be their point totals.
|NAME||Adjusted Goals||Adjusted Points|
So the above point totals are adjusted for ice time differences. After adjusting for differences in ice time. Voracek's point totals and goal totals are much closer to these wingers. In this scenario, Voracek scores more goals than St. Louis and the same number of goals as Hossa and Kane. Voracek's 63 points are 7th, ahead of only Corey Perry. However, only Kessel and Neal are more than 5 points ahead of Voracek.
Looking at Voracek's penalty differential, he comes in at third among the 8 wingers.. Penalty differential is a minor component, but the differences between these 8 wingers are small enough that the small details matter quite bit.
Unfortunately, we don't have zone entry or zone exit data for most of these wingers. However, we do know that Voracek has been on the of the best Flyers in entering the zone with possession in the two seasons. Meanwhile, Voracek is the best Flyer this season at exiting the zone with possession based on numbers from my zone exit tracking project
So there you have it, a look into whether or not Jakub Voracek is an elite NHL right winger. Let me know what you think.