When discussing the forward play for the New Jersey Devils so far this season, almost all of the attention has gone to the top 6, and even the third line has gotten a decent amount of coverage because of guys like Pavel Zacha getting time there. However, comparatively little coverage has been spent on the fourth line. This is something that can be defended: the top lines have more star power, play more minutes, and have scored basically all of the points that the forwards have produced. This would, by nature, generate more coverage. Despite that, today let’s spend a hot minute discussing someone who has done quite well with the time given to him on the fourth line this season: Nick Lappin.
Our 19th ranked prospect under 25 years old here at AATJ has really done a stand-up job with his time on the ice. The most obvious reason for this is that unlike most everyone else who has had fourth line minutes, he has actually produced some points, to the tune of 3 points (1 goal) in 7 games played. That may not sound like much, but from a fourth line player who is averaging just 11:21 per game, that is quality work. However, that does not tell the whole tale.
First off, he has the best possession numbers of anyone on the team, and it is not even close. Heading into tonight’s game, Lappin is boasting an unbelievable and probably unsustainable Corsi For of 60.4% at 5 on 5 play. No one else on the team is over 55%. His exceptionally high possession numbers also come despite the fact that he is not sheltered at all, taking 24.6% of his zone starts in the offensive zone as compared to 34.8% in the defensive. These numbers leave him with a super-impressive +14.5% relative Corsi. The next best, Beau Bennett, is +8.5%.
The next part about these possession statistics that make them seem even more impressive is his quality of competition. According to Corsica, Lappin has played against the toughest competition of any forward on the team this season. His CF.QoC (Corsi For Quality of Competition) is at 51.36%. Travis Zajac is the only other forward with a number over 51% in that category. What does that mean? That number is the weighted average Corsi of the opponents that a player faces on ice. So the average Corsi of opponents when Lappin is out there has been 51.36%, a very high number. Yet Lappin still has a Corsi of 60.4%.
Want to delve even a little deeper? How about we look at his CF.QoT (Corsi For Quality of Teammates). This stat determines the weighted average Corsi of the teammates that a player has when he is on the ice. Lappin’s CF.QoT is the worst of any forward on the team, sitting at 44.13%. No one else on the team has a number lower than 45%. That means that Lappin has played with the worst possession players on the team on average, plays against the strongest possession players on the opposition, yet is still dominating in possession. That is quite impressive from a 24 year old rookie coming off of a four year college career at Brown.
For a team that is starving for better possession, having someone like Lappin who has been very capable at driving play forward, even when given unsheltered fourth line minutes, is quite the bonus. Much has been made of the Devils being very top-heavy and having very little depth, and that is definitely true in the scoring department. However, Lappin is someone that over the last 7 games where he has played, has provided quality depth play in a very under-the-radar fashion. 3 points in 7 games is very quality from a rookie fourth liner, and his possession stats are off the charts.
That leads to the next logical argument. Lappin was signed to a two-year ELC back in March, with the overall intention that he would spend at least this season in Albany playing his first full season as a professional and getting experience. The way he has played in New Jersey, however, will have to force management to at least consider keeping him here longer. If he continues to produce the way that he has, especially if his underlying numbers remain strong, I do not see how the organization can send him back down. He has been too valuable as a depth player. It hasn’t been since the formation of the CBGB line for the 2012 Cup run that the Devils have been able to boast a quality fourth line. Yet here we are with Lappin and Vernon Fiddler anchoring a fourth line that has been able to hold its own so far this year. They may not be dominant, but that cannot be expected from the bottom line. Instead, they have done exactly what has been needed of them, and perhaps have done even a little more, especially where Lappin is concerned.
While the production of someone who gets only 11+ minutes a game is not as important as the production of the team’s top players, it is nonetheless important to have quality depth, and so far this season Nick Lappin has provided just that. He may not be the flashy forward that everyone wants to talk about, he may not be the star player who logs big minutes, but he has been as solid as it comes for a fourth liner, and in my opinion has so far played his way into staying here longer term. If he can keep up his strong possession game, and help keep NJ buoyed over 48% CF as a team, he will be here come April and whatever else happens beyond, if anything. So don’t be nervous when you see #36 out on the ice: he has been very quality so far.