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Miles Wood’s Game Has Improved Markedly Since Last Season

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Miles Wood was surface-good last year, but all the analytics frowned on him. He’s turned the tables this year, making his game more complete in the process.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In the offseason, I wrote an article about Miles Wood. It analyzed the paradox of his game which was really exciting by the eye test — his speed and physicality were unmatched -- but viewed less than charitably by analytic metrics. The short version of it was that he excelled at many tasks that involved individual effort. Scoring chances, dump recoveries, etc. were strengths. Because of this, his gorgeous flowing locks, hypnotic eyes, and infectious personality, I’m using him to try to get my girlfriend interested in hockey. I’ll report the progress on that front as updates occur. However, when it came to seeing the whole ice, keeping good positioning and facilitating offense for others rather than just himself, he struggled.

Wood was among the 8-9 forwards fighting for the bottom 6 spots on this years squad. He made the active roster of 23, but was actually sat on opening night. It may have been genuine talent assessment, it may have been a message, but whatever the cause, Wood has played every game since. The reason for this consistent spot in the lineup has to be at least partially because of his marked improvement in his 200-ft game.

Traditional Analytics

As far as NHL-official data is concerned, the facilitating statistics like passing, defending, and transition play are not really recorded. Instead we use “on-ice” statistics to attempt to proxy that impact. Miles Wood was among the worst players on the team last year in most traditional analytics measures, and he has transformed into one of the best this year.

We knew that Miles Wood had a sexy game last season, but put under the light and examined with ANY degree of scrutiny and it crumbled. He was one of the worst ratio players on the team -- registering in the heavy negatives relative to his teammates in both total shot attempts and expected goals, had an average game score per 60 under 0.5, scored less than 1 primary point per 60 minutes. He has gone up in almost every category this season. The only stat he has gone down in is actually the individual stat expected goals for, which was his strongest one (he was second on the team in that stat, just below Hall).

What does this tell us? Well this is just on-ice stats so it could be partially a measure of the increased quality of the team around him. But the degree to which these numbers are increasing is absolutely staggering. According to Corsica, Only Kyle Palmieri has a higher CF% and only Blake Coleman has a higher xGF%. That means that when Miles Wood is on the ice, the Devils have been at their best in possession AND opportunities. He’s been more than just a fun game and a pretty face this season. The traditional analytics can’t poke holes in his game. We need to look to more sophisticated measures to see if this is a genuine improvement or just noise.

All-Three-Zone Data

If you guys follow me on twitter, (shameless plug @CJTDevil), you know I’ve been doing doing some work creating viz for Corey Sznajder’s All-Three-Zone tracking project. It tracks zone entries, zone entry defenses, zone exits, passes, and shots, among other things. In browsing the Devils results I found this, which prompted the writing of this article:

Pretend that I know how to grammar for a moment and didn’t use “you’re” instead of “your.” Other than that, everything that I said there is accurate. Now, as of this writing, only 7 games have been recorded for Wood, so consider that filter when reading the rest of this passage. Corey is tracking last night’s game live, so by the time this article is up, I will have updated the Tableau to reflect those totals. Some of the numbers may be slightly off as a result, but you can check the links as they will bring you to the active charts.

Shot contributions are shot assists and shots. Miles Wood is 3rd on the team in that shot contributions per 60 and 2nd in primary shot contributions per 60. You can view the images for those in the tweet above. But I want to focus on a particular aspect of it. We already knew Wood could create for himself, but the interesting part is that even if you take out his shots and focus only on passing rates, he’s still towards the top of the team.

He is behind a 1st overall pick, a 1st overall pick, and a 6th overall pick. Last year, Wood had only 25 shot assists in 18 recorded games last year. He has 22 shot assists in only 7 games so far this year. That is a huge improvement, especially considering his number 1 linemate by far has been Brian Boyle. Nothing against Boyle, but his game is not creating shots for himself. The fact that Wood is logging these shot assists with the lines he’s being put with is a testament to how much he is actually seeing and generating. This adds to his toolbox which also includes zone entries. In total zone entries per 60, Miles Wood is 4th in the NHL, right in front of Conner McDavid. With a guy like Wood who chase really well, dumps aren’t necessarily a bad thing. But traditionally, controlled zone entries are where it’s at. But even when limiting it to that, Wood is quite good.

Wood is second only to Hall on the team. Hall, as of this writing, is 2nd in the league only to Connor McDavid in carry-ins per 60. The fact that Wood is better than everyone on the team except Hall goes to speak to how important he has been to the transition game. Consider, also, who our top 5 players in that stat are. Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt played on a line together last night, and Henrique is now a Duck. That means that when the first line isn’t on the ice, Wood is absolutely essential to keeping this roster respectable in transition. His talents extend passing keeping his hair immaculate after 3 periods of sweating under a helmet — in itself a remarkable skill.

Conclusion

Wood is playing a much more complete game this season than last year. He’s playing much better in space, and his off-the-puck positioning has been improved (though it still needs work). The most obvious improvements are his offensive adjustments. His head is up and he’s seeing the ice much better. Last year he used his legs as a crutch — thinking he’d be able to beat whoever was covering him. Now he is starting to find more ways to beat defenders, and more ways to make an impact. He’s been one of the most important cogs that’s been keeping the bottom 6 churning all year long.

HOWEVER! Wood is actually playing the 2nd fewest minutes per game on the team and almost a full minute less than last year. It’s possible that the decreased playing time has let him keep his most important weapon — his legs — fresh all game. It’s also possible Hynes is not asking as much of him and that’s why we’re seeing some of these increases. Regardless, the difference is too drastic to not admit that Wood has made significant strides worthy of recognition.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Miles Wood? Has he improved? Do you have as much of a mancrush on him as I do? What do you think of his eyes? His hair? His jawline? Oh and his hockey?

Can we have a civil discussion about this polarizing figure or will it tear us apart yet again? Or can we all just be as fun-loving and carefree as Miles?