Last season, the New Jersey Devils ranked 17th in the NHL during 5v5 play in terms of shots for. When simply looking at overall production, that is not terrible. It is something that John Hynes and Co. should look to improve this season of course, but in the end it is not like the Devils just did not shoot the puck last year. In fact, 17th was a considerable upgrade for the team, who finished dead last in 5v5 shots in 2016-17, 2015-16, next to last in 2014-15, and 27th in 2013-14. When you look at that comparison, last year the Devils were markedly better at getting pucks on net, and that was a huge benefit. Looking at it another way, the Devils had 230 more shots on net during 5v5 this past season than they did the year prior. Over 82 games, that is a little under 3 extra 5v5 shots per game.
So when you look at the title of this article, don’t think that I am arguing simply that the Devils need more shots on net. Again, that would be a good thing for sure, but it is certainly something that I cannot fault last year’s team for. What I want to look at, however, is the fact that those shots were too concentrated in the hands of a few. Last season, only two skaters had at least 150 5v5 shots: Taylor Hall and Miles Wood. Hall had nearly 200, ending with 194, while Wood barely crossed the 150 threshold, ending at 159. Only one other skater, Nico Hischier, had more than 125 shots. Hischer ended with 138.
There is a really good graph that I ran into that beautifully showcases how last year, the majority of New Jersey forwards were playmakers, focusing more on the pass than on the shot. That kind of selflessness is wonderful and creates gorgeous chances when passes are made, but it can also lead to missing clear shooting opportunities because you’re looking for that one extra pass. Some would describe this as trying to be too sweet or too perfect.
The graph, created by Sean Tierney with data farmed by loser points over at Raw Charge, tracks a player’s shot rates and estimated shot assist rates per 60 minutes and plots them on a graph based on these numbers. You can check out the chart here for all teams last season, and I highly recommend doing so. For the Devils, I took a picture of the chart to post here:
So at the top left, you have the skaters who really focused on passing instead of shooting, with inflated estimated shot assist rates as compared to their shot rates. Here, we have the likes of Marcus Johansson, Stefan Noesen, Brian Gibbons, and Jesper Bratt. In total, five Devils forwards found themselves in that category last season, six if you count Kyle Palmieri who is on the line.
On the bottom right, on the other hand, you have the shooters on the team. Those who really did not pass all that much, and their estimated shot assist rates were low, but their shot rates were high in comparison. How many Devils were there? Just one, Blake Coleman. The comparison between the top left and the bottom right for New Jersey is pretty stark, and is not a good trend overall. As I mentioned before, passing can set up some gimme goals, but if you don’t have players who are also looking to shoot first, there will be numerous missed opportunities left on the ice.
Thankfully for the Devils last year, there were a good amount of skaters in the top right category. These players both shot and passed at good rates, with of course Hall being basically in a category of his own out there, the only close contender being Miles Wood. And considering these were the only two skaters with at least 150 5v5 shots, it makes sense. Hischier was the ultimate passer, being the skater highest up on the chart, but he did shoot enough to manage to enter the “elite” section as opposed to being relegated to the “passers” area.
This year, I would like to see more skaters move right on this chart, even at the cost of moving down somewhat. A team needs a diverse group of playmakers and snipers, and it seems the Devils were fairly high on the former last year, but rather in short supply of the latter. This was evidenced by the team relying on Hall night in and night out to score goals. If he can get more help in the shots category, it would go a long way to providing stronger depth with this forward group.
Side Note: Travis Zajac was the only forward in the bottom left quadrant, “no offense.” It’s good that only one forward was there, but it would really be nice if Zajac could provide more than just a strong faceoff percentage this season.