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Fourth Line Developing Identity

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The Wild's speedy fourth line is working to develop its identity, which may be turning into something a bit unexpected.

Ryan Carter scores short-handed.
Ryan Carter scores short-handed.
Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

A speedy and scrappy line consisting of players with multiple layers of skills might have been expected to find itself on the score sheet earlier in the season.  In the Wild's seventh game and second against the (not so?) mighty Anaheim Ducks, Ryan Carter broke the fourth line's scoring drought in fine fashion - short handed, like this:

Unfortunately, this graphic tells the entire tale of 4th line's offense for the season as the other members have not been able to find the scoresheet, and it's led to some concerns about the line as a whole.  So today we'll take a look at the line conceptually and examine its stats to try to figure out whether the line has been successful through 9 games and what adjustments need to be made as the line tries to get on the scoresheet at even strength for the first time.

Approaching the season, it appeared that Mike Yeo and his staff had put together a fairly atypical 4th line focused on speed and skill.  The line was first forecast to include speedsters Erik Haula and Jordan Schroeder plus jack-of-all-trades Ryan Carter.  That plan had suffered a detour as Schroeder was injured and did not produce in camp, and the team was able to acquire Chris Porter on waivers, a player they had been looking at signing anyway. This brought a bit more grit to a line that is typically built on it historically across the NHL.  Yeo and company appeared to want to make a very serious attempt to out-skill and out-skate their opponents rather than falling into rhythm by building a line full of players with high energy and the ability to check.  On paper, this type of line should create a skill mismatch against prototypical 4th lines around the league.

Besides a cup of tea for Charlie Coyle last night, the Porter-Haula-Carter line has played all 9 games together, though in limited time, but is still forming its identity as a unit.  All three players are averaging around 8 minutes of 5v5 time per game, which has only give them around 68 minutes together on the ice following the late acquisition of Porter, so the sample size is incredibly small but has enough data to start to examine trends, so let's take a look:

Thank you, War-On-Ice

As you can see above, this line has been deployed in highly defensive situations, judging by their zone starts, and is suffering from a regressed PDO of 96%.  Though their makeup and design is to outskill and skate around other 4th lines, the Wild's 4th line is being deployed as a typical shutdown checking line.  Yeo has put the line out against opponent's top lines and they have been effective at shutting down whichever lines they face.  Plus-Minus isn't a great stat, but both Haula and Porter are just at -1 and Carter is even at 0 at 5v5 play, showing that while they haven't been able to score, they also have been very effective in tough assignments with a high mix of defensive zone starts.

The conclusion here is that the role-players and PK specialists on this line have been formidable opponents for opposing teams at even strength, and not just against their bottom lines.  Haula, Carter and Porter have been able to translate their defensive prowess to be as effective as a prototypical shut-down 4th line, even though they may not have the typical make up of enforcers and large bodies that 4th lines typically employ.  The line has mostly passed the eye test, and has been growing in the offensive zone as a unit.  They simply haven't had time to establish their identity offensively and their low PDO leads to the conclusion that things will come around for this group, meaning more offense is on the horizon.  It's still early, and there are some trends appearing, but it's definitely too early to give up hope for some fireworks from the developing chemistry of the 4th line, and continued hope for their defensive prowess.