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First Line Production and the Minnesota Wild: Part Deux

We've looked at production in terms of raw totals, but let's dig deeper and investigate scoring rates and see if anything changes.

Chris LaFrance-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I published an article looking at what constitutes "first line production" in the modern NHL. There were a few problems with my methodology, not least of which were: including All-situation stats as well as looking at raw point totals, which is problematic as well.

Out of morbid curiosity, and in the spirit of American inquisitiveness, I am going to repeat that article, with a few important changes. Firstly, I will be using a rate stat- points per 60, specifically. This should help account for players who received less time, but did more with it. Secondly, I will only be looking at 5v5. Now, this takes away some of the "first line-ness" of playing on the powerplay, but it also eliminates the bias against penalty killers. If there is interest, I (or YOU!) could do a similar comparison for the "first line" penalty killers and power-players in the league. Alternatively, a "goals-for %" based examination might also yield interesting results, and give credit where due to a defensive center like Mikko Koivu.

Now, just as a refresher- for the sake of argument, I took all the players in the NHL and took the top 30, sorted by points-per-60. The fastest-producing 30 are, by definition, the only 30 "first-liners" in the league. Numbers 31-60 become "second line" players, etc. etc. In order to avoid some oddball callups who had great games, I set the minimum 5v5 time on ice at 300 minutes.

First Line Centers

2.01-2.97 points per 60

Not surprisingly, Minnesota has no centers who achieved at this range. In our center's defense, a player like Koivu makes his money defensively, rather than offensively. Still, Minnesota lacks a high-scoring center, and that's a hole that will need filling.

First Line Left Wingers

2.03-2.92 P/60

Minnesota has two Left Winger producing within this range, and both are predictable. Misters Zach Parise and Jason Zucker have both produced quite well this season at 2.13 and 2.03 points per 60 respectively. Parise has, almost without a doubt, been Minnesota's best forward since his signing, and Zucker shows that level of promise, if he can start to stay healthy.

First Line Right Wingers

2.08-2.97 P/60

Minnesota had just one first-line right winger, and his name starts with a J. His nickname is not, however, the Mayor, as that player is Justin Fontaine. Fonzie started in the defensive zone 6% more often than the team average, only shot 9.38 %, and yet produced 2.29 points per 60 minutes of play. If only Yeo had played Fonzie more than 10 minutes per game. What's more impressive, Fontaine didn't necessarily benefit from luck as much as you might think; the Wild only shot 10.6% at 5v5 with JF on the ice; above average, certainly, but not sky-high either. Fontaine is quietly the fastest-producing right winger for the Wild, and yet he is one of the players most often offered as trade bait.

Second Line Centers

1.74-2 P/60

Minnesota actually has two centers who meet the criteria for a second-line center. They aren't necessarily the two you might expect. Mikael Granlund makes the grade with a 1.75 P/, and Charlie Coyle falls just below him at 1.74 P/60. Coyle did indeed have a stronger year, and the fact that it was his first at center in some time means he could have an even better year in the future. This would seem to indicate that, if Granlund can continue to grow, Coyle can become a second-line center.

Second Line Left Wingers

1.74-2.01 P/60

Minnesota has just one player who falls into this range, and that is Thomas Vanek. The offseason signing was a polarizing figure in the Wild world this season, with some bemoaning his lack of hup-to and some praising his touch and vision. Regardless, Vanek's 1.88 P/60 puts him almost right in the middle of the league's 2nd-fastest producing left wings.

Second Line Right Wingers


Minnesota has three players who fit into this category, and we've already discussed two of them. Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker appear again, and Jason Pominville shows up also. Pommer's struggles were fairly-well documented this season, with a low sh% of 8.67. Despite that, the Mayor produced a respectable 1.91 P/60, nothing to sneeze at. As a comparison, all three of these players produced points at a higher rate at 5v5 than Alex Ovechkin, who is pretty OK at the hockey.

Third Line Centers

1.55-1.73 P/60

Again, Minnesota has two "third line" centers- Mikko Koivu and Ryan Carter. They produced points at a very similar 1.55 and 1.63 P/60 respectively. As stated above, this isn't necessarily the fairest evaluation; Mikko has made a name for himself as a defensive center, and Carter started in the defensive zone 22% more often than the team's average.

Third Line Left Wingers

1.48-1.73 P/60

Minnesota again has two players in this range; Nino Niederreiter and Sean Bergenheim. Let's play a game: which of these two players do you think was buried in the defensive zone, and got less time per game? If you said Nino, you were right; Nino started in the d-zone 10% more often than the team average, and played an average of only 12.14 minutes per game. Bergenheim was disappointing to many, myself included. Still; third-line production, in terms of rate, isn't horrible.

Third Line Right Wingers

1.5-1.75 P/60

Minnesota only had one player in this range, and that was Charlie Coyle. When he wasn't at center, Coyle was producing (at a slower rate) on the wing, though his 1.74 P/60 fell very near the cutoff for a 2nd-line player.

Final Thoughts

I'll be honest: when I first went back and started rewriting this article, I didn't think there would be significant changes. There were more than I anticipated, with Nino falling in terms of his evaluation (sob), but Fontaine skyrocketing to being the best player in his position in terms of point production.

There are still problems with this analysis; it doesn't take defensive play into account. By this system, last year's Avalanche would have been the league's 6th-best team, with Dallas right above them in 5th. We all know that's not the case, and I want to stress that this doesn't mean those in the "first line" category are "the best" players in their position. This is because not only does this analysis ignore defensive play, but it doesn't account for strength of opposition or strength of teammates.

We all know Parise plays with the best players on the Wild; that is going to raise his scoring. Similarly, we all know Nino gets bounced around like a hackey sack at a hippy convention, which will slow his scoring. This effect isn't enough to render points/60 useless, but it's a caveat to think about.

Now that I'm done covering my cyber-backside...

I think we've pretty well cemented that Minnesota needs a higher-producing center, not that that's news. The depth on the wings is not just good, it is great, with five separate wingers producing at a first- or second-line level. Unfortunately, that also means that our younger wingers are going to need to fight to find meaningful playing time. Still, Minnesota's wing depth is excellent, which could serve to free Chuck Fletcher to find a top-line center, if one is available for the right price.


All stats provided by the inimitable War on Ice