Looking back at the first edition of the All-Hipster Team, which ran all the way back in the middle of the 2013-14 season, I’d say that it was objectively a success. Sure, there are a couple of players that haven’t necessarily progressed into the mainstream like I thought they would by now, but that’ll happen when you take a leap of faith on a medley of players that haven’t quite yet distinguished themselves as notable assets across the league. For the most part, players that have made their way onto this list in the past have not only gone on to do big things but have also cashed in rather handsomely with their following contracts.
With a new season looming, it’s time to update the list. When putting it together, I made a concerted effort to single out players that I thought generally haven’t been receiving the sort of widespread love that I think their play warrants (or in some cases, will in the very near future once they truly blow up). That can be an awfully tricky task, though, because for the most part fans these days are far more knowledgeable and attentive than they’ve ever been. Given the coverage of hockey online on a day-to-day basis – particularly thanks to Vines and GIFs being passed around on Twitter on a nightly basis – it’s pretty rare that a dynamic player will truly slip through the cracks.
Which is why I recognize that even some of the guys discussed below will already have their diehard contingent of fans. Still, I hope that this list will contain some illuminating names, and draw attention to players that, prior to reading may not have been at the forefront of your mind. This isn’t necessarily a list of “breakout candidates”, as much as it a collection of guys that I think I’m generally higher on than most. Here they are in no particular order:
Note: This was written up prior to the Blackhawks surprisingly announcing that they were sending Dano down to their AHL affiliate. That news doesn’t necessarily change my thinking, though. Expectations obviously need to be tempered in the short-term but it’s a long season, and he’ll be up sooner rather than later. He’s way too talented not to be.
While the loss of fellow All-Hipster Team alumni Brandon Saad was a tough pill to swallow for Blackhawks fans, the crown jewel of the package they got in return for him should quickly help them get over it once they see him on the ice.
Nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong did for the 2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets, with what seemed like their entire roster being befallen with injury at some point or another. The one good thing that came from all of it was the call-up of Dano from the AHL in the second half of the season.
I’m not sure how many people were keeping a close eye on the Blue Jackets as the regular season was winding down, but it was hard to look away from the scintillating individual showings Dano was putting forth on a nightly basis. I imagine he slipped to the later stages of the 1st round of his draft because of his smaller stature, but the rare combination of speed, power, and skill with which he plays more than atones for any vertical challenges he may have.
Everyone that shared the ice with Dano last season saw their possession stats skyrocket during that time. As for himself, he was putting crooked numbers up on the board at a staggering rate; the 14 points in 15 games to end the season was impressive in their own right, but even more so when you realize how efficient he was in doing so. Dano’s 2.69 points/60 at 5v5 were good for 6th, sandwiching him right between Tyler Seguin and Vladimir Tarasenko. Only 8 players in the NHL generated shots at a better rate than he did.
I think he’ll fit in with the Blackhawks just fine. Potentially playing next to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa shouldn’t hurt his cause, either.
As a rule, I generally tend to be somewhat skeptical of college free-agents who are being heavily pursued after having seen their production skyrocket in their senior season. If you’ve been playing at the same level for 4 years, and you’re now older and stronger than most of the guys you’re competing against, you should be racking up the points. I was especially dubious of Kevin Hayes, whose numbers during his final year at Boston College looked to be inflated even further thanks to the good fortune of playing next to Johnny Hockey.
Suffice it to say that I’m not skeptical of his abilities any longer. Despite struggling early on with his adjustment to the NHL (and stumbling into Alain Vigneault’s infamous doghouse), Hayes’ final totals for his rookie campaign wound up looking fairly impressive after a noticeable upswing in the second half of the year (all stats are at 5v5, via War on Ice):
There’s something to be said for Hayes not exactly having the good fortune of benefiting from very many cheap points, either. His 1.36 primary assist/60 rate was the best in the league by a decent margin. In fact, only one of his 22 5v5 assists on the season was of the secondary variety (and only three of his 28 total). Considering that he spent a large chunk of the year saddled with relatively inferior talent on the third line – and that he didn’t draw much of a role on the man advantage – everything in his statistical profile points towards him having been one of the better setup men in the league.
Moving forward, it’ll be very interesting to see how he’s utilized this coming season. While it may be in the team’s best interest to spread the wealth around by keeping him as the third line’s pivot, the potential for him to be unleashed as a second line winger alongside the likes of Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider is tantalizing. You can probably count on one hand the number of players at his size that are able to do the things with the puck that he can.
Yet regardless of who he plays with it sure seems like the Rangers won the lottery the moment Hayes chose to sign with them over all of the other teams recruiting him. Given that the team hasn’t made a first round selection of their own in three years now, the need for a home run like this one was heightened even that much more.
It’s mystifying that two NHL teams have for all intents and purposes given up on a player as talented, versatile, and consistently effective as Mathieu Perreault. Since 2011 Perreault is a top-20 producer at 5v5, finding himself in the same vicinity as a bunch of guys that I think I’ve heard of. It’s primarily for this reason that analytics types were beating the drum for him on the open market last summer once the Ducks inexplicably cut him loose (and the Canucks ironically settled for Nick Bonino, likely thinking they were getting the player Perreault actually is..)
Sure enough, everything remained status quo last season as Perreault rewarded the Jets for quite possibly the shrewdest signing of the summer by continuing to tilt the ice in his team’s favour. His 56.6% Corsi for was the highest on the team, as were his 2.09 points/60 at 5v5.
In many ways, Mathieu Perreault is the poster child for the analytics movement in hockey. He was hiding in plain sight, waiting for a savvy team to uncover him and utilize him properly. While his rate stats have always been sparkling, the Jets were still able to extract value from his contract by banking on the fact that they’d be able to slot him higher into their lineup and stretch him out further than anyone else had been willing to prior. Their belief is now paying dividends, as they’ve got themselves a legitimate top-six forward in the prime of his career for just $3 million/season.
As Perreault’s personal caddy Garret Hohl concisely summed up in his year-end review:
“The Jets gave Perreault the biggest role of his career thus far, and even then it is not enough. Perreault deserves to be a staple in the Jets top six. Whether that’s as a winger or a centre, he dominates his competition. The Jets severely out shoot, out attempt, out chance, and out score when Perreault is on the ice. Those are good things to have happen.”
According to Hockey Reference, there are only 19 players that have ever managed score at least 20 goals while registering five assists or fewer in the same season. Only two of those have come since 1940, and they both happened last year:
That’s a remarkable stat, and its infrequency shows just how many things need to align for it to happen. Not only does a player need to be a gifted goal scorer (more on this in a second), but his linemates also need to be stuck in shooting percentage purgatory. A prevailing theme on that list above is that none of those players played anywhere near a full season’s worth of games. You’d figure that if they had, their Goals-to-Assists ratio would’ve looked far more reasonable once the players they were playing with accrued some semblance of shooting luck over time as the sample increased. Ironically enough Pirri actually led the AHL in helpers just two years prior.
Aside from that statistical glitch last season, both Pirri and Zucker were tremendously effective players last season. They obviously saw a notable number of their shots go into the net, but just as importantly for their sustained success in the future, they were firing an even larger number of them onto the goal to begin with.
Zucker in particular was exuding some strong ‘Poor Man’s Jeff Skinner’ vibes last season, with his strong rate stats and his +9 penalty differential (though it’s not like Pirri’s +5 wasn’t too far behind itself). As long as they keep those trends up, I’m sure their respective teams won’t care too much about how many assists they’ve got next to their names.
Honourable Mention: Teemu Pulkkinen
I decided to put these this player in his own section because we’ve yet to actually see him establish himself as an NHL regular. With that being said, it’s worth noting the degree to which he obliterated the AHL last season.
For all of the marvelous things that Mike Babcock has in his skill set and on his resume as a coach, I wouldn’t exactly say that optimally utilizing a player like Pulkkinen would be one of them. You would think that the Red Wings could’ve used a player boasting Pulkkinen’s game-breaking offensive ability when they failed to score in Game 7 against Tampa Bay.
Now Babcock is gone, and while Pulkkinen still comes into this season in a somewhat precarious position given the glut of forward depth on the team, there’s reason for optimism. It’s yet to be seen what kind of commodity Jeff Blashill will be as an NHL coach, but if anyone is aware of the potential Pulkkinen possesses it’s him.
Blashill got to see his prolific scoring ability up close the past two years in Grand Rapids, where he scored 84 goals in 143 games (playoffs included). He took his game to new heights last season in particular with what can only be described as video game numbers. Pulkkinen led the league in goals during the regular season despite having played 27 fewer games than the next closest guy, while registering well over 4 shots on goal per game. Once he was reassigned to Grand Rapids for the AHL playoffs he scored 14 times in 16 games.
There are a variety of questions yet to be answered about how his game will translate to the next level, particularly on the defensive side of things. But based on his limited viewings with the Wings last season it became abundantly clear that he already has an NHL-caliber shot and he certainly loves to use it. All things are pointing towards him being the next guy in a long lineage of Detroit Red Wings draft day success stories.
Others receiving votes:
- Tyler Ennis
- Mike Hoffman
- Craig Smith
- Chris Tierney
- Tobias Rieder
- Kyle Palmieri
- Viktor Arvidsson