Leafs struggling with puck possession at World Cup Exhibitions

Updated: September 12, 2016 at 8:00 am by Jeff Veillette

The results of a pair of warmup games, for a tournament that usually doesn’t exist, in the beginning of September are probably the last things in the world that I’d use to make long-term blanket statements about a player. Certainly, that’s not what we’re here to do today.

But last night, I was curious as to how the Leafs’ representatives at the World Cup of Hockey were doing as far as puck possession. The results? Well, they aren’t so hot as of yet.

Player GP CF% CF60 CA60 CF%Rel CF60Rel CA60Rel
James Van Riemsdyk 1 50.00 56.25 56.25 10 13.56 0.67
Morgan Rielly 2 53.13 55.66 49.11 -0.9 -2.41 0.91
Roman Polak 2 44.44 50.12 62.65 -5.1 1.95 -10.16
Milan Michalek 2 43.75 46.55 59.85 -5.8 -1.61 -7.37
Auston Matthews 2 47.50 45.36 50.13 -7.9 -12.72 -0.11
Leo Komarov 2 37.04 30.25 51.43 -14.4 -3.32 -14.29
Nikita Zaitsev 2 39.58 38.51 58.8 -17.8 -13.97 -10.62

All numbers are calculated in Even Strength situations.

Van Riemsdyk is the leader as the only Leaf who is above relative water thus far, but it’s worth noting that a lot of that has to do with the situation he was placed in. The United States were down by multiple goals for much of the game, leading to some serious score effects. Just as important are his Offensive Zone Starts; JVR’s line started a whopping 83.3% of their shifts in an offense-friendly position. Also, he only has one game to work with here.

That trend is something that you can pick up on with when looking at the other players. Matthews, for example, nearly broke even from a relative perspective in his first game, where he played fewer minutes but was placed in a more all-encompassing role, but had an Offensive Zone Start percentage of just 14.3. Presumably, North America coach Todd McLellan looked to his line to be strong on the boards in the event of a faceoff loss, and effective in exiting with control in the event of a win. That trust in Matthews showed in situations like this:

Morgan Rielly also saw his draw privileges cut on Sunday night, which effectively cancelled out a strong showing in his first game of the tournament. He made the most of the ones he had, though, scoring the 4-the 4th goal of the contest.

Nikita Zaitsev’s numbers are probably the most initially concerning on the list. Many Leafs fans have high expectations for him this year (myself included, if not most of all), and those are definitely “should you even be here” relative numbers. However, his pairing has often been started against the Czech Republic’s top forwards, and in their rubber match, he was relegated to a role similar to Rielly’s (28.57 OZS%). The eyes have shown Zaitsev take some promising rushes and handle some tough situations, so one remains optimistic that these will even out in time.

Besides that group, you have Roman Polak with very Polak-esque possession numbers across the board, Milan Michalek being a step behind from a more talented forward group (a concern in Toronto this year), and Leo Komarov playing his usual bottom six plus powerplay role with the Suomi. 

Overall, it doesn’t look great, but we’re also talking about a group where nobody quite stands out in the “best in their position” conversations. This is a best-on-best tournament with a lot of superstars, so small victories like gaining trust of their temporary coaches and showing strong fitness levels ahead of camp seem to be higher priority. With that said, we’re going to continue tracking everybody’s progress and see if anything changes with the bigger samples. After all, we’re talking two warm-up games here.