Chandler Stephenson has been one of the main centers of attention this season for the Golden Knights for many different reasons.
To start the year, there was a question of whether or not he was good enough to be a #1 center on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Following a playoff series that saw Mark Stone go pointless and Stephenson chip in just one point, the Golden Knights took matters into their own hands, acquiring Jack Eichel and giving themselves an unquestioned top-line center.
But all the while, Stephenson has been producing at more than a point-per-game pace playing in the #1 center role. He’s played 12 games between Max Pacioretty and Stone and has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. That has shifted the question to, is it really wise to move Stephenson once Eichel is ready?
Then, there have been a couple of stretches in which Stephenson played without Stone or Pacioretty and continued to produce. In 16 games without either star winger, Stephenson has put up 13 points entering a new question into the ether; if he still produces without the top guys, maybe moving him down to fit in Eichel does make the most sense.
All the while, he’s been dubbed as Vegas’ most indispensable player by ESPN, he has a bit of an underground All Star campaign going, and his teammates have consistently pumped his tires often proclaiming he is the most skilled player on the team.
All of this has turned Stephenson into somewhat of an enigma. There’s just so much data pointing in so many different directions with him. I wanted to dig into some numbers to see if the picture can be made any clearer.
We’ll start with the overall numbers. Stephenson’s career-high in points is 35, which he set last season playing 51 games, mostly between Stone and Pacioretty. Prior to that, he’d never eclipsed 30 in a season in his first six years in the league. Yet here we are, 35 games in, and he’s sitting on 34 points and has already broken his career-high in assists.
Last season, he played 39 of his 51 games with both Stone and Pacioretty and in the other 12, he had one or the other on his wing in all of them. As mentioned above, this season, however, he’s already played 16 without them and has three goals and 10 assists in them.
That sample size is small but there’s enough time that the underlying numbers could potentially give us some hints about sustainability. Before we go into it though, it’s important to note that matchups and situations certainly matter when looking at these numbers. Most importantly, Stephenson has seen a 10% increase in offensive zone starts when playing with Stone and Pacioretty as opposed to without them.
Nonetheless, the advanced analytics point to what should be obvious, that Stephenson is much more dangerous with the big guns by his side. He sees a small increase in Corsi, Fenwick, and Shot Share (all around 3%), a major bump in Expected Goals For (9.3%), and a massive boost in Goal Share, being on the ice for 23% more goals for than when he plays without them.
However, there is one piece that’s a bit surprising and that’s high-danger chances. Despite starting 10% more of his shifts in the defensive zone, Stephenson’s high-danger chance share is actually better without Stone and Pacioretty than it is with them. It’s a small difference, but when considering the zone starts it becomes significant.
What it all means is that with Stephenson centering Stone and Pacioretty, the Golden Knights score much more than they allow and they dominate possession, but they still allow just as many dangerous chances as they create. This is where PDO comes in. With the big three on the ice, the Golden Knights are outshooting their opponents to a tune of a 1.064 PDO. When Stephenson is without his pals, that number dips to 0.967. This is an indication that Stephenson’s had good luck with Stone and Pacioretty, while experiencing bad luck without them.
But, before we jump to any conclusions, let’s take a look at how the other guys are playing with and without Stephenson as their center. Stephenson’s three most common linemates when he’s without Stone and/or Pacioretty are Evgenii Dadonov (200 minutes together), William Carrier (98 minutes together), and Mattias Janmark (51 minutes together). All three of these players have a significantly better Expected Goal Share without Stephenson than with him.
Here are the differences in the numbers of when these three players play without Stephenson as opposed to with him.
|Expected Goal Share||+5.8%||+4.2%||+15.8%|
|High-Danger Chance Share||+10.9%||-0.5%||+13.7%|
|O-Zone Start Percentage||+6.4%||+11.4%||+17.4%|
Again, PDO, zone starts, and quality of competition come into play, but all three appear to see better results without Stephenson as opposed to playing with him.
The production has been there both ways, but the variance based on the small sample size may have skewed the numbers. At this point, the numbers seem to indicate that keeping Stephenson with Stone and Pacioretty is the correct move, but there are plenty of red flags to still leave some room for doubt (last season’s exit being the chief among them).
There’s really no right answer based on metrics right now. Luckily, the Golden Knights don’t really need the answer for another four months.