Advanced Stats: Is McDonagh a Top 25 Under 25?

Glen Miller

Recently Neil Greenberg of ESPN.com released his Top 25 Under 25 list, ranking the best players under the age of 25. Shockingly he didn’t include Rangers D Ryan McDonagh, which appears on the surface to be an egregious omission. Ranger fans, I among them, believe McDonagh is already one of the best defensive defensemen in the league regardless of age. Why he isn’t listed on Greenberg’s list is, on the surface at least, a mystery.

Evidently, we are not alone in our disbelief. In a follow up piece, Craig Custance polled random NHL executives who had looked at Greenberg’s compilation. One was quoted as saying, “McDonagh for me would be well up there. Just his maturity alone,” he said. “I didn’t hear Michael Del Zotto either.”

Del Zotto aside let’s look at how McDonagh compares to the defenseman Greenberg included on his list. First, let’s be sure we understand the criteria utilized by Greenberg.

First any player who is either 25 or will be 25 before February 1st, 2013 is automatically eliminated from consideration. That’s why Claude Giroux, who would seem to be an automatic at age 24 but turning 25 prior to February 1 didn’t make it. Next, only the player’s career-to-date contributions, and not their future potential, matter for this exercise. That might have worked against McDonagh since he only has about 1 ½ years of NHL experience.

Also Greenberg uses conventional statistics as well as many of the advanced metrics we use here on SNYRangersBlog: Zone Start and Finish; puck possession metrics like Relative Corsi; Quality of Competition and Quality of Teammates for instance. Greenberg believes, as I do, that these advanced metrics can help lend context to the traditional stats and provide a clearer understanding of a player’s performance.

First let’s compare the conventional numbers posted by the six defensemen Greenberg listed with that of McDonagh to see how the Rangers blueliner measures up in those terms. Note: The following list is ranked in order of highest Pts/Gm.

Player Rank GP G A Pts Plus/Minus Pts/Gm
Erik Karlsson 9 81 19 59 78 16 0.96
Alex Pietrangelo 11 81 12 39 51 16 0.63
Kevin Shattenkirk 20 81 9 34 43 20 0.53
Drew Doughty 8 77 10 26 36 -2 0.47
Tyler Myers 24 55 8 15 23 5 0.42
Ryan McDonagh NR 82 7 25 32 25 0.39
Victor Hedman 16 61 5 18 23 -9 0.38

In terms of offensive contributions, McDonagh posted a lower Pts/Gm rate than all but Hedman. However, a quick glance at Behind the Net’s 5-on-5 scoring rates shows that McDonagh ranks much higher. In fact, McDonagh posted 1.02 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time and only Erik Karlsson at 1.72 Pts/60 was higher.

Power play ice time is a big reason why McDonagh didn’t fare as well in terms of conventional scoring numbers. McDonagh saw an average of just 0:37 of man-advantage ice time per contest. Hedman averaged the next lowest amount of PP ice time with just 1:08 per. Each of the other defensemen in this study averaged better than 2:00 per contest.

Plus/Minus might not be considered as useful in determining defensive prowess as in years past but a +25 is nothing to sneeze at under any circumstances and the fact he posted a higher plus/minus rating than any other in this comparison is telling.

Now it’s time for the advanced stats. First we’ll compare the Quality of Competition and Quality of Teammates posted by each of the defenders and calculate the difference between the two numbers. That difference, if negative, means the player played with a higher caliber of teammates than the quality of his opposition and would mitigate the player’s performance to some extent.

Player QoC QoT QoC/QoT Variance
Ryan McDonagh 0.086 -0.11 0.196
Victor Hedman 0.014 -0.068 0.082
Drew Doughty 0.043 -0.024 0.067
Alex Pietrangelo 0.066 0.036 0.03
Tyler Myers -0.013 -0.013 0
Kevin Shattenkirk -0.018 0.059 -0.077
Erik Karlsson 0.047 0.213 -0.166

McDonagh faced the toughest competition with the lowest quality of teammates of any defensemen in this comparison. That makes his overall performance in 2011-2012 more impressive.

Next we’ll compare how well each fared in terms of Rel. Corsi, Zone Start and Zone Finish while calculating the difference between Zone Start and Zone Finish. A positive variance indicates the player successfully impacted puck possession for his club.

Player Rel. Corsi Zone Start Zone Finish Z.S. Variance
Victor Hedman 1.8 37.3 45.9 8.6
Ryan McDonagh 3.5 42.8 49.8 7.0
Drew Doughty 1.5 50.8 53.0 2.2
Alex Pietrangelo 7.8 52.8 53.3 0.5
Tyler Myers -7.1 51.4 51.7 0.3
Kevin Shattenkirk 4.4 54.4 51.7 -2.7
Erik Karlsson 11.3 57.1 50.5 -6.6

McDonagh posted the second highest Zone Start/Zone Finish variance and still posted a positive Rel. Corsi. He did so while facing the toughest competition among the defenders in this study. Doughty, who was ranked as Greenberg’s top defenseman, had a lower Relative Corsi and a significantly lower Zone Start/Zone Finish variance than the Rangers defender.

Greenberg cited advanced puck possession stats as one of the factors he used to determine who made it on his list. Considering McDonagh outperformed most, if not all, of the other defensemen in this comparison in those advanced stats it would seem omitting McDonagh’s name from this list is a mistake.

However, in Greenberg’s defense, he also indicated he looked at the player’s whole body of work and McDonagh has just 1 ½ seasons under his belt in the NHL. That’s the only justification for leaving McDonagh off this list. If the owners and players actually agree to a new CBA and we get some hockey this year, it would be shocking if McDonagh doesn’t crack Greenberg’s next Top 25 Under 25 list.