19 games into the season Nathan MacKinnon is on pace for his best season in the NHL – currently in the neighborhood of 30 goals and 65 assists. The knock on Nate for the last few years has been poor shooting while generating a high volume of shots. Since turning pro he’s never broken 25 goals in a season and only hit 20 goals twice in four seasons. For a 1st overall pick being good but not great is a bit of a disappointment.
Prior to this year, Mack’s rookie season was his best as far as production and a couple other statistics like shooting percentage. Oddly enough it was the only time the Avs were good enough to make it into the playoffs. The big question is why. His repeatedly low shooting percentage has baffled fans and pundits alike and it was beginning to look like it wasn’t low at all, it was just who he was.
We’re going to delve a little deeper into the numbers here. Shooting percentage stands out of course, but there’s more to it than that. Beginning with shot attempts, let’s take a look at what happens from then on.
Shot Attempt Outcomes
In 4¼ seasons and 319 games, Mack’s attempted 1666 shots. 988 have hit the net and 82 have gone in. That’s a career shooting percentage of 8.3% in all situations. It’s not terrible but it’s not great either, basically league average.
What we really want to know is what’s happening on a percentage basis each time he shoots the puck. Is he really wild? Can’t hit the broad side of a barn? Easily blocked? The only data is 5v5, which skews lower than all situations but is a good indicator.
Outcomes (career 5v5):
Outcomes (this year 5v5):
Blocks – This is right around his career normal, in fact his average season is skewed from having nearly a quarter of his shots blocked last year
Deviation from average: -5.1%
Miss – Yes, you’re not crazy. He’s missing the net a lot this year, 16 times so far. That’s a small sample size but it could be telling us something.
Deviation from average: +24%
Save – I don’t know if it should be characterized as accuracy or not, but the goalie is definitely saving fewer of Mack’s shots that actually hit the net.
Deviation from average: -9.1%
Goal – This is the big change. Given career averages at 5v5 we would expect Mack to have 2.7 goals for this amount of shot attempts. He has 4, that’s good.
Deviation from average: +48%
SOG per Attempt
Another way to zero in on how Mack’s shooting differs this year from previous is to look at how often a shot attempt hits the net in different situations.
This year: 50.5%
This year: 55.9%
This year: 40.7%
This would seem to be a negative. From what we learned at 5v5, shots missing the net are up significantly. Granted he’s only made 103 attempts in all situations so the SSS caveat is in play and a quarter season isn’t a lot to draw a conclusion from, but there seems to be a trend.
This is the number that many point to when making the argument he’s not an elite scoring forward. Very average over his career so far and folks were losing hope he could live up to expectations.
This year: 13.5%
This year: 10.3%
This year: 18.2%
Now that’s more like it. These percentages are significantly above his career and even his rookie year. That’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s very promising in that he could be finally shooting better than league average, perhaps significantly better, but the worry then becomes if it is sustainable or not.
After all these wonderful facts we have to roam into speculation now. How has a consistently average shooter suddenly found the scoring touch?
First of all the team is better, sometimes, and plays a style that is more conducive to scoring goals, again sometimes. I think this is honestly the larger part of it. Not spending the night trapped in one’s defensive zone means the opportunities are there not only to score, but become comfortable being a scorer. Also, having other threats on the ice reduces the amount of attention the opponent can focus on shutting Mack down on a nightly basis.
Second of all, I think he’s done a lot of work on his shot over last summer. Yes, the numbers say he’s lost something as far as hitting the net when he shoots but the goalies aren’t saving nearly as many of his shots so logic dictates he’s picking corners rather than burying a lot of attempts in the logo.
Whether this is luck or actual improved shooting accuracy is yet to be determined but it is promising. I doubt MacKinnon will end up with 30 goals and 95 points as projected right now but I do feel he can have a season that’s significantly better than his career average. 25 goals and 70 points are good numbers to shoot for and it won’t take freakish statistical aberrations to get there.