This offseason, Ryan Kesler signed a six-year, $41.25 million deal that’s set to kick in after this year.
And through 24 games this year, the 31-year-old forward has just three goals and seven assists.
That’s not exactly the production you would like to see from a top-six player that was given a massive contract extension.
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But while Kesler’s numbers aren’t good by any means, there are some good signs that he is just off to a really unlucky start to his year. In fact, even Kesler says he feels good out there, the puck just isn’t bouncing his way.
“I think all areas of my game except for scoring have been good,” Kesler told Elliott Teaford of The Daily Breeze earlier last week. “I like where my game is going. I like the way I feel out there. The puck’s not going in."
He’s right. The puck hadn’t been going in. But his fortune soon changed when he scored an empty net goal against the Calgary Flames, and then followed that with a power play goal after he tipped in a blast from Sami Vatanen against the Arizona Coyotes.
But if we dissect Kesler’s overall play at even strength five on five, we will notice a few different things. In some areas, he’s been pretty good, at least as good as he has been throughout his career. There are other things we could look at that shows that Kesler needs to work on. And, finally, there are areas that we can show that Kesler has just been unlucky at this point in the season.
Kesler is known primarily as one of the NHL’s better defensive forwards. He won a Selke award in the 2010-11 season, and has finished in the top ten among Selke votes five times in his career. He’s allowing the same amount of scoring chances at even strength five on five against this year as he usually has throughout his career, as this graph indicates.
But while that graph shows that Kesler and his linemates are allowing just 24.5 scoring chances per 60 minutes of his play while he is on the ice, the second-lowest total of his career, 13 of those chances are from high-danger areas. That means he’s allowing 2.6 more high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of play than he did last year. And considering his primary goaltender Frederick Andersen has a .856 save percentage against high-danger shots at even strength five on five (the 19th highest save percentage among goaltenders with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play), those scoring chances Kesler is allowing when he’s on the ice equates to goals against. That’s why Kesler’s 2.8 goals against per 60 minutes of his play at even strength five on five this season is his second-highest total of his career.
So while Kesler is allowing the same amount of scoring chances as he has throughout his career, the ones that he is allowing happen to be in areas where the shooter has a high percentage of scoring a goal.
Now, another thing that could potentially reflect Kesler’s odd season is his overall usage on the ice. As previously mentioned, Kesler has been one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL for the past several seasons. As a result, his coaches have utilized him in defensive situations. He starts the majority of his shifts in his own defensive zone. This season, only 45.5 percent of his shifts at even strength five on five start out in the offensive zone. But if we look at that in relation to his team mates, that’s actually a relatively high percentage of offensive zone starts for Kesler.
According to that graph, Kesler is starting in the offensive zone only 3.9 percent less than his average team mate. That’s the third-highest percentage of his career. The graph also indicates that Kesler is matched up against similar levels of competition that he has seen throughout his career.
But do you notice how red the circle is for the 2015-16 season in that graph? That’s because it indicates his PDO levels. PDO is a good indication of how unlucky or lucky a player is. It’s simply calculated by adding a player’s on-ice save percentage and their on-ice shooting percentage. For the average player, the number is generally close to 100. So anything above 100 is considered lucky, and anything below 100 is considered unlucky.
At even strength five on five, Kesler’s on-ice shooting percentage is just 2.7 percent. That’s 5 percent lower than last season. That means that when Kesler is on the ice, he and his team mates only score on 2.7 percent of their total tshots. His on-ice save percentage is 90.0 percent. That gives him a PDO score of 92.7. That is an incredibly low score, meaning Kesler has been extremely unlucky so far this season.
When this PDO score heads back towards 100, Kesler will begin to produce more points. In fact, it’s already working its way back towards that number. Since Nov. 10, Kesler’s PDO has only dipped below 100 three times. And in that span, Kesler has produced five points in eight games.
Now, just because he has been incredibly unlucky doesn’t mean he’s going to surge and become a 30-goal scorer. Kesler’s offensive production should result in more points on the board, but Kesler hasn’t necessarily produced staggering offensive numbers. If we look at his shot attempt numbers, he and his line mates are producing 54.8 shot attempts at even strength five on five when Kesler is on the ice. That’s two shot attempts less than last year. But even more telling is that the relatively high number of shot attempts isn’t necessarily equating to scoring chances, as the graph indicates.
The 22.8 on-ice scoring chances per 60 minutes of Kesler’s play is the lowest amount of scoring chances he’s had in his career.
As we can also see, Kesler is converting on an incredibly low number of his shots, scoring on just 2.9 percent of his shots. That is 5.1 percent less than last season. That number will certainly rise as the season carries on, as it’s significantly lower than his career average.
At this point in his season, Kesler is at a frustratingly low point. But his numbers in certain areas are so low, they have to rise at some point.
But what we can tell is that not only has Kesler been extremely unlucky, he’s also not generating as much meaningful offense. And while he’s allowing a similar number of scoring opportunities, the one’s that he is allowing are from high-danger areas. So an increase in offensive production can be expected, but it may not be as high as he’s used to.