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Shot volume brings better production for William Nylander




Toronto Maple Leafs right winger William Nylander has been one of the team’s most consistent offensive threats this season. After scoring two goals in Thursday’s 3-0 win at Philadelphia, Nylander has 13 points (7 G, 6 A) in 14 games. That ties him with John Tavares and Mitch Marner for the team scoring lead.

Overall, Nylander has 56 shots on goal in 14 games, which ranks second only to Alex Ovechkin.

What is particularly notable about Nylander’s offensive production this season is that he has dramatically increased his shot rate. That is a very encouraging sign when it comes to sustaining improved production.

In small samples, it is entirely possible for a player to score on 30% of their shots, without increasing the shot rate, and it suddenly looks like the player is “hot”. They are, but in a way that is not likely to last because shooting percentages tend to fluctuate.

“I don’t necessarily recognize that, other than the power play, which is probably what you’re referring to more than anything,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said, in response to a question about Nylander’s increased shot rate. “He is in different positions on the power play. He has been consistently with that one unit. I think that’s the biggest thing, but he’s definitely got a great shot.”

Not Just the Power Play

It’s true that Nylander is getting more shots on the power play, but that does not tell the whole story.

Last season, during 5-on-4 play, Nylander had 12.37 shots/60. This season, he is up to 18.69 shots/60, an increase of 51%.

During 5-on-5 play, Nylander generated 8.52 shots/60 last season. This season, that rate has increased to 11.57 shots/60. That is an increase of more than 35%.

So, yes, the increase is greater on the power play, but it is not isolated to the power play.

Overall, Nylander’s rate of shots on goal per game has increased by 1.39 year over year. There are five players in the league (minimum 100 total minutes in both seasons) to have a bigger increase.

Biggest Increases in Shots/Game

Ryan Hartman MIN C/RW 1.45 3.50 2.05
Timo Meier SJ RW 2.87 4.63 1.76
Jason Zucker PIT LW 1.76 3.36 1.60
Oliver Ekman-Larsson VAN D 1.80 3.38 1.58
Alex Iafallo LA LW 2.16 3.62 1.46
William Nylander TOR RW 2.61 4.00 1.39
Patrick Kane CHI RW 3.41 4.80 1.39
Ryan Getzlaf ANA C 1.46 2.79 1.33
J.T. Compher COL C 0.98 2.30 1.32
Kyle Okposo BUF RW 1.29 2.58 1.29
Adam Henrique ANA LW 1.71 3.00 1.29
Morgan Geekie SEA C 0.83 2.08 1.25
Zach Werenski CBJ D 2.26 3.50 1.24
Sam Bennett FLA C 2.21 3.44 1.23
Logan O’Connor COL RW 1.68 2.90 1.22
Anze Kopitar LA C 2.11 3.31 1.20
Lawson Crouse ARZ LW 1.37 2.54 1.17
Brandon Saad STL LW 1.55 2.71 1.16
Jeff Skinner BUF LW 2.09 3.25 1.16
Eeli Tolvanen NSH RW 1.63 2.77 1.14
Matthew Tkachuk CGY LW 2.70 3.83 1.13
Brent Burns SJ D 2.46 3.58 1.12
Kyle Connor WPG LW 2.96 4.08 1.12
Kasperi Kapanen PIT RW 1.70 2.82 1.12
Dillon Dube CGY RW 1.65 2.75 1.10

Teammates Recognize It

“When he’s going, he’s going, right,” said Auston Matthews following Wednesday’s win. “When he’s moving his feet, he is dangerous all over the ice.”

“He has been shooting the puck a little more, and it’s been going in,” Matthews continued.

When Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell was asked about Nylander’s shot, he was cagey in his response. “I don’t want to say too much, because it’s working,” said Campbell. “It’s a heck of a release. It’s tricky. He still fools me a lot so, lucky to have him on our side.”

As someone who has spent a lot of time writing about fantasy hockey and scoring projections, improved shot rates are fundamental to generating better offensive numbers.

One of the reasons that shot volume is so important is that the math starts to add up. If William Nylander, for example, continues to generate 1.39 more shots on goal per game this season, that will be the equivalent of a little less than 114 extra shots in an 82-game season. Provided that his shooting percentage does not drop too dramatically, that should result in approximately 10-15 more goals. (Yes, this is being compared against a 56-game season in 2020-2021, but the expectation is that this season will reach the full 82.)

The challenge is for William Nylander to maintain this new level of shot output. His role on the power play helps but continuing to generate chances during 5-on-5 play matters a lot, too.

If he can keep this pace, Nylander will take his game to a new level. I suppose he has already ventured to that new level. Now it is a matter of doing what it takes to stay there.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick.

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