Memorial Cup 2013: MacKinnon, Drouin, and the dominance of Halifax’s top line

Nathan MacKinnon has a share of the points lead at the MasterCard Memorial Cup with Ty Rattie. Rattie, the St. Louis Blues prospect and Portland Winterhawks product, has played the one extra game in the tournament. He has five goals in four games and eight points.

MacKinnon, of the Mooseheads, conveniently taking on Rattie's Winterhawks in tonight's final game, has four goals and eight points in just three games. His offence has been absolutely insane, but half of it came in Halifax's 7-4 win over Portland in the round robin stage. MacKinnon had three goals and an assist in that game.

If you haven't watched any Halifax games but are looking to tune into tonight's final, here's a primer: the Mooseheads top line is really, really good. They deploy MacKinnon, who is the No. 2-ranked Central Scouting Service prospect, and he's on a line with Jonathan Drouin, ranked No, 3, and Martin Frk, the Czech import selected No. 49 by the Detroit Red Wings last season. Frk has six points and Drouin has four points.

Unfortunately, unless you track certain statistics by hand, those are the only available numbers on the Western Hockey League's prehistoric statistics page. Fortunately, Buzzing the Net's head offices include a basement within which it's easy to track other data and provide better, more objective comparisons between players.

Before the tournament started, I took a quick statistical look trying to differentiate between MacKinnon and Drouin for draft purposes. It's hard to see at this point the Colorado Avalanche drafting anybody but the local kid Seth Jones. The Avalanche need a defenceman, and the Avalanche legend that got Jones into hockey at an early age is the new Executive VP of the club. The Florida Panthers have the No. 2 pick, and they'll likely take one of the QMJHL stars.

But which one? Simple goals and points don't tell us much about the two players, particularly when both appeared to be producing at higher rates when the other was injured. Unfortunately, there just isn't a large enough sample of games to determine anything by looking at the rarer events in hockey like goals.

For that, we turn to the underlying numbers.

"Underlying numbers" can mean several different things, but in this case they'll refer to "scoring chances" and "zone entries". While a hockey game this tournament will have about seven goals, it will have 40 scoring chances and nearly 200 attempted and successful zone entries. There's simply a lot more relevant data to sort through . Goals do win hockey games, but the number of goals scored over three games will hardly be able to show which players will score the most over the next 10 or 20. Shot statistics will, at the NHL level anyway, be more constant.

In an earlier post this week, I noted the benefits of entering the zone in possession of the puck rather than dumping it in. Here are the leaders on the Mooseheads in overall entries:

Entries Shots Per Entry Controlled Controlled Entry %
J. Drouin 27 0.78 24 89%
M. Frk 20 0.40 14 70%
D. Ashley 17 0.53 10 59%
N. MacKinnon 16 0.56 13 81%
A. Ryan 15 0.53 11 73%

MacKinnon. Drouin. Frk. If the puck is cleared against them, they'll turn it around right back into the zone and create another opportunity. Their success in the neutral zone, I believe, has been a huge factor into why they've been so successful offensively.

Drouin, though, despite having the fewest number of points on the line, been the more active player in the neutral zone by far. The Mooseheads generate 0.78 unblocked shots every time Drouin makes the touch leading to an offensive zone opportunity. The rest of the team combined? Just 0.48, likely because other players have to dump the puck in more, while Drouin is very good at skating it in.

What about in the offensive zone?

I've counted scoring chances every game this tournament. I write down the team that generated the scoring chance (generally classified as any unblocked shot from the slot area between the circles), the player that took the shot and the player that set it up, if applicable.

Here are the leaders for the Mooseheads, tallying both "chances taken" and "chances set-up":

Taken Set-Up Total
N. MacKinnon 12 3 15
J. Drouin 3 11 14
M. Frk 9 4 13
S. MacAulay 9 1 10
S. Fournier 3 2 5

This is a fun chart. While Drouin loves having the puck on his stick in the neutral zone, MacKinnon seems to have it in the offensive zone. Drouin is the playmaker, the primary puck-toucher, while MacKinnon has been the finisher so far in the Memorial Cup. I think those two above tables indicate that while MacKinnon is a great player in his own right, Drouin represents a rarer commodity at the NHL-level, a winger that acts as a playmaker. Finishers are more replaceable.

(Also, fairly one line team, eh? Other than the top line, you get Memorial Cup veteran Stephen MacAulay and then very little. Halifax's checkers have put up some goals, but that consistent pressure inside the zone hasn't manifested yet.)

Not to call MacKinnon replaceable, since he's pretty good in his own right inside the offensive zone. His controlled entry percentage is very high, and it helps him create opportunities on his own:

Taken Set-up # of HAL Chances
MacKinnon - 7
MacKinnon Drouin 3
Frk Drouin 3
Frk - 3
MacKinnon Frk 2
Drouin - 2
Frk MacKinnon 2
Drouin MacKinnon 1
Drouin Frk 0

Drouin makes plays, though. He's impatient in the neutral zone and patient in the offensive zone. Corey Pronman at Hockey Prospectus, who emphasizes puck possession and wrote at no small amount about Drouin's puck skills, ranked Drouin No. 1 in his final 2013 rankings. I've entered that camp as well, because what I've seen at the Memorial Cup with Drouin's ability on the puck matches what impressed me at the IIHF U-20s in December.

Halifax has a fantastic top line and this tournament, it's been Drouin driving the bus.