Rethinking the rarity of point-per-game players
“He’s a point-per-game player!”
Talk hockey for more than a couple of minutes, and you have likely heard this phrase. It’s an easy, if rudimentary benchmark for player analysis – we know individual production matters, and we know the ability to sustain scoring is underpinned by a player’s skill level, though other factors (notably, the quality of teammates around him) can also play a factor.
Most importantly, it has traditionally been a high bar to clear in the National Hockey League. Being a point-per-game player has, by extension, meant you are one of the most productive offensive players in the league. We have trained ourselves to understand that point-per-game players, by and large, are rare to find and dominant relative to their peers.
I think it’s time to challenge that sentiment. The NHL is in the midst of an offensive renaissance – scoring is up anywhere and everywhere, and offensive skill is winning the day. If you look at the 2022-23 regular season, you find a staggering number of players who are averaging a point per game or more.
Using 300 all-situation minutes as the minimum for what would qualify a player, we find 46 skaters (including six defencemen) who are carrying a point-per-game average or better this late into the season:
I’m not sure what’s more remarkable – that the majority of NHL teams this season have at least one point-per-game player, or that there are seven teams (including the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks) who have at least three.
This must change our prior understanding of what it means to be a point-per-game player. If we look at the percentage of forwards and defencemen by year who have been able to maintain a point-per-game pace until the finish line, you see a sharp move to the upside in recent years:
Travis Yost 2 (2)
Let’s put this in perspective for a moment. This year, a whopping 11 per cent of regular forwards are scoring at a point-per-game rate or higher, which is easily the highest level realized in the statistical modern era.
But what’s more remarkable, and I think more indicative of how the game has evolved, is what’s happening with defencemen. Six blueliners – San Jose’s Erik Karlsson, Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey, Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes, New Jersey’s Dougie Hamilton, and Colorado’s Cale Makar – are holding at a point-per-game pace or better, which means three per cent of NHL defencemen are producing at this rate right now.
Lastly, to show how accelerated a change this has been, consider the distribution of scoring by positional group from the 2014-15 season versus this year. The 2014-15 season was headlined by defensive dominance, with the league’s best teams (New York, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Washington, Chicago) distinguishing themselves through goal suppression – a very different league, even if it was just eight seasons ago.
How different? Radically so:
Travis Yost 3 (3)
Being a point-per-game player is still a phenomenal achievement. But when you hear a forward is scoring at such a pace, know that more than 10 per cent of his peers at the position are as well. And it no longer takes a unicorn like Nicklas Lidstrom or Karlsson to score like a forward while playing on the blueline.
Offensive skill is omnipresent right now, and that’s a great thing for the league.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference