Jimmy Vesey got off to a very good start. In his first 10 games, he scored 6 goals, and 9 points. After that, his production dried up. After 24 games (half of his season to date), he was at 8 goals, 14 points. And in his last 24 games, he has only 3 goals, and 5 points. A total boxcars of 11-8-19 over 48 games isn't terrible for a rookie of course. As of 1.27.17, he's still 16th in overall rookie scoring, and 9th if you focus on primary points, like @IneffectiveMath does here). But we're at the All-Star Game, and his lack of production leads to a very common media narrative: Has Vesey Hit the Wall? After all, he's a US college player making the leap to the NHL, and his college average of games played per season was 32. He's up to 48 NHL games so far - with another 33 possible through the end of the regular season. It's possible that, with a reasonable playoff run, Vesey could play 90+ games this season 3 times as much as any other season of his recent life. [This narrative isn't just for college kids...remember when TSN questioned if Auston Matthews "hit the wall" *after 9 games*?]
Still, on traditional scoring stats alone, the narrative seems to fit him perfectly. But, and this may surprise you, Vesey is NOT the only player to make the leap from the US college system to the NHL. I didn't feel like looking any of them up, so I asked Twitter, and got some good suggestions:
This is an example of a helpful response.
This is an example of the opposite of a helpful response. Helpless, you might say.
I wanted to see how some of these other recent US-college trained players handled their first 48 games - did they too also see some evidence of hitting the wall? I focused on "scoring" forwards only, and looked only at 5v5 results for Vesey, Dylan Larkin, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, and Kevin Hayes. Others may fit this category, but others were not included because of reasons. I pulled unadjusted 5v5 data from Corsica.Hockey.
Warning: if the concept of "Wall Fatigue" annoys you, thanks for reading this far, and you might as well stop. CLICK HERE.
First, let's see how they produced the "boxcars" stats that matter: goals, primary assists, and primary points.
As you see, Vesey isn't far off these other scoring forwards at the 48-game mark. A few lucky bounces for him or his teammates (or some bad breaks for the others) could change the listings for 4 of the 5. Vesey's A1 total is pretty bad - though that matches my Infallible Eye Test: Vesey doesn't seem to be much of a passer. Larkin's start was pretty good for any player, much less a rookie.
Click all pictures to enlarge.
Some notes about the upcoming charts: I decided not to include all of the players on one chart, because that got too messy, and my purpose here was to highlight the trend line more than anything. Also, these are pretty small samples, over a short period, so this is mostly for fun. I certainly don't expect Vesey to ever produce points on the level of Gaudreau, Eichel, or Larkin. I don't even know if he'll ever match Hayes annual points output...though that may depend on Hayes' offseason weight management efforts.
So here, we see Vesey's start really reflected in the trendline: As of about game 12, his goal scoring basically stopped. A goal every few games, basically (remember he only has 5 total goals, at all strengths, in his last 38 games). Only Gaudreau's pace increased over the time period, and that appears to mostly be due to a slow start.
Yeah, small samples aside, Vesey's not looking like much of a set up guy. He doesn't have a primary assist in *26* games. Larkin, Gaudreau and Hayes all showed slight improvement over the time. Gaudreau looks to be very consistent throughout the period.
Putting the goals and primary assists together, again we see Vesey getting hammered over his last 30 games or so. Larkin and Hayes show no signs of Wall Fatigue, while Eichel and Gaudreau each level off. Larkin is interesting to me - he has a rough set of games around game 40-45...and then he rockets up again. I imagine there were articles about Larkin's Wall Issues in early 2016...well would you look at that!
Looking next at individual Corsi, we see Vesey staying relatively flat - his trendline is dropping, but its not ridiculous - but he looks to be averaging around 1.5 iCF per game over the last 20 games or so. Hayes, who I don't ever expect to be a volume shooter, is also on a slight downward slope, but nothing shocking - dude likes it mellow and smooth, ifyouknowwhatimean - and again relatively consistent in the 1-3 iCF per game range over games 25-48. Larkin and Eichel (trending negatively) and Gaudreau (trending positively) are more volatile game to game, but is that really evidence of Wall Hitting?
Since iCF can be influenced by ice time, we can look at iCF60...and see basically the same thing. While the slopes look similar for all but Gaudreau, its interesting to me that Vesey is a good bit lower on these charts. Larkin/Eichel/Gaudreau are all playing around the 15.0 iCF60 line. Vesey's closer to the 10.0 iCF60 mark - which basically puts him level with Hayes. If Hayes is the playmaker, and Vesey's the shooter, I think Vesey should want to be higher to be successful. If Vesey's taking 3 shots a game, when others are taking 4...that difference could add up over a full season. Nothing in any of these rates suggests guys playing with Wall Fatigue, in my opinion.
The same pattern follows individual shots on goal. Again, Larkin, Eichel and Gaudreau generate a shot on goal per game more - and with more volatility in their results over the period. Vesey's actually pretty consistent - right around 1-3 shots on goal per game, but with a ridiculous few games around 25-33, and equally ridiculous stretch of 6 games without a single shot on goal, and 1 shot over the last 7 going into the All-Star break. If anyone wants to see evidence of Wall Fatigue, that's where they will point.
Individual shots on goal per 60 show the same patterns, so it's not worth discussing.
Turning to Individual Expected Goals, we're really starting to get into small numbers here, and slim differences. For example, the F with the "best" xGF in 2015-16 was Eric Staal at 62.29 for the entire season So we see a difference between a player like Eichel, who's relatively consistent at about 0.17, and then Vesey, who's more volatile but trending toward the 0.10 mark. Vesey again shows the most downward trend - so was his hot scoring start (mirrored here with a strong ixGF over the first ~10 games) the aberration? Is the last 20 games or so the aberration? Or maybe they both are. Looking at all 5 guys though, only Vesey has results that even can suggest some Wall Fatigue.
Individual expected goals per 60 show the same patterns, so again, nothing to really discuss.
SO WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THIS MAKE?
Of these 5 guys, to me, only Vesey has shown *anything* suggestive of possible Wall Fatigue. His last 20-25 games have been, to be nice, unproductive. It's hardly conclusive that his lack of production is due to being "unusually tired from all the activity". The others show, to me, the typical type of up and down variation you'd expect to see from most players, including non-rookies. In a sport were goals are hard to come by, and "luck", however you define it, is King, even the most consistent hockey players are pretty up and down.
"But wait," @CloseNYRObserver420 will say, "Vesey's ice time has decreased, and he's been shuffled down the lineup over recent games!" And, yes, that may be a factor - ice time and Quality of Teammates matter, to some degree. Here's a look at his ice time and linemates for this season from hockeyviz.com:
5v5 ice time has decreased. While we did look at some rate stats, maybe he needs consistent reps, so to speak, to produce? Or maybe he's not producing because he's tired and therefore not deserving of the ice time?
As for linemates? The first ~15 games or so: guys like Zuccarello, Nash, and Stepan. The last ~20 or so: guys like Grabner, Pirri, Lindberg, Fast. Maybe Vesey is a guy who needs a really strong playmaker to set him up most of the time, but can wow you with some explosive one-on-one moves now and again (think a lesser-Nash, or a Kreider without a 5-year Calder Trophy streak).
If that's the case, then maybe there's more to his production decline than just "Hitting the Wall." To really determine whether a green NHL player (from any league really) is suffering from Wall Fatigue, we'd probably (1) need to go way beyond the currently available on-ice stats to other metrics: things like whether a player's passes are as on-the-mark and his pass collection is as strong as earlier in the season, whether the player was losing pucks in one-on-one battles more frequently, and whether the player was missing defensive reads more often; and (2) need to look into off-ice issues like fitness testing, reaction time, personal health habits, and psychological testing. Until then, we know the only people truly Hitting the Wall will be the lazy sportswriters falling back on an easy narrative.
...Again I'm right in my analysis.