It is incredible to think that the Rangers are 8-2-2 and sit in first place in the Metropolitan division with 18 points despite their top two scorers from last season having scored a combined two goals. This is the benefit of depth scoring and it’s an added bonus when you receive it from an unlikely source. In this case, rookie Oscar Lindberg.
While it is easy to bemoan the fact that it’s likely Lindberg will not sustain his current 28.6% shooting percentage, it has offset Rick Nash’s 3% success rate early in the season. Terms like “luck” tend to follow a shooter when they come out of the gate with this type of success, but a better term would be “probability.”
From the chances I have tracked from Lindberg, his results aren’t luck-based as he is producing high-end opportunities. The challenge will be if he has the ability to continue to finish them at this extremely high rate as the season progresses.
Viewing Lindberg’s shots on goal through the first 12 games, we see a player who is dominating the highest scoring area. Of his 20 shots (not including one phantom shot), 13 have been extremely high-quality and he isn’t padding his shot totals with low percentage exterior driven possession level attempts. Of his shots, 25% have been preceded by a pass, he has crossed the royal road with possession 15% of the time and he has had a strong net-front presence resulting in 15% of shots from rebound opportunities.
Six goals would probably be the best case scenario based on his registered shots. Though, using my averages, he would be pushing close to four goals if he finished at an average rate. Based on his location metrics and pre-shot movement, I have Lindberg’s expected shooting percentage coming in at an inflated 18%.
Context like this is why I prefer to gain my information through a combination of scouting and numbers. If I go to war-on-ice and look at Lindberg’s on-ice possession metrics, I am greeted with underwhelming results. A 48.9% shot differential percentage, a 47% corsi percentage, a 48.5% fenwick percentage and a 51% scoring chance differential. (Editor’s Note: Read here and here for more information on what these advanced statistics mean and why they matter.) Looking at these types of metrics versus his plus-7 goal differential, this points us towards luck driving an unsustainable output.
When viewed against his actual shot metrics, we get a different result. The Lindberg line is anchored by Kevin Hayes, who last season showed a talent for driving high-quality opportunities. It offers a much different look than it did in 2014-15 with Carl Hagelin on it.
Hagelin was a high-volume shooter, who didn’t produce high-quality opportunities. While Hayes continues to be the driving force behind the third line unit, Lindberg complements Hayes well. Hayes has the ability to enter the zone with possession while Lindberg heads to spots on the ice to maximize his skills. Hagelin liked to enter the zone and shoot from low percentage zones and, while beneficial for possession metrics, it didn’t lead to even strength offense.
Visually, we can connect the reasons for Lindberg’s sky-high PDO. While his expected results don’t match his current PDO of 110.6 (14.93 shooting percentage + 95.71 save percentage), when you have Henrik Lundqvist behind you, you will likely benefit from a higher PDO.
Based on his 12-game sample, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that his shooting percentage will crash. There are examples of low volume shooters – like Alex Tanguay of the Colorado Avalanche – who maintain high shooting percentages based on lack of volume shooting and good finishing ability because even an average shooter would produce an 18% shooting percentage based on his actual performance, but it will normalize especially without the benefit of power play deployment. Lindberg has shown his scoring ability in the Swedish Elite League as well as the AHL, so the question remains: Is he an above average shooter?
I am not willing to jump to the conclusion that he has an elite shooting ability. But as long as Lindberg is matched with Hayes and they are deployed as an exploitation line against other the third lines of other teams, he is fully capable of matching Hagelin’s 17 goal output with a chance to hit 20 even with his below average shot rate.