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Behind The Numbers

Assembling best power-play unit in NHL

Ovechkin, Shattenkirk would be included in elite five-man group, statistics show

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

What is the best possible five-man power-play unit that could be assembled from active NHL players? We answered that question, building a unit based on each player's underlying numbers.

All statistics are in 5-on-4 situations only, sourced from, and calculated over the past three seasons. Any rankings include only players who have played at least 300 minutes over that span.

Here is our top power-play unit:


Nick Foligno, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets

Based on the scoring boost the Blue Jackets get when their captain is on the ice with the man-advantage, Foligno, 29, is statistically the best choice at his position.

Columbus has averaged 9.27 goals per 60 minutes when Foligno has been on the ice, and 5.44 when he hasn't. Among forwards, that difference of 3.83 extra goals per 60 minutes is the biggest positive difference in the League.

Tactically, Foligno's role is to stand in front of the net, create traffic, screen shots, and score on deflections and rebounds. His average of 6.36 points per 60 minutes ranks second, behind the next player on this unit.

Video: CBJ@TBL: Foligno buries a rebound for PPG


Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals

Backstrom, 29, leads the NHL with an average of 7.34 points per 60 minutes and has been a big part of Washington's power-play scoring, as measured by the individual points percentage (IPP) statistic. That is the percentage of all on-ice scoring for which the player had either a goal or an assist.

Backstrom ranks third among forwards with an IPP of 79.4 percent, behind Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks (82.4) and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning (79.5).

Video: PHI@WSH: Backstrom snipes game-winning PPG in OT


Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek, 27, was selected to increase the shot volume of this power-play unit. The Flyers have averaged 125.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes with Voracek on the ice, which ranks fourth among forwards. That is an increase of 28.1 over the Flyers' rate when he's not on the ice (97.5) and is second among forwards to Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins (34.6).

Voracek's contribution to these shot volumes is reflected in his average of 31.6 shots on goal per 60 minutes, which ranks seventh among forwards.

Video: PHI@PIT: Voracek goes top shelf for PPG


Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers

This may be the easiest selection to make, because there are few statistical categories where Shattenkirk, 28, does not lead NHL defensemen at 5-on-4 by a wide margin. 

His average of 6.84 points per 60 minutes is 1.60 points better than that of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who is second (5.24). 

The Capitals and St. Louis Blues averaged 9.78 goals per 60 minutes with Shattenkirk on the ice, 1.05 higher than the second-best figure, the Capitals' average of 8.73 with defenseman Matt Niskanen on the ice. That 9.78 average also represents an NHL-leading scoring boost of 3.47 goals per 60 minutes above the average scoring rate for Shattenkirk's team when he wasn't on the ice (6.31). The only other defenseman with an increase of more than 2.00 goals per 60 minutes was Sami Vatanen of the Anaheim Ducks (2.61).

Video: WSH@TOR: Shattenkirk nets PPG for first as a Capital


Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals (playing the point)

It's not unusual for a team's best offensive forward to work the point on the power play, such as Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. Among the many possibilities, Ovechkin was selected for his shooting. He led NHL forwards with an average of 46.2 shots per 60 minutes and with 3.82 goals per 60 minutes. 

When players are ranked using points, that can sometimes tilt the comparison toward the playmakers, because there are usually two assists awarded for every power-play goal. To level that, assists can be divided by 1.92 (the average number of assists per power-play goal among those who have played more than 300 minutes over the past three seasons) so that there are an equal number of goals and assists. From that perspective, Ovechkin is tied with Foligno for the NHL lead with 4.44 adjusted points per 60 minutes.

Video: CGY@WSH: Ovechkin goes top shelf from circle for PPG


Others to consider

All five selections play in the Metropolitan Division. Even some of the leading alternatives, such as Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, or center Claude Giroux and right wing Wayne Simmonds of the Flyers, play in the division.

This also is a veteran unit, with each player between the age of 27 and 31. Outside the Metropolitan Division, top candidates for this unit in the future include players 24 or younger, such as Kucherov (24), McDavid (20) and center Jack Eichel (20) of the Buffalo Sabres. Eichel and McDavid have scoring rates of 6.25 and 6.22 points per 60 minutes, which rank fourth and fifth among forwards.

Among defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen (22) of the Buffalo Sabres ranks seventh with a scoring rate of 4.84 and fourth with an on-ice team scoring boost of 1.88 goals per 60 minutes.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Malkin nets PPG on blistering slapper

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